Category Archives: David Mayer

Wrapping things up

In spite of my usual blogging long-windedness, I’d like very much to encapsulate my experience in this program with one succinct lesson I’ve learned. I chose to participate in this program to find out whether whether the tech startup lifestyle, which SOUNDED good in theory, was actually something I would enjoy living. My concern with it, as with many of the other professions that I considered, was whether I could actually, day in and day out (and for much longer days than in most professions), sit down and do work. I always (well, except for freshman year) got my work done in school, but I also tried my best to optimize some sort of minimum effort for maximum reward equation. That sort of attitude is something that just doesn’t work with startups at all.

But I had high hopes that the combination of exciting work environment, and exciting, meaningful work would motivate me. I knew that whenever I was excited about something, I was a hard worker. I just didn’t know whether a startup could actually create that excitement like I thought it could.

In the spirit of succinctness, yes. It could. And much more so than I expected. I have been able to put in 7 day weeks of 14 hour days without finding myself checking out or watching the clock. I ended up having to force myself to go to sleep at 4 AM many, many nights.  Awesome.

The Reach Out Assignment

Full disclosure- I cheated a little bit on this assignment. Not only had I already met the person I chose to reach out to, I actually lived three doors down from him my freshman year. But in spite of that, I felt like Cody met the requirements in a “spirit of the law, if not the letter” kind of way.  Cody was a diver, so even though I lived literally fifty feet away from him, I practically never saw him. I’m pretty sure I hung out with him one night, in a group setting. I definitely had never had a one on one conversation with him. And after freshman year, I honestly don’t think I had seen him once. Not even walking across campus from a distance. So I think it counts.

But the main reason that I was willing to bend the rules a bit was because there was no one that he was literally the most relevant person in the world for me to talk to. As a recent graduate who is about to leave a situation with free food and lodging, my number one goal is to get a job. And finally, after several years of deliberation, I have decided that the right job for me, at least for now, is as an iOS dev at a startup.

Cody graduated from the same university, in the same class as me. Although he was a comp sci major, he had only taken one class where he learned and used Objective C. Cody wanted to work as a mobile dev at a startup, and just like me, Cody went to beach week (the week before graduation) without having accomplished that. But Cody had one thing (other than a comp sci education) that I didn’t- an app that was, for a time, the #1 free app in the App Store. He wrote I’d Cap That while bored during Spring break, and then immediately following beach week, he flew out to Palo Alto to meet with a company that offered to buy his app, and hire him as an iOS engineer.

I’m not really sure what I expected to get from the conversation. I knew that his blueprint wasn’t really one I could follow, or at least not one I could reasonably plan to follow. Based on his example, all I have to do is release an app that hits #1 on the App Store and I can get a job. Easy. But while the conversation wasn’t particularly enlightening, in the way that meeting some eminent visionary in the startup world might have been, it was surprisingly relieving. He was able convince me of a few important facts that helped put my mind at ease. There is definitely a market for iOS developers, I can become hire-able as a full-time iOS dev with out a ton of experience, and the best way to improve my chances of becoming a dev is to put apps in the app store. So even if the path ahead of me isn’t exactly clear, I know the right direction to head.

Come a long way/ Moved some distance

The title of this post is a terribly botched attempt to convey something semi-clever. But since it is, as I just mentioned, completely botched, now I have to explain it. This post will consist of two different experiences I have had recently that are fairly unique to the environment I work in. The first shows how far I’ve come as an iOS developer, and the other involves me being physically displaced by some distance. The two phrases are similar. Get it? I want half-credit for it, much like when someone points out that there is a good joke to be made, but can’t quite figure one out.

The last feature I had to implement for the build of Cube that was being shipped to Brian Zoubek for the opening of his new cream puff bakery (seriously) was a simple time clock. I don’t think the back end is setup to support it yet, so this feature was essentially a stopwatch that kept running as the user went to different pages of the app. This seemed like an easy enough feature, so I didn’t start to work on it until two hours before the product was supposed to be done.

Oops. It was a little more complicated than I thought. Due to the architecture of the app, getting it to work correctly more or less required some restructuring of the app’s flow. Without delving too far into the details, I had to change the app to return to the home page every time an order screen was exited. This could easily have taken a day earlier on in my iOS career. But with only an hour left, and recognizing it was the only elegant way to solve my problem, I had the confidence to just go for it. I didn’t even stop to consider worse, but less extensive changes. I just executed.

Also, tonight I’m sleeping at my girlfriend’s house. This isn’t entirely unusual. I’ve been staying here a night or two every week. What is unusual is the cause. I planned on spending the night at the office, but instead I have been evicted. No, I wasn’t fired, nor did I cause problems and get asked to sleep elsewhere. I was evicted by a rattlesnake. There is, apparently, a baby rattlesnake that, as of 10:30PM, moved its residence from the backyard to under the laundry machine, where it will (hopefully) continue to reside until animal control arrives to remove it in the afternoon. Why they feel they can wait until the afternoon to remove a death machine from a place that more than ten people sleep, I don’t know. But I do know that the CEO’s solution to block off the doors with towels was not going to be nearly enough to get me to sleep there tonight. I am similar to Indiana Jones in many ways, and one of them is that I hate snakes.

