Tools are awesome – if you read MakeUseOf, you probably agree. But the latest isn’t always the greatest – rather, the greatest is whatever helps you get the job done, saves time, and just plain works. One good way to find those excellent tools is to see what an actual person uses in their daily life to get stuff done. Read on for a frank, detailed, and quite nerdy interview (with a computer museum inside).
Who Are You & What Do You Do?
My name is Roee Adler, soon to be 34 years old. I’m married to Avital, a brain scientist, and have two daughters: Gali (2 years old) and Maayan (6 months old).
I was born to a family of carpenters in Netanya, Israel. To the disappointment of my parents I abandoned my calling and started writing code when I was about 11, and joined the thriving European Demoscene of the mid 90s. I went through several startups while gradually transitioning from a software developer to a product manager. Today I’m the chief product guy at Soluto – we’re a startup company building a PC management service that I think is really awesome. (Ed. note: We reviewed Soluto previously.)
Most of my day is spent together with our product managers and developers, analyzing what people like about our service and what they don’t, and thinking how we can build more cool stuff to make our service better. It’s a fairly simple algorithm: 1) look at data; 2) draw conclusions; and 3) make stuff happen accordingly. But within this simple algorithm lie entire hierarchies of engineering complexities (how can so much data be easily queryable), analytical Sisyphean labor (so much data to look at, so challenging to draw intelligent unbiased conclusions) and of course – creativity (so we know this and that, what’s the best thing we could do now?)
In many aspects I feel it’s my dream job. In other aspects I need more sleep hours.
As You Go Through a Typical Day, What Hardware Do You Use & When?
I actually just made a switch from a 13″ MacBook Pro running Windows 8 to an Asus Zenbook UX32VD. And I’m so happy. This calls for a short background. Part of every product manager’s work is to understand how different people think, imagine what they would love or hate, and develop intuitions about how they are likely to react in various situations. Because of this reason, I’m a big believer in trying different things myself. If something’s very popular within a demographic that overlaps with our audience, I try to experience it myself. Think about it as a grown up who watches Phineas and Ferb to better understand what modern kids like (which I do, and it’s a brilliant show).
So even though I’m a PC guy from birth, as we continued to plan our Mac product (still work in progress), I knew I had to “become a Mac guy,” and really live and breath working on a Mac. It was very frightening at first, but I got used to with time. Still, 6 months into using Mac OS on my main machine, I found myself much less productive, especially due to my extensive work on PowerPoint and Word (for which the Mac versions suck). There were smaller things I had hard time with (e.g. no way to switch between open windows like alt-tab, no easy way to fully maximize a screen, no Del key), but the Office thing was most critical for me. So I gave up and installed Windows on that Mac.
It’s common knowledge that Apple make superior hardware. A Mac running Windows has lots of advantages, most prominent is the amazing trackpad. I find it absolutely crazy that no PC manufacturer has yet to ship a trackpad that’s nearly as good as the Mac’s. Alas, there are many disadvantages to running Windows on Mac. There are driver issues, you need to memorize key combinations to achieve basic PC functionality (Del, Insert, PgDn, etc.) and even those stop working at times. So after a bunch of malfunctions I decided to get myself a brand new PC. A bit of research led me to choose the Asus Zenbook UX32VD. It’s a beast. Intel Code i7, 500GB of HD plus 24GB of SSD for the OS, 6GB of RAM and a dual graphic card (Intel+NVidia), and it’s thin, light and beautiful. Since it’s reasonably priced for that horsepower, I also decided to buy the same machine for my wife (who uses Matlab as her main software, and the UX32VD goes through it like butter).
But enough about my main work machine.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is reach with my hand towards my iPhone 4S and start going over email. At Soluto we have a bunch of reports automatically calculated around 3-5am, so that when people wake up they can go over the micro details of what happened yesterday. So I start by skimming through around 30 detailed reports on my iPhone. I naturally also go through “normal” mail to see if there’s anything super important.
Beyond my iPhone and main PC, I also carry around a Windows tablet. I’m glad to be the owner of a Samsung 700T that I received at Microsoft’s Build conference in late 2011, where they gave all the devs in the audience a superb tablet running the first developer preview of Windows 8. It has 64GB of SSD, a USB port and 3G. Awesome device for its age. I use it whenever I need to give a demo of our service to anyone, because demoing on a Windows tablet looks awesome. As a main machine it’s less useful for me though.
At Soluto I have an office, but spend most of my day sitting in the open space with the rest of the team. Here’s my desk:
As a PC geek who suffers from compulsive collectionism (I just made this disorder up), I surrounded myself in the past years with my very own PC museum, featuring great specimens like the ZX Spectrum, an early Apple PowerBook, a huge Tandy laptop, Commodore, and lots more. Most of them don’t work, and were quite cheap to get on eBay, but for some odd reason I find myself inspired when surrounded by these old relics from times long gone.
At home I have an iPad – I’m one of the suckers who got the 3rd gen. I love it. I use it mostly for watching movies and TV episodes (using AVPlayerHD), and for light email.
What Software Tools Couldn’t You Live Without?
There are definitely software tools I’m addicted to. A brief look at my pinned apps in the Windows task bar reveals most of them..
- Google Chrome: by far the best browser out there. Every time IE comes out with a new version I give it a shot, but get disappointed and go back to Chrome. Fast, light, no-brainer.
