Matt Wiethoff had a promising career in tech…until everything was put on pause because of an injury that made it painful to type on a keyboard. But he turned his challenge into an opportunity and founded Serenade, a powerful tool that lets you code using only your voice, from refactoring code to writing docs.
After getting his computer science degree, Matt spent his time working in the machine learning space. Things were going well but suddenly took a turn when he developed an injury that made it unbearable to type for more than 20 minutes. After seeing all the inadequate solutions in the market for his condition and occupation, he decided to create one himself. By hiring someone to type code for him initially, he was able to get to a point where he himself could use the program to build on it further. Eventually, he released Serenade, an AI tool that enables programmers to code without typing using only their voice.
In this episode, Matt talks about his experience coding with an injury, how he created Serenade, the importance of making coding accessible, and much more. This episode also addresses how speaking code may actually be more efficient than using a keyboard. So not only can people with disabilities or injuries benefit from coding with voice, but so can productivity junkies!
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
Laurence Bradford 0:00
Hey, welcome to another episode of the Learn to Code With Me Podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford and today's episode is all about how to code without typing. That's coming up after a quick word from our sponsor.
Laurence Bradford 0:27
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And we're back. In today's episode I talk with Matt Wiethoff. Matt is the co-founder of Serenade, an AI tool that enables programmers to code without typing. Before Serenade, he was a machine learning engineer and tech lead at Cora. The reason why I reached out to Matt is because I really like his story. It's very interesting. While working at Korra, he was diagnosed with something called a severe repetitive stress injury to his wrist, and that left him unable to code, but he didn't give up. Instead, Matt developed a speech to code tool that allows people to code without having to type. And that's what we're going to be talking about today. Matt's experience coding the physical injury, how he created Serenade, and the importance of making coding accessible to everyone. Our conversation touches on how he you Serenade to develop Serenade the technology behind the tool. And why speaking code may actually be faster and more efficient than using a keyboard. If you want to learn to code, but have a physical disability, or injury, or you're even just a productivity junkie, and are looking for a faster way to code, this episode is for you. Enjoy.
Laurence Bradford 2:31
Hey, Matt, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Hey, thanks for having me. Really excited to talk to you. And just to kick things off? Could you tell me where you're located right now? I'm in downtown San Francisco. Okay, nice. I'm in the New York City area, actually, technically in New Jersey, but I can see the Empire State Building from my windows. So still feel like I'm sort of in it, even though kind of removed. But could you just tell me a bit about your journey and how you got into tech?
Matthew Wiethoff 3:02
Yeah, so let's see, I, I started programming kind of here and there in, you know, a little bit in middle school and some in high school, I had some computer teachers in middle school that would hand me like, an HTML book here and there, or, or there was one time a computer teacher offered to take me out of the standard computer class. And together, we sort of tried to figure out c++. So there was, you know, some funny moments there were, I remember just like, some moments where the two of us were like staring at at the section on pointers and trying to figure out, you know, what the heck are these are these things. So then in high school, I did a little bit more on the engineering side, like robotics competitions, some side projects, like at one point, I don't know how I started working on this, but was working on this balancing robot that I saw some guy on the internet make one. And I reached out to him and asked him how he did it. And he was really nice. He gave me all these like instructions on what hardware I needed to buy. And I think, you know, Christmas that year was a $300 gyroscope or something that was you know, like, what, a half an inch by half an inch and people like why did you ask for that. But um, I also had a love for some reason, I think that the authors of the chip are so these hobbyists that would help me learn see and just we had these email threads going back and forth. So a lot of these like ad hoc projects and relationships. And then for college, I went to school for engineering. I I liked programming a lot. At the time. It wasn't as I guess it wasn't as popular. This was sort of pre Facebook. I didn't know if that was like a career that I should pursue. So I went more towards the, the typical engineering route. So go did majored in electrical engineering. And then by the end of my sophomore year, I realized that you know, I really loved programming and that's, that's it I'm most passionate about and all the stuff that the computer science majors were majoring in was, was really cool. So I ended up switching into computer science officially, like pretty late, did a couple years, there was a couple of years left in school and then at the end of my senior year, took a machine learning class, I just like really thought that sort of intersection between probability and, and and algorithms was was just that was super cool. And so I did an internship with a professor, they are working on this small social media startup that use machine learning. And yeah, took took a job there and then did that for about a year and then joined a company called Quora where I was working on a bunch of just a bunch of products that people would use that that would use machine learning in the backgrounds. So yeah, that's sort of that's sort of how I got into the initial job and tuck.
