Advait Shinde is going places. I believe he is a true visionary and futurist, and we will be seeing a lot more of him in the growing debate around technology and education.
He co-founded GoGuardian, after graduating from UCLA and being hired by Google. His time at Google heavily influenced his views on leadership, company culture and performance. Advait feels that the success of Google can be attributed to the incredible vision of Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the culture they crafted of uncompromising excellence and meritocracy.
In this episode we discuss flow states while coding, how Google maintain that culture of excellence, and how technology will be harnessed to benefit future generations of children to have optimised and engaging learning experiences.
- “We’ve really reached the point where an individual can contribute and make impactful contributions to the actual business just with code.”
- “In an ordinary company like people will expect to get fired by asking those sorts of things like they get asked like questioning fundamental strategy and calling out actual leaders for their past actions. But it’s brilliant because nothing is off the table.”
- “What Google represents in my mind is like the revenge of the nerds. You got like super smart engineers and this is their time, this is their place, and they’re really the driving force behind the biggest, most successful, valuable companies on earth.”
- “Like there’s free food, massages, lots of beer, and whenever you bring a guest there everybody’s comment is, “How do people actually get work done here. This is just absurd?”
- “You look around you and there’s people walking around you who have fundamentally changed the trajectory of computer science.” [Tweet this]
- “If you get the best problem solvers and put them in a room together and allow them to bounce ideas off each other, you basically get what Google has got”
- “The simple equation is- remove the obstacles and you will flow. It seems to me like Google cracked that code.” [Tweet this]
- “I think it’s the silliest thing to have textbooks. These non interactive, boring pieces of paper” [Tweet this]
- “The pessimist will look at this as a failure of this new digital age and how it’s terrible and how this bar for stimulation is way too high but I like to challenge and flip that on it’s head basically say that I think that the screens are around forever, they’re gonna stay and so we need to bring everything else up to par.”
- “In 10 or a hundred years from now, there’s no way you can say screens are gonna be a bad thing. You’re just on the wrong side of that battle.” [Tweet this]
- “Good music, large cup of coffee and no interruptions…just me and the computer… several hours of just pure flow.” [tweet this]
In this episode:
02:18 One of those kids writing code at 8 years old
4:17 Coding as a path to flow states
5:37 The classical career path for Tech geeks
6:15 What is it really like to work at Google? The interview process and culture
8:21 The culture of excellence- building excellence on excellence, and hiring “smart creatives”
10:32 Dealing with failure at Google
11:28 How the Google founders still interact every week with the staff, and how seniors are held accountable
12:54 Google representing a shift in our culture- its revenge of the nerds-
‘We’ve really reached the point where an individual can contribute and make impactful contributions to the actual business just with code. That kind of flips the model on its head where before it was like the loudest most aggressive person that was actually getting things done, and now it’s like the most intelligent and capable person that’s actually getting things done through code and software.’
15:58 How complexity of tasks and the required absorption keeps staff happy at Google… not the free lunch and ping pong..
16:26 Imposter syndrome at Google
17:12 Google version of Chuck Norris: Jeff Dean…
18:01 The stereotypical engineer at google: problem solving as a core trait
18:59 How does Google create group cohesion or group flow?
19:56 Creating a culture of flow states by removing obstacles to flow.. and creating a meritocracy where smart juniors with smart ideas will be heard
22:40 Leaving Google and the craving for more… more what? More hardcore problems to solve
23:55 The opportunity to join a start up
26:02 A great decision making a technique: getting ok with the worst case scenario
27:00 Start up skyrockets 25% compounded month on month growth.. going from 3 to 50+ staff in a year, finding office space for 100.
28:37 Education and technology- we are living in an unprecedented time of change
32:20 Advait on the traditional education system: “It was kinda silly”
33:43 Kid’s are now learning in a different way- “I don’t think that there’s any reason that we can’t make the educational experience as fun, even more fun that playing a game. It could be just as interactive.
35:33 Looking at the digital age and the rise of screens as a positive move for humanity
37:11 Gamification, flow and education. Where are we at right now? Technology is going to revolutionise education
42:02 Visualising the future of education. An elastic system, gamified, built on clues on what kind of learning the child is suited for, and what the unique gifts of that individual are
43:33 Peak performance and flow: what does it mean to Advait?
- GoGuardian, the company Advait co-founded
- Google, a boutique start up, that does some stuff
- Jeff Dean, the Chuck Norris of Google
- The Khan Academy
Jiro: Welcome to the Flow state performance podcast. I’m Jiro Taylor. Today, I talk to Advait Shinde, the co-founder of GoGuardian, an education technology start-up that is kicking ass over in California. Enjoy the show.
Jiro: Welcome to the show, Advait! I’m glad to have you here.
Advait: Thanks, Jiro. I’m really excited.
Jiro: Cool, man. So yeah today, We’re gonna dive into a bit of exploring about your life, your journey, how you got to where you are and your views on performance, flow, passion, purpose all of those kind of things. So sound good?
