Interns, Silicon Valley, and Geeks

This post is coming to you from my transatlantic from Dublin to Orlando on Aer Lingus – coming up over the Canadian border right now. I just finished watching the movie, “The Internship,” about two middle-aged guys who are complete technology outsiders but apply for jobs at Google. It sparked some thoughts so I thought I’d respond.

Programming in community, bringing people together, sharing a pizza. This is my tech.
Programming in community, bringing people together, sharing a pizza. This is my tech.

Movies like this didn’t interest me that much until I joined the big hip clique that is the tech startup world. Now it piques my curiosity concerning how it, like most vocational-specific films, misportrays the industry.

Apart from the way it casts Google employees vis-a-vis programmers in general as soulless heartless machines, it does bring out how important human relationships are to all fields of engineering. Here is an example:

The two protagonists form a team with the other remaining misfits during their internship with Google where they have to prove their merit in competition with the other smarter and more educated teams. One night, while struggling to come up with an idea for a new app they need to develop, diving into statistics and user behavioral metrics and market research, these two guys kick their team out of the think tank and force them to engage in the local San Francisco culture, to experience some local interaction, to push their comfort with face to face social encounters, and to soak in the beauty of the bay. Only after this breath of fresh air do the kids get inspired to build an app that prevents people from sending embarrassing messages while drunk (you can imagine how that inspiration hit them).

Engineering, software, and technology is best when it meets a real human need – when someone says, “wouldn’t it be nice if you could ―?” Then someone meets that need and it improves someone else’s quality of life. I’m trying to do that at Automattic: bridge the digital divide between people in a way that encourages them to write and share their stories.

Being able to work from places like this is great, but realizing that you just worked for thirty of the last forty-eight hours isn't so much.
Being able to work from places like this is great, but realizing that you just worked for thirty of the last forty-eight hours isn’t so much.

We geeks are actually people though, we’re not just your local free tech support. The movie highlighted our demographic’s problem of overworking, of blurring the line between practicing our hobbies and doing our jobs. Those human connections are quickly severed when we retreat into our caves, as I call them – rooms of isolation where we can work in the zone for hours or days on end. Some of the best benefits of these types of jobs – the free food, the games, the massages, the great equipment Google buys you – these can kick back by making the office so appealing you never want to leave.

It really messed up one cool aspect of Silicon Valley though, the interpersonal competition between the programmers. Most people I have encountered would have a harder time not helping out their colleagues and competitors than to lend a hand. We all have business needs, but we do it for the greater good so helping each other out means helping out the bigger community and there’s lots of love.

Also, the hiring process in the film was really terrible. That’s not the way Google or any other reputable company hires.

My favorite part was a short back-and-forth between these techo-klutzes.

Source: Rollingstones - salesmanship brings a different way of thinking to a techie culture.
Source: Rollingstones – salesmanship brings a different way of thinking to a techie culture.

Nick: “You grew up in the 70s. There weren’t any computers…or bike helmets or sunscreen or seatbelts…what was your seatbelt?”

Billy: “My mom – she went like this [Billy extends his arm in a protective gesture]”

Nick: “Yeah, and how did that work out?”

Billy: “You remember…I went through the windshield.”

It’s easy to remember the past as better than it was and to see technology as evil, but technology done right makes lives better.

Help me out a bit here!

Have you seen a movie or show recently that portrays your field of expertise? What kinds of responses did it provoke? How did they get it right, how did they get it wrong?

Please share by commenting below, maybe we can get some new insights into each others’ lives.

How many beds have you slept in this year?

Last year was a busy year of travel for me. I slept in thirty-five different beds, that is, I spent the night in thirty-five different localities (yeah, I like using creative measurements). That’s almost three different places per month! This all really started last year when Mandi and I went to Germany for a month-long language course in Munich, but I had other journeys to Chicago for laser eye surgery, we took little family excursions, and I started working at Automattic, Inc., which has taken me many places and enabled me to go to more.

Enjoying the sun high on one of the upper-tiers of Monaco
Enjoying the sun high on one of the upper-tiers of Monaco

For all who are interested, here is my 2014 in review:

  • Around forty distinct trips, journeys, or adventures
  • 80,000 miles travelled in a plane
  • 1,400 miles by bus
  • 1,500 by train
  • 2,500 by car
  • 85,000 miles of total travel mileage (this doesn’t count everyday driving)
  • 360 hours spent in transit (that’s a total of fifteen days, or approximately one hour out of every day in the year)
  • Witnessed three large protests (Muslims against ISIS, Catalonians for Spain, and Neo-nazi’s against everyone)
  • Was held up in Berlin and had a crazy adventure trying to get home during the fifth of seven major strikes that the Deutsche Bahn union organized.
  • Visited twelve university campuses.
  • Entered ten different countries.

Growing up I never imagined that I would travel much at all, let alone spend significant chunks of my time en route. Getting some rest towards the end of the year was really nice for me too as travel can be tiresome. It looks like 2015 is going to be starting out just as fast, however.

Posing on a bridge in Venice, Italy.
Posing on a bridge in Venice, Italy.

This Saturday I leave for a four-week journey to the parts of the world where people add hours to UTC to get their time. Namely, I’m heading out for a trip from Germany to Singapore, a short visit to Hong Kong, a couple of weeks in Japan, then an extended layover in Abu Dhabi in order to sleep under the stars in the middle of the barren desert (yeah, I’ll post pictures when I get back) before returning home to Hannover. I’m really excited about seeing the stars and also for the opportunity to fly in an Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial airliner (certified for carrying 853 passengers).

Greeting all of our friends from Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain.
Greeting all of our friends from Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain.

Thanks for following our adventures in 2014, we’ll keep you posted.