Looking back while moving forward

A little over the last two years of my live has been devoted to building, funding, and growing SimpleGeo. The experience was, without a doubt, life changing in many ways. It was a crash course in a bunch of disciplines that I knew little to nothing about. Managing clients, iterating on your product, sales, business development, raising money from investors, etc. were all wide open holes in need to my attention and input. It goes without saying that this was not an easy endeavor.

Along with being constantly challenged and learning new things, I was fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest engineers in Silicon Valley. While at SimpleGeo I saw them build a patent-pending distributed graph database built on top of theory that had not been implemented yet in the real world. At scale no less. The operations team built an infrastructure that was scarily automated and resistant to failure. So much so that the SimpleGeo engineers get regular calls to talk about how we did it all on top of AWS.

On October 31st, we announced that we’d been acquired by Urban Airship. I’m extremely excited to see what the combined teams cook up in the coming months. Having locationally aware push notifications is going to allow businesses to engage with their customers in ways they’ve never dreamed. Additionally, I know SimpleGeo’s world class engineering team will be able to help the new company build features at scale that the competition won’t be able to match. The best is truly yet to come from this company and I’m sure Scott Kveton will be a great shepherd moving forward.

As for me, I’ve decided to move on post-acquisition. I need to step away from the echo chamber and spend time focusing on what is important to me in general; not just professionally. To that end, my lovely lady and I have bought an RV and plan on touring around the Southwest this winter. I’d like to visit as many incubators and coworking places as possible. So if you’re in the Southwest and want me to swing by and say hello, please drop me a line on Twitter or via email.

Onward and upwards.

Year in Review

  1. The year began in Koh Phangan, Thailand with my friend Chris Lea. We spent a month laying on beaches, swinging in hammocks, and drinking booze out of buckets.
  2. While in Thailand I got some more bamboo work done on my left arm.
  3. In February I went down to Miami for Future of Web Apps to talk about scaling your tech teams.
  4. Around my birthday I was able to score a copy of Netscape Navigator 2.0, still in the box, signed by Marc Andreessen.
  5. March brought the usual trip down to Austin, TX for SXSW. I spoke on a panel titled, “Designers and Developers: Why can’t we all just get along?”
  6. In April I attended the Social Foo Camp, which is an invite-only nerdfest put on by O’Reilly.
  7. May was an insane month of travel in a year of insane travel. I spent a week in Michigan, a week in Prague, a day in Phoenix, and a few days in Boulder, CO.
  8. While I was in Michigan, Jonathan and I got our pictures taken by my high school sweetheart, Erica, for our mom for Mother’s Day.
  9. When I returned from Prague I’d made the big decision to leave Digg and build a startup with Matt Galligan. Matt and I created a company called Crash Corp. that was going to build augmented reality and location-based games.
  10. In June I got a new face.
  11. Matt and I agreed to each take a month off to clear our heads before jumping into startup mode. For unknown reasons he decided to spend his month in the Midwest. I, on the other hand, chose to go to Amsterdam, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and London. This marked my second month off for the year, which was awesome.
  12. I spent about ten days in Norway with my buddy Arne Fismen (Side note: His last name means “fart man” in Norwegian, which is definitely worse than my last name) and was able to fulfill a childhood dream of mine by visiting the world famous fjords of Norway. I can’t express my appreciation enough for what Arne and his family did for me. It was truly a magical experience.
  13. When I returned from Europe I spent a few days in San Francisco before heading down to San Diego for my buddy Dana’s bachelor party.
  14. After Dana’s bachelor party I moved to Boulder, CO to get to work on Matt and I’s company.
  15. Soon after getting on the ground and starting to work through things Matt and I realized we needed to change direction. As a result SimpleGeo was born, which provides location services to developers.
  16. While building SimpleGeo I decided to, after 11 years, switch from PHP to Python as my language of choice.
  17. The change of direction was a watershed moment for the company. Things crystallized for both us and the investors we were pitching. It wasn’t long after this that First Round Capital agreed to be our lead investor.
  18. October was mostly sent flying around to New York City and San Francisco pitching investors, VC’s, etc.
  19. In November we closed a $1.5m round of financing from some of tech’s most well-known investors. I consider this to be the greatest achievement of my career so far.
  20. Over Thanksgiving I spent a few days down in Tulum, Mexico.
  21. In December I flew up to Seattle, WA for a quick visit. It’s still home to me and I can’t wait to move back.

According to TripIt and Dopplr I spent 142 days traveling this year. I don’t have complete numbers, but I’m guessing I logged over 80,000 miles this year on various airlines. As in the tradition of last year, I think it’s only appropriate that I create a list of my year in cities.

