I’m Slack CTO Cal Henderson, and This Is How we Work

Cal Henderson is a co-founder and CTO of Slack, a heading workplace messaging platform, that Henderson’s organisation invented while perplexing to build an online diversion called Glitch. That wasn’t a initial time Henderson and his Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield set out to build a diversion and finished adult with a startup. In a early 2000s, Henderson assimilated Butterfield’s organisation to build Game Neverending, that spawned a photo-sharing site Flickr. He’s been programming (and blogging during iamcal.com) for 15 years.

We talked to Henderson about how he works, how he Slacks, and how it feels to concentration into large success—twice.

Location: San Francisco
Current Gig: CTO of Slack
One word that best describes how we work: Relentless
Current mobile device: iPhone 7 with a nauseous battery case
Current computer: 11″ MacBook Air, though using Windows

Tell me a tiny about your credentials and how we got to where we are today.

I got into computers during a flattering immature age; it started when my comparison cousin got a Texas Instruments TI-99 when we was around six. Like many computers during a time, it came with a BASIC interpreter, and we was fascinated. Within a few years we had motionless that programming is what we wanted to do when we grew up. I’ve been flattering spooky ever since.


I’ve been in San Francisco for 12 years now, primarily entrance to San Francisco from Vancouver with a merger of Flickr by Yahoo. During my time during Flickr, we spearheaded a array of technologies that are still ordinarily used, including APIs, oAuth, and oEmbed, and wrote a best-selling O’Reilly book, Building Scalable Web Sites. we worked on Flickr during Yahoo for 4 years before withdrawal in 2009 to start an MMO [massively multiplayer online game] called Glitch with Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, all from Flickr.

What’s your workspace setup like?

I have a table in a headquarters, though I’m frequency found there. Most of my days are spent in meetings. Given a SF HQ bureau is 50,000 sq ft, I’m means to get many of my 15,000 daily stairs during work hours.


However, when we am found during my desk, you’ll notice that my table is customarily a towering of junk. we use a unequivocally tiny laptop (11″ MacBook Air, RIP) though block into outmost monitors whenever we can. I’m also a automatic keyboard nerd, and now use a tenkeyless Varmilo with blue Cherry MX switches. It’s super shrill and sounds a bit like a typewriter.

What’s your best time-saving by-pass or life hack?

Listening to audiobooks during 2–3x speed. we switched roughly exclusively to audio books about 5 years ago, so we could brew my walking invert with reading, though anticipating a speed environment has been a genuine boost.

How do we recharge? What do we do when we wish to forget about work?

Listening to books or podcasts during 3x speed while personification iPhone games; Bit City is a latest one to locate on in a office. Or, spend time with my 3-year-old son. Nothing army we to reorient your courtesy like a toddler.

What’s your nap slight like?

I have a unequivocally unchanging nap schedule: I’m typically in bed by 10:30 and defunct by 11:30. we customarily spend 30–60 mins during a finish of a day circuitous down, listening to sci-fi books. we arise adult during 7:30am each day.

You and your co-workers famously grown Flickr and Slack while building video games. What were these pivots like? What was opposite a second time around, Slack vs. Flickr?

The pivots were hard—no one sets out to fail. You don’t know, when you’re going by shutting down a unsuccessful company, that there will be a good outcome on a other side.

What’s been opposite this time around is a expansion and majority of a web as a platform—there are 100x some-more people online everyday. When we built Flickr, a thought of putting your photos online was flattering new. Now a thought of putting them anywhere else is weird.

The other large change is a growth of infrastructure and a cloud. The bar to removing started has gotten reduce and lower, permitting we to spend reduction time racking servers and some-more time operative on a thing you’re perplexing to build.

What bland thing are we improved during than everybody else? What’s your secret?

That’s a bit full-on. I’ve been told we have a extensive ability for focused work and high-output, though what’s authorised me to grow into a CTO purpose during an org a distance of Slack has been my 15-year story of handling teams and a prerogative we find in a tellurian aspects of a work. There’s a unequivocally prevalent classify that engineers are socially unsophisticated, though that’s usually not a case. Interpersonal communication is an comprehensive requirement for government and care in all functions of a company, and no reduction so in engineering. It’s a organisation activity.

What apps, software, or collection can’t we live without?

  • Work: Slack
  • News: BBC, Twitter
  • Family: Whatsapp, Snapchat
  • Entertainment: Audible, Reddit

What’s your biggest onslaught in a workplace?

Probably prioritizing my time. As an classification grows in distance and complexity, it’s easy to tumble into usually being reactive. There’s always one some-more thing entrance to we that wants courtesy and needs to be finished now. But stepping behind and being vital about what we concentration on is unequivocally important.

What do we listen to while we work?

I spend many of my workday in meetings, though when I’m operative from home I’ll block into Spotify—this week has been a brew of Kanye and (British trip-hop group) Sneaker Pimps.

What are we now reading, or what would we recommend?

I recently finished Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series, that we strongly recommend. A perspective of amiability post-scarcity and what it takes to reason a multitude together.

What’s a best recommendation we ever received?

I’m not certain where this recommendation came from, though a thought of anticipating a set of people we like to work with, rather than a ideal project. We didn’t set out to make Flickr, or start a association to make Slack, though anticipating a organisation of people that we trust and adore to work with means that we suffer what you’re doing, even when we concentration into something totally different.

And to splash lots of H2O and get unchanging exercise.

What’s a biggest thought you’ve had that we don’t wish to do yourself?

I still consider that what we were perplexing to do with Glitch (a multiplayer online amicable diversion space around would building and collaboration) is a good idea. We didn’t conduct to make it into a successful business and we don’t consider I’ll try doing it again, though a core of a thought was great. If someone manages to make what we were aiming to, I’d play a shit out of it.

What’s your possess Slack etiquette, and how most does it line adult with a rest of your team? For example, how most do we use Slack during off-hours? Have we ever done a large mistake pas like promulgation a supportive summary to a wrong channel?

I consider we make that mistake some-more mostly with email than with Slack, substantially since we use it reduction frequently. While we review Slack during all hours, we try to equivocate DMing people late during night. The vigour for people to respond fast can shame people into meditative they need to be always on. Queuing adult a garland of messages to send initial thing in a morning lets people know that my questions can wait.

You’ve pulled off some good stunts, like a “who looks like a manager” diversion during Yahoo. [Henderson’s diversion asked associate Yahoo employees to theory that of dual people was aloft adult during a company, formed usually on their photos.] What purpose have side projects played in your career? 

I had a lot of fun with a early inner Hack Days during Yahoo, display that we could build engaging projects that weren’t usually a user-facing product feature.


Playing Game Never Ending (the diversion that preceded Flickr) was something we did for fun in my gangling time in my early 20s, though ‘hacking’ into a complement to know some-more about how a diversion worked is what eventually led to being recruited by Stewart to come work during Flickr.

Fill in a blank: I’d adore to see _________ answer these same questions.

Jay Parikh (VP of Engineering during Facebook)

Is there anything else you’d like to supplement that competence be engaging to readers and fans?

I’ve always desired a approach we can use program to usually make stuff, and get it into a hands of people quickly. If that’s something that we enjoy, right now is a good time to get into a industry. There’s a lot of opportunities to make things that people use and rest on each day. As an attention we still have a prolonged approach to go, though there’s never been a improved time to pursue a career in program engineering; we don’t need to have complicated mechanism scholarship during a prestigious university or come from a ‘typical’ program engineering background. People from all walks of life who have a good passion for what they do can accomplish a lot.

This talk has been easily edited for clarity.

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Posted by on Sep 13 2017. Filed under Gadgets. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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