And Just Where Do You Think You’re Going?

Well, lookie here. Two posts within 30 days of each other. I think I’ve set a personal record for this blog. Let’s get right to the post then.

When I had to leave SC to come to GA for my job, I hated the thought of doing so. Which is odd when you think about it because in 2009, all I wanted to do was leave SC. Anyways, I felt like God wanted me in SC, but I couldn’t mesh that with what I had to do for my work. I came to work in GA and settled in with my job. I was never a fan of the technical work I did, but I grew to enjoy some of the people I worked with, and I made quite a few friends with people I worked near. I couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t meant to stay here. Cue the interview process with Google. You all know how that went down. If you don’t, just read this post.

Around the beginning of January, I started reaching out to companies again because I didn’t want to stay where I was. I had many potential leads and many friends helped get my resume into the hands of recruiters. Some in SC, some out in CA. I was completely blown away by how many people I had willing to help me.

And then, my friend Mike introduced me to a company called SPARC. He began working there in February, and I hadn’t heard anything but good things about it. So, when Mike offered to send my resume up, I gladly took him up on that offer. Nestled in Charleston, SPARC is a young company, only founded in 2009.But the company has a culture that is one I’ve wanted to experience for a while. The employees there have a desire to do their best, create the best, and be the very best version of themselves they can be.At least from what I’ve seen.

One step led to another: a recruiter called me to get a general idea about me, then she scheduled my programming challenge, next was the video interview, and finally was the on site interview. My recruiter Jill was a blast to work throughout the process.

On site, I realized SPARC has many amenities that software engineers have come to enjoy, including free coffee. But the amenities aren’t what makes a good culture, and SPARC prides themselves on their culture. Neither is foosball or any other type of activity. But put those things together, add creative problem solvers together in a fun environment, treat them like adults that can manage their own time, and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. This type of environment reminds me of the best times I had in college. Times where we may have stayed up until four in the morning working on a project, but it was done, and done well, and we enjoyed it.

So when SPARC called me and offered me a job starting mid May, I said yes. So where do I think I’m going? I’m going back to SC. Back home. And on to SPARC.

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The Wild World of Changing Directions

Hi, my name is Ryan, and I run this blog.

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely one of my family or friends, and already know that. But I haven’t posted in so long, I felt like an introduction was necessary.

I haven’t posted here since August of 2014: around seven months ago.

Well, what have I been doing in that time? Have I been backpacking across Europe? Have I been traveling across the U.S? Have I spent the last seven months in complete silence, just to better understand the sound of a whisper? (Ten points if you know the movie reference).

No, nothing that glamorous or outside of my nature. However, I have been changing directions. That’s not to say that changing directions is in my nature. It’s not. I like routine. It’s actually quite weird. I dislike complacency, but I like routines. I like to know I will be able to set “X” amount of time to do “Y” task, even if the task varies. Anyways, that’s a topic for another day.

“How have you been changing direction?” you ask.

“Thank you. I will tell you, and I needed a segue.”

I am deeply passionate about helping others tell their stories. I believe that others have stories in them that are waiting to come out, and technology is a way that everyone can tell their own story. I am a software developer, so I am in a unique position to create software to help others tell their stories.

However, in going down this path, around October 2014, I realized I have never told any of my stories. It’s not because I don’t have them. Well, some I don’t get to write down, and they can fly away at times, never to be seen again. But there are several that I do capture. Those, I rarely mature or turn into anything. Those ideas just stay in a collection.

That’s not right.

If I believe that everyone’s stories matter, that means that my stories matter too. Well, here we have a quandary. How do I do what I want by creating Storyteller and also tell my own stories? I have an idea! Let’s finish Storyteller, then unleash my stories through it!

*Frantically spend several weeks drawing out what Storyteller could look like to enable deep complex stories with several layers of narratives and characterizations*

Uh, no. That’s not what Storyteller is supposed to be. Storyteller needs to be a tool for young people to be able to easily express their ideas. By October of 2014, I was able to get Storyteller to a functional alpha state, but I realized it was a bigger project than I wanted to take on by myself. I want the input of many people. I want a team to work on it with me. So, right now, Storyteller is on pause, but not forgotten. That’s the bad news.

