Oftentimes, programming is a lonely activity. Whether alone in a coffee shop with our headphones on or in an office behind closed doors, most of the magic happens in solitude. Oftentimes, it has to. If we’re paying attention to someone in a conversation, we’re obviously not paying attention to the text on the computer screen. However, we must never forget that no matter how important the work is, the fact that we’re human and need interaction takes higher precedence.
The picture above is the top shelf of my desk. It sits above my computer screens at home and rightfully so. The things on that shelf are of higher importance than anything that transpires on the screens below it. If I may indulge, lemme explain what those items are from left to right. I’ll also cover who those items represent to me, the ideals those people helped build in me, and how that affects my professional life.
- A Clock: This was a gift from the best man at my wedding and the guy who literally saved my life a few times. Without Albert Vallejos, I’d be dead and none of you would’ve ever met me (in person or online). He has no understanding of what I do professionally, but he’s the first person (aside from my folks) who instilled the notion I’d be great. When trouble was rearing its ugly head in our childhood, he’d always say, “Go home, Tommy. You don’t need to be here. You’re too smart.”
- Tube of Dice: Besides, a boring 6 sided, this tube also has a 20, 8, 10, 4, and 12 sided ones. This reminds me of a ton of people (James Sutterlin, Mike Sullivan, Marc Pope, etc) and places (high school, the hole, etc). When you dream, you often do so alone at night. When you game, you dream awake surrounded by friends. Lord Bron was always my character name when I played role-playing games and he’s still the character I play online (my blog, twitter, etc). Playing RPG games teaches you so much about life: How to work together, how to progress towards a goal, how to make up worlds and people, the list could go on forever. All of it which would apply to programming, especially in a team.
- 360|Flex Soda Bottles: 360Conferences was my first real business with a lot of paying customers. A business gets real when you realize that 400 people are scheduling 3 to 4 days of their life based around an idea you hatched with a couple of friends. In programming, we rarely get to meet our customers in person. It’s an exhilarating experience and one I’d highly recommend. We as programmers have to remember that what we put out in the world may affect people in dramatic ways that we can’t comprehend. This is why WE SHIP! If you never ship, you can never make a difference in the world.
- A Glass Stein: This was given to me by an old friend, Charles Morales. On it is engraved my name with the words, “The Best Man!” I stood by his side on his most important day. Our lives have sorta diverged and we don’t see much of each other. However, I was there to support him when his father died and that felt good. I try to catch up now and then when I’m in California, but it hasn’t happened yet. Life is weird like that and so is programming. At times, someone/something seems so important that you think they/it will be there forever, but sometimes you have to move on. Tech nor life stand still and you have to grow or you’ll be stuck in a never-ending loop.
- Mr. Tom Bar: John Wilker and his wife got this for me. John was my first business partner. He taught me a lot about myself. I learned what my strong points are (there aren’t many) as well as my weak points (there’s plenty of those). The thing that John taught me is while it’s okay to dream with your head in the clouds, it’s equally as important to come back down to earth and get your hands dirty. If it was up to me, I probably would’ve kept dreaming about that conference I wanted to start. John made sure we shipped. “There are people coming to the show. People who paid us their money! We have to deliver.” I’ve since left the biz, but he’s still delivering…probably even better shows now that I’m not holding him back. If you have a ton of ideas, but have never successfully shipped, go find a partner like John. You won’t regret it.
- Dagoba Bar: I doubt it’s pronounced like Yoda’s hang out, but that’s how I say it. It’s very rare that life lets you remember the exact moment you met someone who later becomes a great friend. Luckily, I have that life moment with Miguel Archodominion recorded in my brain. He gave me this candy bar in passing. I doubt he remembers giving it to me, but I keep it there to remind me our story. Someday, Area 161 will be a common household name and it will be because the story behind it is too good. Smiley is the dreamer of games and I’m supposed to be the brain to turn them into reality. It’s slow going, but then again, I’ve been planning for the biz for a few decades. I realize that good things take time. That’s something I think we as programmers forget. We’re so set on hitting our next deliverable as fast as we can. Yes, it’s important to ship early and often, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a plan. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A good plan will allow us to ship early and often, because we’re working towards a goal.
