We interrupt your regularly-scheduled programming for a special bulletin.

OK. Well, you can judge whether this qualifies as special ;-) , but it’s definitely a deviation from the normal content. You see, it’s going around, and it looks like I’ve been tagged. What’s that mean? It means that we have to take a break from the geek stuff for a moment, and I need to come up with five things you don’t already know about me. No Grails. No Groovy. You’ve been warned. ;-) Here goes…

  1. Champion Award CeremonyDuring my second year of college, I joined the rowing team at UVA, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. I had no prior rowing experience, but I was not alone. In fact, most of the rowers that joined the team that year were new to the sport as well. Despite the fact that many of us started out the year making good use of our swimming skills (since we had trouble just staying in the shell), somehow, we ended up as one of the best novice classes to ever row for UVA. We raced the final event of the season on the Olympic course in Gainesville, GA, and we won, our club team beating scholarship teams from schools like Georgetown.
  2. It’s a good thing that rowers don’t have to steer (at least not on an eight-man crew), because I have almost no sense of direction whatsoever. In fact, I could probably get lost on an escalator. Add a pair of headphones and a good podcast to the mix, and you might as well send out a search party. Luckily my wife has GPS built into her DNA, so at least one of us knows where we’re going.
  3. UVA GraduationSpeaking of my wife, she tells me that we sat next to each other at our college graduation, but I don’t remember. Before you ask how many nights in the doghouse that cost me, understand that we were far from married at that point. In fact, we were far from even dating. We only knew each other though a mutual friend, and we were acquaintances at best. At the time of our graduation, we’d known each other for about two years, and it’s fairly safe to say that, more often than not, we each found the other to be a bit annoying. Hardly love at first sight. Fast forward about three years to our mutual friend’s wedding, which we both attended. A few years older, a few years wiser, something clicked, and before too long, we started dating. And the rest, as they say, is history. I still don’t remember sitting next to her at our graduation, but I wish I did. (Having told her that I was sharing this story, she promptly pulled out this photo. Apparently the person sitting to my left that day managed to sneak it into her photo album. Go figure.)
  4. Like many people, I experienced both the dot com boom and its subsequent bust. For nine roller coaster months, I worked for an international telecommunications company that promised to bring several cutting edge technologies to market and make us all filthy rich in the process. (Sound familiar?) It had a boatload of venture capital, and we were going to use it to build a worldwide network to offer guaranteed quality of service (QoS) bandwidth provisioning for major media companies and all the other supposed customers that would surely rush to buy such a service. To add to our offerings, we were also going to sell this new technology that made it extremely cheap to make phone calls over the Internet. Unfortunately, it would be a few years still before Joe Public ever heard of VOIP. The technology was simply ahead of its time. Now, of course, anyone can buy a VOIP phone at Wal-Mart for under $50. With all that venture funding, you might think the company could have held on until the technology matured. Not so. And no amount of late night coding sessions could save that ship. In hindsight, when you consider that one of our largest investors was Global Crossing, it’s not so much of a surprise that the money didn’t last. When Global Crossing later filed their own bankruptcy, it was the fourth largest in U.S. history. And in 2005, Global Crossing settled with the SEC over a whole host of dubious accounting practices. No wonder the money ran out so quickly.
  5. Eye Response LogoOf course, not all start-ups have to suffer that fate. The first programming work I ever did (in the real world) was for a small and extremely innovative company called Eye Response Technologies. When I first heard about their ERICA system 12 years ago, it sounded like something from the future, but it was already working and in the hands of paying customers. Last year, the system was featured on the NBC television show ER, and it still sounded like something from the future. ERICA allows people to control a computer solely with their eyes. Just think what this means to people with disabilities! And by applying the eye-tracking technology in other ways, I had the privilege of working on their powerful suite of analysis tools known as GazeTracker. With GazeTracker, you can assess the usability of your desktop applications or web sites or evaluate the effectiveness of still media or video for use in advertising, training, and survey development, etc. It was hands down (no pun intended), a dream to work on such a pioneering product.

To summarize, if you want to go out for a row, give me a call, but we have a better chance of making it to the river if you’re the one driving. If you find any of this banter a bit annoying, give it five years or so, and you may change your mind. If you’re gonna join a start-up, do your homework, and make sure the bean counters have integrity. Even better, find a really small company with no venture capital, but a sharp team and an amazing product that changes lives.

Jared set the bar pretty high with his post, but hopefully I got close. Now, let’s see what we can learn about the rest of the Grails team, shall we? Graeme, Marc, Dierk, Sven, Jeff, and Marcel, you’re up!