Laurence Bradford 5:59
Yeah, I love Cora, I was actually on there for a really long time the other day, looking up this is kind of embarrassing, but looking up stuff with like rashes and bug bites, because I thought we maybe had bedbugs. We don't just to clarify, we don't it ended up being a rash from from water, which is disgusting, like unclean water that we were swimming in. And I kind of narrowed it down to figure it out through Cora. So what were you doing there? Exactly? I mean, sounds like something with machine learning, but like, what part of the product were you working on? And also, how long did you work there for?
Matthew Wiethoff 6:34
Yep, so I worked there for around four and a half years, the first thing I started working on, so I joined there, their version of newsfeed. So like, you know, if you go to the Facebook homepage, it's showing articles and stuff that you might be interested in reading. We were using machine learning to predict what answers we thought you'd be interested in reading? And what questions we thought you'd be able to answer that involved a lot of you may have heard of like the Netflix prize, there's all sorts of recommendation algorithms that came out of that, you know, this field of recommender systems, there was a there's a bunch of sort of like standard techniques there that I worked on applying. At the start, I was working more on on data infrastructure and, and their experimentation framework. So a lot of machine learning products, you're making a lot of incremental changes to algorithms, and you want to know be able to measure like, is this is this better or worse. And to do that, you need to run an x and a B test on like a bunch of users to be able to see, like, make sure you have a big enough sample size, and basically do sort of like a study a small study. So I worked on the framework that lead engineers run those just because the team that I was on was the one that was running the most of them, but then went back to working on the ML algorithms themselves, both the deciding, you know, what algorithm to use, but also all the infrastructure that that goes into that, you know, when you loaded a page on Quora, you know, we're sorting, we're looking at like, hundreds of 1000s of answers that we might want to show you. And being able to rank those in real time is, is sort of requires a lot of work with like distributed systems and things like that. So then, after that, I was I was tech lead on a project called asked to answer, which was, basically, when you asked the question on Quora, we would recommend who the best person to ask this question to is, and so it was pretty interesting. It was It was at this intersection of like, you know, social products and machine learning, and to be able to solve that machine learning problem, you also needed a lot of sort of product insights. So, so one big product insight was, does our machine learning algorithm actually capture? If this person even likes you, you know, if you could, they could be the most relevant person and the expert in the area, but but maybe they're or maybe they're just busy. And so being able to factor like, factor that in to the algorithm actually made like a really big difference. So I always thought those those things were like, super, super interesting when when you could sort of be at that intersection. And then at the end, I was working on other digest emails. So sort of, you know, predicting whether someone's going to open an article if you send it to them. And then at the end, for a few months, I was tech lead on their ads, click through prediction, right, as Korra started to monetize. So you know, when you load a question page, we want to predict the probability that you're going to click on a given ad given you know, who you are and what the, what the question page is about. And that's sort of used to show like, what, what ad has the highest return on investment from showing it to that to that user? So I did that for a few months. And that's around a time that I started experiencing wrist pain, and that's sort of how I started looking into this accessibility space.
Laurence Bradford 9:52
What was happening with your wrist like when you say wrist pain, like what do you mean?