Advait: Yeah, sounds fantastic.
Jiro: Cool, man. Suggest for the audience, just explain a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Advait: Right now, I’m running this company that I co-founded called GoGuardian. I run the engineering team and yeah, we’re basically involved in this really interesting space, which never really existed before, but it is basically like the Internet usage analytics space as it applies to students. So, these days, students are actually using a lot of technology in the classroom to learn, to research on etcetera. And teachers and school administrators are interested in understanding how students are actually using the devices that the schools provide. So GoGuardian essentially provides that information and I’m running that team. Before that I was a Software Engineer at Google up in San Francisco on the Google Wallet team. Before that I was a computer science major at UCLA. I guess I have always been a nerd growing up and I love computers.
Jiro: Were you one of those guys that were writing code when you were 8 years old?
Advait: Yeah, definitely. My dad handed me this book and we’ve always had computers growing up. I just started to play with it and the rest is history.
Jiro: So what were you doing when you were a kid? Because I was playing Mario card and Super Mario on Nintendo, the first Nintendo I remember, then a Super Nintendo but what were you doing on a computer?
Advait: My dad had this really old 486 and it had MS DOS on it and I remember, I have these vivid recollections of being in Kindergarten or first grade and asking my mom what commands do I need to type to play this game called Load Runner. I have no idea what I was doing but I would type in the actual commands on DOS and hit enter. And when I got to play the game, it was like the best reward ever.
Jiro: That’s awesome man. So you’ve been messing around computers for a long time.
Advait: It’s been a while yeah.
Jiro: What were you doing during your teenage years on computers? Were you actually doing more practical type stuff or you’re building stuff or your game plan? What do you do?
Advait: I kind of just love programming for programming sake. I don’t know. It was just really really cool to be able to type stuff in and be able to control the machine and have it do stuff. I guess throughout middle school and high school, I didn’t really understand the actual possibilities of what could be done until I actually started doing stuff with HTML on the web and then I got to a point where I was able to publish my own website and just being able to see that content online and being able to tell my friends “Hey, go to this website. This is really cool.” That kind of just blew my mind. And so in high school I did a little bit of freelance web development.
Jiro: Wow, so I guess that’s an interesting point. Because I guess for many people, myself included, it’s like (I have never coded) and I’ve always been fascinated by what the appeal is and I know that it is an activity that they’ve done a lot of researching to people get into this deep flow states when they’re coding and it’s kind of building, creation, there’s a sense of artistry to it.
Advait: Yeah, absolutely! I’ve always been like a math guy like a puzzle guy and often times I view programming as very similar to solving puzzles. You have this input, you need this output and you have these rules and it’s actually like playing a game to get to the desired outcome. It’s very much in line with the whole puzzle thing.
Jiro: Is it like learning a new language? Like if you’re a Java guy, or C++ guy, or an HTML guy? Or are these like all completely different languages?
Advait: Not at all. The fundamental contracts of programming are pretty much universal. Just like in ordinary languages like human languages, we have nouns and verbs. In programming languages you have operations, expressions, functions, variables and those are basically universal so long as you understand that, it’s basically you’re solving problems really.
Jiro: Yeah, interesting man. Okay, so you’re basically 24 years old?
Jiro: 25 years old. And you’re the CTO of a startup called GoGuardian who is a rising star in the education technology space in the states. You did your Computer Science degree in Stanford?
Jiro: You got hired by Google and now you’re the CTO of a startup. It’s kind of classical career curve so far, for all these high-achieving super geeks.
Advait: It sounds nice when you say it that way.
Jiro: Talk to me about Google. For me, I’ve watched that movie, The Internship and I’ve read articles here and there and I have a sense of what it’s like there from an outsider’s point of view. What was it like to work there?
Advait: It was absolutely fantastic. Almost everybody told me that because it was my first job out of college that it’s completely ruined my expectations for what real life is. It was phenomenal – just being in a place where you’re surrounded by people that are insanely smart. Solving problems that are basically like unprecedented in computing history. And not only just solving them from a theoretical perspective, but actually putting them into application and changing real people’s lives. That’s basically what Google was and it was amazing.
Jiro: When did you decide that you want to work there?
Advait: You know it kind of just happened on a whim. I knew when I was in college, I obviously know of Google and the engineering culture and it was a great place to work. I just randomly applied for an internship and I got an interview, and I did well in the interview, and I got an offer and it just happened. I didn’t really consciously make the decision.
Jiro: And what was the interview process like?
Advait: It was pretty hard. It’s much easier as an Intern – two phone interviews for an hour long each as well as an in-person interview. Lots of really challenging algorithmic problems and problems that are not really related to computers either. It’s just to test how you actually think. It was fun. I enjoyed the interview.
Jiro: Really, so like general, logical reason, problem-solving type of things.
Jiro: Interesting. What about personality assessment? Was there much of that- let’s just see if this guy’s a good guy?
