Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Nate Peters on democratizing design tools and using his design skills for good, dealing with internet junk, potential misuses of machine learning, and more. Transcripts may contain typos. You can find the episode notes here.
Nono Martínez Alonso: Hi, everyone, this is your host, Nono Martinez Alonso, and this is The Getting Simple Podcast.
Today I want to introduce Nate Peters.
Nate Peters: Hi everyone, I'm Nate.
Nono: So Nate graduated from the Harvard GSD in a Master of Design Studies in Technology. He studied architecture in Iowa State and joined Autodesk full time. As a designer he's got a lot of good skills in terms of fabrication, digital, manually, and I would say you're trying to kind of merge these two worlds of software engineering and architecture. I'll let you tell us a bit more about your background.
Nate: So I started at Iowa State in the School of Architecture. Actually, no, that's not true. I started my very first semester in aerospace engineering. I don't know if everyone else does this but I remember back when I was in high school, there was the system where you would take tests for your aptitudes, and they would tell you what you're supposed to do with your life in some sort reductive way. And based on my aptitudes, I was supposed to be an engineer. And so I went to Iowa State for all of the orientations and and those are my parents when so I was just kind of a natural fit for me to go there. And it's known as a great school for engineering.
I was really certain that was going to be my path in life. And I got probably three weeks into engineering school and decided I hated it, and jumped ship almost immediately. And I started to shop around a little bit and I wanted to stay at I was stayed for a while. And so I just kind of stumbled upon the School of Design and the Architecture program, and I realized that I think all of the parts that, like engineering had stood out to me as being interesting, I love the idea of modeling things on a computer and turning them into reality. And I had just, I think, obviously, lots of engineers do that. But I was I sort of had this misconstrued idea about what being an engineer actually wasn't.
I was disillusioned after my two whole weeks of experience and decided to switch to the School of Architecture. And I'm not even certain that I would stay there. I would just wanted to give it a shot and I never left and fast forward. I am grad school and lots of things in between.
Nono: You're now coming to software engineering. And did you have a formal education of that in architecture school?
Nate: No, no, I didn't. Actually, it's funny I just realizing I think for the first time, I left engineering to be an architect, and then I left architecture to end up being a software engineer. I wouldn't describe myself as an engineer. But I guess that's my job title in the sense that it seems different to be a software engineer than to be like a mechanical engineer, a structural engineer. There's like, tests involved and certifications. But I think a coder, I don't know if that counts, I don't really know how I ended up as a developer. I mean, I do it in technical and then like, in a literal sense, but I was always someone who was interested just in computers, technology, I'd always been drawn to self-teaching, coding, and HTML and like the really basic stuff since I was...
Probably in high school, maybe younger, but there's still this ocean knowledge between like having a hobbyist ability to do those things and then actually buckling down, either self teaching or just in your spare time or whatever, like getting good enough to do it for real air quotes.
Nono: How was your experience in architecture school and undergrad in the GSD at Harvard? Did you have any breaks. Did you do it all continuously? How was the feeling of that?
Nate: So the architecture program is kind of an integrated professional degree, so you can go for five straight years and then end up with certification. You need to eventually take tests and get the hours to become an architect. I think a lot of schools require you going to get a Masters now, but most of the students that I always stayed were drawn to the idea of sort of knocking that process out as quickly as possible. So most of my classmates were pretty focused on like becoming real architects they weren't. I feel like fewer than other schools or fewer students that seemed disinterested in the coming actual architects, which on the whole list is pretty common at architecture.
The only really defining thing in my architectural experience, at least educationally, was kind of discovering computational design. I always had this, like in a draw to end up somewhere between architecture and engineering or between architecture and technology and I didn't really know where that would be, I think until the last year and a half year of my degree and undergrad. And there was a number of professors that were hired by the University in this effort to ramp up the university's just chops in technology.
Everyone's kind of playing catch up with computational design now, but Shelby Doyle was someone who I was sort of inspired by at the beginning of the year and she was building new classes and your grasshopper and just things that I had dabbled with before, but never had sort of the space to explore completely. And that just sort of took over my entire last year architecture school and it's funny, I feel like there's this set of kind of boilerplate grasshopper projects that you see every architecture student go through, like as soon as you discovered it, like the next two things have like born and like waffle slices in that and then you sort of move past that phase.
Yeah, that was really big for me. I think I found the niche within that architecture design world that I felt like I fit in and then it was something that affected me enough that I decided, I think before I entered my fifth year that I would want to pursue higher education and design technology, sort of whatever that is in today's design world.
Nono: Can you name some takeaways that you've taken from architecture school, things that you believe have changed your way of seeing things before and afterwards? Even if not design related necessarily.
Nate: No, absolutely there's a ton of things I don't know I feel like I've had this conversation about like the the architectural pedagogy, the studio culture is so unique if you know anyone that has just been to college at all, enter describe like what the experiences as an undergraduate architecture student or just an architecture student in general, it's, I don't know, it's just surrounded about this like myth and lore, like you spend crazy late nights in studio and there's all this weird like unhealthy practices, they sort of beat into you about spending crazy amounts of time on it. But there are positive takeaways, I think from that entire experience.
Mostly it's the work ethic and I think it's also a culture of experimentation. I don't think it's really native architecture. It's more just maybe a designer's mindset. But I think I'm more inclined to throw myself into problems that I don't even know how to size or solve at the outset. Maybe it's just the process of having to be critiqued, actually I think is really, really pervasive in architecture school and actually changes the way that your brain is wired.
My first semester at the GSD and grad school, I went straight from Iowa State to Harvard design school. For the first time I was doing design work, but with a mix of students that both had and hadn't had backgrounds in a studio architecture or design education. And it was funny because the way that even the non-architecture classes are formatted at the GSD, they're still kind of a traditional crit, you have a jury panel and a group of people sort of sit in chairs and face you and like, they sort of make fun of you is the wrong word. But they tell you things that are critical about your work, which I took for granted, like knowing how to sort of act in that exchange between people. And I realized that was not normal.
Then there's people in the teams of students I was working on that were super offended. They took personal offense to taking critique about their work. And at the end of it, they were like, emotionally upset, and we had to sort of pull them aside be like, "No, this is how you actually get better at design." You have to have people just give you what are essentially subjective opinions about it.
But then, eventually sort of through that process, you learn how to take that and actually get better and internalize it and eventually, in theory, to come and better designer but I forgot that was at a certain point stressful. It's the learning skill to take things that are personal to you and show them to the world and then have people tell you that they're not good for these set of reasons. But you develop a thick skin that I think is really valuable, especially once you're out of academia and kind of out in the world doing other things.
Nono: I think not only the feedback and the critique, but also the selling point, being able to sell concept that you've ideated on your own.
Nate: Yeah, that's huge. That's another thing I find funny about architecture school is that, it seems like the only really core skill that you need to succeed architecture school is like public speaking, right? Like, you just need to be able to take anything like pick something up off the table and sell it the person across me or whatever it is. And that's obviously deeper than that. But it seemed like that was the part of the process that was self taught for everyone, like some students had the foresight to realize that's important and go out and take like public speaking courses at the university, but I never did and that was actually one of my major regrets in undergrad was never taking like a proper public speaking course because it'd be so viable as a designer.
