Iuliu Pop at his coding workstation

Iuliu Pop

I forge software tools that spark our humanity and sustain it through the digital storm.

Read My Story and Current Projects

TLDR Summary

  • In the last five years (as of writing 7/21/2023) I went on a long winding journey:

    • Left school to become a monk
    • Finally didn't become a monk but a cabinet maker
    • Learned web dev then did freelance
    • Buckled down to study and became a software engineer
    • Quit my job to be self-employed and do independent research
  • My current projects:

    • Building software for living congruently, starting with Sati (means awareness in Pali) and Inquire
    • Learning Agda and Denotational Design
    • Applying the Stacking the Bricks and Portfolio of Small Bets strategies to make money
  • I believe in a future where technology and intelligence are bound in service to wisdom

From Wannabe Monk To Software Engineer

The Lure of The Holy Life: The Going Forth That Never Was

After doing a few 10-day silent meditation retreats, I became progressively more interested in Buddhism. After devouring many books by monks and contemplating obsessively the implications of the belief system for about a year, I decided to leave school in order to become a monk at Pa Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar. I was 19, had no money for the trip, and my dad was foaming at the mouth ready to kick me out. So I quickly got a job as a cabinet-maker’s apprentice to save up money, prep for the trip and learn a useful trade at the same time. After about 6 months, I had my tickets and sponsorship letter from the monastery, all that remained was to apply for a meditation visa. Unfortunately, family issues came up and I decided to cancel my trip.

Runaway Development Passion Loop: Learn, Create, Wonder

By now, I was 20 and had moved on from my apprenticeship to work at a big furniture factory. I hadn’t planned on making a career out of cabinet-making, so I started exploring side-hustles. I tried flipping garage sales items on Ebay, but found I was miserable doing it and comedically incompetent. I almost bought an ice cream cart (and lost the deposit!), but I realized I would feel corrupt selling sugar-filled ice cream. I talked about what I was looking for with anyone and everyone.

Eventually, I came across a web developer who recommended I learn to build websites and apps and sell those. He emailed me “Web Developer Roadmap” and I was off my merry way learning online (we’re close friends now too). Within weeks of learning nights and weekends, I got into this obsessive feedback loop. I would learn a little, create something tangible with what I’d learned, then wonder what more I could create if I got better. It felt like a limitless world had opened up before me. I could go as far as my curiosity and ingenuity would take me. Within eight weeks of starting my journey, I quit my job to learn full-time and start a business.

Screenshot of the email my friend sent to me with the web developer roadmap.
The email my friend sent me after we met

My first order of business was to sell websites and digital marketing to small businesses so I could sustain myself and while I kept learning doing courses. I made ludicrous mistakes like cold calling around a hundred plumber businesses pitching my services before I understood they all had too many clients and so couldn’t care less about a website, when had I listened I could’ve understood that on the first call. Eventually I pivoted and found my first few clients. I tried to deliver the fastest website I could for one client, so I banged my head against a tricky technical problem for three days before getting it just right. That was such a satisfying experience, I decided to focus on mastering Javascript fundamentals and didn’t look for more clients.

Going Pro: Committing to Software Engineering Mastery

By then I was 21 and I picked up the Eloquent Javascript book to study meticulously, but found it was difficult to show up and work consistently. I was very physically weak that summer. For example, the day after going for a long walk with friends I was bedridden and my life force felt on the verge of death for days. I got through eventually but that was the vibe for months. I realized if I was gonna make it, I needed to find an environment that will support a disciplined life of study and practice.

I looked around at bootcamps but found I had already learned most of what was in their curriculum. However, through some stroke of luck, I stumbled on some Medium posts by Chris Lee, the founder of Launch School. It immediately clicked for me I had found the holy grail. It’s like the program had been purpose-built to my values and what I desired. I didn't want to continue being an amateur pissing away their energy here and there. I wanted to commit to a path of mastery and nurture my ability until it blooms beautifully in a life of play, a life of love for one's craft and all the facets of being human.

The next two years were just slow and steady learning. The pandemic flew over my head as I hunkered down in my dad’s basement, participating in and leading study sessions with other students almost daily, pausing the courses on occasion to do my own projects, explore and read before coming back. I completed their Core Curriculum, then their Capstone Program. By some fairytale-like serendipity, I completed my job search within two weeks of sending my first application when I accepted a life changing job offer weeks before turning 23. Unfortunately, I lost that job after a month unexpectedly. I picked myself up and found a job as a remote software engineer again within roughly two months. I worked about 6 months before I left my job to get closer to that which is dear to me once again. This time to launch my own products, and to research and pioneer the most fascinating ideas I'm aware of.

Current Techno-Sorcerer Projects

Building Sati and Inquire Web Apps (And Inventing a Liquid OS)

I'm developing two web applications: Inquire, a self-inquiry tool for cultivating insight through daily practice, and Sati, a self-observability tool steering yourself into a coherent life rhythm.

While these are currently web apps, they're actually part of a bigger project I've tentatively named Liquid OS. This project's ambition extends beyond the traditional app model, aiming to provide users the freedom to dynamically compose, decompose, and recompose their tech operating systems, similar to self-assembling and disassembling organic systems, tailored to their evolving intentions, values and desires.

