I’m inspired by Bijan’s Who took a chance on you? post. What if you wrote your resume completely in terms of the people that took a chance on you?
- 1999. Dan Ferro came to my undergraduate talk on Perl programming and then asked me if I’d build out his idea for a website to make surveys, OpinionPower.com. I had never used CGI or a database but I built the whole site. Because of Dan, I’ve spent every single day of my career understanding how a web app worked from end-to-end. Super valuable.
- 2000. Beth Bushke. I took a year off college and worked at MasterCard’s web development team. The interview was, “Have you used Perl? MySQL? Vi?” Yes. Yes. Yes. I was a terrible programmer (I wish I could open source the OpinionPower code base—crazy decisions in there). MasterCard was a super easy job, but it taught me how to be a professional.
- 2003. Nancy Abila. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t nail the interview process and that one of the developers didn’t think I was a very interesting programmer. That’s true. But Nancy gave me a chance to grow. Six months later I’d written The Regular Expression Pocket Reference. Eighteen months later I was the tech lead and managing two other developers.
- 2003. Sarah Burcham. She brought me on as co-author of the Regular Expression Pocket Reference. She’d worked with me at MasterCard and knew I wasn’t a very good programmer. I didn’t know anything about regular expressions either. She had to bow out of the project and left me to write the whole book. Jeffrey Friedl, author of Mastering Regular Expressions, was horrified when he found out—rightfully. But I got through the project and now this is an aspect of programming that I’m pretty competent in.
- 2005. Marc Hedlund. He took me out to Sushi and told me I should consider doing more than just programming, with this hyperbolic line, “If you can speak English and write code, then you are destined for leadership.” I told him I liked writing code and to stop meddling in my life—management was for suckers. Six months later he told Evan Williams I was a hot shit engineering manager.
- 2005. Evan Williams. He was hiring for a VP of Engineering for Odeo. Because Ev was already a big deal (post-Blogger), he was interviewing a lot of really experienced people. But Ev and the Odeo team seemed to think those people were overkill. So they hired me, a guy with six months of experience managing two people. By the end, 2/3 of the company reported to me, including Jack Dorsey. I’m probably the last boss Jack will ever have.
- 2007. Sherry Heyl, Dale Daugherty, Sara Winge. I started a company, CrowdVine, to make social networks for everyone. These three were my first customers who used it for conferences, SOCON in Atlanta, the first Maker Faire, and FooCamp. I turned that into a business selling social networks for conferences.
- 2011. Evan Williams (again). I don’t understand his decision making process. I took him to coffee and pitched him on Coach.me. It was called Mibbles then, it had one DAU, it was about gamification. He said he’d invest and help design the first version. He’s put money into the company four different times, meets with me every month, and is on the board. Dude is way more than an investor.
- 2014. Bijan Sabet. He’s invested in us twice. The first investment was a normal act of faith (it was pre-launch and had Evan pimping it pretty fucking hard). But the second investment was a massive act of faith. We didn’t have venture traction, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to try next, and we had serious drama creep up in between signing a second term sheet and the actual wire transfer. I remember making the call to Bijan thinking the only reasonable thing for him to do would be to back out. Instead he said, “No worries. I’m investing in you, Tony” Coach.me, which is several pivots away from the initial idea, exists because of Bijan’s faith.
Reading my resume laid out this way really makes me believe in luck and privilege. Merit is part of the story, but never the whole story. Huge gratitude to the people on this list and to the dozens of of other people that have helped give me opportunities.