Nono: Yeah, and what's interesting is that almost nothing gets built at the architecture school right? I mean, some things get fabricated but you're selling things that will never get built. And maybe we can stay into fabrication, I know you're really comfortable fabricating and stuff. And that's something maybe you give for granted.
Nate: Yeah, I don't know if the origin of that is my dad. He had like a wood shop at our home as I was growing up and, I was somewhat handy, I can make things out of two by fours, but I wasn't like a carpenter by any means. But then throughout our school, weirdly enough, I was actually the guy that was like resistant to making models. I was always the one that showed up with something weird that wasn't an architectural model, like to a scale I'd always like build something but some sort of like internal mental block, and I would rationalize my way out of doing it, which is weird, because actually, I would like to go back and do it just because I think I would enjoy it.
Yeah, kind of at the same time, the biggest sort of fabrication stuff that I undertook was related to the computational design projects I did. I always just I think related the two things which is maybe not typical or kind of strange, but, as soon as I sort discovered this process of like designing things parametrically, which the whole idea is, I think internalizing more of the design process so you can make design decisions that are more complex without having to build things. But I was really interested in the way that you could take simple raw materials and actually make things that are really complex with the help of computational design tools like Grasshopper, Dynamo, or whatever you use.
So yeah, that was the last thing I did architecture school was this big pavilion for a music festival back in the Midwest and the whole project was to take really simple materials, because we had a small budget for this, like, I think 17 student studio course, and just use computational design to build something that was creative and responsive and integrated electronics and did all these things but all we had was like a pile of wood and a CNC router. Which was really, really inspiring to me because it elevated the process of making things to something that I think was so much more valuable when you were just using tools that were free and open source, and you could collaborate with other students more easily. It just seemed like pulling pull all of these sort of disparate threads together in a much more complex and meaningful way, just by positioning them relative to one another in a way that was intelligent.
Nono: Do you think computational tools are something that everyone's kind of starting to incorporate their workflow?
Nate: I would say no. I mean, like, and just at the surface level, definitely not. And I think there is a perception by the generation older than ours, that everyone around our ages, are good at computers, which I think is usually then generalize to you're good at designing things in this new way that they imagined young people designing things, which is like parametric design. And I actually found that at least where I went to school, most people really weren't interested in that. And, I appreciate that what we do is extremely nice like that, architecture and academia and practice or this enormous conversation that have a lot going on outside of just the tools that we use.
But I sort of expected more people to be interested in it, I think just because that I was passionate about it. But I like to think that, that is changing, but not due to just the innate ability of designers changing, I think it more has to do with like, the way the tools are designed, and like the people that make them sort of learning how to engage with designers more effectively, rather than just assuming that like, people will get better at doing this as they're available easily.
Nono: So you've talked to me about your interest in design, democratization, and also the importance of interfaces.
Nate: Yeah, I guess that is when I went to graduate school. It was essentially just to have the space to immerse myself in how you use these tools and how these tools are built, and just in a certain sense to learn how to be a developer, those sort of my distant target goal and I knew that I would have the ability to take courses and that on top of the going to regular GSD coursework.
I got interested in the idea of I'm sharing the the way the you script something and that was something I noticed in the process of designing that, that pavilion project I mentioned a few minutes ago, that there is still tended to be like a separation between the people that were interested learning how to use the tools but then it sort of shifted the balance of power seems kind of extreme. It is a way to sort of separate the design of a thing to where it's only really owned by the people that are aware of how to use this sort of scripting interface which I didn't like for a number of reasons mostly because if you're passionate about doing things that way you want everyone to think it's cool so like you show people and it's like hey look I have this like crazy way to design this thing and there's this infinite array of possibilities and you get all like, breathy talking about it, and a lot of people are just like overwhelmed by it, they don't really want to stop what they're doing and learn how to use this tool that you clearly already know how to use pretty well or bead think it's like not a valid way to go about being a designer, which is like a valid opinion, but I was still stuck with the idea that like well maybe if the process of designing something parametrically involved actually making an interface or involved actually thinking about how you kind of share that array of possibilities with someone who isn't you, I think like not even a designer potentially because the the process of incorporating clients in the architectural design process is an age old problem or the client shows up in the office and demands something absurd or kind of asked for something that either isn't within the interest of what the architect wants to be doing.
But it always comes down to, I think, a communication problem that if you're going to be working digitally, I think it's important to think about the way that you communicate, you're not just design intent, but your process and if you care about generating something that's more human. If you're collecting all this data to to do something that in your mind is to the benefit of the client, it doesn't really make sense if you don't ever involve them in the process. So yeah, I guess that boils down to interfaces, really, it's because the way that we design things is still, I think pretty alien to most people.
Nono: Can you give us a tangible example?
Nate: Yeah, the most recent thing I worked on in that realm would have been my graduate master's thesis at the GSD not longer than three months ago, I guess it's only three months ago. I dove into the process of mass customization, so I was interested in a lot of things and I mostly just wanted to immerse myself in like an actual programming project, I took a few classes over the two year period of time where you can actually take courses, but they were kind of short two week assignments extense. But things that didn't really incorporate more than like a specific kind of skill based learning, exercise, or whatever.
So I kind of hijacked my own thesis. And instead of like, combining all the things that I had already learned in graduate school, which is probably what you're supposed to do, I decided to just kind of dive down a completely new stream and just see what else I could learned in that period of time that I had left to just teach myself what I wanted to learn. And so I decided I wanted to build a web app that had some of the spirit of computational design for architecture built into it, but the idea that it was built for a non architect like a consumer who was going to buy a product. So in modern terms it's prefabricated housing is always being touted as like the thing that's going to save architecture because it's cheap, and you can clip it together and it usually fails for a number of reasons. But I thought it'd be interesting to reopen an old system that is well known. So I was looking at one of the clip together house systems that Walter Gropius designed back in the 40s. And there's kind of a cool, like history connection, because he was the Dean of the GSD back. I think he's actually the first dean of the GSD. And that was, I think the first project that he designed when he moved to United States was this this pre fabrication system for post war veterans. And I thought it'd be fascinating to just pick it back up, and it failed, then mostly for manufacturing and scalability reasons. But there also was an enormous issue of they spent all this time developing this really, really complex but generalizable system to build architecture like Legos, and they never want considered how you actually let someone who isn't an architect use it.
So it was supposed to, fix all the issues of urbanization and housing shortages and cost issues. And the reality is that even skilled architects who would look at the the sort of system of plans that they drawn up and it was hieroglyphics, there's no way to sort of easily interpret this thing the way you would like a set of IKEA instructions. So that would be really fascinating because it's, there are a few really interesting books about the history of failed prefab. There's one by Colin Davies called The Prefabricated Home, I think. Yeah, there's this constant failing of dealing with the user in things other than architecture, but specifically architecture because it's such a kind of an internalized creative pursuit that you're bringing the perspectives of additional people is usually considered a bad idea, which I think is a really funny thing that no one ever talks about in architecture school and maybe not practice but I spent a lot of time there.
Nono: How does your learning process look like?