  • Koh Samui, Thailand
  • Koh Phangan, Thailand
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Miami, Florida
  • Austin, Texas
  • Sebastopol, California
  • Ypsiltanti, Michigan
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • East Jordan, Michigan
  • San Francisco, California
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Roskilde, Denmark
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Askvoll, Norway
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Cork, Ireland
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New York City, New York
  • San Diego, California
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Ashland, Wisconsin

SimpleGeo (formerly CrashCorp) is hiring!

Things are really starting to get crazy at SimpleGeo (formerly CrashCorp), the company I founded with Matt Galligan in June. We’ve been running around like crazy meeting with partners, building the platform, raising money and having a ton of fun.

The good news is we’re hiring! If you’re a Python, infrastructure, scaling, GIS, LBS, systems nerd who loves building massive infrastructure we’ve got some jobs that might interest you.

  • Infrastructure Engineer – Experience with distributed systems, EC2, Python, non-relational storage engines, Django, etc.
  • LBS/GIS Guru – In depth knowledge of LBS/GIS and the algorithms, technology, data, and systems surrounding the field.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in either of these jobs please contact me via email at joe at simplegeo dot com. Must be local to Boulder or willing to relocate.

Moving on to the next chapter

This week I gave notice to Digg that I’m going to be leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. When I first joined Digg I had a list of goals in my head that I wanted to accomplish and, I feel, they’ve either been accomplished or are well on their way to being fulfilled by other shepherds at Digg. Luckily, we’ve managed to recruit some of the industry’s leading brains (all of whom are far smarter and more capable than I) to continue building great products for Digg and I’m excited to see where they take things.

So what’s next? Well, I’m spending July couch surfing through Europe, working on a few side projects, putting together a small conference on scaling and generally taking things easy. I’ll also be continuing to annoy the coders at Digg as an advisor moving forward.

It’s hard to put into words what my time at Digg means to me. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with many of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds and they’ve been gracious enough to not only give me a chance to prove myself, but also impart some of their knowledge to me. For that I’ll be forever grateful and indebted.

Thankfully, Kevin accepts beer as payment.

Giving back to the community

At Digg we use a lot of open source software. A short list includes PHP, Memcached, MogileFS, Gearman, Debian GNU/Linux, Python, Perl, MySQL, Apache, APC and PEAR. Something that may not be quite as well known is that Digg developers have been busy giving back to the community as well.

The best part, in my opinion, about all of this is that we release our code under the most liberal license possible given the circumstances – the New BSD License (We use New BSD to protect Digg’s trademarks).

Of course there are other companies that contribute significantly to FOSS. Flickr, Facebook, Yahoo!, IBM and Google are just a few and I’m more than happy to say that Digg is giving back as well.

Farewell Seattle

I’m a huge fan of Seattle and, with great dismay, I announce I’m leaving this fair city for San Francisco tomorrow morning. The LandRover is packed and the trip has been planned.

The route will take us through Oregon to Eureka, CA on our leg. We’ll be taking our sweet time down HWY 1 along the California coast all the way to San Francisco from there. It should be a great trip along one of the most fabled roads in the country.

I’m not especially happy to be leaving the Pacific Northwest, but what do you do when the big leagues call you up? I’ll miss the mountains, living downtown in a place I renovated myself, my friends and the city I’ve grown to love so dearly.

Thanks for everything Seattle!

I'm employee #20 at Digg

It’s official. As of today I’m employee #20 at Digg. I sent in my resume in September fully expecting not to hear back, but over the course of the last few months it became apparent I was being considered for a position. I didn’t think much of it after not hearing from them for almost a month, but Brian Link sent me an email around the first of the year which turned out to be an official offer.

For those of you that don’t know, Digg is the 19th most visited site on the internet in the United States. It serves up more traffic than Wal-Mart, the New York Times or Best Buy. So, as you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this opportunity. I’ll be arriving in San Francisco somewhere towards the beginning of February. If you’re in the area and would like to get pints please let me know.

Taking the job means that I won’t be doing any contract work and my open source projects will most likely sit idle for the time being. If you’re interested in maintaining Framework or any of my PEAR packages please let me know.

Enotes 6.0 Launches

It is with great pleasure that I announce Enotes 6.0. This is the 6th major iteration of the site since I’ve come on board and is by far the largest undertaking thus far. This iteration includes, in no particular order, the following upgrades.

  1. Completely redesigned by PBDH
  2. Expanded the content catalogue by over 20,000 articles
  3. All code is PHP5 E_STRICT compliant (except the code in PEAR)
  4. Moved to a monthly subscription model
  5. Added thousands of lines of code, stylesheets, HTML and XSLT
  6. Numerous other enhancements, tweaks and upgrades

It’s taken our developer team just over four months to take this from concept to reality. This has included upgrading to PHP5 (no small feat when you have 60,000 lines of code that are all PHP4 OOP), installing and configuring additional webservers, installing and configuring a Google Search Appliance, completely rewriting the shopping cart and creating an automated rebilling system from scratch.