Advait: Maybe not explicitly. I’m sure it’s just by having a conversation with somebody for an hour you can get to know how they talk and how they react, but no, no real personality tests.
Jiro: Tell me about the culture at Google and how you think they created it. Obviously, there’s this culture of excellence over there. It seems to me like it’s a pioneering type place like everybody knows what they’re doing, awesome stuff at the forefront cutting-edge. How does that culture manifest itself?
Advait: I think the co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Eric Smith who was a CEO for some time, basically made a really conscious decision very, very early on to hire I think what they’ve termed “smart creatives.” These are people who are just insanely smart but not just book smart, they’re also creatives and they can turn theoretical concepts into actual application, think outside the box, and really do incredible things. And they basically said that everybody in this company, no matter what their role is, needs to be top-tier, like the absolute best, from the beginning and when you get somebody who is in the top like .01% at your company early on, basically the impact that they have over time is just compounded and when you got a ton of these people it really shows in Google’s trajectory and what they’ve done. The bar’s been set high.
[9:38] Jiro: That sounds like just building upon excellence, upon excellence, upon excellence. And it’s like this snowball effect. So what about the kind of training and mentorship that you had over there?
Advait: It was kind of daunting. UCLA has a very theoretical Computer Science program. So to go from a Computer Science academic and be thrown into a Software Engineering job where you actually pushing out software – it’s very different. I spend a lot of the initial time just being hammered on these things “called code” reviews where you essentially submit a request for your code to be like a part of Google’s code repository. Our Senior Engineer would look at it and sit and will go line by lines and say “this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, you need to do it this way.” I think my first code review took at least 3 weeks to get a hundred lines of codes before I submit it.
Jiro: So they’re pretty upfront. Like this-is-what- you’re-doing-wrong kind of thing.
Advait: Yeah, almost like boot camp like. It’s very scary especially if you’ve done stuff before, like you have the mentality that, “Hey, I can produce software and I can write code that works,” and then got to a place where they’re like “No, you have no idea what you’re doing, you need to do it properly.”
Jiro: Did you feel like your job was at risk?
Advait: No. I felt like internally I wasn’t meeting expectations, that I have a certain level of what my output should have been, that I wasn’t meeting that internally. But they say Google, when you join there, you should expect to take about three months to feel productive and if anytime between those three months you feel sad that you’re not contributing you should just know that on average it takes 3 months for most people to feel productive.
Jiro: Really? So they prepared you for that?
Advait: Yeah, absolutely.
Jiro: That’s interesting. What kind of interaction or how visible where the two, Sergey and Larry like? Did you see them a lot? Where they visible?
Advait: Yeah, so Google does this fantastic thing called TGIF where it’s like a company-wide meeting that happens every Friday. It actually happens every Thursday now for some crazy reasons. It’s a two-part thing where the first half of it would be a demo from some team in Google that launched something new or has some crazy ideas. The end of it is basically like a Q&A with the executive team including Larry and Sergey. It’s basically really blunt questions from employees that are really really just hard-hitting. And in an ordinary company like people will expect to get fired by asking those sorts of things like they get asked like questioning fundamental strategy and calling out actual leaders for their past actions. But it’s brilliant because nothing is off the table and it kind of increases accountability from an executive perspective and it also gives the leaders a chance to really be leaders and show to the entire company that hey, the stuff that they’re talking is not like actual nonsense. They fundamentally believe it. It’s pretty inspiring.
Jiro: Wow. They really just put themselves out there.
Advait: Absolutely, like wholly out there.
Jiro: They’re not hiding behind in their corner office on the top floor, in the skyscraper. That’s inspiring, wow! It seems to me when I think about it like Google is really representative of this massive shift that we’ve had in our culture- probably throughout time, right until the 80’s and possibly some of the 90’s it was all about the dominant guys, the sporty guys, the guys that could sell stuff, the guys that hustle, the guys that could use the force of their personality to persuade and all that kind of thing. And now, what Google represents in my mind is like the revenge of the nerds. You got like super smart engineers and this is their time, this is their place, and they’re really the driving force behind the biggest, most successful, valuable companies on earth.
Advait: Yeah. I think an interesting assessment there is that you could kind of segment it the old world and the new world. In the old world, you have these organizations which are basically just people organizations and not to say that any organization will ever escape the people constraints but with computers and with the internet, we’ve really reached the point where an individual can contribute and make impactful contributions to the actual business just with code. That kind of flips the model on its head where before it was like the loudest most aggressive person that was actually getting things done in the form of people moving and now it’s like the most intelligent and capable person that’s actually getting things done through code and software. I think that shift is pretty representative.
Jiro: Wow. That’s interesting. I’m just fascinated by this culture of excellence that they’ve created at Google. And I’m really fascinated with how they continue to push it because they just keep on going, right? And it’s really that culture of just continuing growth. So obviously the founders are very instrumental, the culture’s coming from them. They make sure that they hire the best of the best of the best. What else did they do internally that creates this culture? Because it seems like people love working there.
