Cliff Schmidt - Developer to CEO of Tech Nonprofit in Education (#24)


Cliff founded tech nonprofit Amplio (formerly named Literacy Bridge) in 2007 to address global poverty and disease by making practical agriculture and health knowledge accessible to those who need it most. He led the development of an audio-based mobile device called the “Talking Book” for people with minimal literacy skills living in rural areas without electricity or Internet access. Cliff received the Microsoft alumni Integral Fellow Award presented by Bill and Melinda Gates twice (in 2010 and 2014) and was selected as a member of the Clinton Global Initiative by President Bill Clinton. He received the top prize at the Tech Awards in 2012 and Computerworld Honors in 2013 and was featured by the PBS Newshour as one of five Agents for Social Change in 2013.

Prior to starting Amplio, Cliff was a software developer for Microsoft and a nuclear engineering officer for the U.S. Navy Submarine Force. Cliff holds a B.S. in cognitive science from MIT and an M.S. in computer science and engineering from the University of Washington. Cliff loves music and playing tenor saxophone.

For other tech roles and descriptions click here.

Episode Summary

“We’re not huge in Seattle. We’re only seven people, and in Ghana, we’re about 15 or so. But we do reach nearly seven hundred thousand people with these talking books”

-–Cliff Schmidt

Cliff Schmidt is a former submarine officer in the Navy with a background in cognitive science as well as computer science. He’s now the CEO of the nonprofit, Amplio, focused on transforming lives through knowledge. If that isn’t enough, he’s also been a long-time contributor to open source. Cliff has won numerous awards, including two from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as one from the Clinton Global Initiative.

Cliff started his career as a developer at Microsoft. As much as he loved coding, Cliff started getting pulled into more product and project management roles. Looking back at it, Cliff reflects he got “pulled towards the bigger picture ideas but it doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to write code.”

While traveling, Cliff decided to be a tourist in Atlanta for a day when he came across a statue of Gandhi and the grave of Martin Luther King Jr. Suddenly it became clear to him that he wasn’t making the impact he was capable of making. Right there and then, Cliff decided he was going to dedicate his life to “service humanity in some form.” This was the beginning of Amplio.

In this episode we’ll also cover:

  1. Amplio’s mission of helping people in poor communities with education and literacy
  2. Why Cliff went to the Navy
  3. What Cliff loved about open source
  4. How to get funding when you’re a tech nonprofit
  5. Cliff’s inspiration for starting Amplio

Key Milestones

[2:35} - Why did Cliff begin working in open source communities and web standard groups?

intro: 00:18 [Inaudible]

Grant Ingersoll: 00:19 Welcome everyone to the Develomentor podcast, your source for interviews and content on careers in technology. I’m your host, Grant Ingersoll. For those new to the show, we have two simple goals we want to showcase interesting people working in tech across a variety of roles, not just engineering, and we also want to highlight the different paths people take to arrive at those careers in tech and in fact, today’s guest is a pretty interesting one in the sense that they’ve held a lot of different roles. They are a former submarine officer in the Navy. They’ve got a back, he’s got a background in cognitive science as well as computer science, and on top of all of that, he’s won numerous awards including two from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as one from the Clinton Global Initiative, as if that isn’t enough. He’s also been a lifelong or a long-time contributor to open source who now leads a nonprofit focused on transforming lives through knowledge. Please welcome to the show, Cliff Schmidt. Cliff, great to have you.

Cliff Schmidt: 01:19 Yeah, thanks Grant for having me here.

Grant Ingersoll: 01:22 You know, obviously I want to spend some time with you on talking about the Amplio network and your talking book initiative and, and we’ll get into that. But why don’t we start off by just setting the stage with, you know, your career and your background, how you got it, you know, your time in the Navy, perhaps you, the time you spent at Microsoft, kind of some of the things that led you to where you are now.