Demo/Pitch Day

Cube went through YC, and clearly gained a great deal from the process. As a result, the founders have tried to replicate many aspects of the YC program that they felt worked particularly well in their internship program. YC was the inspiration behind the bunks-in-the-office idea, and it also led to the Intern Demo Day.

Intern Demo Day consisted of each giving a five minute pitch on their value to the company, which from an engineer’s standpoint, meant giving a demo of what they’d been working on. The demo day served multiple purposes, from giving people in different departments of the company an idea of what everyone is working on, to giving the full time employees a way to ensure everyone was contributing.

That last part was particularly tricky for me, because the day we were informed about Demo Day (three days before the actual demo day), I had been providing actual, tangible contributions to the company for… less than a day. Sure, I had been working hard, but I didn’t have anything to show for it.

“Hi, I’m David, and I’m a valuable member of the Cube team because in the last month, I’ve managed to accomplish tasks that your mobile engineer could have taken care of in under an hour!” Honestly, in one month of being at Cube, the total of my tangible contributions had been a list of about 40 leads (apparently the sales team has called only one of them), and saving Anderthan about a half hour. Of course, if I took into account the time he had had to spend training me and assigning me tasks, I was in the negatives.

So, yeah, it was a hard pitch. But in the end, its all about the spin.  A pitch is an entirely controlled environment. I got to control what facts I released, and how I presented those facts. While I had touted my meager Comp Sci experience when trying to switch to mobile team in the first place, when pitching my value, I had come from practically no technical background (in the interest of honesty, I listed out my classes, but used it to my advantage) to be able to make actual contributions to the app. Imagine what I could do in the future! I have potential. And while those changes were minor, design oriented ones, I invented a role for myself where I acted as a design specialist for the engineering team, ensuring that the app was a pixel perfect match for the mock ups, while allowing the more talented engineers to crunch out features.

Its amazing how radically differing contexts can change the message presented by similar sets of facts. And I like to think I’m rather good at this skill. In fact, I did it again in this blog post. The previous paragraph was essentially the opposite of my pitch. I belittled the contributions I had made, and changed my tone regarding my Comp Sci background. Why? To pitch my pitch! I made my pitch seem harder to give, and more impressive to pull off. Spinception.

Finally Making a Difference! Sort of.

I intended to reference my post from last week at the beginning of this blog, but then when I went back to ensure that I actually posted what I wanted to talk about, the previous post was nowhere to be found. So I guess instead I’ll begin by apologizing for whatever happened to my last post. I wrote it, I swear.

Just to briefly summarize, I worked on C for a while longer, found solving problems that I didn’t have the skill set to solve incredibly frustrating, and then got a week long deadline to build a tutorial app with another similarly unskilled intern.

So this past week, we wrote an app. We were, shockingly, able to meet the specs entirely. This is especially impressive to me given that we spent a solid four of those days just trying to emulate the Facebook app’s slide out navigation menu. Yes this was a spec, otherwise I would have abandoned it before the end of day one. It was satisfying to create a working app, but it still didn’t do anything to solve my number one cause of dissatisfaction- not providing any value to the company. I’d been sucking up company resources for a month now (though I like to think that I provided a critical and immeasurable boost to company culture and moral), and I wanted to provide something of concrete value.

Well, I’m excited to announce that today, I have done just that. I received access to the code for the iPad app, and fixed two design flaws. I moved a button from one page to another (harder than it sounds), and highlighted items added to an order that had previously been added (ie. if someone wanted two chicken sandwiches, they now get a visual cue that they have added two chicken sandwiches to the order, not just one).

So they’re not major changes. And maybe the actual code will be different when it is actually shipped (all my code will be reviewed by the head of mobile). But for now, I’ve made my first contribution.

And, as we learned today, a client needs a working version of the iPad app in four days. So there might be a lot more contributing of minor things in the next few days.

I’m basically on a Wednesday to Tuesday schedule right now with these weekly blogs, so I’m going to stick with it. I left off last blog with a pretty major life decision- the decision to switch from a sales/marketing role to a programming role. I’m not really sure whether it was a great career decision or not. I’ll get into that a bit more later. But it was definitely a decision that I’m enjoying right now.