Now, there’s always a silver lining. That one thing you don’t expect to see. As you noticed from my internal dialog in italics, I’ve been neglecting my own stories. So, since October 2014, I’ve been working on one of them. Really, it’s a story about each of us. It’s about our innate curiosity and wonder. It is a platform video game called Curiosity?. Think Mario meets Portal. It’s a platform jumper that is designed to encourage the players to ask the question “What does that do?” Right now, it’s in a pre-alpha stage with the game mechanics mostly worked out. I’m going to get it out to some internal testers as soon as I can to get feedback. Then the fun begins. Curiosity? will be a game that grows, and I hope to be able to nurture it and grow with it.

So here I am, back again. Hopefully for a little while longer this time around. I’m learning that writing is a part of who I am, even if a small part. Now just work on that discipline part…

Until we meet again.

Storyteller

So, I mentioned that I was going to be do a post on the project I’ve been working on. This is a teaser post to that post. Stay with me. This is going to describe the heart of my project, whose name is Storyteller. Storyteller is a culmination of my life’s passions. Telling stories through visual medium and software development.

As a kid, I would run through all different types of imaginative stories, as all kids do. I would live these stories out in my head and sometimes even commit them to paper on the closest computer: whether it was my family’s first computer (Windows 98 Compaq) or the laptop I begged for when going to high school. I always enjoyed creating and telling stories. But I enjoyed experiencing them as well. Often, I would snatch up the nearest book and not put it down until I was finished. I would read late into the night, often frustrating my parents who just insisted it was bed time. If I wasn’t doing that, I would play video games. I always insisted that the video games I had told a story, and it had to be intricate; a simple story just would not do. Much of this time I had as a kid was spent in my imagination, the worlds of the authors books I read, and the games I played.

As I got older, I thought it would be a great idea to try and design those video games that I loved so much, all the while neglecting what made me love them in the first place, the story. So I decided to learn how to make computer games, and my life and education spiraled out from there, leading me to the career field that I love and enjoy: Software Development.

However, that is not enough. It is not enough to simply make software. I thought it would be good enough to make good, well designed software. I realized that isn’t it either. I want to make great software that empowers people to create, thrive, and feel. I need to create this kind of software. It is the aching in my bones that drives what I do. God has given me gifts and abilities for the church, but God has given me this talent, this ability, and this perspective to drive change in the world. I have tried to run from it before, I have tried to find other avenues to express this ability I’ve been given, but nothing has ever worked. My passion always comes back to this: telling and experiencing a well crafted story. And around March of 2014, I decided to dive into that passion and I began developing Storyteller.

The heart of Storyteller is to create a iOS app that will allow users to express themselves in this new medium of touch in a way that allows interactivity, exploration, and imagination.  I am a Storyteller, and so are you. We are all Storytellers.


 

That being said, I found a wonderful video tonight that captures an idea of what I am doing. During Google I/O, Google’s developer conference, the ATAPS (Advanced Technology and Projects) group demoed something they’ve been working on called Spotlight Stories. This starts around the 36 minute mark, but it is an exploration like none other on  the art of stoytelling and the combination with the technology of today. (The drawing by Glen Keane was quite amazing as well. 46 minute mark). This is what I want to do.  ATAPS is amazing and pushing boundaries in everything they are doing. That is my desire. Pushing the boundaries of what we think we can do with the technology we have. There is so much more to explore.

The Race Towards Burnout

Burnout.

We are all capable of it. That moment when everything stops. That moment when that big assignment that you enjoyed so much just stops mattering. The moment when you feel like you can’t go on any longer the way you are going and something has to change.

There are different ways it appears. It may come as a sudden sickness; it may come as a feeling of depression and nausea; it may come in other ways, some of which I personally haven’t experienced, and you may not even be able to verbalize. But as you’re reading this, you understand exactly what I’m saying. You know the feeling of burnout.

Over the past two days, I’ve experience a lethargy unlike almost anything I’ve ever experienced. I say almost because I have been this lethargic once. But then I was presenting with a multitude of other symptoms, and that’s a story for another time. My current lethargy has left me unable to do much of anything, even if I am motivated to do so. I’ve come to realize that this could simply be the feeling of burnout, manifested in a new way in my life. The last time I felt burned out, I almost had a mental breakdown. That was bad, but through God and my wife, I was able to come out of that situation in tact. This one shall have the same result.