Cliff Schmidt: 01:45 Okay. Sure. Well, yes, I did. My first career was as a Navy submarine officer and like all submarine officers, you start with focusing on running the nuclear engineering plants. So the vast majority of submarines US Navy submarines are nuclear powered. So you, you have to understand nuclear power, how that works and how to make sure you don’t do anything bad to the reactor. And yeah, that was, that was the first career.

Grant Ingersoll: 02:17 Yeah. And so then, you know, you’ve come out of the Navy, and you then get involved with Microsoft and a few other companies, you know, talk a little bit about kind of those early years of your career post-Navy and kinda how that sets you up for where you are today.

Cliff Schmidt: 02:35 Yeah. well, I was a, you know, computer geek kid in junior high and high school of course, and in college and so the Navy was just to pay for college. So once I got out of the Navy I went right back into wanting to get involved in software development. And I happened to be, the Navy had me based in not too far from Seattle. And so so yeah, Microsoft was kind of the big employer. So I started working there. I started as a developer and then after a bit, I got into being a program manager. So at Microsoft that means a little bit of designing the product. And then a little bit of kind of a lot of specifications, and then running the process. And then somehow I guess I was very interested in the web standards and I was, you know, paying a lot of attention to the world wide web consortium, the W3C.

Cliff Schmidt: 03:42 And and so I ended up becoming a standards representative for Microsoft to the W3C. I was on the XML schema standards group and did some other standards work. And then that is what actually led me into working on open source when I started working for the BA systems, which some of your listeners may remember later bought by Oracle. But they were doing a lot of Java work and they were looking for someone to figure out open source for them.

And I don’t know why they thought hiring someone from Microsoft would be a good way to do it cause I had no experience in open source. But what we both agreed on was that if you can work in a standards organization, if you can work with other people from different organizations, that might be your competitors but you’re there to build something together that everyone can benefit from if you have that kind of attitude. And working in open source communities is just the implementation of those, you know, of the idea that interfaced in, in standards bodies. Hmm.

Grant Ingersoll: 04:55 Yeah. So that’s kind of an interesting transition. I mean, a lot of times is in, you know, as an engineer or developer, you go kind of up director of engineering and things like that, but you know, you’ve effectively shifted over to more of a product and or product management role. And then obviously this standards role, like was there something pulling you that way or did you just kind of say, Hey, you know, this was the opportunity in front of you or, did you feel more strongly aligned with, you know, getting out of coding for instance, or, or doing less coding?

Cliff Schmidt: 05:29 Yeah. I think I was kind of pulled in one way, but you know, later when I started the organization I run today, I ended up writing some, a lot of embedded C code. So I ended up coming right back to it and I loved it. And even today I don’t do a lot of coding myself, but even today, whenever there’s something that I, you know, get myself involved in, I still love it. But I think maybe what it was that at the time I was and this has happened a few times that I was pulled into wanting to be involved in the bigger picture. So writing code is, is really fulfilling to me. But you know, designing the spec for that or designing the spec for what all kinds of organizations, you know, we’ll need to be paying attention to when it’s a standard or pulling a community together in an open source community or Mmm. Or I’m running an organization that builds technology. I think so. So I think I probably sometimes get pulled towards the bigger picture ideas, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to write code.

Grant Ingersoll: 06:47 Yeah. Well, and, and you know, it sounds like some, a lot of these roles too, you have this kind of enlarged amount of social engagement that you have to do. Maybe that’s not the right way of saying that, but I mean, were you always kind of naturally somebody who liked to engage with and work with others? You know, there’s often a, you know, and I think it’s often a bit misguided, but there’s often this perception that engineers, developers just kind of like to, you know, leave us alone and we’ll do great things. And, and you know, a lot of your roles here are naturally very extroverted, if you will. Right. And that you have to go engage with a lot of others. Is that something that you had to learn or is that something that just has always naturally come to you?

