David "DHH" Heinemeier Hansson: The Power of Being Outspoken (#195)

Photo credit: Jiri Krenek +++
Photo credit: Jiri Krenek

“It’s not about being eight hours in an office. It’s about increasing the quality of the hours that you spend.”   David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson


David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson (@dhh) is the creator of Ruby on Rails, founder and CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), and the best-selling co-author of Rework and Remote: Office Not Required. Oh, and he went from not having a driver’s license at 25 to winning, at 34, the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. It is often called the “Grand Prix of endurance and efficiency.”

David is one of the most outspoken technologists out there. He is not one to hide his opinions or mince words.

In this episode, we cover a lot, including…

  • The power of being outspoken
  • Running a profitable business without venture capital
  • Stoic philosophy
  • Flow space
  • Parallels across disciplines
  • DHH’s rules for creating excellence
  • And much, much more…

If you only have 5 minutes, listen to DHH’s tips on cultivating a sustainable work/life balance.

Please enjoy my conversation with DHH!

#195: David Heinemeier Hansson: The Power of Being Outspoken

Want to hear another episode with an entrepreneur balancing family life? — Listen to this interview with Shay Carl. In this episode, he shares his thoughts on the future of ad revenue, how he balances capturing the moment vs. experiencing the moment, his greatest obstacles in life, and lessons learned as a father (stream below or right-click here to download):

#189: Shay Carl on Wealth, Parenting, and the Future of Video

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with DHH:

Website | The Distance Podcast | Twitter | Instagram | Medium | Basecamp | Ruby on Rails

Show Notes

  • David and I talk about how we first met. [07:29]
  • How did David go from not having a driver’s license to racing cars? [09:17]
  • What did David do differently compared to others when learning to drive? [15:35]
  • Everything’s interesting if you dig deep enough — whether it’s a driver’s manual or writing code. [17:09]
  • David describes the flow state he experiences when racing vs. the flow state he experiences while programming. [21:28]
  • David’s big aha moment that changed his perspective and brought about the development of Ruby on Rails. [37:13]
  • Is picking up a programming language akin to learning a new human language? [46:59]
  • David talks about Ruby on Rails and why experienced programmers find it instantly familiar. [49:09]
  • Is it more satisfying to be a jack of all trades than a master of one? [53:28]
  • David talks about the start of his business ventures with Jason Fried and their first principles [1:03:28]
  • David on keeping his business small and streamlined without being negligent. [1:09:24]
  • Does David consider himself a happy person? [1:18:34]
  • “Expectations — not outcomes — govern the happiness of your perceived reality.” [1:27:00]
  • How David and Jason went from the stance of eschewing venture capital to accepting money from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. [1:31:49]
  • For most captains of industry, doing interesting work and taking on new challenges is far more gratifying than retiring. [1:36:06]
  • How is money like alcohol? [1:38:33]
  • What Seneca had to say on the subject of negative visualization. [1:39:22]
  • What has Jeff Bezos gained by investing in Basecamp? [1:40:42]
  • On cultivating sustainable work/life balance habits [1:43:50]
  • Bad luck vs. bad planning [1:54:21]
  • How is David’s “almost pathological” distaste for repeating work part of what makes him a good programmer? [2:01:03]
  • Books David has been enjoying. [2:05:56]
  • How does David know when he’s being a good parent — and what common mistakes does he see other parents making? [2:10:55]
  • What are the habits that have helped David develop empathy — and convey it — as a parent? [2:24:10]
  • Who comes to mind when David thinks of the word “successful?” [2:28:21]
  • Does David have any business idols? [2:31:15]
  • Does meeting your heroes ever live up to your expectations? [2:33:55]
  • David’s favorite documentaries and movies. [2:38:25]
  • Books David has gifted and recommended most. [2:42:17]
  • David’s favorite podcasts. [2:44:25]
  • David’s purchase of $100 or less that has had the most positive impact on his life in recent memory. [2:46:29]
  • David’s most worthwhile investment of money, time, or energy. [2:52:08]
  • Resources that have helped David improve as a photographer. [2:56:52]
  • What is beautiful code? [2:59:18]
  • What advice would David give his younger self? [3:14:15]
  • Does David have a favorite failure? [3:17:05]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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38 Replies to “David "DHH" Heinemeier Hansson: The Power of Being Outspoken (#195)”

  1. This is really an awesome podcast.Loved the part about quality of work vs the hours put in. Turn off distractions and have 3-4 hours to be at your creative best.

