I remember watching Steve Jobs' commencement speech for the first time and being fairly touched by the three stories he told in it. The major one that resonated with me at the time, and has since made more sense to me, is the first story he tells about joining the dots later on when you’re looking backwards. To quote from it:
Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
It made me think back to a time when I was a teenager and someone far older and wiser than me told me one way to think about the future and how what we do today affects where we end up. He described it as holding a piece of string in your hand, with the other end dangling free. The end of the string not attached to you is the future, and where you’re holding it is the present. As you do things in life your hand moves around, flicking the string around and amplifying the movements of the present in the future.
I think what he was trying to impart by telling me that story was to be careful not to do anything too extravagant in the present (like get expelled from school for instance), so as not to affect the future too much. Which I never really took on board at the time, but now I look back at the dots of my (some would say) rather short life so far, and connect them to see how some things influenced other things and how everything works out in the end. But that sometimes you need to push yourself or do something unexpected to get there.
Looking Backwards to go Forward
When I look back over the last few years of my life, I find the dots quite amazing to connect. First there was BarCamp Sheffield 2007 where I met Dom, and there was Twitter and BarCamp Manchester & Leeds where I met geeks like Rahoul, John and Jeremy both online and offline. And then in June 2008 I moved to Leeds, sharing a house with Dom and quite quickly ended up being hired into what was basically my dream first job at Brightbox.
And that’s where I’ve been working for the last 1198 days, having far too much fun, solving weird, wonderful and sometimes downright frustrating problems, all with fantastically awesome and hilarious colleagues. And working on a massive variety of things, from tiny utilities to the newly launched Cloud Platform.
And today I flick my wrist ever so slightly more than normal by leaving Brightbox, without really knowing where the future end of the string will eventually end up, but knowing that I’ll look back in a few years and see dots connected that I can’t imagine today. I truly don’t think I could have had a better job to start off as a professional geek, and especially want to thank John and Jeremy for hiring me and helping me start my career in the best way possible.
As for my next challenge, I’m solving interesting problems in the online advertising world with Cristiano, Dom, Melinda and Rahoul. And we’re bloody amazing together. :-)