Cliff Schmidt: 07:38 I think, you know, as, as you describe it, hadn’t really thought about it this way before, but I think, but what I have done a few times in my career careers is ended up being the person in the middle between two different groups. I think going from coding and then getting into doing standards work or as you know, as a program manager doing that kind of work, I was, I had to know enough about coding to be able to make sense to the engineers. Then I also had to know enough about the business case to talk to them. And then as you know, when I was later at the Apache Software Foundation, I ended up as the vice president of legal affairs and I didn’t, I didn’t have a law degree, but I was just so interested as many of us were in.

Cliff Schmidt: 08:29 And many developers out there still are today, especially in open source in, you know, property law and the, you know, licenses cause it’s kind of like code a little bit. So what I ended up doing there was, I think that was again, a place where I was, wasn’t a lawyer here. And yet I think what I enjoyed about that role was knowing enough to be able to have a good intelligent conversation with a lawyer. You know, still be dependent on that lawyer’s advice for, for the important things. And yet also be able to have a conversation with the business people or a conversation with just committers at a community. And I think that’s just been something I’ve enjoyed doing is knowing enough about a few things that you can be a useful person in the middle.

Grant Ingersoll: 09:20 Yeah. So you kinda had the, you had the specialization in programming that then allowed you to generalize to a number of different areas. Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense that I think, you know, this is something I resonate with a lot in my own career of just, you know, I like programming, but I don’t necessarily have to or want to do it all the time, but yet if I don’t get to do it enough, I feel like there’s something missing. Yeah. And I think as you grow in your career that’s often a really interesting pattern that I’ve seen emerge with others. Well, so let’s talk then a bit more about Amplio network and maybe just the best way is like, tell us the story, tell us the inspiration and how you arrived as a, you know, founding this, this nonprofit, which is doing some amazing work and, and then, you know, what’s involved with it? What are you, you know, what kind of is the day to day like?

Cliff Schmidt: 10:17 Okay, yeah, sure. Well it was while I was still doing work at open source and specifically around copyright licensing, that kind of thing. I was giving a talk one day in Atlanta, and the day before I was supposed to give this talk, I decided to just be a tourist and wandered around the city. And I accidentally came upon the grave of Martin Luther King jr. And really without planning to at all. I just was kind of taking a random walk at some point through the neighborhoods. And you know, before I came to the grave, I came to the whole Memorial park where there’s a statue of Gandhi and there’s lots of quotes from Dr. King and Gandhi about service to humanity and, you know, sort of what it means to live a meaningful life.

Cliff Schmidt: 11:11 And so I thought a lot about that. And I mean, I thought about what’s been important to me in my life. And then by the time I got up to his grave it was really, it’s almost like being struck by lightning. I felt immediately like I felt very small. This is probably my ego. I guess I felt very small compared to him. You know, I thought I thought I’d done some pretty impressive, interesting things in my life but standing, you know, face to face, so to speak with him, I felt like, Whoa, I’m, I haven’t really done quite as much as I would like maybe. And then I also felt like he wouldn’t be proud of me. That for what, what I had chosen to do with my life has nothing to be ashamed of, but that I wasn’t applying myself in a way that was you know, making the most out of, out of not just my talents and experience, but my passion and interest in that sort of thing.

Cliff Schmidt: 12:11 So I walked away from there and I knew without a doubt that I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to service to humanity in some form. I didn’t know what I hoped it would be something around it’s something I would enjoy, like technology. I kind of felt like I just wanted to sort of be guided or guide myself in some ways to do the thing that would be most helpful to the world. And then I came across this idea of what we do now with Amplio.

Grant Ingersoll: 12:47 Yeah. So, so tell us a little bit more about Amplio and, and kind of, you know, especially the tech part of it. Cause I think you’ve got a really interesting mix of leveraging technology, simplifying it in many ways to a product that is then usable by pretty much anybody. So, you know, it fills in a little bit on, you know, the talking book and, and, and the broader view of what you’re doing there.