Matthew Wiethoff 9:57
Basically, I've gone through some periods in the past Were were just typing for too long, which would give me some wrist pain and got to a point where even like 20 minutes on a computer would, would be painful. And, you know, in the past, I had seen some done some of the some of the standard solutions, I'd gone to physical therapy, I'd done all the sort of stretches and things like that, I was sort of known in the office as the guy doing all the stretches, you know, every every 30 minutes. So actually, a lot of people would come to me and say, Oh, you know, I have a similar issue, but you know, I don't know whether I should bring it up or, or if I want to go through all of the, all the hoops that you have to jump through. And so, you know, in the past, he sort of went away, but this time, it just didn't. So I basically couldn't do the job anymore. And that's sort of, I just basically had to leave.
Laurence Bradford 10:47
Like, when you say you couldn't do the job, you mean, like you just couldn't type anymore? Like it was that painful? It was kind of impossible for you free to type?
Matthew Wiethoff 10:57
Yeah, I mean, it would be it would be sort of, I'd feel a lot of pain all day and sort of my wrists and my napkins. It got to the point where even just 20 minutes of typing would would be a little bit would be too much.
Laurence Bradford 11:11
Yeah, wow, that must have been really difficult. How long ago? How long ago? Was this? Like, how many years ago or months or whatever? This was a two or three years ago.
Laurence Bradford 11:22
Okay, gotcha. Wow. So, did you ever figure out like, what or have you figured out what exactly is going on? or What is going on?
Matthew Wiethoff 11:31
Yes. So I mean, I went to a bunch of doctors, it's actually not a very well, like this, this, I guess the the technical term is repetitive strain injury. And, surprisingly, it's not a very well understood area, it's more of sort of a cloud of diagnoses. And there's not a ton of research out there and to what exactly each person is having. So I did get some various diagnoses from from doctors, I saw a bunch of the best specialists in the Bay Area, the thing that kept coming back was, you know, the real cause is that you're doing an unnatural act for 40 hours a week. And, you know, we didn't evolve to, to sit at a desk and type for 40 hours a week, it's, it's, it's a surprisingly large amount of pressure that you're putting on very small joints. And so as long as I'm doing the activity, there might be some short term fixes, you know, the underlying causes is the activity itself. So that's sort of what motivated me to sort of look at an alternative input mechanisms just because I'm really passionate about programming, and I want to be doing it for you know, the next 30 years, and maybe there'll be some solutions that work. But in the long term, it'd be great if, if you know, this, this mechanical issue was just was just not there.
Laurence Bradford 12:52
And I just feel like I have to ask this, even though I'm sure like everyone asks you this, it's probably annoying to you at this point. But when you first were having these issues, like did you think it was, Oh, my gosh, carpal carpal tunnel, and I'm assuming this must be something different or is it kind of related
Matthew Wiethoff 13:10
Carpal tunnel is one of them. I think my case is, it was maybe a little bit more extreme than other people but you know, carpal tunnel cubital tunnel tendinitis, these are all sort of within this category of repetitive strain injury and then sometimes it's just sort of diagnosed as as RSI you know, they they're not able to sort of narrow down exactly what it is just because nerve tests and things like that are very coarse grained and more suited for for for traumatic injuries like than they are for some moderate amount of pain or just like a steady amount just I guess the less extreme cases.
Laurence Bradford 13:45
Got it, that was actually another thing I was doing a lot of research on probably on Korra not too long ago had to do with like carpal tunnel, pinched nerves things of that nature. So yeah, I was I was researching a lot not too long ago because I was having so in my own like shooting pains in my one arm but it's starting to go away anyhow, that's a different story. Not not very relevant to this but I was wondering because again, I was doing that research. So this makes sense that this led you to create your company which we'll definitely talk about more in a bit but like before you even decided to start Serenade were you researching or looking into other ways to program without typing?
