Standing on the shoulders

A regular lament I find falling out of my mouth these days is never having learned to code, and I’m not alone. Never the less, I’ve spent big chunks of my career in technically-oriented roles where I needed to have some level of understanding of what was going on.

I’ve been able to do this thanks to a wonderful man named David Howell. David, as my best friend Andrew says, is “probably the most erudite individual I will ever meet.” He was Technical Director at Auran, a game studio I worked for with a keen sense of user-experience (before we ever knew that was a thing) and his hobbies included researching ancient Mayan and Roman civilisations. To top it all off, he was (and is) a devoted husband and father, and one of the nicest people you could ever hope to spend time with. Did I mention he was a nuclear physicist before teaching himself how to program? No? I must have skipped that.

The product we were working on was called MyVirtualHome (MVH). At the time (and largely still), when it came to architecture and interior design, most professionals used difficult and expensive software called AutoCAD. The idea with MVH was to make it so your average mum and dad could drag and drop rooms, furniture, bathroom fixtures and so on into a fairly realistic environment. If you knew, you could even put in the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates and angle your house the way it was in real life so you could see where the sun was coming in and out. It was quite something.

David knew that, as nice as the team we had on it were, if I couldn’t at least talk conceptually about development, I would struggle to rein them in when we really needed to. So in place of giving me C++ For Dummies and wishing me luck, he took the time to explain what object-oriented programming meant, how different pieces of code related to other pieces of code, and within a short period of time I knew when I looked around the room what each person was doing, how they were doing it, and who they needed to be talking to on the team to ensure they were meeting in the middle.

To say it was empowering is an understatement, but more than that, it provided a seat at a table I’ve seen so many smart people be denied for no reason other than they didn’t have a 6’4" chain-smoking pony-tailed vegan who consumed pizza and coffee like it was a dictatorial mandate take them aside and say “These are the pieces, and this is how they fit together.”

I could say as much about almost anyone on that team, it was a special group. I may have been the Product Manager, but David was the leader. And we were all happy to follow.

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