Photo: Light Table
Light Table, a new startup that came out of a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign, is an application that can already shorten the process of developing an app by more than 20 per cent.But that’s just the start. After raising hundreds of thousands with Kickstarter, Light Table is soon going to be the future of developing.
Here’s how it works: normally, when you develop an app, you have to compile everything altogether, and hope for the best when you run it that everything works.
But with Light Table, you can see the app working in real time, and determine if things are working right away or not. That means you can more rapidly debug your apps, making the whole process of building an app much, much faster.
And it’s also a good way to find your mistakes quickly — making it a powerful learning tool, too.
We caught up with co-founder Chris Granger to see what it’s like trying to reinvent programming. Here’s what we learned:
- Just after closing a $316,720 Kickstarter campaign, Light Table joined Y Combinator. It was “just two guys” at first, but now they’re looking to hire a lot of new people.
- Light Table speeds up your development time by 20 per cent — and that’s just right now. The team hopes to speed up development time by “orders of magnitude.”
- Light Table might end up being the perfect way to learn how to program, too. Because everything happens in real time, you can immediately see where your mistakes are and parse your results. Light Table’s co-founder wasn’t a programmer to begin with, and learned how to do so by building Light Table.
Here’s a lightly-edited transcript of the conversation:
BUSINESS INSIDER: Can you tell me a little bit more about your background?
CHRIS GRANGER: Right now we’re just two guys, we met back in high school. We’ve known each other for a little over a decade. He went and did biology at Johns Hopkins. I went to Chapel Hill, actually for German, and took courses all over the place. I graduated with a German degree and I’d been programming forever. I worked my way through college on contract gigs, programmed for a while in Charlotte and then joined Microsoft as a program manager for Visual Basic and C-Sharp (C#) for a few years. It’s a precursor to what we ended up doing for Microsoft’s own development tools. We just started talking and said, ah, we should do a company together, and here we are now.
BI: How was your experience with Y Combinator?
CG: I had applied with another guy a few times ago with a completely different idea. It’s always been on our radar. This time, it was really great, we certainly learned a lot. Y Combinator opens up opportunities, not even to just investors, but to meet people you might not otherwise meet and learn from them. It’s not even them giving you anything necessarily or opening doors, it’s learning from people you would never have the opportunity to see. That’s the most valuable thing we got out of it, beyond the fact it also let us focus. We didn’t have to worry about, how in the world do you set up a company. They have a streamlined process, now it’s all done, so go do your stuff.
BI: So what is Light Table?
CG: Light Table is a new environment for creating software. The main problem, is building software is way harder than it should be and it’s really inefficient. A good analogy is like, being a developer today is being a painter with a blindfold. You make a stroke on the canvas, you don’t see the result. The time to be able to see a change when coding could be anywhere from 30 seconds to 8 hours. That disconnect is hugely impactful, it means what we end up doing most of the time, instead of doing little things and trying them, we make huge changes and hope to god that we got it right.
Light Table removes that blindfold and applies real-time feedback. It allows you to modify a running program. What this opens up is a new level of connection to the software. It’s interesting, being able to see how data flows through your program, even so far as taking your code and seeing variables get filled in. It enables a real-time level of debugging, you write way fewer problems into the software.
Other software editors live in this world where the only thing we’ve ever had is text. Emacs is 36 years old, Vim is in the 20s, they were invented in the time where all you had was a teletype. As a result of that, they work in this very strict world where you have a file open and there’s text in this file, and if you want more than that you’re kind of screwed. One of the second things we’re doing on top of connecting you is building an environment that basically mould it to the shape of your problem. We’re talking about being able to edit running games and graph the performance, you immediately see it changing in front of you.
We’re moving away from this notion where the only thing we have is a single file we work in or a couple of buffers, you can actually have all sorts of crazy stuff on your work surface. It’s about creating a real work surface. If you look at other professions, they work on giant graphing tables, they have blueprints all over the place. 3D modelers have far more advanced tools that programmers have today, their work spaces adapt. Light Table takes it to that same level of adaptation.
BI: What languages does Light Table support?
BI: How much time do I save using Light Table, instead of a standard editor?
CG: It depends on the kind of programmer you are and where we are. What we’ll see, based on what we’ve seen so far, is you can see upwards of 20 per cent faster development time. We’re basically re-imagining the way you program, this is still very early stuff and I don’t think we’ve got it all yet. Ultimately the goal we’re talking is orders of magnitude faster. Right now, these very general environments we have, they’re not necessarily good at anything. Once you get to the point that you have an environment that’s tailored to what you do, you’re playing a very different game. That’s the difference between digging a posthole with a postholer instead of a standard shovel.
“Once you get to the point that you have an environment that’s tailored to what you do, you’re playing a very different game. That’s the difference between digging a posthole with a postholer instead of a standard shovel.”
BI: Sounds like it would be good for teaching?
CG: One of the use cases we’re most excited about is teaching. When we released the videos, a lot of organisations said it would be the most amazing teaching tool for programming that’s been around. I feel very strongly about that. My cofounder, he wasn’t a programmer when we started this. He learned himself, he provides great feedback for how to be a teaching tool.
BI: Where do you go from here?
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.