Matthew Wiethoff 14:33
Yeah, that there was there was some solutions out there a lot of them are based more around dragon and sort of general dictation and, and there wasn't a ton of stuff aimed specifically at programming. You know, when you're when you're programming, you're seeing a lot of words that are very unique to programming. And so if you're using one of these general dictation software's it's going to struggle in those cases. So you either need to So you might need to find a way find ways to sort of work around it. But I was kind of surprised that there wasn't a ton of stuff out there. It seemed like this was a lot of a lot of people were facing this issue. There was a lot of posts on Hacker News without repetitive strain injuries. So yeah, I was pretty surprised that there, there wasn't more out there for for voice.
Laurence Bradford 15:20
Right? A bit ago, you mentioned dragon is dragon like a product? Or is that like a type of does that? Is that like an acronym for something?
Matthew Wiethoff 15:28
Yep. So dragon is just this general. It's by a company called nuance as the general dictation software that you might use in like Word or like writing emails. There's a lot of doctors that use it. There's like a, there's a there's one, they have some for various verticals. So there's one for doctors, and there's one for lawyers, but there isn't one for engineers.
Laurence Bradford 15:48
Okay, so like I said, there's a dragon program specifically for lawyers or specifically for doctors. So like, if I was a doctor, I would purchase the one for doctors, not the one for lawyers.
Matthew Wiethoff 15:59
Yep. Or maybe you know, it would be it'd be bought by the hospital that you're worked at, that you're working at or something like that for, you know, taking medical transcriptions and things like that.
Laurence Bradford 16:10
Got it. Okay. Yeah, this is a whole new world for me. I actually have and still sometimes use a lot of dictation myself on my phone, I do tech, what is it talk to text, you know, whether it's an email or a text, a long text message or something. And sometimes even on my computer, like in Gmail, I have this little I think it's just like a Chrome plugin or extension, what have you. And I'll sometimes verbally dictate emails, but I really haven't done much like beyond that, or like a free available software. But with something like dragon is that quite expensive, like for a regular person to use on their own without a company?
Matthew Wiethoff 16:51
Yeah, I think it's, it's around 500. And there's a new version that comes out every year.
Laurence Bradford 16:56
Yeah, so so one time 500 not like 500 a month.
Matthew Wiethoff 17:00
Right, right fight base effectively, like 500 a year because there's there's just new, you don't have to buy a new version, but new versions are generally more more accurate.
Laurence Bradford 17:10
Got it? Okay, well, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll talk more about Serenade the company that you founded.
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Laurence Bradford 18:35
Okay, great. And we're back. Actually, before we talk more about Serenade, there's something else that I want to ask. And I'm trying to word this correctly. I don't know if this is going to make sense. But obviously you went through like most of your life without having this kind of repetitive wrist injury. And then you know got this a few years ago when you like first got it and you were doing this research and trying to come up with solutions and just experiencing this difficulty. What was something that really stood out to you or something that you learned that you maybe never thought about before when your wrist felt like healthy when you could you know easily type
Matthew Wiethoff 19:18
I mean, I think there's just taking it for granted is one thing it's you know, when your wrists are in pain there's there's just so many things that you that you can't do it's not just it's not just work. So yeah, I think I didn't expect the like the extent to which it would affect basic you know, basically everything you know, maybe like not just working but you know exercising and staying healthy or or just being in pain generally. Especially chronic pain is is kind of strange because no one can see it. So you it can be kind of lonely sometimes just because no one knows that you're you're sort of dealing with with that thing.
Laurence Bradford 19:55
Yeah, yeah, that Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So Positioning now into Serenade what I mean, I feel like it's pretty obvious what led you to start working on this. But could you just explain how the idea started? How you began working on it? And what you guys do? Exactly?