Nate: Scattered, very scattered. I don't think I could put any sort of, like structural framework around it. I don't have a process per se. I think most of the skills I've picked up have been just in pursuit of different projects and essentially up until now I've been in school forever. I stayed for architecture and then I went straight to the GSD afterwards I just had a summer in between. So yeah, most everything now, it's just been, either side projects where I come across something interesting that I want to see if I can learn it myself. And I'll just sort of charge on the path and see where it goes in like everything.
It's very internet mediated, I'm usually like watching YouTube videos or cloning GitHub repos, or whatever and just kind of messing around in my spare time. I think my favorite part about the GSD though was...it was very hands off and unstructured, like I had the space that felt like to go off on these weird self learning exercises without letting that really affect my studies, which was nice because the I think architecture school is so structured that you have all these like little checkboxes to hit in terms of just the way that the licensure is structured, that there wasn't as much time to just go off and learn things that you just wanted to do for fun.
Nono: How much of the things that you've done over the last year have been planned?
Nate: I mean, in a way none. I don't know, I told someone recently, like kind of half jokingly, like, I've just stopped making like a five year plan or even a two year plan because like every year, something completely unexpected springs up and ends up being something that I want to do and derails my plan entirely and so I either make a new one and then end up abandoning it at some point.
My only plan plan was like to get an education in technical terms, it wasn't where I thought it would be but I've enjoyed the process of having the freedom to bounce around a bit. But I think from an outside perspective, like reading my work, and educational history is kind of a dotted line because I've been all over the place.
Nono: What do you enjoy from having joined the software engineering world from being a designer, and also the fact that you're doing that here at Autodesk.
Nate: It is definitely the most challenging thing I've done. I think the biggest driver for me, actually wanting to do this, was that in that project I did for my thesis for my Masters, it was just a really immersed software project. And I never really done that before. And the first like, month or two, I was sort of kicking myself like, "Oh my God, I've gotten in a way over my head," like, I was afraid that I was under delivering.
But then there was this sort of tipping point where I felt like I did know what I was doing, or at least, taught myself enough of the basic skills to begin creating things that I was imagining I would be able to do. And that was just a really, really satisfying creative and also technical process. And, even a year ago, I probably didn't see myself operating as like a software developer, like making production software, but I think it being at Autodesk specifically is what makes it work for me because I think a lot of people that have left architecture sort of do so with a pride, like I'm an ex architect and I am doing something totally different now, but I actually, there's a lot about architecture that I do love that I really don't want to get too far away from.
And so working here there's still this sort of like one degree of separation from like the other side of, life that I enjoy, and then getting tools that I know and like a really kind of abstract indirect way still affect the built environment and still do, maybe not through me, but through someone else, more effective decision making process that ends up in things being built a certain way, I think is a really motivating factor that I think makes sort of everything come together for me.
Nono: What do you think the tools that you're making now, I know you cannot talk a lot about those tools, right? But how do you think the tools are you're making now are going to improve the workflow or the way that other designers work?
Nate: I think to me, I mean, there are a lot of dimensions to it. But I think what's most interesting from my perspective is kind of back to the democratization thing. We've been focusing a lot on not just the core data visualization or like the design generation part of things, but also the issue of how do you use this as a way to mediate or negotiate a conversation with your boss or with your client or with someone who, again, like doesn't really care about parametric design, but might be sort of indirectly experiencing the benefits of it, which I think is interesting, because like it sort of like an imaginary world it allows more voices to come to the table without causing problems, which has always been the issue. And I think if we're able to build something the way that we're imagining it's built in, it gets pushed as far as you think it can. It will allow for a lot of interesting creative hybrids like the idea of taking lots of different like streams of information or like lots of different opinions or voices from people.
I think there's an ability or like a potential for technology to allowed to bring all of those disparate threads together in a way that isn't just a noise machine, it takes a lot of effort and creative and technical effort to make that happen. But I think thinking about like that sort of that nexus problem, like how do you use the computer the tool or whatever it is as a way to just pull together lots of different information that isn't compatible, whether it's like, opinions or aesthetics or data or whatever, I think it's a really, really hard but really fascinating problem.
Nono: Now you were talking about software, what role do you think the open source community has played or is playing in both the software world and also the architecture world or the designers world?
Nate: And this might be where I'm getting a bit out of my depth because I don't really consider myself like air quotes again, like real software developer yet. It's something that I, very much like the nascent stages of learning how to do like a professional way. And the most of my ability to speak on that is just a dynamo being open source. And I know a bit of the history of it.
Actually, I just listened to Ian Keough's episode. I don't want to unintentionally reiterate today what he said about the difficulty of having a user base that is technically inclined, but not really technically able to contribute as a developer. You can be a super user without having the ability to actually pull code into the core repo for Dynamo. It's a bit of a tangent, but there's this idea of open source outside of code. How do you open source like a design for a house? There are a lot of projects I had looked at over the past year kind of researching, prefab, and like researching, distributed efforts to make architecture a bit more human or at least more affordable. And they also like prefab generally fail, which I think is fascinating: one, because there isn't really a clear, really clear way to point out why they always do fail. But I think it's something that, the idea of the open source in architecture is something that I think is still worthy of merit, even though it's been traditionally difficult to sort of get off the ground.
Nono: I'd like to hear your approach to work in progress, prototypes, and documentation of the work that you have done.
Nate: I think it's just like angrily rebuilding my website once a year. I'm probably a really bad example of having like a structured approach to documentation. And I do it mostly out of obligation. I don't like the idea of building something and spending all this time and effort crafting something that you enjoy, then it's sort of dying in obscurity. And it's not like my website struggling up with a ton of traffic. But I think it is something that's really, really valuable. I think, from a code perspective, I haven't really done it long enough to have a unified theory on how to document things for other people. But one of the things in architecture school that was really emphasized, at least where I went was new document effectively, because your work really only exists in photos, especially now and kind of in the age of the internet or wherever you want to call it.
I think it's easy to make fun of the idea of caring more about the photo you put on Instagram with your architecture model, then you do the actual model. But I think that actually holds a lot of merit because that model is going to sit in your bedroom at your parents house at a certain point in history. And that Instagram photo is going to be, what is on your portfolio website that ends up on link to your resume, which ends up getting you the job. I don't know if that is something that's new, I mean, there's libraries of architecture books with attractive photos of architecture, but I think it has changed a little bit the way, I think, about documentation in a general sense that I think I'm spent more time on in the past year and a half or so then I probably have in my entire design career combined. Just because I think I've recently convinced myself of what I just said like it really is super important to document things attractively in a way that you actually will want to keep it around for the long run.
Nono: Does this way of understanding documentation influence how you deal with digital files?
Nate: I feel like I've agglomerated way too many platforms for that in general and I did like a note in my phone the other day, just mostly for curiosity's sake. "How many different disparate sources do I have files stored in the cloud somewhere?" And I think it was like seven. Haha. This is like maybe a rallying cry for someone to find a better way to cross-sync different cloud platforms. But I would love the idea of having like a really structured way to catalog both personal and professional and creative life digitally. It's never been that clean in my personal experience. And maybe it's just due to me being like disorganized or like impatient or not finding the right way to do it.
That's actually, I think, out of everything we've been talking about, the thing that I've been talking or not talking about, but working on personally, like most recently, because I think I'm at a bit of a tipping point at having just too many things to manage. That's what I would like to get simple with, personally in the near future.
