Developer Spotlight: Paul Osman, Developer Evangelist, SoundCloud

soundcloudlogoSoundCloud is a start-up based in Berlin that is making some noise with their audio platform that enables anyone to upload, record, promote and share their originally-created sounds across the Internet. We had a chance to catch up with SoundCloud's Paul Osman to learn more about his role there as a developer evangelist and about the product.

Here's the audio for the interview, powered by SoundCloud:

Here's the transcript with sound-markers for your listening and reading convenience:

Today’s YDN Developer Spotlight is on Paul Osman, a developer evangelist at SoundCloud.

How’d you get started as a developer?

paulosmanI’m a self-taught developer. I was lucky enough to grow up in a pretty tech-literate house and my father who dabbled in programming himself built me an old XT from spare parts when I was 10 or so. So I always had the idea that computers were things you could take apart and hack on. It wasn’t long before I wanted to learn how to program. I read books and I taught myself how to code in C and Basic. Fast forward to when I was 18 and I was working in a call center of a large telco company. My job was to record info for the field so they could do their job. We recorded the data on little sheets of paper and a manager would then compile it manually and create these reports. It seemed a little inefficient to me so I wrote a Windows app that replaced the paper logs and would automatically do the daily reports. This saved a bunch of people a whole ton of time so before I knew it I had my first programming job. After that it wasn’t long before I discovered Open Source software like Linux and Apache and languages like Perl and Python and I sort of fell in love with the Web. The idea that I could create apps and make them available for people on the Web was absolutely huge for me.

So love for the Web and its users - is that what took you to Mozilla next?

Yeah, that was a huge part of it. Before Mozilla, I had worked for a few Web start-ups and always kept a love for Open Source software - people in the organizations working on keeping the Web open and accessible for people like me and others. I love the work that Mozilla is doing to promote creators through programs like Web Makers, Browser ID and Firefox OS.

Great, so tell us what led you to SoundCloud.

I’ve always been really passionate about helping people become creators in any way possible, so the fact that SoundCloud caters to both listeners and creators of audio content is huge for me. Being a developer evangelist means I get to work with developers who are creating some incredible apps on our platform which is also really great. As a company, SoundCloud isn’t just another product. We’re really on a mission to change the way people think about sound and I get to help people think of new ways to use sound in their apps. It really doesn’t get better than that.

How would you describe what SoundCloud is for the first time user?

SoundCloud is a social sound platform. We allow people to create, record, promote and share their sounds on the Web in a simple and accessible way.

Tell us about your role as a developer evangelist at SoundCloud.

I do anything I can to help developers be awesome. I’m in charge of making sure that the SoundCloud platform is the best experience that it can be for third party developers. Depending on the day, that could mean writing or maintaining documentation, writing blog posts that showcase what community developers are doing, creating SDKs in a variety of different languages. So we have tools for developers who are writing code in Python, Ruby, or JavaScript. And I spend a lot of time on the road organizing and going to hackathons and other events, talking to large groups of hackers about how they can use SoundCloud in their app. Going to these events means I get to join teams of hackers, work on stuff myself and really get a feel for what it’s like for third party developers using any of our APIs or platform tools. Finally, I act as an advocate within the company for our third party developers. If there are ways that our APIs or tools can be improved, I try to advocate for that within the company.

Can you share a little bit about what’s special about SoundCloud - why a developer should care about using SoundCloud in their application building?

SoundCloud is tool for both consumers and creators of audio content. What this means for developers is that if you’re building an app that can use sound in any way, we’re a good platform to look at. Using our API, you can use our huge repository of sounds shared by creators or you can allow your users to create sounds. So we have a lot of integrations that focus on the creator side: apps like Tabletop a modular audio app for the iPad that allows users to mix and match sequencers, samplers, mixers to create tracks that can be shared on SoundCloud. People also use us to create interactive apps that use sound. Someone was working on a mobile app that used geo-location to allow users to record stories about specific places in their city. Then other users of the app could see that someone had recorded something about the park they’re in or the building they’re standing in front of and listen to it. So, because we have both the consumer and the creator piece, there is really no limit to the kinds of apps you can create.

What’s the newest thing at SoundCloud that you’re excited to tell people about?

Definitely SoundCloud Next. This is a completely new interface to From a user’s perspective, it’s a much more streamlined social experience. So, it emphasizes a lot of stuff like reposting sounds to your followers, create curated sets of other people’s sounds. You can combine sounds you like into sets that you can share with your followers. From a technical point of view, it’s very cool. Next is a completely client-side application. It’s an HTML5 app that actually uses the API to do everything that it does with SoundCloud.

Sounds incredible! Is that available for sign-up today?

It’s in public beta right now. We’re working really hard to get it to our entire userbase. What you can do to get on the list is go to and you can sign up to be included in the public beta there.

You’re an incredibly busy guy so what keeps you motivated at SoundCloud?

There’s a bunch of stuff that keeps me motivated. Working with our developer community. Seeing the kind of stuff that people build on SoundCloud. The people I work with are top-notch. The commits I see blow my mind. Also, working on a product that people really care about. I’ve had everybody from airport security to people on the street in cafes just come up to me and tell me because they see that I’m wearing a SoundCloud t-shirt, “do you work at SoundCloud because that’s one of my favorite things in the world.” And that’s a great feeling. It’s great working on a product that people absolutely love.

What’s up next for SoundCloud - is there anything we should be on the lookout for?

Yeah, there’s a few really cool events that we have coming up. One in particular is called Story Hack Boston. Happening September 29 at the MIT Media Lab. We’re partnering with the P2PU and Mashery is going to be there as well. The whole point of the event is to get people from a storytelling background - journalists, radio, writers, spoken word artists - together with people from a more technical background so we can experiment with digital storytelling applications.

Another thing we’re going to start doing a lot more of is a regular series of blog posts that showcase the more interesting apps that people in our community have built using the SoundCloud API. Other than that, just try to build better tools and documentation for our developers.

Thanks so much Paul! It was fabulous learning about SoundCloud today and just learning more about you.