Matthew Wiethoff 20:13
Yep. So I, after I left, my friends, Tommy were who also worked at Quora, you know, we had sort of started brainstorming ideas and how we might be able to use use voice, there was a long period of time where, you know, I still couldn't type. So that tried, you know, finding people to type for me off of Craigslist, and doing all these things that I could contribute to an initial version of the software for a while, actually, Tommy's partner typed for me for like six months, just every day after work, which was, it was it was kinda interesting, cuz she was also learning computer science. So it was a way that she could learn a lot of like the hotkeys that you use in them and things like that. But so we worked on it for about six months, just getting some initial version, it wasn't, it was just using the Google Speech API, we were really trying to get a sense for is this thing, is it even possible to code with voice. And so we got we got a prototype, and it worked. Surprisingly, well. We also spent some time going through all of the, the code reviews or the the commits that we had written, and seeing like, okay, like, what is like a set of 50 commands that, you know, if you had these 50 voice commands, you know, you could write all of the diffs that, that you've written in the past few months. So we did that too. And sort of, at that point, just basically spent the next year or so building the platform and the infrastructure to be able to, to implement this those commands. So it started off where we got this initial version out, I could use the software to to write itself, basically. And at the start, it was easy for me to understand how the system worked. But it required a lot of a lot more advanced machine learning and things like that, to make the the system really simple for other people to use it. So there was a period of time for about a year or two, where where I could use it, but we were just getting it to a point where, where other people could use it too. And then we also sort of realized that there's there's voice can, can be faster. And you know, even for people without disabilities, you know, you can speak three times faster than you can type. We've been using keyboards for such a long time, there's a really big homefield advantage to the keyboard. And so we tried to think like, Okay, if we were to design the developer experience today, sort of like what that would look like, and, and tried to, you know, envision a product that wasn't just trying to fit into a keyboard world, what would things look like if it was just voice so that also sort of helped us come up with these commands? And, and so yeah, that's sort of that's sort of how we got started, we eventually went on to, to build out the tech even more, I can talk more about the details there, or,
Laurence Bradford 23:00
Yeah, I actually want to circle back to something you said about hiring someone to type for you and what that looks like, because I've never heard of this. I don't think I've ever heard this before. So you said on Craigslist, so and then someone who you you sort of knew so I guess that wasn't like a stranger. But how did you find someone on Craigslist? Like you posted an ad? And it would they just would they would just you would go to them or you guys would be together and just sit side by side?
Matthew Wiethoff 23:26
Yeah, there is there is some some like coffee shop, you know, coding sessions with with strangers there. But yeah, I basically just posted an ad You know, this is I'm working on this machine learning project. I can't type could be a good opportunity to learn I can explain what I'm doing as I'm, as I'm doing it. And it was definitely pretty, pretty challenging. And I think it would have been hard for to get a stranger to do it. I've overheard of some some other people that a core actually who they hired a full time typist, for what for one of the engineers there.
Laurence Bradford 24:02
Oh, my goodness, I feel like okay, I'm sorry, I just in my head. I'm just having like a flashback or flashes to like sometimes my husband in the past would help me write emails, like difficult emails, like business emails, he's very, like, business savvy. So I would be like, how should I handle this? Like, what's what's the wording I should use? Because he's very good at like, using specific words. And he would sort of be like, telling me what to say, and I would be typing and I were just getting over here, just take my laptop, just draft it out. I'll look at it back because it is hard when he's like, no, no change that actually go back, go back, change that word, change that word. It will be so frustrating. So I'm just thinking of the person who full time a typist for them. I mean, I would imagine they'd be very close and get along, I hope get along well, because they would be together like 24 seven during work or not. 24 seven, but during work.
