My grandfather Nicolas worked his entire career for Anheuser-Busch. He entered the company in a quality assurance role: a taster. Yes, a taster. At some point he put his accounting training to work and for the majority of his time there was responsible for purchasing the barley and hops and probably much more. He was quite proud of participating in the design panels for different beers and policies including born-on-dating. As I see it so clearly now, he was obsessed with quality.
My father Mark has tried on numerous occasions to retire from dentistry, but never seems to succeed at quitting. He still sees a few patients, mostly family, and serves as a volunteer leader in dental clinics both in the downtown St. Louis area and abroad in Kosovo where he has done so much good. Of the things that made an impression on me at a young age, I recall at the dinner table he would never talk freely about his clients. He respected their privacy. But he would get upset when things didn’t go quite right; a broken crown or a patient that was experiencing pain long after they should have. Strangers have often told me how much they respected his care for them, his attention to detail, and his standard for quality. He got that from his father.
I’d like to think I too am influenced by them to care about people and to be obsessed with delivering quality.
I used to think that if you wanted quality badly enough your work would be exceptional. Imagine my frustration over the years as I delivered projects and all I could see were flaws and compromise.
An early frustration was recognizing the limits of my own talent. As a freelancer and individual I worked really hard to learn and hone my skills at design and code.
I recall working on a project with another developer early in my days freelancing. When I reviewed his code, he had somehow made all his formatting consistent and beautiful. Mine looked like chaos that probably barely worked. I had to know how he did it, and so quickly! Was this why he had such amazing gigs and a beautiful portfolio of projects?
A little ashamed I finally asked him how he got his code so pretty. He explained he was using an IDE that did auto-formatting. It was then that I realized a few things:
- Tools make a difference
- Don’t compare yourself
- Work with people better and smarter; share and learn
- Quite trying to do things all on your own. You achieve more with a team.
From then on I determined to shed the ridiculous shame of admitting when I need help or don’t have everything figured out. It only gets in the way of achieving the quality I’m after.
In 2014 my long time colleague Ben Bishop and I started Rendr. We felt we did our best work together, so why not join our independent companies and see what happened. Over the past 3 years we have delivered some wonderful projects with a great team of designers and developers. Because most all of that work is under NDA, we made time do build a few of our own.
I’m equally proud of some of the internal projects we worked on that have yet to see the light of day, like Mindr.
2017 marks a new chapter in my career as I take on new challenges at Microsoft. Unlike my father and grandfather I won’t be working my entire career for a single organization, but I will continue to labor in pursuit of quality and helping others. They demonstrated that to me over the years, and I gladly honor them for it.
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