In Hidden Talents, we introduce you to the secret and sensational lives of your classmates. Charlie Stigler, SEAS ’15, has only been at Columbia for a few short weeks, but he’s probably helped you out on more papers, homeworks, and projects than anyone else here. Charlie Stigler is the developer behind SelfControl.
With a lean, athletic build and refreshingly relaxed attitude, Charlie Stigler doesn’t strike you as the stereotypical programmer. As we talked about SelfControl, he seemed enthusiastic that people use the app, but modestly downplayed its importance in his life and his original involvement. He began working on the app as a quick project for Steve Lambert, whom he describes as an “artist, sort of.” Steve wanted something that would block his email while he worked, so SelfControl was originally slated to be a simple command line script to serve just that purpose. Later, Steve requested the project be open-sourced, which got Charlie thinking. One thing led to another, and eventually he decided to “make [it] a little gift to the community.” “So instead of just making it a little command line tool,” he explains, “I ended up delivering an actual application with a GUI, and I put on a name, ‘SelfControl’ and an icon.”
When Charlie finally found accurate download figures for the program, he was surprised to learn just how many people, including his fellow Columbians, were using SelfControl. But plenty of users means plenty of problems. Charlie explained how people get confused about the app’s Whitelist feature, which blocks all sites except for those on the Whitelist. Luckily, he has a quick fix: “I have a copy-paste thing because I get several of those things a day, and I just copy-paste it in, change the name at the top, like ‘Dear Whatever, here, please go do your assignment. Bye.’”
Charlie has been programming since his freshman year in high school, but he didn’t always enjoy it. “I screwed around with computers, but [my brother] always wanted me [to program]. And I was like, ‘Hell no dude, that looks crappy and I don’t think I can do it. It looks really hard—I don’t wanna do that stuff.’” But he wandered back to programming the same way many laymen get into “advanced” things you can do with a computer: torrenting. “I started setting up a lot of crazy stuff for that, because I wanted it to happen more efficiently. And it ended up that I eventually just started coding.” As he got more involved in the world of computer science, he began coding iPhone apps in his spare time.
SelfControl isn’t the only major project he’s got under his belt, though. Charlie described a venture he joined as a high schooler, which he pitched as a “group collaboration-slash-social networking thing.” “It sounded cooler back then,” he admits. Though he doesn’t really contribute to the project anymore, Charlie owns a percentage of the company—or as he puts it, “a bunch of stock and no money.” Now, when he’s not rowing crew or dashing to class, he is working on launching an education-based startup with his dad and another partner in the city.
Oh yeah, did we mention he also rows crew? Well, he does that too. “All I really do is crew, classes, try and get some work done here and there. At home, I used to just lie on the couch, code for 10 hours, go to sleep. It was a lot easier.” As if we weren’t already feeling under-accomplished, dare we ask what else this modern Hercules does? “I make really good quesadillas. I cook nothing else. The only things I ever make are cookies and quesadillas. But I make a good quesadilla.” Charlie’s mother recently shipped him a large quantity of tortillas, for whose use he has grand plans: “Well the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to have a party either here or in the Carman basement, and I’m going to make quesadillas for everybody. That’s what I’ve allocated 60 of them for. I’m going to make 60 people quesadillas.” Save one for us please!?
Although he’s now in SEAS, Charlie told us he doesn’t really identify with engineers. He’s thinking about transferring to CC, and this semester he’s taking UWriting, Gateway, and Lit Hum to plan ahead. Between that, managing an old once-command line project, two startups, rowing, and Mexican food for 60 people, Charlie seems to have no trouble passing the time. Is the secret to his success a strict budgeting of internet time, courtesy of SelfControl? “No, why would I do that?” he laughs, “I have self control.”
What we got out of the interview via Wikimedia Commons