Matthew Wiethoff 24:50
Yeah, it's definitely it's definitely really tough. And they, they need to know all the programming stuff that you know, like, how to use an ID and all this stuff. So there's there's Pretty high bar there. And I don't know if it's really, it's really worked for, for anyone. I mean, I think it was, it was more a testament to the person that eventually was doing it that she was willing to put up with me for that long. But yeah, it's, it's really hard. And I think even when I think people are pair programming, it's good to have sort of like this established like lingo for like how you're going to communicate things. You know, an analogy is like air traffic controllers, that there's a very strict grammar for, for what they're allowed to say. So that they're saying in the most efficient way. And there's some parallels there, I guess, to coding with voice, learning how to express yourself very succinctly. And coming up with coming up with conventions is was definitely a huge part. So there's, there'll be times when I'll be pair programming with my co founder, Tommy, and I want him to type something. And I'll just give him the Serenade commands, you know, verbally to him, and then he'll know how to like, you know, type that in. So you know, things around like parentheses, and like, How do you know?
Laurence Bradford 26:07
Yeah, so what, what's an example of some of these commands, like you've mentioned, a couple times, like the Sam, the Serenade commands? and how it can allow you to, like, dictate, or is that the word they use dictate? Or do you use a different one? I think that dictates a good one. Yeah. Yeah. So when you're coding allowed or dictating, you have these commands? Yeah. What are some examples of those?
Matthew Wiethoff 26:29
Yeah, so we tried to make them, you know, Natural English. So if you wanted to create a function called factorial, you would say add function factorial. And regardless of the programming language that you're in, it would, it would know how to do the syntax and write that all out for you, it would know where to put the cursor if your cursor is not in the exact right position. And then if you want to add a parameter called number, you could just say add parameter number. If you want to, say add an if condition, you could say something like, add if number equals zero, return one. And so it'll, you're still sort of dictating some of the code, but you're not dictating all of it.
Laurence Bradford 27:11
Okay, and then a person, or this would be running on top of the command line or text editor or an ID, ie, it can kind of be used anywhere. Is that right?
Matthew Wiethoff 27:23
Yep. So we started off just focused on code and supporting those commands that we thought that was sort of maybe like, the killer feature is that you could you could do programming language specific things. But we've now moved to sort of allowing you to use any app with a Serenade because you know, when you're writing, when developers at work, they're doing a lot more than just writing code. They're, they're opening Slack, and they're messaging their coworker, and they're going to GitHub, and they're opening a pull requests. And they're, you know, responding to a pull request, or going to the terminal. So, so basically, the way it works is, there's the Serenade app, which which runs sort of hovering on top of your screen, and it'll show you what you're saying, and things like that, and have all sorts of menus, but then it will integrate with other applications. So we have official support for things like Chrome, we have a Terminal Terminal app integrations, we integrate with VS code of the JetBrains IDs, then we also have this, this open protocol that if you are using an editor that we don't have support for, you can sort of plug into that with this. Basically, this this REST API. And so basically, what's happening is the application spins up this WebSocket. And it's it connects to other applications that are whatever's in focus to be able to send it forward the commands there. For example, the VS code plug in will receive something from Serenade saying, okay, change the source code to this, or switch to the next tab. But you know, if you're in another application, you can, you can receive those commands and then apply those operations and whatever other framework that that you're in. And then there are a lot of API's that operating systems expose. So even if you're in an application that isn't directly supported by Serenade, so for example, or doesn't have like some sort of like official support or plugin or something like that, we can still get the contents of like the text field that you have selected. So if you're in Slack, you can type out messages in the in the text box, if you're, you know, in any a bunch of other sort of like Mac applications, they all sort of expose these these API's and there's no use, I think for things like screen readers and, and other sort of accessibility applications. Windows has a similar one. And so we're able to hook into those and then if those API's are not available, we have we have some fallbacks for that as well. Basically, we can throw up a canvas that that we have total control of and then we can paste that Canvas into whatever text field that you want to be inserting text into.
Laurence Bradford 29:59
So okay, so does that also work? In replacement to like a mouse, or do you still use like a mouse to click between tabs or applications? or whatever? Or can you actually say, I don't know, something like switch from slack to Chrome or whatever?