Nono: What are some of those file storing services?
Nate: Oh, my God. So I think... I know my list was two Dropbox accounts for working school, a Google Drive, at a personal iCloud. I have personal and academic box accounts, which I think are both dead now. They were accounts that I opened on like the behest of someone else. I had like a team member at a school thing, they wanted to use Dropbox paper and then we were like using Google Slides and I was like, "Oh, I have a Drive account." I'm going to start throwing files on here, then, "Oh, now I have to get OneDrive for work because Autodesk is Microsoft." And then, all of a sudden, it's like two years later and I have this unmanageable mountain of distributed storage systems
Nono: Out of curiosity, how is iCloud working for you?
Nate: I love it. Actually, I didn't really see myself like an Apple person until recently, I have now an iPhone that I personally use a MacBook. I ran almost exclusively Windows on it for a long time. But actually, now that I'm kind of in the developer world more, I totally appreciate how much better the Mac system is for just developing things quickly. I like it, it can sync everything really seamlessly.
But then I realized that I had this probably unhealthy kind of bleed between my personal and work life because then I now have a work Mac and then is like, "Oh, signing through iCloud at work," is like, "Oh cool I'm gonna say, 'Oh, wow,' just auto-sync all of my personal messages and photos to my work computer," which is probably not the smartest thing in the world to do so then I cut off my work computer but then now I'm like back to my file storage problem like, "Oh, now I have to link up my OneDrive and iCloud account," so whenever I'm sitting on my couch need respond or an email and I don't want to get my little laptop but I keep building these like artificial barriers between my like digital services and then breaking my own rules a week later because I don't like that it's inconvenient.
Nono: So are there any apps that you don't install on your phone because you don't want to get distracted or you don't want to use them when you're on the go?
Nate: That's something I was never consciously paying attention to until pretty recently. I had like a self intervention with Instagram probably like four or five months ago. It wasn't like extreme I just like realized I was like spending like more time than I wanted to be spending just like kind of like mindlessly per using through like the infinite scroll feed. I don't know that like after doing that for a while, and then reading the articles. Facebook is engineered to suck your attention away and also it makes you are endlessly depressed. There's so many reasons that you should be doing it less that I don't know, I just got to a point where it's like I want to do this less. And I turned off all push notifications on my phone for like all social media, which is a small thing, but I actually have noticed that has helped me kind of stay focused on whatever I'm doing and even just, if you get the push buzz on your phone, you glance down, it's like oh, it's something I don't care about on Twitter.
It's just sometimes it's just enough to kind of like pull you out of whatever you're doing and send you off on different tangents just like making those little interactions or like club happenings happen less has been more effective than I thought it would be. But in general, I'm like a bad social media user like I don't post often enough on Instagram. I think if I had like a reason to use it more effectively, I would but I think I spent so much time kind like passively consuming junk on it that I just sort of pulled away from it maybe in the future all have like an account that's worth following.
Nono: But do you have any techniques for when you want to disconnect and actually do something else maybe work or have time for yourself or do something else?
Nate: Yeah, some weird ones. I actually don't like working places that I've spent lots of time in, or I need to change locations frequently, which it is nice that we work in like a big tech office so you can sort of like at least relocate in small ways like around the space. Last semester since I was at the GSD, as a desk-less MDes student, I'd worked like probably like 10 different places like a continuous cycle like weird libraries and I discovered the halls of the fun library of Japanese studies, which is like connected to the GSD and like an underground tunnel and yeah, all over Cambridge, like weird places on campus.
But yeah, the times that I wouldn't find my kind of my zen stream of actually getting like totally invested in what I was doing would be usually if it's somewhere quiet I can deal with like coffee shop noise pretty well, but it's mostly where I don't like see familiar things that like visually distract me. But other than that now, this is the first time that I've had a long-term... Not an internship, like an actual long-term employment engagement, where am I going to the same office every day? I'm figuring out my personal process for that right now.
Nono: How do you feel about the open plan and the meetings?
Nate: I think I like it. I mean, I definitely would never want to have the traditional closed door office, like, especially with the type of work that we do, and it's so nice to be able to either like message, someone that you can see with an eye shot, and then like, walk over and as something or just like walk with your laptop to someone that you need to talk to about something and there's no barriers to getting things done. And then, being in a team of people where that's allowed, you're not bothering someone by solving problems.
I could sort of be sympathetic to people that don't like it. I mean, if you're the type of person that like needs to be like, really, really isolated to get work done, I can see it being a problem and I'm Kind of that person I I get distracted easily in the way that I just there's been days are just like kind of like normal like happening so there's like lots of people like touring the office I feel like I'm like oh my god I need to go if I can find some more quieter x This is driving me crazy. But like on the whole i think it's it's better than the the alternative of being like totally isolated from the rest of your team.
Nono: Is there any environment that you think makes it easier for yourself to solve problems or challenges that you're going through might be code or design problems? And also, where do you think you get your best ideas or when?
Nate: I think it's being able to really directly like see or touch the problem that you're trying to address. In architecture school, there was always the site visit, right? Like you'd have a studio brief and you're doing a certain type of project at a site and most semesters, we would have the chance to actually travel to the site and see it in person and either meet stakeholders or local residents are just like get that really personal and visceral experience of where you're supposed to be designing, which I think is totally irreplaceable.
And, actually, we had one studio project that was overseas was like Panama or somewhere and then we just weren't able to visit the site. And that was like, by far my worst to do projects, I didn't, it was weird, I thought I sort of in a maybe totally misinformed a thought that just through the research and reading I would be able to pick up enough information to do something that would be responsive to it. And there was just something sort of missing out on maybe it's the same that kind of the spatial understanding of a site or having first hand knowledge are kind of your primary sources for people that actually know the place well, that are kind of impossible to emulate. I think that carries over to really any design her creative task, like if you're building a piece of software or tool or something, I think having either personal experience of what doesn't work well. Now, I'm using a similar tool from elsewhere that if it frustrates you in a certain way I think it's really easy to respond to that kind of thing like, Oh, I wish it was this way and if you have the ability to change it and you can, or just in talking to people that know it better than you do, and whatever the thing is.
Nono: I'm going to ask you a few questions about yourself, daily life, and habits or things like that. Just right now, how does your day to day look like?
Nate: Probably the most structured it has been in a long time, I think. I enjoyed the aspect of being in school where it was kind of a broken up routine, you have different classes every day and there's some sort of pattern but there isn't like a kind of a rinse repeat daily routine that I enjoyed, maybe for the same reasons that I like to move around and work in different places. I feel like it's easier for me to get out of in the flow of things creatively if I can just sort of like drop into new things and get totally into them for short bursts of time.
Now, I'm sort of readjusting to like, what a regular working effort to do. So I probably can't speak to anything like insightful on that but yeah, I am actually learning to appreciate and enjoy it in a way. I was kind of resistant to like, my Mondays through Fridays, looking essentially the same. But there really are benefits to it, especially working the way that we do where you have to do a lot of context switching between lots of different problems and short periods of time. And then there's a lot of people depending on the work that you're doing, I think that having the comparative higher amount of stability just in the day to day, this morning, maybe allows for that to actually work well.
Nono: How would your define yourself?