Eustass Kid, One Piece, battlefield scene, individual scrap parts pulled in the air, part flying into assembling mech suit.
Liquid OS aims to be self-assembling like Eustass Kid magnetizing whatever device he wishes

The concept is somewhat akin to chiplet design in the hardware world - I aim to create a user-assembled, flexible system of capabilities. In this context, Sati and Inquire are just two of the 'chiplets' I'm working on, with others being planned for enhancing core workflows, such as cultivating deep, consistent flow, effortless focus, skill building, programmer cognition optimization, project/process guide based on hero's journey, and incremental reading/writing/learning.

  • What I've Done So Far: (out of date)

    • Inquire & Sati repo. Most my effort to date has gone into learning hexagonal architecture, functional domain modelling, Remix.run and testing Remix. I transitioned from a CLI tool to an app and unfortunately I haven't gotten to a useful e2e product yet as I got bogged down in nasty app-level details like auth. I'm making progress on the actual features again and will have a full demo soon.
  • What I'm Doing: (out of date)

    • Stream a day long techno-sorcerer retreat where I develop Sati and Inquire roughly once a week (Stream playlist)

In-depth project notes

Learning Agda, Denotational Design and Non-von Neumann Models of Computation

Since December 2022, I've embarked on a journey into the depths of denotational design and Conal Elliott's work, aiming to ultimately achieve unboundedly scalable, reliable, and efficient computation through 100% correct software. This requires a paradigm shift in engineering to posing simple, precise questions and providing verifiably correct answers - a process termed 'denotational design'.

Denotational design is based on a triad of specification, implementation, and proof of correctness as the unit of composition. This unit eliminates the cost of error and uncertainty, allowing computation to be optimized and scale massively.

An abstract diagram symbolizing the non-von Neumann model of computation, highlighting elements such as parallel processing and data flow.
Composing the denotational design triad is the basis for massively scalable parallel computation

As a first milestone, I aim to implement a mycelium growth simulation in continuous time (as opposed to discrete) using the core insight of functional reactive programming: compose operations over time then calculate (approximate), instead of approximating then composing (which doesn’t compose because error accumulates over time in this case).

  • What I've Done So Far: (out of date)

    • Since January 2023, I teamed up with Shahar Dawn from Twitter to study Agda together. We met weekly since and made slow but steady progress together learning Agda.
  • What I'm Doing: (out of date)

    • Study Agda mob programming style together with four nerds (including Dawn and I) that have gathered thanks to the power of the Internet
    • Study Agda on my own on occasion and started simple denotation design puzzles
    • Study “The Joy Of Abstraction” by Eugenia Cheng to get my category theory up to undergraduate level
    • Read casually “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” on my Kindle before bed

In-depth project notes

Launching a Product Using 30x500 Method and Growing a Portfolio of Small Bets

I left my software engineering job in April 2023, I craved for a kind of work that is completely disintermediated. To answer only to reality: the field of opportunities I can discover and exploit. I want build great wealth so I can play in capital-intensive fields like manufacturing and energy. To that end, I am deploying two distinct strategies concurrently: both the Stacking The Bricks and the Portfolio of Small Bets approach.

A lush tree with strong roots, bearing fruits in the form of golden coins, symbolizing the portfolio of small bets.
Money, money, money is the root of all virtue! Go make that money!

The Stacking The Bricks approach (aka. the 30x500 method) involves pinpointing a suitable professional audience, identifying their online spaces, learning their pains and needs through observation, delivering bits of value consistently to develop a relationship, and ultimately building a small product after you have strong signal what they will buy. It's slow and steady stacking the bricks.

The Portfolio of Small Bets approach is like a hunter-gather band gradually changing the ecology around them to increase their chance of survival. It’s part assets gardening and opportunistic hunting. Since I’m not in a crunch to make money, I'm focusing on nurturing two assets: my online presence through accumulating a body of public work and my skill in shipping full-stack apps with AIDD (A.I. driven development).

  • What I've Done So Far: (out of date)

    • Brainstormed potential audiences and searched for their waterholes, haven't found anything interesting yet, but through doing it found a couple interesting leads in Quantified Self and tools for thought communities
    • I applied to buildspace.so S4, which starts in July 2023, to use it as a structure to sprint on this.
  • What I'm Doing: (out of date)

    • Sit down and stack the bricks on occasion
    • I meet weekly with two friends to co-work in silence on searching for our opportunity to exploit.
    • Refining my skill of shipping full-stacks to a peak through high-level practice (e.g. shipping a full app) then decomposing the skills and practicing fundamentals. Iterate iterate.
    • Experimenting with AIDD (my next step is building a VS Code extension that fits snug with my workflow)

In-depth project notes

Highlights From My Learnings Online

Get In Touch

Thank you for taking the time to explore my work and ideas! I would love to hear about what interesting projects you're working on too :)

Also, please send me research leads in the direction of a Liquid OS or unboundedly scalable computation if any come to mind. I appreciate hearing about even your faintest hunches.

Here's how you can connect with me: