Meet the Face Behind npm

Meet the Face Behind npm

We are super pumped. Modulus got the chance to catch up with Isaac Schlueter. Isaac as many of you know was the Node.js lead at Joyent until he recently departed to run npm Inc.

Can you tell me a little about your background (education, work experience)?

I grew up in Connecticut, and went to SCSU. I moved to San Diego after college to try to get a job in tech. Why not Silicon Valley? Well, at the time, there were software companies in basically every city in CA, and San Diego has the best weather.

Unfortunately, the dot-com bubble burst as I was driving across the country, so I spent a bit of time selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door before landing a job in tech support. I worked my way up to "web guy" at the software company, which is good, because tech support was almost as soul-crushing as vacuum cleaner sales.

It was pretty lonely, since I was outside the main product development, and didn't have much in common with my coworkers. It also was a pretty dysfunctional place in a lot of ways. I dreamed that one day I could be a web celebrity like those people with blogs who were debating the finer points of web standards and making CSS tutorials and figuring out how to do columns on web pages without tables.

Eventually, this caught the eye of a Yahoo! recruiter, and so I went to work there. I started out on Yahoo! Games, and worked my way around the company.

I quit for a few months, and made npm a Real Thing. Then I worked at Kakai (aka Kno) for a few months, left to Joyent for a few years, and now I'm making npm an Even More Real Thing.

What do you like to do in your free time?

What is this "free" "time" of which you speak?

I try to do yoga regularly, though starting a company has made my schedule a lot harder to fit yoga into. I also bike around Oakland, eat fun things, and do internet stuff. I've studied American Sign Language a little bit, and try to use it whenever I get the chance. My partner signs pretty fluently, though she's a native English speaker, and it comes in handy a lot. I also like being around foresty natural places and so I try to take trips out of the city as often as I can, especially when the weather is nice.

Mostly, my "free time" life is on hold until we can hire more people to take over more of the things that are my job. Right now, npm, Inc. takes up a lot of my time, way more than I'd ask any employee to spend on it.

How did you start working with Node.js?

At Yahoo!, I grew increasingly frustrated that I had to switch back and forth between PHP and JavaScript, and Google had just open sourced their V8 engine, so I started trying to seriously get into doing JavaScript on the server. I got involved with the K7 project, and started studying web servers in more detail. There was also SpiderApe, and v8cgi, and a bunch of other projects. Narwhal caught my eye, and I spent a bunch of time messing with that.

Around the same time, Ryan Dahl was writing Node.js. I had tried installing 0.0.2, and it didn't build on my mac, so I figured of course this thing was never going to work. At 0.0.6, I gave it another try, and was hooked.

A few months later, I wrote a package manager for it. The rest is history :)

What are your goals with npm, Inc?

My goals are, in roughly this order:

  • Support the open source JavaScript community's needs sustainably (ie, without going broke, even as we continue growing as we have)
  • Create the sort of company that I can be proud of, that treats people well and is befitting the "voice" of the npm project (ie, "npm loves you")
  • Make our open source communities less toxic, especially to disenfranchised groups of people
  • Work on interesting things with nice smart people
  • Change the shape of OSS funding, so that independent OSS people can get paid commensurate with the value they create, and so that
  • OSS dev can attract people with Real Life Needs, like kids and healthcare and stuff
  • Sell my shares for a big enough number of dollars that my future grandchildren are set for life
  • Help other OSS people create other companies around their things, and make the world a better place in the process
  • Take care of the homeless mentally ill population in Oakland and San Francisco (aka, "Go all 'Bill and Melinda Gates' on SF")

What do you want everyone to know about you and your new role?

It is a lot of fun making a company. You should try it. It is a ton of work, though, and a terrifying amount of responsibility.

I recommend holding off until you have something that you know is valuable. A lot of startups start without much more than an idea. But, if you really have a good idea, it's not that hard these days to get SOME traction on it. I was lucky that I could afford to quit my job for a few months to work on npm in 2010, and then lucky again that Joyent let me continue to maintain it while I was an employee there. But opportunities like this are not as rare as they might seem. If you can find an employer that's a big supporter of open source (such as Joyent, Mozilla, GitHub, and many others) then it's not usually out of line to maintain ownership of your OSS project, and eventually leave the company to work on it full time.

What should everyone out there know about you?

I am much more mysterious than I first appear.

I've had the pleasure to meet Isaac a few times and it's been a joy everytime. If you are looking for someone to make you laugh or help solve a problem, Isaac is your guy. I’d highly recommend getting to know him or at least trying to.

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