Nate: How would I define myself? I would define myself, I think, primarily just as curious. I think my life up until this point, in a really high level, it's been driven by either trying to figure out why things are the way they are, or it's been driven by just chasing down things that I find interesting that are within my ability to chase down and I've kind of taken been a typical route to here, and I'm not entirely sure why that is.
Nono: Do you have any daily habits that take you less than half an hour and have a positive impact in your days?
Nate: My morning routine is really static, which I think is good. I usually wake up the same time around 7:15, at least I will stand up relative to the past like four months working at Autodesk or however long it's been. But I like having just a really stable morning or like wake up shower, eat breakfast, usually listen to podcasts like this one or music on the T [the Boston subway], also the Boston community to support.
I'm learning to enjoy the repetitiveness of it, there's something sort of therapeutic about having the same like exact motions every single day, you get to the office and then that's kind of a free for all with whatever we're doing that day. Other than that, not every single day, I exercise in some capacity every day at least, I like to climb or run, I lift weights, but that sort of just changes depending on my schedule.
Nono: What about other activities like meditation or yoga?
Nate: I did yoga actually well at the GSD. There was a really good yoga instructor who did a weekly class. I really someone told me that she has a studio somewhere in Cambridge, I thought, I've been dying to get back into doing yoga mostly because sitting at a desk, I'm sick a ball of like sore muscles at this point. I'm really bad at meditation. I tried it once. And I did it for like, 60 seconds, maybe nothing. And I never, I don't think everyone back to the point, right? I never really gave it enough of a shot to get what I imagined you're supposed to get out of it. I would like to be good at meditation for the record.
Nono: So can you tell us a bit of what kind of podcasts or books you like to consume?
Nate: I'm kind of recently just exploring the podcast world maybe over the last year so Hardcore History was really good one. I think history ones are the ones that I've spent the most time listening to.
Over the past like three or four months I've gotten more into this style of podcast yet more personal development or whatever you want to call that kind of genre of podcasts. Mostly I think grad school or maybe just like school in general so, all encompassing enveloping of your time and mental focus.
Other people I'm sure are good at balancing that, the personal well being development stuff outside of school but I feel like in architecture and design school I was just so totally invested in the work that I was doing that I didn't really pull back far enough to be interested, the more well being personal development side of things. But that's something I'm definitely devoting more time to now, personally, I really into what was it now RadioLab, I'm a huge RadioLab fan, which is sort of the Freakonomics format. It's just a lot of interesting but totally disconnected stories that probably geeky people get into because they're just like local oddities do I find interesting.
Nono: Is there anything new that you have introduced recently into your design skills and programming skills, there are two separate questions, that have taken your game up to add new level?
Nate: I recently I think in a weird desire to balance out how much of my time I spent developing now since it's my day job I have this primitive desire to go back to fabricating things like making things with my hands, which I had a chance to do a bit through Autodesk over the past year, but I recently started 3d printing things and casting concrete like rock, things I like, and it's a weird process.
It's like really unforgiving of imperfections in the cast and the material and like it gets hot if you do it too fast or you get the ratio wrong and usually just like dissolves or explodes, which is kind of fun because it's when you get it right it's like really gratifying. That's something actually I'm spending a lot more time on. I'm about to buy a better 3d printer so I can do something with my random side hobby.
Also drawing a bit more, which I also totally rejected the notion of doing in architecture school, but now that I don't have to, for some reason I have a desire to draw things now. Was the programming half of the question.
Nono: Well, just mentioning if you have installed any new apps or signed up for any new services that make you more productive or creative or just spend less time doing certain things?
Nate: I guess it's more work related but I have been totally kind of uninitiated in the world of cloud hosting, like what a what it actually takes to take a prototype of something you think is cool that you have locally and actually, like, posted somewhere and build it out and test it and actually, like, see if you can scale it somewhere. I'm partway to the process of posting the thing I built for my master's project on Google Cloud and trying to deploy it turns out, it's unbelievably difficult to post TensorFlow models on the cloud and have them like not crash or explode. I would really, really enjoy being able to actually share what I did because that I think, so much of the, of my rationale behind doing what I was doing was like the idea that like you can just go to a website and actually use this tool and it's abstract and weird, but it's would be cool to actually learn from users, which doesn't happen until too late in the process a lot of the time.
Nono: Before you mentioned repetitiveness, and how you kind of, in some way started liking that. Do you get bored of those repetitive things? Or do you do something to try to avoid that boredom?
Nate: Yeah, I mean, I'm someone who gets bored I think of everything pretty easily. I think so far in my like short experience, there's been enough randomness in either the work that I'm doing or my day to day activities that the aspects of it that are repetitive have been kind of therapeutic. But I think at a certain point, I could absolutely see myself getting crazy if my day job was too static. If I think if too many aspects of my life became really cyclical, I would probably have a desire to find some way to shake it up. I don't know what that would look like. I've been able to strike a balance with So far, but there's definitely a limit to them.
Nono: We're seeing a lot of new technologies coming out and we kind of start embracing them faster and faster, it seems. What do you think we are doing wrong there?
Nate: I still don't have Amazon Alexa. I don't know, I fall in the paranoid side of the spectrum. I think I'm probably quick to dismiss things without having like, any real technical knowledge of why they're bad. I think I just have developed this sort of inherently distrustful disposition towards really large tech companies. And I mean, at this point in time it's probably not out of the gift to rationalize that just based on the current climate. I think the notion that if a big tech company has your data, and they have no history of either misusing it or abusing it or losing it, that's grounds to trust them with it, is misinformed. And I don't know I don't have Alexa.
I think Amazon hasn't gotten in trouble yet. And that's good and maybe they have the best intentions in the world and they have no current intention or ever will do anything bad with it, but it just seems that every single other large actor has sort of either gotten caught or slipped in a way that hurts users. I tried to rein in the amount of things I signed up for and kind of potential points of entry into my personal life that technology sort of intrudes and I have sort of a soft issue with it. If there is a sale on nice home speaker systems they have enough Alexa included I'd probably buy it and just like hasn't really, I don't know I've been able to avoid it.
But there is like a convenience factor to it that it is easy to argue for. I just haven't had any reason to buy into those all encompassing like life technology systems. I don't really think they do enough to justify a kind of the personal extension that you have to get on board with allowing.
Nono: Can you tell us a bit more about what other things are you paranoid about?
Nate: What else my paranoid about? I think it's just Internet of things. I don't know it might be totally misinformed or misdirected. There's the story a few years ago where some , I can't remember which company was, it was a relatively well known, like smart TV manufacturer, and it had like a voice recognition system and it would do the sort of standard Siri thing where "Oh, we're going to record some things and use that so we can understand your voice better," which is like, that's accurate, that's how you can actually profile someone's voice to make the recognition system more powerful. But they also had been recording everything else and just uploading it to a server somewhere, but I think partly was just due to, I don't think like malicious intent, they just haven't struggled in and they saw other companies were making a lot of money from that, which I guess that's pretty malicious. But I think before anything really bad happened, they just got caught and all these people had these seemingly benign home appliances in their apartments or wherever.
