Thorsten Ball, Software Engineer at Zed

In this episode, Ben chats with Thorsten Ball. This conversation fits neatly into two halves - in the first, Ben and Thorsten go deep on how to differentiate yourself, work in public, and make it easy for people to hire you. In the second part of the conversation, they talk more specifically about Zed, why it matters, and how it’s being built. 

Links ( - The best app for pair programming
Thorsten’s website ( - Where you can find his books, blog, and other podcast appearances
Zed ( - The editor Thorsten is working on

Key Takeaways
  • Cultivating a diverse skill set can lead to unique opportunities and make you a valuable asset in a company.
  • Evidence of competence, such as published work or open-source contributions, can significantly impact your chances of getting hired.
  • Soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving, are essential for success in engineering roles.
  • Taking initiative and adding value beyond your job description can make you stand out and contribute to the growth of a company.
  • Interviews should be seen as a chance to demonstrate your skills and fit within a company's culture, rather than just answering questions. Visual cues and real-time interaction are important in conversations to gauge resonance and maintain engagement.
  • Different business models exist in the tech industry, and investment can provide the time and resources needed for product development.
  • Building high-quality products in open source requires a focus on performance, quality, and attention to detail.
  • The landscape of text editors and funding is complex, with various models and approaches.
  • Working on a quality product with a talented team can be fulfilling and contribute to personal growth.
  • Noticing and writing about interesting ideas can enhance creativity and lead to new insights.

  • (00:00) - Introduction and Background
  • (00:21) - Combining Software Engineering and Content Production
  • (04:41) - The Power of a Diverse Skill Set
  • (07:40) - Creating Valuable Content
  • (11:53) - Taking Initiative and Adding Value
  • (18:47) - Reaching Out and Getting Hired
  • (20:42) - The Power of Evidence of Competence
  • (21:39) - The Myth of Not Hiring
  • (25:35) - The Importance of Leaving Evidence
  • (28:06) - Resumes and Demonstrating Competence
  • (30:56) - Interviews as a Vibe Check
  • (32:38) - The Bias in Interviews
  • (33:55) - Hiring Process and Competence
  • (34:22) - No Foolproof Hiring Process
  • (35:20) - Evidence of Ability
  • (37:00) - Accepting the Hiring Game
  • (39:54) - Marketing and Self-Promotion
  • (44:10) - Zed's Journey and User Availability
  • (51:02) - Collaboration in Zed
  • (56:02) - The Magic of Audio Calls
  • (58:49) - The Intimacy of Voice-Only Communication
  • (01:01:16) - The Distraction of Self-View in Video Calls
  • (01:02:43) - The Importance of Visual Cues in Conversations
  • (01:03:36) - The Value of Real-Time Interaction
  • (01:05:34) - The Deep Knowledge and Complexity of Vim
  • (01:06:00) - The Benefits of Noticing and Writing About Interesting Ideas
  • (01:09:40) - The Habit of Writing and Its Impact on Thinking

Creators and Guests

Thorsten Ball, Software Engineer at Zed
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