- Outlook – Despite the fact it’s bloated and often slow, IMHO it still beats any mail client out there (we use Office 365 so it’s all cloud-based). I like Gmail and use it for my personal stuff, but I feel Outlook helps me put stuff in order in my professional life.
- Dropbox: everything me and my wife have is on Dropbox. I gladly pay them every month. Dropbox changed my life. It used to be that I would worry about hardware getting broken/lost/stolen because of the precious data I had on it. No more. It has been years now (I’m an early adopter) that I just do not worry about it. My photo library, videos of our daughters, and naturally all my documents are safely there. It’s not cheap though, so I also pay SkyDrive to hold a few tens of GBs of stuff that changes less frequently. I find SkyDrive’s desktop integration to be an inferior product when compared to Dropbox, but on the balance of price-value, there’s stuff it makes sense for me to hold there.
- Google Docs: Being an Office junkie, at first I was a skeptic about Google Docs. There was this one guy who constantly bugged me about using Google Docs, and forced me to use by putting our shared work stuff on it. It took me a couple of months before it hit me. Google Docs is simply amazing. Today, this is how we collaborate at Soluto. With the exceptions of presentations, heavy Excel spreadsheets or heavy Word documents, this is what we use to write specs, create task lists, and collaborate. Google Docs redefined “web speed” for me. If you’ve never reviewed a document concurrently with someone else who’s somewhere else, you’ve never truly experienced the modern web.
- PowerPoint: I love PowerPoint. It’s the tool with which I create presentations (duh), a significant part of my job, but it’s also the tool with which I mockup products, draw, and doodle ideas.
- Evernote: all my personal notes are on there (And I’m planning relocation from Israel to NYC so there’s lots of them). Why Evernote and not Google Docs? In one word – ubiquity. It has an app for every device and also available on the web. It’s awesome. My love to both Google Docs and Evernote is interesting, because in a sense, Evernote is a feature within Google Docs. But it’s a great example of how great products can win despite lack of features. Even though with Google Docs you can theoretically do everything you can with Evernote, for the purpose of taking notes anywhere anytime, Evernote just kills Google Docs. Maybe it’ll change and maybe it won’t, meanwhile I’m a huge Evernote fan.
- KeePass (over Dropbox): ever since I discovered KeePass my life has changed and is now much more secure. I have KeePass installed on my PCs and my iPhone, it is synced over Dropbox, and I use it at least 20 times a day. People – choose long complex passwords and use KeePass over Dropbox to maintain them. Hail KeePass!
- WhatsApp: That’s how we do family communication, as well as team communication within Soluto. A simple yet awesome product that does what it’s supposed to – allow people to send instant messages to one another’s smartphones.
- Classic Shell: I’ve been a Windows 8 user since the very first days. Let me be open – in my work scenario, I use the desktop, and only the desktop. So I find it very annoying that a Windows 8 PC starts in Metro mode and doesn’t have a proper alternative for the “Start” menu in desktop mode. And when I say “Start” menu, I’m not bitching about the lack of the button itself, but the lack of functionality of searching for and browsing for installed stuff, quickly launching the last items that were launching, all without leaving the current screen. Classic Shell gets the job done. I actually set it up using Soluto, but kudos to Classic Shell for a great product.
- Notepad: In a sense, it’s very sad that I use Notepad so often. That’s because my most common usage scenario is to remove formatting from stuff. When I copy something from the web and intend to paste it in Word or Google Docs, I’m like on auto pilot: Ctrl+C, Win+R, “notepad”, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, go to my destination, Ctrl+V. Again, sad but true. I also use it for more trivial cases like having to write down a quick note, or paste a few things to copy them together (I was actually really missing this functionality in Mac OS), but mostly to remove formatting.
- Reddit: I know it’s not a “software tool”. But Reddit keeps me sane at times of great stress. It’s where I clear my mind and laugh. I’m checking it at least 5 times a day.
- Soluto: I can’t avoid mentioning I’m dog-fooding our own service to support my wife’s 3 PCs, my brother’s 2 PCs, my family’s carpentry workshop (which now has 3 PCs), and a few other family members. At least in my opinion it’s an awesome service. :)
How I consume news – in my line of work it’s important to stay updated about the news. In the past years I’ve been through various modes of getting updated about stuff: there was RSS, I used to manually browse to a bunch of online magazines, I even tried Flipboard. With time, converged into using two tools. One is listening to the Tech News Today podcast on my iPhone, during my commute to work. I listen to it almost every day, the TNT team does a superb work in summarizing yesterday’s tech news. Great joy.
The other is Twitter. I use Twitter in a way that makes my news consumption very efficient. I target a bunch of key reporters and influencers and have them grouped together in a private list. I then check this list a couple of times a day. The advantage of this method is that you get a direct brain-digest from some of the smartest people on the planet, and no one knows anything of the fact you’re consuming news like that (or who you chose to put on the list vs. who you didn’t).
Anything Else You’d Like To Add?
One of my favorite quotes is by Homer Jay Simpson – “trying is the first step towards failure”, from the Simpsons episode Realty Bites (I even used this quote in a recent commencement speech I gave at the IDC Herzliya). Beyond being funny (at least IMHO), this sentence does bear strong resemblance to the lean startup mantra “fail fast”. To be philosophical for a second, I do believe people should be constantly trying out different things, knowing that many will not bear fruit. One can take this attitude to many different areas in life. I try to experience every new service or product out there. Learning from the successes and failures of others has made me a more complete person. I recommend that you try it too.