Advait: Yeah, absolutely. Like there’s free food, massages, lots of beer, and whenever you bring a guest there everybody’s comment is, “How do people actually get work done here. This is just absurd?” The funny part is if you actually look deeply the people that are buzzing around, these amenities are all so superficial, the people are there because of a greater reason and it’s really this hive of super smart people working on really difficult, unprecedented problems and that’s the thing that’s really keeping these people there. All the crazy stuff is icing on the cake, I think.
Jiro: That’s interesting. It’s the absorption and the complexity of the problems that keep people there. They obviously hire people that just thrive on that kind of complexity. That’s really interesting. Did you ever have that voice of doubt when you just like, “Wow, I just don’t know if I can cut it in this environment?” Or did you always feel that you’ve earned your spot?
Advait: No. So, there is this thing called imposter syndrome. And I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it.
Jiro: Yeah, I have.
Advait: The general concept is that you’re surrounded by a group of people and their excellence forces you into a state where you self doubt, basically. And you feel like you’re an imposter and you don’t belong in this community of hyper intelligent people. And that’s like a big thing at Google. There is like an internal community who feel they’re subject imposter syndrome. And it’s hard because you look around you and there’s people walking around you who have fundamentally changed the trajectory of computer science.
Advait: And that dude and that one over there did that. And you’re supposed to live up to similar expectations. Or at least at a superficial level.
Jiro: Wow. Is there a kind of a recognition of these superstars? Like, oh they’re kind of like internally famous people who everybody just knows. That guy is kickass amazing at what he does.
Advait: Yeah. So you know how we have Chuck Norris jokes? Ay google there is this guy named Jeff Dean and there’s like actual Jeff Dean jokes. I can’t remember any off hand but they’re just like absurd, computer science related things.
Jiro: So its the idea that he can just do absolutely anything?
Jiro: haha.. So what did you recognize? You were surrounded by high achievers, really smart people. What were the common things you that recognized, if anything, and what these people did to stay at the top of their game?
Advait: Yeah, that’s a good question.
Jiro: When I think about engineers, this is maybe a stereotype but, they’re generally perceived, stereotypically as being sort of like, not the guy that dedicates himself to training and peak performance. You know what I mean?
Advait: Right. Yeah. I would even argue that the stereotypical engineer, their steady state or default state of mind is one that is problem solving. I am speaking for myself in that sense. I just love problem solving. That’s a pretty fundamental, core trait. And I think that if you get the best problem solvers, that default to a problem solving state and put them in a room together and allow them to bounce ideas off each other, you basically get what Google has. So, there’s two aspects there. There’s the one, the fundamental trait of problem solving. And two, the ability to get a group of these really smart people and enable them to kind of thrive together.
Jiro: That’s really interesting. So, how do you go from individual excellence and individual problem solving ability to some sort of group cohesion.
Advait: I think that the way Google did it is, let’s just take every distraction, anything that a person could possibly worry about and distract them from their goals and remove those distractions. So, that immediately lends itself to meals. Don’t have this person think about food. Put them in the nicest environment where they’re always happy and allow them, the tools and the infrastructure, to test out new ideas. For example, every engineer at Google basically has access to run things on Google’s data center. So if you have this interesting idea of what you want to do, you could just go try it. And so, I guess the general principle is that you remove every obstacle possible and just allow these people to do the best that they can. Like be their default state.
Jiro: That’s fascinating. Because, when I think about, I do a lot of coaching with people around the Flow state, how to achieve flow in their life. And when you actually break it down, it’s almost like flow is the default state. But, we happen to have so many obstacles in our life that prevent us from flowing.
Advait: Yeah, absolutely.
Jiro: And so the simple equation is, remove the obstacles and you will flow. It seems to me like Google cracked that code.
Advait: I think so. Especially with the engineer type, whose, yeah I would agree, their default state is flow. Like, if I’m not worrying about something, then I immediately default to solving a problem. And then you get a group of these people together, and then it’s cool.
Jiro: Yeah. In a formal sense, how did collective decision making take place? So, say there was a complex problem. Was it like “ Okay, guys, let’s have a brainstorming session”? Or “Let’s go to this room where we go and hammer it out”? What was the deal?
Advait: Yeah. Basically like, I mean there’s varying level of expertise across a single engineering team. And there’s significant differences in seniority. When I was there, I was pretty junior. I spent a lot of time just really absorbing. I think the general direction of what technology problems the team is gonna be solving, and how they’re gonna be solving them is set by the more senior people. That’s not to say that everybody can’t contribute. If you have a good idea, and a good way to get it done then your voice will be heard.
Jiro: Yeah. I think that’s so important. What I’m hearing is that there is sort of like a hierarchy, but it’s a very soft kind of hierarchy. There’s meritocracy. If you’re a smart junior and you’ve got a great idea then your voice will be heard. Which is so, so different from the old school way that companies are being run, isn’t it?