And all of a sudden had this like weird but valid reason to totally mistrust them. And I don't know, I think that all of the regulation that's going on right now is really good. You know, it's extreme, but I think that's necessary because we sort of allowed it to get to a place where it's extremely unregulated. And maybe that will result in a more kind of healthy relationship that people have between big tech companies and the way that they sort of treat personal data but as for now, I'm just gonna weigh it out.
Nono: In which ways do you think, I mean your final project is related to automation, some sort of intelligent agent that knows how to generate something for you or infer things from what you're doing. How do you think artificial intelligence and automation and all these new things are going to make your life a bit better? Anyway, something mundane, something in your day-to-day?
Nate: There's actually a company I just read about called X.AI. This is a startup, I assume they're in the valley somewhere and all they're trying to do is automate the process of scheduling meetings with another person, like you get an email from anyone, it's like, "Hey, we should talk tomorrow. Does 2pm work for you?" And usually that involves two or three back and forth correspondences just to find a time to do something, talk for 15 minutes or whatever it is. And so there's this really large company full of really talented developers, all they're trying to do is just automate that process like, "Hey, let us read your Outlook inbox and we'll have a little bot that will pop up," Like Clippy, the Microsoft guy, and just take that over. It'll just say, Hey, we looked at your calendar, their calendar, we have sort of learned the way that you correspond, the way that Siri listens to your voice, and just remove that whole block of human time required.
If you don't have it in executive assistant, which most of us do not, it's a simple thing that would, probably give you back three hours a week, maybe, when you think about the amount of time you actually... I think it's more prevalent in sales, jobs or marketing joining us like somewhere where you actually have a lot of face to face meetings, either internally or like with external clients or whatever. It's not as pervasive I think the development world since we all sit in a circle together. But that's something really fascinating to me, that's the little example of one of the tiny things that seem so mundane. No one really thinks about it, but executed properly could be like, really, really, really powerful.
Nono: What do you think of self-driving cars?
Nate: I'm pro. I'm definitely the type of person to get fully onboard with the idea that there are embedded systems just in society, like everyone driving their own car, almost everywhere, at least in your parts of the country where that's common and that we aren't very good at that. Just the idea of that, you could have a machine that has lots of data about how all cars operate and about how people operate in situations when they're behind the wheel of a car and you can make us safer.
And I think there's a lot of resistance to that idea that I've never fully understood. I just agree with that assertion. I don't know if it's an emotional decision or just a rational one, but I'm completely in agreement with the idea that like, there is an AI there. That's definitely better than driving a car than I am.
Nono: How do you feel about replacing billions of cars...
Nate: Because there are people whose job is to drive cars every day?
Nono: No, no for that. There are thousands and millions of cars on the streets already? Any infrastructure of self-driving cars you actually have to replace them.
Nate: I think that it's not great that we have to do that but it almost seems like procrastinating, right? Maybe it doesn't eventually have to happen. We could just continue the trajectory that we're on. But at least in the case of self-driving cars, Tesla is sort of what everyone's talking about when that conversation comes up. It seems that since we have the data to prove that we're not on a trajectory that allows us to keep doing what we're doing, when this sort of hits a tipping point, that's unclear, but we have to do something.
This is getting really kind of philosophical, but I'm totally okay with the idea that there is a price to pay to change the way that things work. Other people have different personal thresholds for that, I guess, but I would put my personal stake behind doing difficult thing now rather than later.
Nono: So can you tell me about some projects that you've done, where automation was a core part of it? I would emphasize the contrast between something that traditionally had been done manually.
Nate: Yeah, I think my initial attraction to parametric design was partially the aesthetic, like there's a certain way that those types of projects look and then there's also the efficiency aspect of it or the the ability, like talked about before, actually collaborate with other people and to bring more voices into the equation. And that was, from a high level my foray into it. But I still wouldn't consider computational design to be automation. I think it's a way of designing that is just a composition differently from the way in architecture traditionally operates. But then my curiosity nationally led, especially now kind of because it's such a hot topic into actual automation, your machine learning artificial intelligence.
I built that into some of my work at Autodesk last summer. And it was also an aspect of my thesis project last semester, and mostly, I decided to get into it just out of curiosity and my ability to do it was primarily because a lot of the research happening in that sector has been intentionally made open source and also made accessible. Three or four years ago, there's no way I could have done something like trained a neural network. But with TensorFlow and projects like that there's been a lot of concerted effort on the behalf of people that know how to do that stuff to make it easier to get into, which I think after doing it I have kind of mixed feelings about, because there are some aspects of that that I do find legitimately scary.
This might be a better wrap around back to our paranoia question because there's been so much writing and talking head and journalism about automation that I am sympathetic to people that don't really get worked up by it. If you'd if you don't really have any experience in software development or in data science, some of it sounds so far fetched that it's like, "Oh, there's no way that someone could read my Facebook posts and understand what kind of coffee I like to buy. That's crazy."
But I took one of the data science classes at the college at Harvard and the undergrads and the ability to take sparse data and make accurate predictions until you do it, it is weird. It's sort of like based on everything that your normal person or regular person has learned about math and statistics up to that point.
Machine learning gets into a place where it just sort of does things that seem like magic. And the whole idea behind it is like, we just have unbelievably powerful computers that can do calculations over and over and over again. And now especially again, in the last couple of years, we have these ways to take like even bad data or take like mistrain the models and use that to make them even better. One of the regression methods that we learned was that you take all of the bad data that you spit out of the previous generation, and you actually roll that into training for the next one, because that in generalize is the model to deal with more, more varied input afterwards, so you don't over fit, which from an intuitive perspective, seems like it shouldn't work, but it does. And then there's this whole other dimension of it, where you see projects and platforms coming out of the AI research world. They just seem malicious on the outside.
There's a project recently they got a bunch of much of traction where you can take two separate streams of video, me talking like I am now and do a webcam and then a video of Barack Obama or someone famous speaking in a completely separate event and video stream and you can map the words that I'm saying and the movements of my face on to his and make it sound like and look like he's saying exactly what I'm saying. And they published this key member who it was we'll have to find that reference later. And the kind of public or the rationale for making this tool was "Oh, we can we can use this kind of platform to make the process, like two people speaking to each other in different languages over an audio translator." It seems more natural and more seamless. If it looks like the the words that you're saying if they're being live translated by an AI will also it'll make your mouth look like it's doing those things, which compared to the potential downside of being able to fake video of world leaders saying important things doesn't seem like video translation is all that important.
But there's so many projects like that happening now that there needs to be some kind of like external or no moral compass and that the world of research to, I don't know.
Nono: Well, I would mention, there is a document from the open AI project which has a whole PDF thinking on these kind of criminal or malicious way so paradigms are cases where AI could be used from. I think that there are people are trying to kind of start growing those, like foundations of what's gonna happen. You actually think of other examples of machine learning libraries that are out there, that are meant for something and what they could be misused for.
Nate: So there is a tool I found just the other day I think it might have been yesterday from video, who does big graphics card manufacturer, lots of deep learning research, and they've published lots of frameworks and libraries and they put one out called the vid to vid where you can take the frames from two separate video streams and map A to B and B to A, which is how most Image Transfer works. But like I was saying before, it's so easy to take like the off the shelf examples and sort of imagine dark things that you can do with it. I mean, like, the first thing comes to mind is like, just take a video of a war zone and map it onto color mapped footage of a regular city street in a neighborhood and you could make it look like some horrible things happen somewhere where it actually hasn't been.
