Twitter’s former chief scientist talks social media, apps and finding happiness in it all
It’s not every day that a person would tweet about his or her departure at a company, to the company. Abdur Chowdhury, former chief scientist of Twitter, did so and announced his leave in exactly 100 characters by quoting science fiction writer Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
“So long, and thanks for all the fish @twitter was an amazing experience & even greater set of people,” he tweeted to his numerous followers.
Chowdhury, the current CEO of Pushd, a company that develops mobile apps, visited SF State last Thursday to talk about the power of social media and the direction it is heading today. The event was hosted by the communications department and initiated by Director Christina Sabee, who knows Chowdhury through their childrens’ school.
She invited Chowdhury to a question and answer segment in the Humanities Building auditorium. Students, professors and anyone interested in Chowdhury’s work were encouraged to leave their phones on and tweet #abdursays to interact with the speakers.
“His method in which he sees large pools of data and how it relates to social media… so much of it resonated with me,” said Sabee of Chowdhury in an interview prior to the event.
Chowdhury started Pushd after leaving Twitter to initially pursue other interests. He said he left the major company because he couldn’t spend the rest of his life skiing and drinking enough to find happiness.
“Everyone’s gotta find their happiness,” he said. “Happiness to me is waking up at 3 a.m. perplexed by a problem that I want to solve.”
Two years after his departure from Twitter, Chowdhury and his company received $1.4 million in investment capital to work on a secret project, according to Venture Capital Post. This project was later revealed to be an IOS application called Steven, where users are able to automatically update their whereabouts through emojis.
“I call it the heartbeat — life is going on in a natural way,” Chowdhury said in describing Steven and how it allows users to seamlessly integrate their life and their actions into the application.
“What if UPS no longer delivered packages when you weren’t home?” Chowdhury asked the audience. He stated that he hopes that Steven will work alongside major companies to help make their tasks more efficient.
During the event he held a camera and took a picture of the audience and posted it on Twitter saying “What’s up?” with three smiley-faced emojis and the #abdursays tag.
In the Q&A portion of the night, one eager audience member asked about Chowdhury’s work and how it relates to loneliness in social media. Chowdhury did not give a definite answer to the question but stated that his work focuses primarily on bringing people together online.
Samuel McCormick, associate professor of communications studies, was that audience member and he attended the event alongside a few of his students.
“We’ve spent so much time interacting with people online, we’ve forgotten how to go on about our lives without a screen,” McCormick said in an interview after the event.
“There’s some kind of false sense of security that comes from having a phone,” he said, in regards to how having a smartphone makes people more self-confident. “The cool thing about this, is this is no longer just speculation, studies say that this is occurring.”
McCormick added that people are more inclined to do courageous acts because smartphones give off a sense of protection to its users. He gave an example of people walking down central park in New York at night. When people see a possible dangerous figure approaching them, they would immediately check if they have their phones in their pockets so that they would feel safer.
Sabee said she hopes that communications students will learn from Chowdhury due to how social media goes hand-in-hand with their studies.
“I hope they will get a sense of how the work they’ve been doing fits with the perspective of a CEO,” Sabee said.