- Fat Funny Mexican: I don’t know if that’s a Mexican pig or if there is even such a thing as a Mexican pig. However, I do know that a receptionist called from an old building I worked at over to the new building I was working at. She couldn’t remember my name at the time, so she asked the other receptionist, “Is the fat funny Mexican still there?” When I got John a trinket (I’ll let him decide on whether he wants to share what it is), I also bought myself this to make sure he didn’t think I was poking fun at him alone. I was poking fun at both of us. No matter our profession, but especially in programming, we need to remember that we’re not gods. We need reminders that while we may be amazing at what we do and have a fan club, there’s always gonna be someone who remembers us simply as the FFM (Fat Funny Mexican). It’s funny. I’ve met several GREAT programmers (and no, I don’t throw myself into that group), and nothing pleases me more than to see that humility outnumbers egos by a long shot. Let’s hope that trend continues forever. Sidenote: This also reminds me of Peter Chanthamynavong. He was there during the FFM incident, and also has a great name to test any name field with. 🙂
- Totem Pole: I have no idea what tribe this represents, if any. To me, it symbolizes one thing: my first real cruise with my wife and son. I tell my wife quite often that I NEED to travel with her. I try to explain that vacations are not just ways to recharge batteries, but they are constant reminders to me of why I work. I work because the result of it is money, which allows me to spend time with my family in places all around the world. It’s that simple. We must never forget why we work in this profession. It’s to have the luxury to spend time with people we love. It’s not to be immortalized in code. It’s not build something great. Sure, all that can happen while we work, but we must remember that we are human and that means walking away from work and doing what humans do best: spending time with those we love.
- Appsterdam Tile: This is my newest addition to the shelf. Judy tried to explain why it was so important and precious when she gave it to me. I’d like to say I remember all the reasons why, but as she was explaining it to me, I found myself repeating the same thing over and over in my mind, “I can’t believe she’s giving this to me.” You see, Judy is the better half of Mike. If you’re in the Apple Developer world, you know who these two are. If you’re not, you should really look them up. Most of this world is fake. Let’s face it. It’s not a slam against humanity, but more of an observation. I’m not blaming people for being fake either. If you open up, you’re often seen as weird (I know I was throughout high school and college). You also open yourself up to being hurt. It’s hard to be real without in turn making yourself vulnerable. These two people help remind me to be real and not fake. They remind me that the hurt that sometimes happens pales in comparison to the joy you find with a real connection. There are people you want to share with the world and these two are definitely those kind of people. That’s what the Appsterdam tile represents to me. Not the apps, not the city, but the realness behind Judy and Mike. Success is not measured in dollars, but in lives you touch. The more real we are, the more lives we’ll touch.
Despite what my wife (who shares my house with me) and Chris (who shares my office with me) think, I have more shelf space for more trinkets. I have way more important people in my life than those listed above. You all know who you are, so I’m not going to call you out. However, I’d love nothing more than having a shelf full of items that remind me of you. It doesn’t have to cost much. It should just really speak to who you are or a time we spent together.
We have to make room in our lives for more than just code. We need to understand that the way we may wind up helping millions is not through our code, but through our interactions with them. I remember waiting for a subway train in New York and being amazed by the thousands of people passing me by. Lives I’ll probably never know, lives I’ll likely never touch.
This is why events like 360|iDev are so important. We come together to learn. Not just about code or business, but also to learn about what it means to be human. To break bread or share some sushi.
Today is my birthday. I’ve had an amazing life so far, because of the kind and caring people that have been a part of my life. I look forward to sharing many great moments with you all moving forward. And for those great friends I’ve yet to meet, I can’t wait to meet you.
Note: Some of you have given me things that have other homes besides my shelf. I don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten. However, feel free to give me something for the shelf too! LOL