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Featured on Jan 28, 2011

John Britton

"Nothing matters."


Curious. College escapee. Lifelong Learner. World traveling vagabond. Couch Surfer. Hitchhiker. Hacker at heart. Volunteer at Peer 2 Peer University, Volunteer at Mozilla Foundation, Member of root at NYHacker.

  • Title: Developer Evangelist at Twilio
  • Age: 25
  • Location: Brooklyn, Bushwick
  • Contact: @johndbritton

Silicon Alley Insider called your demo of Twilio at the NY Tech Meetup “the best demo we’ve ever seen” and Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures featured it in a blog post called "How to Pitch a Product." Even with all of the high praise, is there anything from that demo that you’d like to add or change if you could do it over again?

I made an error when I was live coding, I typed a colon instead of a semi-colon at the end of one of my PHP statements. I actually wouldn't change that because it was pretty funny and got the crowd involved a bit. If I could do it again, I would use a different text editor. I have an old habit of using `nano' and I've really been meaning to spend the time to learn a proper editor like emacs or vi. One good thing about using `nano' is that I don't have to get involved in editor wars. Besides "real programmers use butterflies"

You’ve done a great deal of traveling around the world. What’s one thing that you consider or have found to be uniquely New York? Any particular reason you chose to settle and work here?

I <3 NY. In New York, anything is possible. There are so many people that you're bound to find some good friends no matter how strange you are. There are groups for every subject imaginable and because I'm a curious person I really enjoy getting into a lot of random stuff. I sort of stumbled into living in New York, there was a plan for me to run an engineering office in the city for a startup. That opportunity fell through the day after I signed my lease. I stuck around New York because I had heard such great things and really enjoyed being here.

Right now my favorite part of being in NYC is my living situation. I've got a large warehouse in Brooklyn with a few friends where we live and host awesome events. The space is great and it has quite a few nice features: a garage door, a swing, a cozy lofted nest, a giant hammock, a kegerator (with homebrew), and a spiral staircase. We're planning on adding a fire pole and a rock climbing wall along with some more traditional furnishings. I do travel quite a bit, so the fact that I can fly direct to pretty much anywhere in the world is a bonus.

Favorite app that uses Twilio?

Touch Tone Tanks is my favorite Twilio app, hands down. I helped a group of students at HackNY with the idea of building a big screen interactive game to play at events. They totally nailed it, the game is a lot of fun to play and shows how a little creativity can create a really interesting experience. I think it's my favorite because I was part of the idea and was able to help along the way. I love to have people play it during intermission and other downtime at events.

The game is really simple: project a webpage and a phone number to a crowd of people with phones and have them call in. A tank is spawned on the battlefield for each caller which is controlled using the dialpad. Callers can move the tanks around, aim, and fire.

You’re very open about yourself on the Internet and post a lot of content. Tell us something about yourself that we can’t find via Google.

I made a conscious decision to post most of my life online back in April 2008. There were a few reasons, but mainly I wanted to get my work out to people and keep a record for myself. For every blog post I write, there are at least ten others that I never got around to finishing.

There's one good story that I've been meaning to write about for a long time, and it actually marked a turning point in my life. In middle school I got my hands on a trojan called Sub7, an app for binding exe's, and just enough knowledge about networking to be dangerous. I thought it would be fun to pwn a few boxes so I hid the trojan in a copy of the then popular game DXBall. I got a few people to download it and that's when the fun began.

I used the trojan to play practical jokes. I turned displays upside down, open and closed CD-ROM drives, mimicked the "Wake up. Neo.." sequence from The Matrix, and printed random stuff out on people's printers.

As it turns out, the State of New Jersey didn't like that very much and sent my local D.A.R.E. officer over to confiscate my computers. I got off with a slap on the wrist: Banned from the internet for a year and forced to write a paper on computer ethics. I wrote about Napster and the RIAA but I'm pretty sure nobody read my report.

Now you can Google "John Britton Hacker" and get the real story, how's that for open. After the dust settled I picked up a collection of hacker books starting with The Cuckoo's Egg. It's also interesting to note that my middle name is Draper, so I share a name with the famous phone phreak Captain Crunch (John Draper). Fitting that I work at Twilio now, no? These days I'm strictly a white hat hacker. Hack the Planet.

 You’ve participated in a number of conferences, ranging from being a Guest Lecturer at NYU ITP to presenting at Mozilla Developer Day Bangalore. Which type of events do you find to be the most valuable to you personally and why?

I've been to tons of events and have even organized a few of my own. I've found that the best ones involve people actually doing stuff. I hate the standard lecture format that rules most conferences. Hackathons, BarCamps, and Workshops are definitely the most valuable to me. It's easy to get things done, to learn, and to teach.

There are really visible outputs from most of these organic events. I often go home with working prototypes. Even if I don't build anything myself I learn a lot more by helping others. At the end of the day, the most rewarding feeling is to know that you've helped someone solve a problem. I don't always get the same feeling from big-box events and often feel like I've wasted time.

Ruby Developer, JavaScript Developer, PHP Developer, Evangelist