Advait: Right. Where it’s how old you are, how long you’ve been around?
Jiro: Yeah, that’s right. How many grey hairs you’ve got. Interesting. A whole new paradigm, it seems that Google is driving. But ultimately, you left Google, right? I’m just imaging what that conversation you had with your mum and dad. Where you were like “ I’m quitting the best company in the universe where I’m doing really, really well.” How did that go down?
Advait: I mean, obviously they were supportive. They weren’t really gonna go against me on that one. They were the first people to be worried. Making a high risk move, where you basically have everything made. You can just chill at Google for decades and financially be very well, intellectually be equally satisfied. I don’t know, I just had this fundamental craving for wanting more, which I just couldn’t get out of Google. I think they were very privy to that and as soon as they knew that that was the reason why, they were always supportive.
Jiro: What do you mean a craving for more, in what sense?
Advait: So, I felt like I could solve bigger problems. Yeah, at Google if you have an opinion about something there’s ways in which you can have your opinion be heard and make that happen. But, it’s just really a function of people. As soon as you involve a large group of people, just the friction of communication and the inability to instantly change somebody’s mind about something. Basically lends it to, it’s off to the system where is takes more and more effort to push ideas through. And then, also, the system doesn’t default to giving hard problems to people that haven’t proven themselves yet. And maybe this was a selfish or presumptuous conclusion that I made, but I just wanted to do more. And I wanted to do more than just contribute on the engineering side. Like, I thought about marketing, or sales, or risk models. And it’s very hard for a software engineer at Google to be able to contribute to a marketing initiative, for better or for worse.
Jiro: Yeah, interesting. So, tell me, what happened? How did it play out? How did this opportunity to join a startup come about?
Advait: A buddy of mine from college, he’s name’s Aza, he and I had been in touch throughout college. We were the kids who were building all sorts of cool projects, websites and tools for other people to use, that’s how we knew each other. He just reached out to me. Actually, when I was in college. When I was about to graduate and go to Google initially, he reached out to me and basically said “ Hey, I have this idea with schools and chromebooks and I have like three thousand users or something like that and I really need a technical co-founder.” And I had this Google offer signed, I was like “ No, man. I’m gonna go to Google, you do your thing.“ And, two years later I get the same phone call and he was like “ Remember that thing I told you about two years ago? I started to work on it again and now I have thirty thousand people. Do you wanna come down and check it out?” And so, I flew down and met Aza and he showed me some of the things that were happening and it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a bigger impact and contribute to more than just engineering and so I just jumped at it.
Jiro: Wow, man. So, it’s a big risk. It’s a big decision at a young age to make, isn’t it? It’s a really ballsy move.
Advait: Yeah, I mean. I didn’t approach it emotionally at all. And the conclusion I made, I was just really satisfied with. Basically, the ultimate downside was that I spent some time here, opportunity costs, sure. But eventually the idea would fail and, given the demand for software engineers out there now, I would just move back up to the bay and find a job relatively quickly. I think the only downside was just time lost. And given that I wasn’t fulfilling my intellectual capacity at Google, I figured that I would be able to do better in a startup environment. That would essentially be an upgrade. There was really no downside for me.
Jiro: Yeah. That’s the method I use to make decisions. Just get very familiar and think a lot about the worst case scenario, not in the negative way. Just normalise it, be like “ Oh alright, no problem!” And once you get comfortable with that, then the whole decision making process just changes fundamentally. You can begin to make the decision based on these merits rather than some sense of perceived risk that you haven’t fully conceptualised.
Advait: Right, absolutely. And it’s hard because you always have people yelling in your ear “Oh my god, you’re leaving Google, that’s such a terrible mistake!“ So, I think you have to essentially drown out the naysayers and just think about it logically as a programmer, what would you do?
Jiro: Yeah, okay. So you put your programming head on, did you?
Jiro: It’s been, we’ve spoken about this privately, but the rise of GoGuardian has been a pretty damn steep. Everything’s happening very fast, right? Paint a picture for me of what has happened in the last 12-18 months.
Advait: I think we incorporated in May 2014, it’s September 2015 now. We’ve basically grown 25% compounded month over month from the beginning. And I think it’s just the function of having the perfect product that solves this pain point that people didn’t know existed. Before this era, again students were not carrying around laptops, students were carrying around textbooks. This is a new thing that’s happening and I think we’re solving a new problem. The growth is basically a validation that there is a legitimate need here and we’re filling that.
Jiro: Wow. So, 25% compounded growth, month after month in your first year of business. That’s just phenomenal. And what about your staff size? Obviously when you started it was 2 or 3 of you. Where you at now?
Advait. I think we’re about 40, I lose track. People come in all the time. And it’s amazing because I remember back in the day when it was just me, Aza and a few other folks in an apartment.
Jiro: It’s only a year ago, bro.