There's just like an infinite number of possibilities when there's so much data on the internet in kind of infinite and constant supply that you can misuse and abuse these tools in ways that I don't think people are really geared to distrust. It's one of those things that it's difficult to talk about, I think without either sounding like, "You don't know enough to say why, oh it actually isn't that bad". I was hoping that I learned a bit about it and then not distrust it anymore. Or not just buy into the as it's fed to you version of it, which like "AI is going to come and ruin everything." I assumed that I would be able to disprove that. But I'm not totally disprove. Mostly because it's a difficult topic to draw a line in the sand about like. It's easy to draw sort of like apocalyptic scenarios where it's used for bad, right.
But there's also lots of scenarios where it's used for good, and there's going to definitely be a mix of the good with the bad. I mean. Bad? Facebook. Election manipulation. Good? Tesla. Self-driving cars, like people don't die in accidents quite as often and all of those things have to be rationalized with statistics but it turns out that most people really aren't all that moved by the statistics of things. And so I think the impulse is just to go build them and see what happens, which maybe that's the way it's always been done with tech.
Nono: Yeah. And it feels to me that some technologies are kind of. It doesn't matter if it's not MIT Media Lab whom rate is going to be like adding a band or a Google Brain or something. I would like to change gears now and ask you about how would you define success?
Nate: How would I define success? I think I personally at this point in my life, I totally buy into the maybe trope or cliche that if you just chase after the things that you are interested in that, your own personal version of success will follow. And I've been lucky enough to be able to just pursue my career path sort of on those terms so far. I enjoy being a designer or an architect and I enjoy making software and so it very rarely feels like a job. I mean, it's a job, there's parts of it that I don't love, but I don't feel like I work to make a living and then I have to go sort of do other things on the side outside of my job to sort of feel fulfilled. And part of that I think, is like in the process of becoming an architecture designer, you're taught to no longer respect like your personal work life boundaries, like the keys to success, it's like, "Oh, you're going to be the one that stays up all night for the big review or whatever." I never bought into that as much as maybe some people did. I think there were times where I probably should have stayed up for the big review and I just like call it quits and made do with what I had.
Yeah, success means such an abstract thing and it means different things to different people. But I was told by someone at a point in my life that if you chase money, you'll eventually find it and you won't be happy with how you got there. But if you chase something that you enjoy doing, the money will follow. If that's what you're really looking for with that idea of success.
Nono: Can you think of one person that specifically has influenced your life positively?
Nate: My dad, definitely. He was back in the Midwest where I grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He's a workers compensation lawyer. So he represents individual clients, usually in claims against insurance companies. So he tells everyone that says they're going to be a lawyer, like "Don't be a lawyer because it's really dry and boring and the hours are long." But there is a very ethical and kind of personal side to what he does that I've always been really inspired by it. I know that he's really proud of that, you can choose to use your personal gifts like for good or for bad. Like a storybook tells, a story about terms I mean. But I like the idea of just analyzing what you're good at and then imagining how you can use it to help other people.
And in the world of design or architecture, there's so much like disillusion. It's so often hear architects talk about, "Oh, we just build buildings for multi billion dollar insurance companies." And that's I think it's easy to get to kind of lose the magic in that. And I think that is the primary reason why I decided not to pursue the traditional path of architecture.
Nono: And can you think of any role models? Do you think sometimes: "I want to be like this guy when I'm an adult."
Nate: Yeah, there I jump around so often in my personal interest, I think I finally landed in a world of digital design and software. But at the GSD I got close with two professors who I took, I think almost all of their courses Panagiotis Michalatos, who was here with us at Autodesk in varying capacities. And then Andrew Witt, who is my thesis advisor who does a lot of work that is very much in line with what I see myself doing and sort of the realm of architecture and computational design that I think is really, really fascinating.
I've sought a lot of advice, kind of career wise and academically from them over the past couple of years. Yeah, I like the idea of being able to still pursue like kind of a personal research trajectory throughout my career, which is I think, why I named those two books they've both worked for big companies and architecture firms and academia but they have like a really easy to digest and point out like body of research and like a body of interest that I think is super impressive. Eventually that's what I aspire to model my career.
Nono: What makes you happy?
Nate: I think what makes me happy is making things for other people that they end up really cherishing or enjoying, I don't know. I like sort of using my skill as a designer or whatever it is to just help other people and sort of whatever way that is. I mean, it could be, in the small ways, of just like fixing my girlfriend's computer when it's broken because I know how to do that. Or like physically making things for people or collaborating with other people, I think.
Collaboration actually is probably the closest thing I could point at, because it's, I think it's rare for really good design to come from total isolation. Like I think the idea of the solitary architect is kind of a myth, right? Like even the ones that I think everyone imagines as being that, are usually propped up by a large army of people kind of secretly in the background, and they're acting more as curators than actual designers what is, again, I decided not to pursue architecture.
Nono: If you could send the message for everyone to read tomorrow morning, what would you say?
Nate: That's huge. Call in sick. Do something you want to do.
Nono: Nice. How often do you experience nature?
Nate: Less often than I did when I lived back in the Midwest. That's actually I think I love Boston. So far, I had never spent a long period of time in a city outside the Midwest up until I moved out here for grad school. And there's been enough to do just like in the city that I've stayed like, I've stayed entertained, but I have spent much less time just out in nature. I feel like I don't know I have never been the type to just like to take off into the mountains every other weekend.
I think there's still just kind of a passive connection to the outdoors that is a little bit closer when you live out of a big city. That I definitely do find myself missing at times. Again, it was something I never really sought out really actively up until I moved out here and I kind of realized that when you don't kind of get it in the background that you've noticed that it's missing so now that I'm no longer in school and have the time to go to get back to that. I really want to actually do that more often.
Nono: Are there any things that you kind of want to commit to doing more or things that you want to try that you've never done before?
Nate: I want to commit to having like an actual hobby, like I think I I've gotten through life to this point like being excited enough about my sort of personal knowledge endeavors or whatever you want to call it, but it's always been either through a job or through school because I have a tendency to sort of like really kind of bury myself and to that type of work, which I still do but now that my long term trajectory is a little bit less academic and more stable and I have a little bit more free time maybe than I did before.
It would be definitely healthy to define something that's completely outside of my normal day to day, to get excited about and uses something to kind of separate and balance myself a little bit.
Nono: Is there any part of your life that you can see you do to slow down?
Nate: Other than exercise? No, I don't think that really accounts as slowing down, so it's repetitive physical activity. I'm terrible at meditating. I don't know, I don't think there is a specific activity that I go to to slow down specifically.
Nono: Do you believe in making things focusing on quality or on quantity?
Nate: Quality. But the things that I make, personally, I focus more on quality. And I think I'm interested in the idea of how do you allow people to make things that are personal to them, but are also accessible to them. Like I got really into researching, like the idea of mass customization, which is sort of a catch all term for like, everyone's going to have a 3d printer in the future, which I don't agree with. I just don't think it's gonna happen. But I do think that there is sort of an upcoming wave of the ability to have things that are made custom for you and based on your own personal taste. And then it isn't like more expensive than sort of the traditional way of consuming, like mass produced goods.