  2. I loved this interview, Tim. Thanks for continually having world class, yet not always ultra famous guests on the show. Also a huge fan of the long form content and podcast episodes. 2.5 hrs and longer are the best.

    For anyone else who liked this episode, check out the interviews with Bryan Johnson and Derek Sivers.

  3. Hey Tim,

    This is a great podcast – I have been a long time listener (and reader of your books)

    As a professional software developer – I have always applied your ideas of learning and productivity to programming.

    However, I would really enjoy it if you spoke to and interviewed top performing programmers and software developers.

    Do you have any plans to interviewing more top performing programmers?

    I think a lot of people would like to see this.

    I think you’d find it interesting to experiment with learning to code and software engineering in a short period of time – there are key differences between learning to speak with a machine and learning to speak with other people that I think would provide a lot of interesting contrast for you that applies to other engineering, technical, and applied science disciplines that you have not touched on as much.

    Thanks again,


  4. “Do you have a failure or apparent failure that set you up for future success?” I loved the line of questioning that led to this question. That was Jedi interviewing skills at work!

  5. “being good 5 things in top 80th percentile” same here though i’d say it depends on context, some problems are more ameniable to attack ( aka being best/ notible), and they aren’t always what you think. e.g. by studying ice, figured out how to make glass like ice, gem like ice…and that lead me by accident to discovering a entirely new approach to brew coffee and tea vanilla etc, super concentrated super fast relative to the those used industry ( i make better coffee than an $20k espresso machine with only $10 in parts)

    when i teach programming its easy to relate the code to practical narrative in natural language, i usually use peanut butter and jelly sandwich, nouns tend to be objects and classes, verbs methods, adjectives variables. and yes, prose, haiku even comedy, its sometimes an elegant minimal description and sometimes a surprise or punchline.

    photography is also a passion of mine but primarily for documentation of projects, social media can be a huge waste of time.

    honestly light is way more important than most modern gear that’s aiming for web as target. ipad/smartphone can do white balance and depth of field well enough for most peoples practical needs, and even with slow mo.

    partly to prove point, 4h ww style planning on doing first pass at my first Kickstarter only using the ipad,

  6. Just wanted to say I appreciate the show notes. This really helps those of us who may not always have the time to listen to the entire show. Thank you for your work.

  7. Really resonated with the concept of large blocks of time, on the order of 3-4 hours, to get meaningful work done. This is a huge issue for me. I never escape for more than 30 minutes without something urgent popping up. I’d love to hear a podcast interview on the same topic with Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work”. He’d say the same things about meaningful output in a distracted world, but perhaps we could get some creative ideas around how to actually shut out the rest of the world to get those precious large blocks of time. Or perhaps get some alternative strategies for those who can only seem to block 30 minutes at a time. It’s all about training the people around you to your schedule, but sometimes the world doesn’t want to wait.

  8. “Life is long enough and if I pay attention to it, if I do my negative visualization, I can truly make the hours count with Colt, with Dash, with the family, and then I’ll be happy when it’s over.”

    One of the best episodes so far!

  9. I love all your work Tim, and really love your generous nature, and if I could send you a private message I would do that rather than this public one, which might be misconstrued. I have read all of your books, listened to perhaps 120 of your podcasts, and I write to say in the spirit of constructiveness, that this podcast has been my least favorite. Obviously DHH is an impressive man with crazy-beautiful accomplishments. However I felt this podcast droned on and delivered few insights for the time invested. It was about three hours too long. I thought I aught to say this because it was the first of your podcasts where I felt robbed of my time, and thought that if I felt that way, maybe others did as well, and perhaps you might want to know that, for whatever it’s worth. I want to hurry and say that I find your work fantastic, your story awesome, and hope that what I have said above is not looking too closely at a gifted race horse.

    Cheers, and here’s to you Tim.

    Carl Kruse

  10. That was sweet, sour, and empowering.

    Especially loved your question of what we can work on now that can have a lasting impact in our life.

    It seems like you’ve covered explorers into the mountains, surface of the ocean, but not yet into the ocean.

    May I suggest you look into Fabien Cousteau?

    He’s done a great work under the sea, including living 31 days under the water, showing how Earth is changing (and writing more than 10 publications from the data gathered during this time)

    You can see him in action at TED here:


    Met with him at OTEC symposium in Amsterdam, past week, and would love to introduce you two to each other!