Jiro: Wow! What a crazy year you had. And I know that you guys have signed up or I think you are signing up to this new office space which has space for a hundred.
Advait: Yeah. I think that’s the plan. We wanna grow up, up and away. And so we’re trying to figure out what the appropriate space is gonna be.
Jiro: Amazing. Let’s talk about education. Because obviously this company is involved in the education space. And obviously we’re living in a very interesting time in history where there’s the old and the new. For hundreds of years, kids have been learning from textbooks. Kids have been looking at black boards or white boards and kids have been sort of rote learning and preparing for examinations. We’re sort of in this blend, because a lot of that stuff is still happening. And I think all around, in many places around the world that is just the norm, right? But what we’re seeing now and potentially you’re at the cutting edge of it. I’m not sure, but you’re in California, a lot of your clients are in the Californian school system and what you’re seeing is that thousands and thousands and thousands of students are predominantly using Google Chromebooks for their education. Is that the case?
Advait: Yeah, that’s the case. Surprisingly, these things actually big education. It’s the de facto tool used in schools nowadays. When you think about Chromebooks, you don’t really think about them as a consumer product in the same way you would think about an iPad or any of Apple’s products for that matter. But for this particular market segment like schools, Chromebooks are by far the biggest device. So, they’re really taking the country by storm.
Jiro: Is that what Google had in mind for them?
Advait: I don’t know. I think when they initially created this whole concept of Chromebooks, they definitely didn’t think education necessarily was the ideal market segment. I think they wanted it to be a universal device. Obviously, I don’t know. But, it’s taken off so I don’t think they’re complaining.
Jiro: So the Chromebook, forgive my ignorance, it’s just something that you browse on. Or is just something that has web capabilities but you don’t put software on it?
Advait: Yeah, I think that’s a good assessment. It’s basically like your Chrome browser and that’s it. There’s ways in which you can emulate the traditional apps you and I are used to. But if you think about it, with things like Gmail and YouTube and online web games, think about the actual programs that you have installed and what do they do? Maybe only real, power users need actual programs like AutoCad or Photoshop or the Office Suite if you’re really doing crazy stuff. But for the average user, everything is on the internet. And you just need a browser.
Jiro: And more and more so with the rise of the Cloud. That’s the way it’s going, right? Talk to me about your experience going through the American school system. Let’s go right back to when you were in primary school. I presume that there weren’t many computers around and you were kind of learning the way that I learned. A teacher in front of the room, and a whiteboard and maybe 25-30 kids in the room all learning the same stuff, the same way. Is that what it was for you?
Advait: Yeah, basically. We had this one period for an hour a week where we would go to the computer lab and play games and do typing stuff.
Jiro: Oh that little period, I bet you were in heaven!
Advait: Absolutely. It was the best. I do this at home for fun and I get do this at school. It was fantastic. It was really cool, but the counterpoint to that is there was there was as much emphasis placed on learning computers and being proficient at computers as there was on the literal dewey decimal system. So it seems silly, considering where we’re at. I don’t think the dewey decimal system is at all relevant anymore. Unfortunately it was the old school, road learning with the whiteboard and textbooks.
Jiro: Yeah. And what about your high school? How did you do? You obviously you did well enough to get placed at UCLA. But, how did you and the educational system match together?
Advait: It was kind of silly. School came really naturally to me. Everything was very easy. And, at no point throughout my entire K-12 education did I ever feel really challenged. Which is sad in retrospect because if I could rewind, feeding me a challenge at a young age would have been probably really, really cool and and would have probably paid dividends but it’s just a lost opportunity I think.
Jiro: Wow, okay. So at no stage. So you’re saying that across the board, whether you were studying languages, maths, computer science or liberal arts, you didn’t feel stretched at all?
Advait: I mean I definitely wasn’t as good at the Liberal Arts, English, History sort of stuff. Biology was my kryptonite, just having to memorize a bazillion things without having them conceptually relate to each other in a non trivial way was the most frustrating thing. Whereas Math and especially Physics, everything just makes sense, just fits into this very complicated mental model. But I think all throughout, it was not challenging.
Jiro: It’s obviously, it’s changing right now. When I tune in and when I observe kids, like my nephews. When I observe how proficient they are using these devices. The Apple engineers, have so ingeniously created almost it seems like for children to be able to use. It becomes apparent that, it’s changing, right. Kids’ are learning in a different way. I can almost envision a future where it becomes an underground thing to do, to read a book. Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I’m wrong. But it seems like, the screens are becoming so entrenched in our society. How do you think kids are gonna be learning, from 5 to 10 years old in the future?