Cliff Schmidt: 13:14 Yeah. Okay. Sure. So the broader view is, is that today we all take for granted many things that we inherit, in our, you know, where we’re born in and what resources are available to us. But one of the things is access to knowledge and especially for, you know, anyone interested in technology you know, the typical profile. So when interested in technology is someone who likes to learn it, likes to learn new things. And we take for granted that we have so much available to us to learn things because there’s content you know, at our fingertips because we have electricity and we have broadband internet because it’s in a language that we can understand. You know, most of the world’s content being in English and because we’re literate to be able to read it.

Cliff Schmidt: 14:09 Mmm. And, and you know, we have access to it pretty much whenever we want. So if it’s not a good time to read it, now we can read it later. Well that, that’s not how it is of course for many people in the world. And the real problem to me is that the people who need knowledge the most are the ones that have the least access to it. So when I say need it the most, I’m talking about people who are dealing with extreme poverty, who live on a dollar a day, who’s, you know, they have five children. And one of those five is likely going to die by their fifth birthday. And that’s because of the amount of infectious diseases and things that we just can’t even really imagine unless it’s, you know, any of your listeners have lived in a situation where you know, malaria was prevalent and so or any of these other issues.

Cliff Schmidt: 15:03 And so when you’re facing those kinds of challenges, the ones that we just don’t even think about and you wish you could learn you know, why how can you prevent the spread of disease and understand that washing your hands with soap, even when your hands don’t have dirt on them is one way to reduce the spread of disease or sleeping under a bed nets. So you don’t get bitten by a mosquito, which will cause you to get malaria, but not just sleep under the bed net, but more detailed than that. Tuck it in under your mattress. Don’t let it lean on your skin. Make sure it’s treated with insecticide, inspect it for holes, you know, these kinds of things. And then, and then the hearing someone who understands your situation tell you, look, I know it’s not comfortable to sleep under a bed net because the airflow isn’t as nice.

Cliff Schmidt: 15:52 And on a hot, you know, sticky day, it’s our night. It’s not what you want to do, but just believe me, you’ve got to do this, especially if you’re a pregnant woman or a child under five because you’re the ones that are most vulnerable to dying from malaria. And so that’s what people didn’t have. And so what I was looking for a solution to was how technology, very low-cost simple technology, could provide that access to knowledge and ideas to people in the hardest to reach communities and people who have had the greatest challenges. You know, again, once we can’t even imagine make it work for them so that they have something spoken in their own local language so it doesn’t require literacy skills and addressing their actual needs.

Grant Ingersoll: 16:43 Yeah, that’s brilliant. And so talk a little bit about the device because I mean, you kind of called on a lot of your different experiences in your career to come up with this device that I think, you know, addresses what you’re after here, right? So [inaudible] on the tech side of it, if you will. Yeah, sure. Yeah. It’s fascinating.

Cliff Schmidt: 17:04 It’s a, it’s just a little audio computer. so all it does is it speaks to you in your local language and it says, you know, welcome to the talking book and to learn something new, press the right hand. And so there’s icons on the device and, you know, a lot I could tell you about the different testing we did to find out what icons were, were best for people. But it basically, it says you can press the right hand or press the tree or press the table, or the pot. And people hear that in their language and they look at these pictures and they say, Oh, obviously that means this one. We don’t do numbers, press one for this or two for this because a lot of people who are illiterate don’t have numeracy skills either.

Cliff Schmidt: 17:49 Then it also just makes it more fun to have these pictures. So they pushed this and then we just have you know, basically, a little declarative programming language that I came up with that says if you’re playing a certain audio file like an MP3 or a segment of that audio file and an event happens, like this button was pushed or the file ends or something like that. Then jumped to this other place which has its own set of events. It’s looking for whether another button was pushed or something like that.

And so that allowed me to, you know, create a language that other people could program pretty easily. And at one point I thought it would just be programmed by lots of people and who knows what they would come up with. In the end that became a useful little you know, nice, simple, declarative language for us to iterate on, to not kind of go into embedded C code every time we wanted to try something new. But it allowed us to try a lot of new things to see what worked. And then once we found what was working well there wasn’t a whole lot of, you know, let’s reprogram this or let it is open-sourced, but there’s not like a community of people who want to, you know, change it a lot of different ways. It’s mainly focused on how do we solve the problem of getting the right knowledge to the right people with our, with the partners that we have.

