David Karp: Learn From Tumblr’s Whiz Kid

David Karp, founder of Tumblr, doesn’t go anywhere without his camera. His quirk actually can show us a lot about his mindset and that of his site’s users: they can “tumblelog” any type of media, at any length, at any time. He’s said, and proven, that he’s created a site that he would want to use– and his dedication shows.

David Karp grew up in New York City, with parents who were a science teacher and a composer. Neither of his parents were computer whizzes, but they were well-off enough to buy him a computer early in his childhood. At age 11, he began learning HTML and soon he was designing websites for businesses. By 14, he had begun an internship with Fred Seibert of Frederator Studios.

He switched to homeschooling at age 15, when his prestigious science-focused high school (where his mother taught) wasn’t giving him the kind of challenge he was looking for. Instead of focusing on his education, he focused on his career. He never ended up receiving his high school diploma.

While he doesn’t necessarily advise others to follow in his footsteps and drop out of high school, he feels very lucky that he knew what he wanted to do and decided to pursue it. His advice does include following your dreams. “Find a space where you can be creative,” he said, “and a place where you are open for free thinking. You want to enjoy what you are doing and do what you are best at.”

When John Maloney, head of a parenting message board called UrbanBaby, needed technical help, his friend Fred Seibert recommended David Karp. His project needed to be completed within a couple of days, and David Karp had it done within four hours. He was quickly hired and became the site’s head of product.

At 17, he moved to Japan to learn more about robots, but he soon moved back to New York. In 2006, he left UrbanBaby due to its sale to CNET.

He decided to start his own software consultant company, and quickly brought on board Marco Arment (who he found on Craigslist) as an engineer.

Karp and Arment were interested in short-form multi-media “tumblelogs” that were popping up on the internet. They were particularly inspired by Projectionist, an aggregator that allowed users to post bits of media to a page with a sophisticated aesthetic theme. They waited over a year for an established blogging site to snap up the opportunity to integrate tumblelogs into their system so they could make use of the technology– but no one did. During a two-week break in which Karp and Arment had no consulting projects to work on, they decided to make their own tumblelog site. Together, they built Tumblr in a fortnight.

Tumblr launched in February of 2007, when Karp was 20. By two weeks after its launch, it had 75,000 users.

His approach to business has not necessarily been one that would work for anyone else. He doesn’t keep a calendar, employ an assistant, or answer his email promptly. His focus is definitely on his website and its content rather than profit or fame. He says, “Where I feel the most productive and engaged is when I’m buried in code, buried in some project, tweaking some designs. I’m certainly introverted.”

In 2013, Yahoo bought Tumblr, and Karp stayed on as a key leader. However, in late 2017, Karp announced his plans to leave the company altogether.

What Can We Learn from David Karp?

1. Simplicity is key. Karp said, “For every new feature we add, we take an old one out. A lot of big sites don’t do that, and it’s a problem. Twitter started as a beautifully simple product, but it’s now going the same route as Facebook. The drive to innovate can overencumber and destroy a project.” He also makes sure to keep his team small– “The more people we have on our team,” he said, “the less room there is in the elevator and the more complicated everything gets.”

2. When programming, put yourself in the user’s shoes. Karp said, “Good products are built by people who want to use it themselves.” Don’t just imagine what the user needs– try to stick to projects that really interest you and which you plan on using yourself. Otherwise, it’s hard to know what design choices are best.

What have you learned from David Karp and the design of Tumblr? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to learn to program? Register for my free Self-Taught Coder Masterclass where I cover how I went from a novice to a software engineer at eBay in less than one year. 

Eight Coding Careers For Self-Taught Programmers

Team work.

People often ask me what kind of coding careers they can pursue once they learn to program. While you can work as a software engineer, there are many other careers you can pursue as well. Here are a few career options for self-taught programmers.

Software Engineer

Software engineers design, construct, test, and maintain computer programs. Whether that means working on Tesla’s diagnostic system, improving Google’s algorithm, or working on a new product at a startup.

Average salary: $100,690. 

Web Developer

Web Developers create (you guessed it) websites. There are three types of web developers: front-end developers, back-end developers, and full-stack developers. Front-end web developers design the user interface (the part you can see), back-end web developers work with the logic and data behind a website, and full-stack developers do both.

Average salary: $64,970.  Continue reading “Eight Coding Careers For Self-Taught Programmers”

How Daniel Ek Learned to Program and Created Spotify

Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek is the co-founder and CEO of Spotify, the music service almost single-handedly responsible for convincing a generation of music pirates to start paying for music again. An incredibly talented businessman, Ek taught himself to code when he was just fourteen. In this article, we will explore how Daniel Ek learned to code and eventually founded Spotify. Continue reading “How Daniel Ek Learned to Program and Created Spotify”

The Coding Education of Kevin Systrom: Creator of Instagram

Kevin Systrom programmer.

Self-taught programmer Kevin Systrom founded Instagram with Mike Krieger in 2010. While working a job as a marketer, Systrom taught himself to program and built the first prototype himself. Just two years after its launch, they sold Instagram to Facebook for one billion dollars. Systrom continues to manage the company today, and over the course of his leadership, he has kept the app elegantly simple, which has helped secured Instagram’s popularity. In this article, we will explore the coding education of Kevin Systrom. Continue reading “The Coding Education of Kevin Systrom: Creator of Instagram”

How to Secure your Website

A hacker.

You’ve built a website, and you are ready to take it live. Before you do, you need to make sure you secure it. Even if your site does not store any sensitive data, it could get hacked to act as a temporary server for malicious purposes like relaying spam emails, botnet propagation, and even bitcoin mining. In this article, you will learn how to secure your website against attackers.  Continue reading “How to Secure your Website”

How I Escaped Homelessness by Becoming a Programmer

Matt Munson thinking about his journey becoming a programmer.

In February 2017 I lost my job at Fintech. To make ends meet, I started working odd jobs: cutting lenses for glasses, fixing and tuning cars, working as a carnie, and doing any small side programming projects I could. Despite my best efforts, after a few months, I lost my apartment. This is the story of how I went from having a home to homelessness and back again by becoming a programmer.  Continue reading “How I Escaped Homelessness by Becoming a Programmer”

How Steve Wozniak Blended Self-Directed Learning with Traditional Education

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak has plenty of degrees. He did most of the coursework for a Bachelor’s and has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, but the Apple co-founder’s great skill comes from rigorous self-teaching.

Like many self-taught programmers, his childhood activities combined a love of mathematics and technology with a decidedly ambitious personality. Later, he attributed his passion to inspiration from his father and encouragement from his primary school teachers– as well as watching Star Trek on TV. In fourth grade, he first developed a taste for mathematics. He had an early passion for radio transistors and earned a ham radio license at ten years old. At 11, he built a “ticktacktoe” computer. Continue reading “How Steve Wozniak Blended Self-Directed Learning with Traditional Education”

How Jack Dorsey Learned to Code and Birthed Twitter

Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square, is one of the most successful self-taught programmers in history. In addition to creating two companies that have become household names, he’s gotten plenty of recognition from his fellows in the technology field. In 2008, the MIT Technology Review named him one of the top 35 innovators in the world under 35. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal awarded him the “Innovator of the Year” award in technology.

Throughout his career, he’s been vocally proud to be self-taught. In an interview with Business Insider, he stated his opinion that “most of the best programmers are self-taught.” Let’s explore his many successes, learn from his less numerous failures, and try to understand the drive that brought him to the forefront of the technology world. Continue reading “How Jack Dorsey Learned to Code and Birthed Twitter”