Advait: Yeah, I’m really passionate about this stuff. And I’m excited for GoGuardian to actually take charge in this movement. I think it’s the silliest thing to have textbooks. These non interactive, boring pieces of paper. If you think about, you mentioned these kids are using these iPads and watching videos and playing interactive games. Their bar for what mental stimulation, like their baseline mental stimulation is through the roof. And you ask them to look at a blank sheet of paper, or a sheet with Math problems on it, that’s not interactive. It’s not the right approach. And I think the pessimist will look at this as a failure of this new digital age and how it’s terrible and how this bar for stimulation is way too high but I like to challenge and flip that on it’s head basically say that I think that the screens are around forever, they’re gonna stay and so we need to bring everything else up to par. I don’t think that there’s any reason that we can’t make the educational experience as fun, even more fun that playing a game. It could be just as interactive.
35:33 Jiro: It’s really interesting to get your perspective on this stuff and passion about it. Because a lot of this stuff that I hear and maybe this is a lot of the stuff that comes in my own mind almost has a negative energy, like a sense of regret that we’re going to this age of the screen. But, as you say it’s only going one direction. And I suppose any sense of, any sort of negative energy that I feel is probably a manifestation of the sense in me that my own attention span has diminished, since, with the rise of screens and all that sort of thing. And I’ve read statistics on how the average YouTube video 10 years ago was like 12 minutes long, now it’s like 2 minutes long. But it’s not going anywhere so I guess the question is how do we learn to use it in the most productive way.
Advait: I really think that everything is just getting more efficient. If you really think about non trivial technology, pieces of technology that has changed the way humans work, everything from cars to electricity to computers to the Internet. At every step of the transformation, there were a group of people that looked at the new era and said “ This is nonsense, the old way is better. “ And historically, they’ve just been proven wrong. There’s no way you can make a justification for why cars are a bad thing in 2015. Or why electricity is a bad thing. Similarly, in 10 or a hundred years from now, there’s no way you can say screens are gonna be a bad thing. You’re just on the wrong side of that battle.
37:11 Jiro: Yeah I agree, I agree. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. You’re absolutely right. So you talked a little bit before about how technology, how screens could potentially be harnessed to create a more engaging learning experience for kids. And I’ve been reading a lot about gamification, which is just an interesting concept that kept me hooked on Mario Kart and various computer games when I was a kid. Where do you feel like we are currently with that sort of interface between technology, gamification, screens and kids?
Advait: I think it’s just the beginning, from an educational perspective. Obviously, video games have been around for a while and kids love them. Especially with all these new smaller screens with phones and tablets. Kids have even more access to play these things. But for the educational content specifically, most people are still using textbooks and paper worksheets. Just now, by now I mean over the course of the last year, we’re starting to see people use Google Docs to submit their essays and teachers grading them online and having that immediate feedback. And people using things like Khan Academy to not only learn concepts but also do lessons after, worksheets problems afterwards to reinforce what they learn. The interesting thing is that when you have a paper worksheet, it’s a static piece of paper. It doesn’t change so if you get the very first problem wrong, the difficulty of the worksheet is not gonna change with your trajectory. Conversely, if you breeze through the first 20 problems, it probably indicates that you know the material and the worksheet isn’t gonna get any harder. I think that there’s a significant opportunity to essentially tune, optimise the problems that these students are doing based on their level of understanding. And don’t leave the kids who don’t understand concepts behind with stuff that’s way over their head. And at the other end of the spectrum, don’t under challenge people who already get the information. Just essentially, tailor the experience to fully match the student.
Jiro: What you’re talking about here is actually how, there’s countless studies on flow states. The famous chart or diagram is one that shows this perfect balance between challenge of the task and the skill of the participant. And when you have the challenge that just stretches the skill level by something like 4% they say, apparently. So basically, you have to be stretched slightly beyond your comfort zone. And that is the place of which flowstates, or optimal performance takes place. And below that, if you are unchallenged, you go into the land of apathy, boredom, I just don’t give a s*** about this stuff. Which I’m sure you’re familiar, characterizes your entire school experience. And on the other end of extreme, when it’s too challenging, you get that sense of frustration and disappointment, self criticism. Both the bottom and the top, highly unproductive zones. I’m doubtless you see kids, so many kids, I’m sure that characterises that school experience. Either the of sense apathy and boredom or the sense of frustration. And what you’re talking about is a system using technology to create an information feeding system, basically. Or distribution system which has this inbuilt mechanism to be elastic.
Advait: Absolutely, like when you’re on Mario Kart, and you breeze through the early levels because you’re good, Mario Kart doesn’t stay there and force you to play those levels over and over again. And it also doesn’t put you on hard mode on the very first time you hold the controller.
Jiro: Absolutely not.
Advait: So, I think we can learn a lot from that.
Jiro: Aww man, that’s such an interesting way to look at it. This sort of stuff is gonna revolutionise education, isn’t it?
Advait: Yeah, absolutely.
Jiro: And you’re gonna have the smart kids, are just gonna be pushed and challenged and stretched. The kids who are struggling in certain areas, they’ll also thrive. What we’ve built in to this mechanism, no doubt, is a way of recognising the different types of intelligence that people have. Rather than just this very narrow definition of IQ. You’ll have kids that are recognised for their emotional intelligence, their different ties to creativity and maybe at an earlier age, they will begin to be steered into the areas into which they’ll flourish. Because I remember when I was like, I went to a very traditional schooling system. I’ve learned vast ways of stuff that I’ve never ever used in my adult life.