I’ve been watching the series “Mad Men” as of late. While I can’t agree with much of what goes on in the story, I find it very interesting and even inspiring and convicting as of late. For example:

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” ~ Don Draper, Mad Men

Quotes like these are swiftly adept at explaining the reasons for burnout. We want so much more than we have. So we work and then work some more. And then, we are ruined; because after we achieve our goal, it is either unsatisfactory, or we have spent all our energy achieving it and have none left to enjoy it.

That’s the question life asks, isn’t it — “What do you want and how far will you go to get it?”

We all need to remember that life is a journey, and we need to enjoy it, not rush through. Burnout stops us from enjoying the journey because you can only go so fast for so long until it begins to take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit. Either prepare to take time and relax during the journey, or you will experience burnout by the end of the it.

We all have dreams and many of us have responsibilities that we would rather ignore to be able to focus on our dreams, but it’s a balancing act. You have to keep your dreams focused and take care of yourself, while balancing daily responsibilities.  Let’s do the best work we can, while taking care of our body, mind, and spirit, by letting ourselves relax before we get to the point of burnout. This can be done, and we can do it.

Will you race towards your dream, or will you race towards burnout?

How getting rejected can give you confidence

So, I said I was going to write a post on this, and here I am. This is several weeks past due, but as I will explain, there’s a good reason behind that. So, I was recently contacted by a Google recruiter. This recruiter saw my LinkedIn and contacted me out of the blue. I had no implications on my LinkedIn that I was seeking new employment, and I wasn’t. But honestly, when Google comes knocking, who isn’t going to at least open the door?

So, I talked to the recruiter and set up my phone interview date to interview for an iOS Software Engineer position. It was about three weeks out, and so I began to study. I began to comb the internet and find out what I should focus on. “Study the fundamentals” is what I heard. So, I went on to the wonderful resource I have in Safari Books Online and began to study up on topics I hadn’t studied in years: trees, hash tables, sorting algorithms, the works.

As one could expect, the sheer volume of material that I had to review eventually got to me. I started to break down. And then the logical side of me started questioning that. Why was I breaking down over an interview that I wasn’t even seeking out to begin with? I never could quite figure it out. I guess my dissatisfaction with where I’m working at right now got to me, and this seemed like “my way out.” As I prayed about it, I felt a crazy nervous energy that I thought meant God planned for my wife and I to go to California. Soon after we got married, I even made the quip that it would be hilarious if God wanted us to go to California since I am a southern boy.

And then came the day of the phone interview. I quickly reviewed a few facts about algorithms that I wasn’t 100% sure about. As I was talking to the interviewer, we jumped right into the questions. The first question I was asked related to ….iOS.

Wait.

What?

This was supposed to be about basic algorithms and data structures.

I spent so much time studying the basics that my problem solving skills just went out the window as I froze up, misunderstood the question, and overall took an hour for a 45 minute interview. I should have been prepared for this. I should have realized that I was contacted about a specific position and the interviewer would focus more on that than the fundamentals. Yeah… I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me, not this time.

So, after the interview and during one of the longest weeks I’ve experienced to date, I had a serious feeling of doubt and insecurity. I knew I could complete the questions required of me, and I just felt like I didn’t show the best of my abilities.

One afternoon, I got the call from my recruiter that “We won’t be moving on at this time.” I had prepared myself for this. I was waiting for the moment. But instead of the despair that I thought I was going to feel, I felt relief.

I knew the result.

I knew that it wasn’t representative of me.

I know the abilities God has given me, and those abilities didn’t magically change because of the result of an interview. I want to make great software. And no person is going to help you better yourself. You’ve got to have the initiative and go for it yourself. I want to do my best to represent my God by creating great software that helps people. If it helps them express themselves, better themselves, or just get to know the God that created them and loves them. Whatever the result is, I want to create software that betters us as humans. No. I want to create software that helps us better ourselves.

That day, I got the inspiration to start back on a side-project that I had been harboring in its current form for about a year.The project can trace its way back all the way to when I was a small child. I’m not going to release too much information about it at the moment, but I think it can be a great example of what we can do to help express ourselves as humans. I will release more information about it as it becomes a viable product, but right now it’s very much in prototype stage.

This is my story. This is how getting rejected can give you confidence. Scratch that. This is how getting rejected can help you find confidence in yourself again. This is the next step in my journey of developing great software and following God in doing so.