Needless to say this wasn’t a one man show. I’d especially like to thank Ian and Matt for putting in extra hours to make sure we launched before the new semester. The team at PBDH deserves many thanks for their prompt and professional design services. And, finally, I’d like to thank caffeine. Without our beloved coffee Brad, Alex, Heather, Brandi, Ian, Matthew and myself would have passed out a long time ago.

For comparison here is a screenshot of the old site.

New Job … sort of.

I’ve been freelancing for the better part of 2 years now and I’ve become quite fond of my working conditions. I get up when I want (read: no alarm clock), I work on the projects that interest me the most and I make an honest wage. No complaints really, except the lack of stability. It’s a simple fact in the contracting business that some months are better than others.

During the last month, with the move and the upcomding wedding, I’ve started to put my resume out there a little bit. I think I submitted maybe three resumes to area job postings in the last month. I was very careful to only submit my resumes to jobs that were not posted by head hunters and fit my skillset perfectly.

Last week I was called at noon and asked to be at an interview by 2 p.m. Luckily, I had clean clothes to wear (read: I work in a tshirt and jeans normally). So I threw on some clothes and went down to the interview. All went well and they said they would be interviewing for the next week and calling people sometime towards the beginning of this week.

Well, they called the next day and offered me a one month contract-to-hire position. Basically, if they like me at the end of the month they make an offer. I figure it this way; it’s a solid month of work at a decent hourly rate.

The company is BlueFrogMobile.com and they sell ringtones for cell phones. They sell other “mobile content” as well, such as ring tones, backgrounds, etc.

On a side note, what’s up with my record of working with companies with frogs in their logo?

Articles & Publications

Articles, Publications & Software

This is a running list of articles, interviews, publications and software that I have written and were, at some point, published on various sites around the Internet. This will be a running list as they are published. The article links all open in a new window.

  1. Understanding MVC in PHP Sep. 15 2005 A four part series that covers creating MVC web frameworks using PHP5. Framework is the resulting code from this article.
  2. MySQL UC 2005: Ways for Using and Extending FULLTEXT Apr. 20 2005 My presentation, including source code on how to combine LAMP and MySQL’s FULLTEXT indexes to create useful site searching.
  3. Unfinished PEAR/Smarty Book n/a I was first approached by A+ Press to write a book about PEAR and Smarty in August of 2003. Due to editor problems on their end the book was never finished. Here are the first three chapters, which cover basic info about PEAR and Smarty, the base PEAR classes and how to manage PEAR packages. I’m releasing them under the terms of this site’s copyright terms.
  4. The State of Home-Brew PVRs on Linux Nov. 13 2003 at O’Reilly’s ONLAMP.com A brief look at the current status of PVR software for Linux. Includes comparisons of the Freevo and MythTV projects.
  5. php{con West 2003: MySQL FULLTEXT Searching Oct. 22, 2003 at php{con West 2003 A technical session given at php{con West 2003 covering the basics of using MySQL’s FULLTEXT indexes.
  6. Building an Advanced Mail Server Sep. 25 2003 at O’Reilly’s ONLAMP.com A detailed article covering how to install Qmail, SpamAssassin, virus protection, vpopmail on an email server. Includes instructions for installing Apache and utilizing the Squirrel Mail webmail front end.
  7. Finding Bad Spam Delights Geeks Aug. 04 2003 at Wired News An article about a now defunct project of mine called SpamChart. Talks about what inspired the project and geeks’ obsessions with SpamAssassin’s scores.
  8. MySQL FULLTEXT Searching Jun. 26 2003 at O’Reilly’s ONLAMP.com An introduction to MySQL’s FULLTEXT indexes, including how to structure the tables, perform queries and how one might extend this feature in MySQL.
  9. Smarty: A Closer Look Mar. 18, 2003 at Zend.com A brief tutorial of the advanced features of PHP’s templating engine covering such topics as template caching, template security, and variable modifiers.
  10. Intro to PEAR Dec. 23 2002 at PHPBuilder.com An introduction to using the PEAR library for error handling, database abstraction, and logging.
  11. SQL Theory & Howto Jan. 01 2001 at PHPBuilder.com A brief overview of the relation algebra that SQL is based on and how to build complex SQL queries based on user input.
  12. XML HowtoSep. 07 2000 at PHPBuilder.com A simple tutorial on how to parse XML documents using PHP’s expat functions.