Airtable with Howie Liu

Software engineering is harder than it should be. There are many people who have an app idea that they are not sure how to build. Some of these people are highly technical professionals like real estate agents, scientists, and accountants.

These professionals learn to use spreadsheets in their day-to-day work. Spreadsheets are also used widely by young people such as students. Spreadsheet users vary in terms of how familiar they are with the programmability of a spreadsheet, but there are certainly more people who have built complex spreadsheets than there are people who have built complex web apps.

Airtable is a tool for making application development easier and more accessible. The Airtable interface is similar to a spreadsheet and can be used for most spreadsheet applications. It can also serve as a rich backend database system to improve the productivity of software developers who are fully capable of building web applications.

There are high-level programmable components called Blocks and integrations with developer APIs like Twilio and Stripe.

Airtable has a permissions and collaboration system that allows interaction between engineers who might be using Airtable as a programmatic transactional database and operations members who might need to read or edit specific parts of the data on an ad hoc basis.

Howie Liu is the CEO of Airtable and he joins the show to talk about his vision for the product and the engineering problems he is working on to realize that vision. Airtable has not been trivial to build, and has required its own custom database backend and its own JavaScript rendering system.

Special thanks to Gareth Pronovost who is a full-time Airtable expert that I found on YouTube and who was generous enough to take some time to have a call with me and describe his experience using Airtable. The fact that there is a full profession around creating Airtable applications speaks to how unique this platform is.


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