  11. Tim, Before DHH mentioned Alfie Kohn in the interview you had mentioned the importance of competition. Kohn has an older book out you may find interesting, it presents the other side of that argument – No Contest: The Case Against Competition –

  12. I have been a devoted listener for a little over a year now… I’ve lost count of how many of these Guests I sit here listening to thinking… “It’s like they are in my own head!”

    This one in particular I would like to try and give you a thought on. I believe many of your guests have this same mentality, but it really stood out with DHH.

    One maxim I live my life by is…

    “When you know how something works, you can make it do what you want.”

    Obviously, this is not all encompassing. You can’t break the Laws of Physics currently. But on the other hand, it’s awful difficult to drive a stick shift, if you don’t know how a clutch works. I think this is a very succinct statement for much of what your guests talk about, and I think your listeners would benefit from this too, if you put it out there.

  13. I was most impressed by DHH’s courage to talk about children being absolutely deserving of respect and empathy for the compromised positions they are in. In my words, involuntarily “trapped” with people they didn’t choose. Therefore as parents one must work hard to show children through reason and evidence, and positive example, why doing certain things makes sense. DHH subtly pointed out the contradiction in adults telling children they can’t use technological devices “too much”, while the adults don’t follow their own advice. The way to a better world is raising children peacefully. I love that he has researched good parenting and seems to understand the value of being available…now, don’t send them to government schools!

  14. Truly truly truly Tim, you really are producing some of the best content on the web in my opinion. It so damn nourishing and stimulating. This has to be one of my favourite shows of everyhting you’ve produced and that’s saying something. there are other great interviews out there (check our Andrew Denton’s old TV show from Australia) but where you really take the cake is the value-add after the show – the show notes, the breadcrumbs to other interesting people, books, sources. And so on….

    Considered bliss..



  15. I thought the Matt Mullenwegg podcast couldn’t be outdone – you proved me wrong! Many incredibly insightful topics in this one. I particularly liked – keep pulling the thread, making code / writing beautiful. The attitude of being a programmer vs making things with programming. David has a great attitude.

  16. Great interview and big parenting take aways.Thank you. The one thing that rarely gets addressed in these interviews is finances. ex. DHH said he took a job for $15 an hour when he first started. For most of us, we could not afford to do that. I want to know how he did this. Did he live on ramen or was he a trust fund kid? I would love to hear the “how” when guest talk about seemingly “hard times”. Love your podcast and thanks for all that you do.

  17. Amazing conversation. Great to hear DHH’s advice on maintaining work life balance and having a broad range of interests. Thanks Tim

  18. I have driven to Prague and back from Brno, Czech republic and at home I am thinking: it went so fast. I did not even finish the podcast. And then I looked why and saw this conversation had 3 hours and 24 seconds. Love that. Even it it was twice as long. You are doing an amazing job Tim giving us the opportunity to get to know these people. Amazing. Thank you.

  19. Awesome, especially to hear how David first started programming. One of my top five favorite episodes.

  20. I knew little about DHH before this podcast.

    Programming is the kind of thing that bores me to tears yet he made it sound fascinating!

    To my surprise, this has been one of the most informative and interesting podcasts I’ve ever listened to and it’s three and a half hours long!!

    Thank you Tim for the hard work and persistence.

    Thank you DHH for the wisdom and generosity.

  21. Listening to the section on audiobooks and narrators making or breaking them reminded me of one that I listened to recently where the narrator really made it come alive. It was “The Music Lesson” written by and also narrated by Victor Wooten. With background music also played by Victor.

  22. Does anyone know the Twitter account that David described as “terrorists from the past”? The one that described the media/public’s reaction to books, comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, iPads, etc. as being terrible and dangerous things for our minds. Or does anyone know of a good source to find examples of that from history? Thanks!

  23. Really enjoyed that. Especially the idea that company values should be something that reasonable people can disagree on. Such a simple yet challenging concept!

  24. Thanks Guys, I can’t say why, but I had a difficult time with this one. There is definitely some gems in there though. Probably just me….Lol

  25. David is one of the rare voices in the SaaS industry. I’m glad he and you explain the benefits of bootstrapping a business and taking venture capital is not suitable for everyone especially for people who don’t want to manage a bunch of people.

    Thanks for interviewing David!

  26. hi admin

    Just wanted to say I appreciate the show notes. This really helps those of us who may not always have the time to listen to the entire show. Thank you for your work.

  27. Agreed on the podcast – it’s incredibly informative. Additional DHH content here: [Moderator: link removed.]