When I was interviewed by Corgibytes for a lead developer position, I was asked who my role models were. I responded David Heinemeier-Hansson (DHH) and Kent Beck. I expounded: DHH because he is a business developer rather than a computer scientist and he has great ideas about achieving excellence while maintaining a work/life balance. And furthermore Kent Beck because, as brilliant as he is, he still sees himself as a coder. Whatever…. The thing is, I lied.
Whereas I do respect both DHH and Kent Beck, the truth is that my role model is Jim Stanicki. I met Jim in 1982 when I was a college dropout who had a job as a fitness instructor at a health club. On one eventful day, Jim popped in for a workout and found me reading Time magazine. I rarely read that magazine but it was the special Man of the Year issue – although, that year was different from all other years because it was the (now famous) Machine of the Year issue. Anyway, I was somewhat interested in the fitness related application possibilities of these low-cost computers. Jim took that interest and turned it into fascination.
Jim inspired me to go back to college and get a degree in Computer Information Systems. About a year after our Machine of the Year discussion, Jim got me my first programming job. It was the last time I was paid what I deserved – nothing (it was an internship.) That nothing turned into a career. Jim mentored me in the RPG programming language on the System/3 and the AS/400 and practice of coding in general.
Jim was someone that was always enthusiastic about work. I remember him saying “How hard could it be?” before launching into resolving a problem using a new strategy. Jim also had a great work/life balance. He loved hiking, skiing, and sailing. Jim had a personality that would light up a room when he walked in. Everyone liked him and it was hard not to notice him. The funny thing is: he had this ability to shrink up his personality – an ability he exploited when he’d “sneak” out at 5PM. He’d quietly grab his backpack (at a time when briefcases were standard) and slowly walk past the developer cubicles and the IT manager’s office. I’d be looking right at him as he walked by and I was not sure if I saw him or not – as if he was a ghost. Later someone would invariably ask: “Where’s Jim?” And I would answer, bewildered, “I think he might have left for the day.”
Jim was an early adopter of tele-computing. Back in the 70s, when Jim was an S/3 operator working 2nd shift, at about 8PM, he’d stack jobs in the queue, phone his roommate, put the receiver down on the massive IBM printer, and drive home for a long and relaxing dinner. Every few minutes, he’d pick the apartment phone and listen for the telltale banging of the printer. The clatter told him the jobs were done and he’d have to return to work to decollate and distribute the greenbar listings.
Jim did not restrict himself – unlike most of the RPG and Cobol programmers from the 1980s – to RPG. He embraced new languages and platforms like C, dBase III, C#, Lotus Notes, and Linux. In the late 80s, Jim left that Pennsylvania company to take a job in New Hampshire – or Vacationland, as he called it. Every couple of years I’d cart my wife and three kids up to his mini-farm in Maine. We’d eat lobster and roast marshmallows and the wives and kids would get bored as Jim and I talked about the latest tech trends.
In 2005 Jim said he’d been programming long enough and decided to open a canoe and kayak shop. Initially his shop lacked a practise pool – a problem soon solved with bit of dynamite. A few explosions and he had a mini-lake in the granite-based field by his shop.
Then, in 2007, Jim found out he had lung cancer. Lacking the physical strength to manage his shop and requiring more income than his kayak rental provided, Jim went back to coding. The company he contracted for loved his C# skills so much that, to keep him happy with all the work they were heaping on him, they sent him and his wife on a Bahamas vacation.
Even though Jim’s lung cancer prognosis was not good, he continued to learn and grow in more than just technology. He became trained and certified as a Hospiscare worker. This story was covered by ABC News. As the article covers, Jim was asked by ABC News if he believed his hospice training was unique. Stanicki said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve always been somewhat strange. I just think living in the present is a pretty cool place to be.”
Now, image that! Your death is imminent and will soon require Hospiscare. So what do you do? You get trained to work with other folks that are dying? With that in mind, how do DHH and Kent Beck line up with Jim Stanicki now? Shame on me for not telling the truth in my interview!
On a 2003 family visit to Jim and Leslie’s “Dendron” farm in Maine, I brought him a copy of my latest book: “Understanding Linux Web Hosting.” As always, we had a great visit but Jim called me a few days later and confided in me that, after I left, he had handed my book to his wife saying: “You know, Don could have signed and written a note in this book to personalize it a bit.” Leslie agreed but, as she was flipping through the book, she saw the printed dedication and read it to him:
“I’d like to thank and dedicate this book to Jim Stanicki. Jim got me interested in this field, gave me my first job, and trained me on how to be a coder. Jim taught me how to attack technology with intelligence, enthusiasm, and humor.”