SM: Mowing your way to MIT!
JW: I used my mowing money to pay my half of the cost for one of the first Intel 8088 processor personal computers. I guess I didn’t use my old TI-994A enough, so my parents were convinced that the new ‘toy’ would just gather dust unless – or even if – I had some skin in the game. Their only other really questionable belief as parents was insisting that “video games will just rot your brain”. I now make my living making video games for the personal computer. But they were right about pretty much everything else.
I learned the value of networking and the M.I.T. pedigree early. My parents happened to meet a person who was a manager at Digital Equipment Corporation. I squeezed a summer internship out of him pretty much on the strength of going to M.I.T. in the fall, and at the age of 17 became one of the youngest people ever employed by Digital. I made more money than ever before, went on my first business trip, played a lot of Nethack, and learned a practical thing or two about software long before most other people did back then.
After finding my way to and through a math degree at M.I.T., I went to UMass to pursue a PhD in computer science. I thought academia would be some nirvana where everyone worked together for the betterment of society. Ha! Academics are vicious to one another, and get this – you could work on a dissertation project for years and then someone publishes something too close to yours before you do. Poof! Back to square one. So, while I liked the program and my adviser, I decided to grab a Masters degree and head out into the real world.
I found competition in the business world to be healthier, or maybe at least a bit more honest because in business you are supposed to be competing. Capitalist markets promote true meritocracies. This is no clearer anywhere than on the Internet, where you are judged by (hopefully) millions of people who are one simple click away from never visiting you again. That keeps you honest, or it should.
My first full-time job was as a systems integration consultant at the Boston office of Andersen Consulting, where I built my client relations skills and started forgetting much of what I knew about writing software. After two years I struck out on my own as a consultant, and landed the most technically challenging assignment I ever had: writing software to translate programs written in Ada to C++. It wasn’t very much fun, and the Internet was starting to get hot. Most importantly, perhaps, it so happened that my roommate and I were both single at the same time. So, we decided to leave the land chowdah, sticky summers, and frigid winters and head west to the glimmering shores of California’s Silicon Valley.
I met my future wife, Alissa, during the first few hours of the exploratory visit to San Francisco, which pretty much cemented the move. Being from the east coast, I didn’t realize that San Francisco wasn’t the California on TV, but by the time I figured that out I was pretty settled. Aside from the traffic and poor public transit I do love San Francisco.