Juan David's Newsletter - October 20th, 2022
The UIUC Talkshow Purpose & Meeting Wolfram (and Taleb)
Since we started the UIUC Talkshow, the goal has always been to meet people we would not otherwise meet. It’s simple. We don’t want to become “podcasters” who only seek attention, but we’re both engineering people who work on engineering projects and happen to have a talkshow.
But you know, there are times when you meet people, and they make you think whether what you are doing makes sense, so it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect.
Well, yesterday, we met Nassim Taleb.
And you can probably guess where the story goes…
He’s a cool guy, but I didn’t want to talk to him because, well…he’s interesting (as you’ll see soon). But later, I said, “Screw it!” and we approached him. The first he tells us is a history lesson on Aaryaman’s name.
Ok, cool? The conversation goes around that for about 20 minutes. I say conversation, but really it was him talking while two other NPCs tried to finish Taleb’s sentences. I say NPCs because they were following him around, bringing him coffee, and being attached to him like parasites.
One of these NPCs read our badges and said, “UIUC Talkshow,” and assumed we were there to interview Taleb. He goes, “Nassim is great, but he doesn’t do interviews.” Taleb hears this and says interviews are torture to him and goes on to show how he had just rejected a famous news channel and even a president of an Asian country.
We continued talking and asked Taleb what his college major would be if he were to go back to college. He recommends studying things that don’t change, which is good advice! Imagine studying economics thirty years ago! He said he would study applied math, which I found interesting.
A few minutes later, I suppose Taleb couldn't resist and goes, “That talkshow shit? Get out of that shit.” At that point, I was like, “Tell me more. What’s your reasoning?” He argued we should be focused on long-term things, such as things or projects that will be relevant thirty years from now.
Taleb gave the example of writing books, learning math, and learning ancient languages such as Latin.
He’s not wrong. Having a long-term view with short-term urgency is vital. But I don’t think he even understood that through the talkshow is how we even met him. The UIUC Talkshow is a lever for many opportunities we didn’t know existed or could exist.
How the heck did we get to meet someone like Taleb? The UIUC Talkshow.
Since the first conversation, we felt we achieved our goals of meeting interesting people while having deep conversations.
But last weekend, it felt like we genuinely achieved this purpose because we talked to someone we would have never had the opportunity to talk to if it weren’t for the UIUC Talkshow.
So who did we talk to?
If you don’t know who that is, he created a Google for nerds (WolframAlpha), the author of A New Kind of Science (a book that changed how science is done), theoretical physicist, CEO of Wolfram Research, and a truly remarkable guy.
I’ve always said the UIUC Talkshow is about the most interesting people with the most interesting ideas. But in reality, it’s about people who are sane in a way most people are crazy.
Wolfram’s story is precisely that from obsessively following his curiosity and making theoretical physics discoveries when he was a teenager, to dropping out of high school and college to go directly get a Ph.D. from Caltech (Richard Feynman was his advisor),
You can call him a polymath, renaissance man, or whatever you want, but you can’t ignore him!
Our conversation lasted about two and a half hours, and we couldn't believe we had done it. We saw Wolfram two days later, and he said we reminded him of Lex Fridman. We don’t want to compare ourselves to anyone but reaching Lex Fridman’s talent level is a massive compliment.
We met Wolfram because he was in Champaign for the Wolfram Annual Technology Conference, and I emailed him about an interview. We had the conversation, went to his talk on campus, and the conference was happening, and we wanted to go. But it was more than $500!
So Aaryaman asked if we could go. A few minutes later, the communications director replied, “Your badges are at the registration table.”
We went from starting a talkshow, to interviewing Wolfram a few months later, to attending a super cool conference, and to meeting someone shitting on the talkshow.
We’ll keep following our curiosity and doing what we want while learning from the mistakes of others.
Will the UIUC Talkshow be relevant in thirty years? Probably not, but will the opportunities1 it creates for us be relevant in thirty years? Definitely!
The conference isn’t done yet, so I’m looking forward to learning more things, meeting more cool people, and creating more opportunities.
See you on Sunday,
Juan David Campolargo
That’s what I’m saying now, but that’s not why we started the UIUC Talkshow in the first place. We started it because we wanted to meet more cool people on campus, and now looking back, other things have come out of it, but that’s not why we do it! We do it for the purpose and sake of it!