Matthew Wiethoff 30:16
Yep. So I could say focus Chrome. And that would that was that would do that. You could also in so in Chrome, you can click links, like we have, you could say something like, if there's a link on the screen that says, your homepage, you could say click homepage. So you can do things like that, if you're in an ID, you can move the cursor around pretty easily, you can say, you know, go to second function, and I'll put the cursor on the second function, or you could say, go to end of next class, you know, put the cursor there. And then, you know, if, if all else fails, you can write a custom command that says, you know, move the cursor to this part of the screen and click, click down, y'all, we also have like a click command that you can sort of, you could move the mouse, and then to actually do the buttons, you could use Serenade.
Laurence Bradford 31:04
That's so cool. So So Serenade, a person would download to their computer imagining, right? So it's like something that's actually like, yeah, it's not in the web or whatever, it's on your computer, you have to have microphone access, I would obviously imagine get to talk to to it. Is there anything else that a person would need to like, run it or like, just like, have this installed and whatever?
Matthew Wiethoff 31:23
No, we, we support sort of all three operating systems, and you sort of download Serenade and it walks you through, you know, what to install and all of that.
Laurence Bradford 31:35
Yeah, that's really neat. And I'm wondering, so I guess, perhaps not early on. But now that it's actually you know, working a real product. I'm assuming you use Serenade all the time to build Serenade?
Matthew Wiethoff 31:49
Yep, yeah, I've been using it for for a few years now. I mean, I was there was that time where it was, you know, now I could use it, but I could, but I could use it. And now, I think there's, it's gotten to that point where, where it's simple enough for other people to use it. So we have a, we have a community of people, and you know, just a discord channel where people help each other out. And, yeah, I've been using it for years now. And I think it's, it's, it's kind of an interesting way of, of coding at first it felt sort of, you know, you would you would have to write a piece of code, and you have to wonder, oh, like, how would I turn this into voice commands, but very quickly, I think it feel it begins to feel like this sort of stream of consciousness, and you're not sort of like, you're just sort of saying things and you're not hesitating or thinking too much about what you need to say, in the same way that when you're, when you're typing something out, it sort of becomes automatic, the same sort of experience is, you get some same sort of experience with, with coding by voice.
Laurence Bradford 32:46
That's really awesome. And the people that are using it, the people in this discord channel that you mentioned, like Who are they? I know, that's like a very broad question. I'm sure they vary, but are they also people with different kinds of injuries where they can't type? Or have other? I don't know, something, something that makes it much more convenient for them to, you know, speak aloud? Yeah, like, Who are they?
Matthew Wiethoff 33:09
It's a full, it's a full spectrum. There's, there's people who are trying to learn coding because they had some injury at their work and, and have figured out that Serenades a way that they can become a developer, there's, there's like people with a ton of experience who have maybe had some sort of injury. So they're using it to it spans, like the different roles, we have people doing front end people doing more sysadmin stuff, people doing back end work. And yeah, in terms of sort of the disabilities, I think it ranges, there's people who want to do it in a preventative way, people who are not don't have it as as extreme as me. But you know, when we look, we're looking at these statistics around repetitive strain injuries, something like 10, the number we kept hearing was something around 10 to 20% of people typing eight hours a day at a computer are going to experience some sort of symptom. So there's a lot of that. And then there's also people who are just more like productivity junkies, who, you know, when you're, when you're using voice, it becomes really easy to basically memorize hotkeys, because instead of developing the muscle memory to, for some special action, you just have to remember what the action is what that what it's called. And so it, it becomes really easy to, to add a lot of different macros or custom commands, because just voice is just this really easy way to index into this library. And then, of course, there's those people who are, you know, have much more serious injuries who could maybe have never used their hands and things like that.
Laurence Bradford 34:46
Yeah, that's Yeah, it's really neat. And it sounds like something you said before, I think it was you can talk three times faster than you type. So once you have these commands memorized and you're comfortable, like you know, you using it, it feels like you could work a lot faster just from talking aloud.