Grant Ingersoll: 19:16 Okay. So then it’s more about sourcing and getting the data on the devices and distributing the devices, I would imagine. Well, so let’s perhaps shift gears a little bit. So that’s a great background and an incredible mission. You know, something I personally felt strongly about and I’ve been been a long time fan of what you’re doing there. You know, talk a little bit then about, you know, for our listeners from a career perspective, like what goes into being an executive director of a nonprofit foundation like this, especially, you know, like one where you’ve got this manufacturing part to what you’re doing and then, of course, you’ve got fundraising and you’ve got, you know, getting the devices out, you’ve got field testing, all of these kinds of things like what does your day look like and or week and or month.

Cliff Schmidt: 20:07 Yeah. yeah, it’s been interesting. It’s not something I’d ever done before. I didn’t, and I wasn’t looking to be an executive director or a CEO. That wasn’t something I was trying to get away from or that I really wanted to do. It was more that I wanted this, this, this device to get out there and to work well. And so yeah, as the organization has grown so, and we’re not huge in Seattle. We’re only seven people, and in Ghana we’re about 15 or so. So yeah, 22 people together. And but we do reach about nearly seven a hundred thousand people with, with these talking books. But that’s also been over you know, it took us almost 11 years to get to that stage. So it’s been a while.

Cliff Schmidt: 21:00 But anyway, to answer your question yeah, it is. We do have and you know, in our seven-person team in Seattle, we have a software engineer who also worked at Microsoft many, many years ago before I did, and then worked at Amazon for a long time, and then he was kind of ready to retire, but saw that we were looking to hire someone and felt like he wanted to do you know, apply his, his engineering talents to something that would not help a company and their shareholders get rich, but also, but instead you know, help the world be a better place somehow. So we have him, so he, so we, and he and I have some fun conversations. You know, some tech collaborations I guess.

Cliff Schmidt: 21:51 But I don’t write any code. And then we have a communications person. And so, you know, that’s all you know, how do you make this message simple? What we do is not as simple as we build schools. So so I collaborate a little bit with communications, although I guess it’s probably an area where I feel like I, I have the least experience in. And so, I’m not as deeply involved there. And then of course we have the program side. So you’ve got this technology, but how is it going to be applied and how will it make a difference and how do you measure that and what are the standards in the global development world? For, you know, measuring things like the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of people listening to messages you know, in the field of social and behavior change, communication.

Cliff Schmidt: 22:41 So these are all just things that, you know, at first I thought, well, we just build a piece of technology and you know, we do a lot of iterative testing. And you know, user your centered design ideas, but in the end, you know, we just put on some audio and people hear it and they learn stuff. But you realize that you, you know, there’s decades of work being done in this whether it’s radio or, you know, a Mexican telenovelas that we’re, that were had a lot, you know, basically soap operas, but had a little bit of content that convinced people to consider family planning type approaches. But anyway, there’s a lot out there, so you just kind of realize you don’t need to invent everything. You know, you invented a device. But everywhere else around it there are a lot of experts doing a lot of things for a lot of years. And so you just try to, you know, hire the people that have had experience in that in and, and be that person in the middle to be able to understand and talk with, okay, everyone.

Grant Ingersoll: 23:39 Yeah. So, in many ways, your role has come full circle. You know, you’re the person connecting at the end of the day and because of this background that that is allowed you to be technical, you can work in with the technical side. It sounds like you even did some of the early technical work, but then so can deal with the legal and the social and the, you know, and you know, let’s face it too, like you have a sales hat on here too, right? You’re competing for dollars, you know, that you then want to apply. And so you’ve got to go sell, you know, donors on your vision as well. Right?

