Manuel Lima is the Design Lead at Codecademy, an online interactive platform offering free coding classes in programming and markup languages.
He’s also the founder of visualcomplexity.com, a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualisation of complex networks. Here he talks about developing your own business idea and using code and visualizations to improve our way of telling stories.
How did you get to your current role at Codeacademy?
After 3 years at Microsoft I was starting to feel demotivated by the various layers of management and decision-making within the company. I was, of course, aware of the growing startup scene in NYC and was already following many of its new products and services. When Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, approached me for a quick meeting, our scheduled 1-hour chat ended up taking close to 3 hours. The following chats were critical in further demonstrating a shared set of aims and aspirations.
Which goals are you trying to achieve at Codecademy?
I’m trying to build a design team and culture from the ground up, while also pushing the envelope on how design can influence the way people learn online.
How can an idea for something new be effectively evolved to reality?
As predictable as this might seem, it really comes down to following your instinct and passion. Most successful projects I’ve been involved in were primarily driven by an eager passion and curiosity to know more about a given topic, or by the desire to uncover a story never told before.
Based on your own experience, which are the major challenges in working on a new project?
The main challenge is unpredictability. In many cases you end up working with different team members, with distinct personalities and capabilities, but also novel datasets, target audiences, goals and expectations. No matter how many successful tactics and approaches you can pull from past experiences, there are always unpredictable outcomes that force you to react promptly and adequately. This is of course a great source of learning and a key element for someone to grow and mature as an individual.
Why do you think it is important to know how to code?
Content producers, editors, and journalists at large can all benefit greatly from various aspects of coding, further reinforcing their inquiry tools with powerful data analysis capability, and in turn, further substantiating their stories with relevant datasets.
What are the most rewarding experiences you have had in your work so far?
Having just returned from Tokyo, it was quite a rewarding experience to go into a bookstore and find, in the midst of many indecipherable titles, a Japanese version of my first book, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information. At Codecademy, I’m extremely proud of a major redesign/rebrand work across all our products to be launched within the next couple of weeks.
How would you advise someone who wants to do something innovative and develop a personal project in the media world?
Passion + Ambition + Curiosity. It is critical to be inquisitive about the general and the particular, the mysterious and the obvious. It is primarily by questioning everything around you that you get to expose answers that can further foster exploration and discovery. You should not refrain from being ambitious, since the higher the bar you set for yourself, the higher you’ll get. And finally, make sure you have pride and joy in what you do. Passion is a magnet, a highly contagious potion, so make sure to use it abundantly.
In which way do you think information visualisation and interactive design could produce innovation in the media?
Visualization is a major discovery tool, helping us uncover meaningful patterns in a growing body of heterogeneous data. As such, it can certainly be a main conduit for innovation, providing us with alternative angles for common subjects and challenges.