Advait. Absolutely. Everybody has.
Jiro: Yeah, everybody has. And I remember being forced into these areas of crossroads. At the age of 16, you have to choose what you’re gonna study when you’re 17 and 18. And at the age of 18, you have to make this monumental decision about the direction that you’re life is gonna take based on the degree that you choose to do. I remember just thinking, “ Holy s***, I’ve just learned a little bit about a whole bunch of stuff and now I’m supposed to make a decision that will alter the course of my life? “ Potentially, a better system would be gamified mechanism where right from the age of 4 or 5 years old, the clues have been given about what type of human I am, what type of brain I have. How my DNA is manifested in the way that I learn and what I have to give to the world. You know what I mean?
Advait: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jiro: It’s exciting.
Advait: It’s not just a linear spectrum of low performers and high performers. There’s so many axis by which you can measure performance. And yeah, to bring up the whole educational experience. I think that it’s so sad that you’re forced to take these exams and you’re judged on these specific set of criteria for which the real world doesn’t really care about those things. You won’t ever have to do manual, long division ever. But, you have to take out a car loan before and it’s a shame we don’t learn about real life things in school.
Jiro: Absolutely. Yeah, I really do envision a future where it’s just so radically different. We’re teaching our kids all the s*** that we wish we knew when we were 21 years old. Wow. Big topic there. Talk to me just briefly about how you tap into states of peak performance. Well, actually let’s go back a step. What does peak performance mean to you?
Advait: I’m most familiar with it in a programming setting where I have this task and I have to write a program to solve it. It basically means that the problem at hand or the program that I’m writing is very complex. There’s lots of edge cases. There’s lots of situations that I didn’t expect that the program needs to have to solve. There’s a lot of potential state that the program can be in and a lot of inputs and it’s a very complex mental model. I think the flow state is one where the model is like front and center of your brain and you see all aspects of it and the resulting program that you write is really just like an extension of your mental state. It’s like “I’m taking everything that is in my brain right now and just putting it in computer program form.” with no effort.
Jiro: So, no effort. That ‘effortlessness’ is something that characterises for you, that state of flow?
Advait: Yeah. So, the ability to keep complex models in my brain. And then, also, the ability to translate those into code without having to consciously think about the steps. Like, actually writing out stuff for how to translate my brain, thoughts into actual lines. It should just be like an extension of my brain, really.
Jiro: Interesting. Okay, so peak performance for you is tuning in to this state where things kind of happen automatically from a subconscious level. It’s almost like your removal of that clunky conscious system. Yeah? Okay, interesting. That I mean, that is literally the definition of flow states. There’s this awesome term called transient hypofrontality which actually is the neuroscientific term for describing the shutdown of areas of the prefrontal cortex which control things like ego, time, all those kind of annoying (yet super advanced) things that keep you locked into that conscious mind which is helpful sometimes but unhelpful sometimes. Yeah, so your sense of peak performance from a programming perspective is really like tuning into the flow state. Literally.
Advait: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jiro: Epic. Wow. What do you do? How’d you do it? Like for me I use isolation, music. As I’ve said before, I take away the obstacles. What about you?
Advait: Yeah. Good EDM music, large cup of coffee and no interruptions. And just me and the computer. Obviously, it takes a little bit of time but after it clicks then I can just have extended periods of hours, sometimes several hours of just pure flow.
Jiro: Me, too. Ain’t it the best? It’s very productive, isn’t it?
Advait: I love it.
Jiro: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. Cool, Advait. We’re gonna wrap this up here and it’s been really awesome to chat with you. We’ve covered a lot of topics. Talking about your childhood, all the way through your Google experience to setting up the startup. What I’d like to do is get you back on the show in 6 months or a year’s time because the trajectory your company is on is amazing. And it’d be so fascinating for people to tune in to how things move in this tech space. How quickly things change. We’ll definitely get you back on in 6 month’s time if that’s cool with you.
Advait: That sounds great. It’s been an honor. I had a great time.
Jiro: Cool. So people can check out the work that you guys are doing. So, it’s GoGuardian.com.
Advait: That’s right.
Jiro: Awesome. Alright, Advait. Thanks for being on the show and I’ll chat with you soon.
Advait: Thanks a lot, Jiro. Take care.
Jiro: Cool. See yah. I hope you enjoyed that chat with Advait. He’s a great guy. He’s actually one of my coaching clients. And together over the last few months, we’ve really been tuning deeper into levels of passion, purpose, performance and it’s really exciting to see where Advait is taking GoGuardian. Please don’t forget to leave us a rating and a review on iTunes, it means a lot to us. And you can check out the show notes on the website Flowstatecollective.com and tune in next time another interesting chat with a peak performer. Thanks for listening, bye.