If you love or hate Apple, you should listen to Felix Krause. We’ve covered his security research several times on Lifehacker, as he exposed vulnerabilities on MacOS and iOS: how any Mac app could take a secret screenshot of your computer, or how iOS apps could steal your password with a fake login screen. And that research isn’t even his main job.
We interviewed him about his many projects, including fastlane, a self-emailing app called Master Key, his security research, and how he ended up working at Twitter and Google.
Location: Digital nomad, spending most my time in New York Current Gig: Building a mobile-CI system on top of fastlane Current mobile device: iPhone X Current computer: 2 x MacBook 15" 2017 (personal + work machine) One word that best describes how you work: pragmatic
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Ever since I visited the Mountain View Google campus back in 2010, I had the life goal of working for Google in California. Every decision, when it comes to education, technology I learned and time spent, I aligned to achieve this goal. After various internships and side projects during high school, I started building automation tools for iOS developers in college, and they took off unexpectedly. Big companies started using my tool fastlane to automate their release process. Within a few months, multiple companies offered me to join them and continue work on fastlane, and I decided to join Twitter.
Only 1.5 years after that, Fabric (Twitter’s developer tools department) got acquired by Google, which is where I am now.
Take us through a recent workday.
I live in NYC now, which means I don’t have to take a long shuttle ride every day, as is the case for many tech companies based in the Bay Area. When I get up, I check my notifications for about an hour, before heading to the office by walking for like 30 minutes and listening to audio books.
At the office, I’d usually get most of my coding and high-focus work done before lunch time. As most of my team is based on the West Coast, most meetings happen in the afternoon. I’m not a fan of meetings, as most are inefficient and could be done via async communication. In big companies meetings are deeply built into their culture, and there is no way around them.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I don’t use a lot of devices. I don’t use any smart home devices, no smart watch, just my phone + MacBook. It’s a combination of most devices not being really useful, but also not trusting certain providers.
When it comes to apps, I use Major Key a lot, an open source app I wrote (not in the App Store), to quickly jot down thoughts as they arise. It’s extremely useful when you’re having a conversation and just had this really good idea, or need to write something down to follow-up on.
I use Arc to track my location 24/7 (previously used Moves App which was shut down by Facebook), MyFitnessPal to track my macro intakes, Swarm to keep track of the places I visited, Bear Notes (as iCloud Notes lost my data — I wrote a migrator), Fantastical as calendar on all platforms, and of course Tweetbot (which I wrote I have a very custom setup for).
What’s your workspace setup like?
As I work from various places, I always have my Roost Stand with Apple magic keyboard, magic trackpad and magic mouse with me. This allows me to have a decently ergonomic work setup in most locations. At the Google office, I have a 32" monitor and use my MacBook in clam-shell mode.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
The number one advice I give every professional that uses a computer is to set up custom shortcuts to open any app they use regularly; I wrote about it here. I also just found Vimium, which allows you to navigate on most websites using just keyboard shortcuts. Also the Major Key app mentioned before definitely made my life easier.
I also pretty clearly separate creating from consuming: When I’m on my Mac I’m in work mode, when I’m on my phone, I read. That’s why apps like Major Key and Mail To Self (discontinued, I’m gonna write my own clone soon) are so useful: they allow you to send something to your Mac for when you’re in work mode.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I make heavy use of Trello and Inbox Zero. Trello is a joy to use, especially when you learn all their shortcuts. My Trello backlog is basically infinite, there is always something to do, and I have so many ideas for things I want to do. I know I’ll never get to do most of those though. I still want to track them to be able to attach notes and links as I research them further.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I go to the gym almost every single day. It doesn’t only make me feel more confident, but also it’s critical to clear my mind. I put on my headphones, lift some weights and forget about what’s going on around me. It took me a while to be able to accomplish this flow state at the gym.
I also love taking walks. It’s really nice to wander around Manhattan at night, crossing bridges with friends and just enjoying the beautiful New York skyline.
What’s your favourite side project?
I’ve been working on various telegram bots recently, from tracking my mood 3 times a day, to getting a message in the morning when it’s about to rain. I also co-founded danger together with @orta, a tool to define rules for pull requests.
Besides that, I’ve been publishing privacy research in my free time. This has nothing to do with my day job, but just personal interest. Those posts generated an unexpected amount of attention, and made my Twitter activity unusable for weeks.
iOS/Android: If you're worried about apps tracking your location, it's not enough to limit your location sharing. You need to limit camera-roll sharing too. If you've ever given an app access to your camera roll - to take photos, or store screenshots, or any given reason - you've also let it see where all those photos were taken. Felix Krause, an iOS developer and security writer, built an app to demonstrate this back door.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I just finished the audio book of Homo Deus, an excellent book about society and how it will change with technology.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I still believe there is more to be done when it comes to being aware of your personal happiness. I love the WaitButWhy articles, in particular the one about your life in weeks and choosing your career. I published a spreadsheet to create your own life in weeks, and did the same for the tentacles in the career post.
I’d love to continue work on the mood tracking bot and make it easier to dive deeper into why you’re feeling a certain way, and detect trends.