Let’s get started.

What Fear says about Patience

So, this week’s 30 Days of Hustle was about patience. Goals take a while to come to fruition some times. Fear will try and keep you down, saying that what you have is too little, too late. This is especially true with what I am doing, software development. Right now, there is a boom of software developers, specifically app developers, all trying to make “the next big hit.”

The app (and possibly business) I’m building is a product of my desires and interest since I was a young kid, possibly eight or nine years old. Every day, I can see products coming out from companies or start-ups that are similar in a way to my product. Every day, I get the thought that “it’s too late” or “you don’t have the money necessary in order to get this built fast enough.” When you’ve got a set of established big players: Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe, etc and a legion of burgeoning start-ups, many located within arm’s length of money, it’s easy to think that a small town boy from SC would never have a chance. In the fast paced world of intelligent people, and people with money (especially when they are one in the same) it can be easy to feel insignificant. I’ve realized a few things this week, though.

Fear doesn’t have the last word. I don’t remember where I heard it, but I heard something a while back that has stuck with me till this day: “Courage is not the lack of fear, courage is having fear and doing something anyways.” That’s something I’ve realized with this interview that I’ve had recently (coming soon, a post all by itself). It’s something that I’ve realized by building this app. And it’s something God has been teaching me through his word and a book called Sun Stand Still. In order to have courage, you will have to acknowledge your fear and go in anyways. Jump in. Figure out why you are doing what you are doing and dive into it. For me, the answer is based in my ability and my faith. I’m developing because God has given me the ability and intelligence to do so and gifted me with a unique idea that I think has viability. I’ve been an inventor of sorts since my childhood. Software is just my way of doing so. It’s logical to me, and I enjoy making great software.

I’ve come to two major realizations about my app that’s helping me not to be impatient. One: even if I don’t sell a single copy of this app, I want to make it because I am an inventor at heart, and this is something that is within me just wanting to come out. I want to make this app for myself, but also for others. I think it solves an inconvenience and introduces enjoyment of the art of creation to people.

Two: even though making money off of it is not my primary goal, if I build a great product, but don’t market it correctly and make it appealing for people to take a risk on it, it won’t have the impact I’ve desired. If you make a great product, but no one uses it because they don’t know about it, then you might as well not have made it. You have to invest in product design as well as development. As Jon says, this microwave culture of ours wants everything now. And I will not deny that I want my project to be developed now. As a software developer, I want to dive straight in and make it work. However, that might not be the best way to immediately attack this situation. I need to think about product design, product/market fit and a whole host of other questions that come when you are developing something that may sell to others.

So, what does fear say about patience? Fear says patience is for the weak. For those who aren’t ambitious enough. However, patience is for the strong, those who know it can take back breaking work just to take one step forward if you’re pushing a stone. Patience involves understanding that great things take time. And that is what you can tell fear, “great things always take time, this is no different.”

Who is my dream serving?

Who is my dream serving? That is the question I was asked last week through 30 Days of Hustle. Well? The truth is I don’t know. On some levels, all dreams are at least a little bit selfish. And that’s ok. Because if there wasn’t at least a little bit of selfishness, then there would be nothing internally pushing us forward to achieve them.

The key thing is, the answer to that question can’t only by “Me.” If our dream only serves ourselves, then it is only an ego trip, a way of building ourselves up in our head; dreams that aren’t connected to anyone or anything else “tend to die painful, lonely deaths” as Jon notes in the 30 Days post.

When I dream and I look at my dreams, I know who I want my dreams to serve. I want my dreams to serve God, to bring people to him so they know they are not alone and that there is a God that loves them and sent his son who died to save them. I want my dreams to serve my family, to be a means to provide financial support for them. I want my dreams to serve others. I want to be able to make software that impacts the world and gives people the tools to do what they never thought they could. I fully believe that technology can be a major game changer in every aspect of life, we just need to implement it in a way that gives people power and ability, not takes it away.

I said all of that to say this. Who is my dream serving? If I don’t pay attention, it will only serve me. However, I know who I want them to serve: God, others, and my family. It is very easy to get egotistical, and I will have to fight that fight daily. Your dreams are different than mine, and that’s ok. There is something we share though: our dreams are not only for us. Let’s remember that.