Cliff Schmidt: 24:21 That’s true. And not just donors. We’re a social enterprise and that can mean different things to different people. Although we are a nonprofit we’re a nonprofit social enterprise and we have a service and a product that we sell. And so part of our revenue comes from what’s considered earned revenue, a service we provide and, and customers if they think it’s valuable enough, pay us for that service. And so that’s what we provide to to UNICEF.

They’re one of our big customers and care one of the world’s largest international nonprofits. And so a lot of these organizations, so yeah, we really are selling a product and a service that has to be value-filled to them or they won’t buy it. And then in addition to that, we have to raise funds because we in the same way that you know for-profit startup needs to get capital from angel investors, or VCs we need to get capital from donors because we don’t have the global volume yet to also come for the cost of R and D and that sort of thing.

Grant Ingersoll: 25:28 Yeah. Interesting. You know, so kind of one last question and kind of the day to day and like, so what’s, what’s ahead for Amplio? Like, what do you see as the big challenges facing, you know, you and the team in terms of broadening the scope of this or, you know, continuing to execute on your vision here?

Cliff Schmidt: 25:52 Yeah. well, we’re looking to reach 10 million people. So I told you, you know, we’re not even at a million yet, but I’m just kind of thinking about where the kind of the next big milestone is for us. And two, one of the reasons we have that in mind is because at that volume we could we in ourselves eff off of the dependency on donations because we would have enough, just enough projects going and the marginal profit from each one should be able to cover the investments that we want to make to keep things advancing and to keep people learning from each other in a, when they do this work. So yeah, so we, to reach 10 million people, that means that we have to shift to what we call a self-service offering. So you have this device, but to get the right content and to have people how to create really interesting songs or dramas or interviews, you know, this is the type of content that’s loaded on these devices.

Cliff Schmidt: 26:53 And then how to use the software to make sure the right language is on the right device. You know, the right village, and then how to make sense of all the usage statistics that we get, where we can see what people are listening to and listen to the user feedback where you can hear people say what their needs are and what their real challenges are and what the root causes are and how to take that qualitative user feedback and code it in a way that you can get some quantitative results to make decisions on.

So all of that stuff, it’s, I’m just trying to give you a sense of, it’s not as simple as here’s the device, you know, a load some content on it and throw it out there in a village and good things will happen. So our challenge is to build a self-service platform where the software is all intuitive and easy for any organization to use and where the training to complement that, to make that possible is available online so people can learn all these things. And so that’s, that’s so we’re doing a lot more work in, in software to make things easier to use. Then we’re also doing a lot on around online self-service training.

Grant Ingersoll: 27:58 Yeah. Oh, very cool. I mean, it’s just so many interesting ways, like all of your career parts have, have melded in here. And of course, the tech factor, I think, you know, for our listeners who, you know, they like tech and love to be involved in that, but perhaps, you know, like, do you want to take on a different mission in life? It seems like you’ve found a pretty nice sweet spot that combines those. So, let me then finish up then with the same question I asked pretty much all my guests, you know, Cliff, which is, you know, now that you kind of reflect back on all these different roles and I think, you know, you’ve even hinted at how they’ve kind of all come together, you know, what’s your advice for, for somebody who perhaps wants to work in tech in a nonprofit or wants to follow a similar path to you?

Cliff Schmidt: 28:46 Okay, great. Yeah. yeah, I think, you know, really every nonprofit can use some tech folks. In the, whether it’s for internal processes getting better or whether it’s it’s integral to their, their core program offering like ours is. So I think if you’re someone in tech and you want to work in a nonprofit, you’re going to have lots of organizations that are going to be happy to have your help. Mmm. And then you know, the only issue is that they might not have the budget that you would get in the for-profit side. So, you know, we here in Seattle, we have to compete against Amazon and we really can’t pay the same kind of salary. So I think that’s an important thing. There are nonprofits out there that say, you know, we should compete.

Cliff Schmidt: 29:36 We should pay the same amount as for-profits cause we, we want the best people. It’s just, it’s tough because you always want to do as much as you can. And then the other thing is that when you’re looking at working at a nonprofit you should think about it as what are you getting out of it? And what you get out of it will involve salary, but it will involve other things as well. You know, what you’re learning about the world or what you feel that you’re contributing to or you know, many other different things.