Matthew Wiethoff 35:06
Yeah, I mean, there's there's definitely some things that are much faster with voice. There's, there's still some things that you know we're working on we're we're keyboards much faster, but we're slowly sort of crossing off crossing off that list. But yeah, that's, that's, that's sort of been been our experience. It's really easy to write like, really long lines of codes or do these complicated factors with with voice versus typing them out?
Laurence Bradford 35:30
Gotcha. So we don't have a ton of time left. But I really wanted to talk a bit more just about accessibility as a whole. And I was wondering, like, from your experiences, and I'm assuming becoming more familiar yourself with different kinds of accessibility situations and issues and all of that. Are there any resources, so like books, courses, websites, or anything like that, that a person listening could check out if they just want to learn more about this field of accessibility in general?
Matthew Wiethoff 36:04
Yeah, I think one of the things that we noticed is that there, everything is sort of ad hoc. Right now, there's a companies are definitely paying a lot more attention to accessibility right now. So that's, that's great. So you'll see, Apple is constantly releasing new updates that are making some of these voice things a lot better, especially in the past a past year and making things on your phone. Really easy. But there's, that was also sort of one of these goals that we wanted to create with our community was there there is a place for people to go, just because it does seem like things are pretty random right now and fragmented product.
Laurence Bradford 36:41
So are there any. And again, I know, this maybe isn't like your exact area of expertise, but from what you've seen so far, working on this for a few years, and yet being in the space? Are there any like specific job opportunities for people to work in the realm of accessibility? So like, something that's coming to my mind is like, at a bigger company, they could have a team that is dedicated to accessibility, or like improving the product and making it more accessible? Yes, like, what kind of stuff is out there? I guess that's accessibility specific for engineering?
Matthew Wiethoff 37:17
Yeah, I would say almost every big company we've talked to has a has a department or teams working on accessibility might not be voice, but it could be things like screen readers. So we've we've spoken to people like Microsoft, and Amazon and Apple, they all if it's a big enough company, they definitely will have teams that are that are helping people either internally or making their products more accessible to their users.
Laurence Bradford 37:44
Okay, great. So just to wrap things up, I was wondering if you just had any final advice or thoughts to leave listeners who are, you know, coding or learning to code, but they may have some kind of physical disability or injury that makes it harder, like any advice.
Matthew Wiethoff 38:02
I would say that, you know, you're not alone. And the tools are getting much better, just overall. And I think things are gonna happen in a way that, you know, if you can kind of stick it out, things are sort of heading in a way where it's, it's, it's not gonna feel like a liability, and it could feel kind of like a silver lining or an asset that that learning some some alternate way of doing things because it could actually be more more efficient.
Laurence Bradford 38:29
Awesome. Okay. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Matt, where can people find you online?
Matthew Wiethoff 38:35
So we're at serenade.ai on Twitter, and we're, our website is just Serenade.ai.
Laurence Bradford 38:41
Okay, perfect. We'll make sure to include that in the show notes and other things that we talked about in this interview. Thank you again for coming on. Yeah. Thanks for having me. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. If you missed anything, or would like a recap, you could find the show notes at learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation of the website and search for the guests name. If you enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe to my show on whichever podcast player you use. For more free tech related resources, tips and recommendations, visit the website and blog over at learn to code with.me. Thanks so much for tuning in. And I'll see you next time.
- Don’t take your hands for granted – take care of them!
- Injuries and other setbacks don’t have to be the end for your career. Even with the lack of adequate solutions for engineers, Matt didn’t give up and made a better solution himself.
- Be resourceful. Matt started building Serenade by hiring someone to type for him.
- A community helps a lot when trying to develop a program. “Two heads are better than one,” as the saying goes.
- Open yourself to all the options possible! Serenade, though initially designed for those who have RSI issues, is used by productivity junkies as well.
Links and mentions from this episode:
Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!
- Serenade Website
- Serenade Twitter
- Serenade Discord Server
- RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)
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