But first, on to more important things. I ATTENDED A PERFECT GAME! A little bit of context for why that means so much to me. I’ve been a huge baseball fan my whole life. I started playing competitively when I was 8. I discovered eBay because I wanted to buy Mark McGuire cards (poor investment as it turns out). And I’ve read at least a double digit number of early teen geared books consisting of dramatically told historic games. Willy May’s over the shoulder catch, Jim Bunting’s perfect game, Roger Maris’ 61 homer season. Although my interest in the game itself has faded a bit over the years, as sports with a little bit more action have appealed to my ADHD nature, my interest in the history has not. And I’m being completely serious when I say that the sports related event I most wanted to see was a perfect game.
I just never really thought I would. I was at Duke’s championship victory over Butler, and obviously the result was a lot meaningful to me than a perfect game for a pitcher on a team I don’t care much about. But one of the luxuries of being a Duke basketball fan is that I KNEW I was going to see a national championship in person. I knew we were going to win a championship at some point, and I knew I was going to attend any championship game we were participating in, so I knew I was going to see one eventually. And I also knew I was never going to attend a perfect game. The odds were just phenomenally against me. Hell, up until Wednesday, there had only been 21 EVER in the major leagues. The odds were phenomenally against lifetime season ticket holders who attended every one of their team’s home games to attend a perfect game. And I’d lived my whole life in Durham and Hawaii. The nearest MLB team to me for most of my life was the Atlanta Braves. So even though I took every opportunity I had to see a baseball game, I’ve probably only been to ten MLB games. And one of them was perfect. There’s not even a perfect game every five years. Just unbelievable.
And not only was it a perfect game, it may well have been the best game ever pitched. It is, by any metric, one of the top three. If you believe that the best game ever pitched had to have been a perfect game, then by virtue of Matt Cain’s 14 strikeouts, he has pitched a tie for the best game ever, with Sandy Koufax, who also pitched a 14 K perfect game. The only non-perfect competitor would be Kerry Wood’s unreal 20 K 1 hit 0 walk game. It’s still difficult for me to process that I may have seen the best game ever pitched, much less articulate how I feel about it.
Anyways, down to business. I’ve spent the last week trying to make up for years of programming experience. Initially the plan was to crush an online Stanford course on Objective C/iOS development, then do a simple app for skill evaluation purposes, and then start working. I was pretty concerned about the feasibility of that plan. Luckily, I never had to find out. Another intern, who had lots of web development experience, but no object oriented programming experience, was struggling with iOS development, so it was decided that the two of us should go back to basics, start learning fundamentals with C, then progress to Java to learn to program with a team, before finally progressing to Objective C and iOS development.
So over the last couple of days, I’ve been frantically trying to complete interview question puzzles involving arrays, strings, pointers, linked lists, and so on, in C. It’s definitely interesting, and definitely fun, if occasionally frustrating. That said, I’m trying to get this out of the way as quickly as possible, because I want to start being productive. I feel like I’m doubly wasting company resources right now. Firstly because I’m not providing anything of value as I learn, and secondly because I’m taking up the time of people who have very important jobs to do, most notably the iPad app developer who has two weeks to complete the iPad app. So I’m very anxious to get out of this phase and start providing value.
And as I promised before, a discussion about why I think I may have made a poor career choice. Unlike any of the other interns in the DEC program, I have graduated. I need to get a job. For someone in college, an internship in sales/marketing would not mean nearly as much as one as a programmer, especially provided they followed up on that with more classes. But I need to be hired by some company as soon as possible following this internship. And unless I’m much better at this stuff than I think I am, its not going to be as a programmer.
Would it be as a salesman? Or a marketer? Probably not. But, had I excelled at those roles, Cube may have hired me in a “better” product related role. I’ll never know, so its not worth worrying about, but it would be nice to have a clear path to employment. In the meantime, I’m going to be working hard to become the best programmer I possibly can.

Cube Week 1- A Major Change

I already covered a lot through my presentation in class. You already know what Cube does. I talked about the work environment, full of guys cracking potentially inappropriate jokes at each other, eating good food, and working out obsessively. And, I mentioned my role, sales/marketing. I spent my first few days learning the ins and outs of sales. I worked on a pitch, practiced giving that pitch with all different possible scenarios, went on ride-alongs for  demos with the senior sales employee, went on drop-ins with the senior sales employee, got everything (skype, salesforce) set up to begin cold calls, and along the way, had a conversation.

This conversation was just a casual one with another intern. I was just idly giving my thoughts about my potential career, future, and so on. In the mean time, the full time mobile engineer overheard and suggested that I switch to interning for him instead.

Suddenly, I was faced with a choice. Stay the path, and experience a summer full of cold calls, learn an important skill, and supposedly pick up some marketing at some point. And have a reasonable chance at full time employment with Cube, provided I excelled. Or jump headfirst into a field I only had limited experience in, but always a strong interest in. And with no chance at full time employment unless I turn out to be some sort of a programming prodigy.

As I usually do (I majored in PHYSICS?!?), I made the choice that led to the lowest chance of ever holding a job.

I’m an iOs engineer now. This’ll be interesting.