And so we’re able to still find you know, the most talented engineers because we do offer something that’s refreshingly different and changes the world in ways that I think is greater impact than, than you know, what some of the larger tech companies are doing. And yet the technical challenges are just as interesting. You know, dealing with an offline environment where people don’t have electricity is a, is a new set of technical challenges that you don’t get an in other places.

Grant Ingersoll: 30:41 In many ways, it’s often even harder, right? Because you know, there’s, you’re, you’re dealing with much more extreme conditions like you said. No, there’s no internet handy. There’s no, you know, not necessarily easy access to, to, you know, things like wifi and power and all of that kind of stuff. And then this thing’s gotta be durable too. Right. You know, things like dropped.

Cliff Schmidt: 31:04 Yeah. And people sometimes take the batteries out of it while it’s playing and there’s not that many digital devices that run off you know, batteries that you can just pop out. Ours needed to do that because that was the only source of power that people had. And so we ended up having to put a supercapacitor in there so it, you know, stored a couple of seconds of power and then write the software to say, Hey, this the volume, the voltage is dropping and it’s dropping really fast. So I think we should shut down safely and do that. And if you didn’t do that, you’re going to end up with a corrupted memory card. And so, yeah, those are the kinds of things that you know, you don’t run into in your, your regular tech job.

Grant Ingersoll: 31:40 Wow. Yeah, that’s fascinating. Like, Cliff, you know, this has been great. I really enjoy getting, getting a taste of your background. And of course, like I said, I’m a big fan of what the Amplio network is up to these days. So I just want to take the time to thank you for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. I know you’ve got a very busy schedule with lots of travel, so I appreciate you taking the time.

Cliff Schmidt: 32:03 Yeah, thank you, Grant. It’s a pleasure talking with you and thank you so much for telling more of the world about the work we’re doing.

Grant Ingersoll: 32:10 There you have it. Cliff Schmidt, the executive director of the Amplio network. We’ll be sure to link up in the show notes Amplio his website and of course, I’m sure he would very much appreciate any donations or help. So thanks again, Cliff.

Cliff Schmidt: 32:26 Thank you, Grant.

Outro: 32:44 [Inaudible].

Key Quotes

On coding less

“So I think I probably sometimes get pulled towards the bigger picture ideas, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to write code.”

“I think that’s just been something I’ve enjoyed doing is knowing enough about a few things that you can be a useful person in the middle.”

Grant Ingersoll:
“I like programming, but I don’t necessarily have to or want to do it all the time, but yet if I don’t get to do it enough, I feel like there’s something missing.”

On Amplio’s mission

“The real problem to me is that the people who need knowledge the most are the ones that have the least access to it. So when I say need it the most, I’m talking about people who are dealing with extreme poverty, who live on a dollar a day, and, you know, they have five children. And one of those five is likely going to die by their fifth birthday.”

“We’re not huge in Seattle. We’re only seven people, and in Ghana, we’re about 15 or so. But we do reach nearly seven hundred thousand people with these talking books”

“In the same way that a for-profit startup needs to get capital from angel investors or VCs, we need to get capital from donors”

The future of Amplio

“We’re looking to reach 10 million people, we’re not even at a million yet.”

“It’s not as simple as here’s the device, load some content on it and throw it out there in a village and good things will happen.”

“Every nonprofit can use tech folks, whether it’s for internal processes getting better or whether it’s integral to their core program offering like ours is.”

Additional Resources

Selected Links from the episode:

Worldwide web consortium (W3C) - Cliff is a part of this online community that works on developing open standards for longevity
XML Schema Standards Group - an online community that defined XML standards
Amplio - Cliff’s non-profit focused on empowering vulnerable communities through knowledge sharing
UNICEF - A non-profit dealing with protecting children that is active in 190 countries
Apache Software Foundation - an open-source organization