Nono: In what context do you think that quantity over quality would make sense for you?
Nate: I think, maybe sort of mystery or like redirecting your question a bit. But, in the way that I actually learned things, I think is definitely quantity over quality. Like I have this method of just kind of immersing myself in a thing that I don't understand. And I think I sort of like subconsciously, they passively just figure it out over time. Like I don't often have like a eureka moment, like if I'm learning something related to software development, or a new tool or it's mostly even like learning technical skills.
I found that my method is usually just didn't do it really badly for a long time. And then eventually I sort of like, stop and come back to it and realize that like, Hey, I'm like, not as bad as I was, which is not a very profound thing to realize me. It's just practice after a while, especially with software development, I think I find myself feeling like oh my god, I have no idea what I'm doing at all for the first like, 55 to 60% of the process.
Nono: How do you deal with physical clutter?
Nate: I accumulate too much of it and then I throw a ton of stuff away like once a year. I was in a bunch of bad apartments when I was younger but I didn't move into like a really small apartment until I moved to Cambridge. I was living like a half mile from the GSD and it was just like the classic Cambridge one room studio apartment with a separate kitchen which was nice. I think a true studio with the refrigerator in the same room as your bed would like drive me totally crazy. But it was still a tiny apartment and I just moved in with the amount of things that I thought you would need for that apartment and just realize I had way too much stuff and so I lived like a hermit for two or three days and then I eventually just like put like a bunch of my stuff on the curb because I just couldn't handle having that much stuff and realized how much I really didn't need and then I just moved again recently and I was much more cautious this time around about. Like all right, how much stuff do you like really, really need?
I don't think I consciously describe myself like the minimalist. I really don't like having more just stuff that I think I like would really use. I have a sort of a test that I make things sort of pass if I'm going to keep them. It's like, am I going to pick this thing? I'm more than, like, once a week. And if it doesn't pass, I usually have a good reason for why I'm going to keep it anyways.
Nono: How do you think your life would change if you wouldn't have to worry about money?
Nate: That's tough. I don't know. I mean, I'm in a place right now where like, I really enjoy the opportunity to learn new things as part of my job. I don't think I would just like to run away to Bermuda if I had infinite money right now. I think I'm on a trajectory that I do enjoy. I think it would kind of cliche but I really would like to do something that's more in line with charity. Like there's a company that Autodesk actually works with called Build Change that it's focused on what we do in terms of interfacing with the building construction industry and the regulations.
Regulatory committees and applying those kind of standards practices we come up with to construction in third world countries or like reconstructing post disaster areas, which I think is cool because I think it's easy to lose sight of the societal benefit. Software development or developing tools for architects is exciting and it's cool to make the tools that people use but I've gotten disillusioned with it before and the idea that there is a kind of a middle ground to use the skills that I have potentially for good in a really direct tangible way is really attractive to me. So I would find myself doing something like that, I think.
Nono: What's your take on clothing?
Nate: I've adopted the architect black more than I did on architecture school and keep doing things like that, like getting on board right after I should have already been on the boat. I know I liked the idea of just having a personal uniform. I have a pretty narrow range within which I operate and my family's been following me for the longest time because probably since I was like 16 or 17 I've worned just blue gray, or black clothing, anywhere within that spectrum. It's a convenience thing and yeah, I like owning clothing that wears in overtime.
I'm okay with spending money on clothes that I think will last a really long time. I get really viscerally angry because I hate the idea that you're supposed to buy a piece of clothing and wear it four times and throw it away. I don't know if it's a value judgment on my own part but I I would rather buy one t-shirt that I wear 100 times that I would rather buy whatever the math is for that, many t-shirts and wear it three times.
Nono: Do you have any particular things on how do you distribute your money?
Nate: I have a lot of first last couple of months. I mean, this is the beginning of my first full year working on interrupted in theory for a single company. So I've always gone back and forth between school and an internship during the year and it's been very dashed line up until now, in terms of having a stable income. So I've been just living like a student forever and not really managing my money at all because I usually would spend all of it on basic necessities. Now, I hope that ends. I'm finally at the point where I am just working full time. And if you have any tips, I'm all yours.
Nono: Do you have any book recommendations?
Nate: I'm in the middle of reading a book that was actually recommended to me The Information by James Gleick, which is really really really good. I love it so far. Other than that, no, I was reading for the thesis research like really intensely for a long time, which was kind of for pleasure because there were things that I wanted to learn about, but at the same time it was for school in a way. I haven't picked up a book just to read for fun. I read a book called Dark Matter. I really enjoyed. I can't remember the name of the author, but I picked it up and read it in two flights a couple months ago and enjoyed it.
Nono: What something of $100 or less that has had an impact in your life?
Nate: Last week, I discovered the low cut socks from Uniqlo, they're like $3 a pair and they have the grip on the back of them that doesn't slip off when you wear like sneakers. And they've turned my whole quality of life around.
Nono: I bought them two weeks ago.
Nate: That's hilarious. I've owned so many socks like that. So when you wear like vans, sneakers or whatever...it drives me crazy when your sock rides up above the top of the sneaker. Most of those socks, they fall down around the bottom of your foot, which makes me want to just throw my shoes into the ocean. And I discovered the Uniqlo socks and it's incredible.
Nono: So just one last question. So where would you see yourself in 10 years or 20 years?
Nate: I used to really reject the idea of teaching. I think I've been in school for so long that going back voluntarily seems kind of crazy. But I taught a couple of the grasshopper workshops on the weekends at the GSD. I think you did some of those too. And I thought it was funny because I got the job having no prior formal experience of teaching anyone anything, like over the shoulder, like people do computational design stuff before, but I never prepared like an actual lesson plan.
And I was kind of stressed out because I had no idea, I didn't know any like fundamental teaching theory or how to structure the process of teaching someone with zero knowledge on something. I never really actually enjoying the whole process. So I would like in ten or however many years to have the ability to teach a class in something once a year, I don't know. If I've learned anything that I could teach someone else in that period of time, I would like to do it.
Nono: Okay, before we go, where would people find you online?
Nate: My current website before I tear down rebuild it again is natepeters.us. I am on social media. My Instagram is @Nate_Peters, and I'm on Facebook but I don't really use it. But Instagram and my website are my two primary points of internet usage.
Nono: If you've listened to any other episodes, which one would you recommend?
Nate: I would recommend...I really liked Peter Boyer's episode. I got to spend some time with Peter a few times before he left Autodesk and he's a really interesting take on everything. So I would recommend that episode.
Nono: Okay, we've kind of covered everything, do you have anything else to say?
Nate: Yeah, we covered all of our bases. No, I don't think, I don't have any profound life advice. I don't think I've lived long enough to have any of that. I enjoyed being on the podcast. Thanks for having me.
Nono: Well, I want to really thank you for being here. I hope listeners made it here and enjoyed it. Yeah. Thanks so much for being there. This has been your host Nono Martínez Alonso on The Getting Simple Podcast with Nate Peters.
Nate: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Nono: And as always, you can go to gettingsimple.com. You can join the mailing list there. You can look at articles or some other podcast episodes.
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So thank you very much. I hope you enjoyed it. Bye!
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