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July 16, 2013 - No Comments!

What I Learned In My First Month At Table XI

Mike GibsonTime goes fast when you're enjoying yourself, and I've been nothing but happy since I've joined the team here at Table XI. I can't believe it's already been a month. Quite a bit has changed in a very short amount of time, so I thought I'd take a breather and reflect back on what I've learned over the past 30 days.


A Well-Maintained Calendar Is a Beautiful Thing

Organization has always been a weak suit of mine. The only method that reliably worked was a combination of Post-it notes, chalkboards, and regular check-ins. That's manageable when your team is four people. But when you've got 30+ and a threefold increase in project count, that doesn't cut it anymore. After my first week I knew that I'd sink or swim on the accuracy of my calendar. I dove in and learned about all of the nifty tricks that Google Calendar has had for (probably) years: viewing your colleagues' calendars, multiple calendar organization, etc. The one tip that has made the biggest difference in my ability to keep a sane mind is to make sure I schedule myself time to work. It ensures I have nice blocks of time every day to hunker down and get done what needs to be done. Just this past week I've felt like I got things under control. Let's see how it feels a month from now.

Culture Isn't Created, It Develops over Time

"Company Culture" is a big deal in our industry. But it's not something that's forced on the people that work for you. It needs to be fostered over time. For all of your blog posts and meetings about creating the best culture in town, you're wasting your time if you don't have a group of friendly, empathetic, and interesting co-workers. That is where company culture thrives, and it's been wonderful to see that first-hand. I knew that working at Table XI would be a blast. It only took me a month to see to what degree.

The Best Way to Learn Is to Work with People Smarter than You

I've actually known this for a while, but it helps to remind yourself every now and then. If you're the smartest person in your office it may be time to find some new surroundings. We've got some of the smartest developers in the city put together in the same room and it's amazing the impact that it has. Not only do you learn tips, tricks, and techniques from them. That's a given. There's something bigger at work, though. It's only been 30 days, but I see myself working harder than I ever have before not to bring the curve down. That's what happens when you're surrounded by people that do such great work. You don't want to be the one to let them down.

Budgets Don't Matter, Problems Do

It's safe to assume that at Table XI we're working on projects that are larger in scope than those we tackled at Love Has No Logic. I was really interested to see what impact that had on the life cycle of the projects we were jumping into. You know what? Budget doesn't matter. Every client I've worked with, whether they had $500 or $500,000, came to us because they had a problem to solve and they're relying on our expertise to solve it. The budget just becomes another tool with which you can work to solve that problem. It's important to remember that lesson, especially as you start to see those 0's on the budget start to multiply. It's been up to me to get over the line-items and stay focused on the problem at hand.


I have a terrible habit. I get tunnel vision. If I'm working on something, I don't see anything else until it's complete. The real world impact of this is that for seven years I quite regularly forgot to eat lunch. That often led to me being extremely cranky in the afternoon and evening as my blood sugar dropped, and it probably impacted some of my business dealings over that time. At Table XI we've got a wonderful chef who comes in and cooks great food for us. When people from outside the company swing by for lunch, they talk about how great the food is. But the best part for me is that it breaks me out of my tunnel vision. Everyday when lunch is ready, Chef Aram walks out and lets us know. Someone at the office last week commented that they had forgotten how to feed themselves. We all laughed at the joke, but in my own mind I flipped it around and realized that in my first month here, I've remembered how to feed myself.

It's been a busy first month, and we've already done so much great work that I can't wait to share. I've learned quite a bit being here, and I'm excited to see what I continue to learn as time goes on. I plan to share more of my lessons in the future.

July 10, 2013 - No Comments!

Hot New Summer Mugs

We’ve got a whole bunch of new faces around the office (and now we're positively swimming in Matts). Here are the newest recruits to the Table XI team:

Mike GibsonMike Gibson, Senior Designer

Mike is a Chicago native and heads up Love Has No Logic (LHNL), the design firm we recently joined forces with. Known by some as the “Czar of Design,” he’s an amazing front-end developer who got interested in design by creating flyers for bands at 14. Mike then started his own record label at 16, and has, in his words, “a lot” of records. He’s known around the office for his large headphones and very loud keyboard, and he also has a dog named “Chupacabra.”

Keep up with Mike at Instagram and @lovehasnologic.

AnnieAnnie Swank, Designer

Annie originally hails from Southern California. She found her way to Chicago through studying English and creative writing at the University of Chicago, where she graduated in 2010. In 2008, she interned at Obama for America in downtown Chicago, and later worked at the White House. She’s also worked for the UN in Bangkok, and even did an event with the Thai princess. She met Mike Gibson through The Starter League, and eventually joined LHNL, where her user experience skills came in handy.

Keep up with Annie at @annieswank.

Matt WagnerMatt Wagner, Developer

Matt’s from Sacramento originally, but has moved around a lot since then. He’s lived in the Philippines, where most of his 26 cousins now reside, and later moved to Indianapolis. For college, he went to Northwestern and graduated in 2008 with a degree in computer science. Here at Table XI he works as a developer.


Matt ReichMatt Reich, Front-end Developer

Matt hails originally from South Dakota where he worked as a network technician. He attended school at Northern State University, where he studied Management Information Systems and played baseball. After teaching himself front-end design, he realized that was where his real interests lay, so after meeting Mike Gibson at The Starter League, he decided to come aboard with us at Table XI. Matt plays the banjo, and in his spare time once biked across the entire state of South Dakota in under 48 hours (the long way).

Keep up with Matt at @mgreich.

IsaacIsaac Sanders, Intern

Isaac is our summer development intern and just finished his freshman year at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He’s interned at Edgecase,, LeanDog, and Groupon. He’s interested in artificial intelligence, loves Ruby, and became an Eagle scout at 13.

Keep up with Isaac at @isaacsanders.

AlexAlex Tamkin, Intern

Alex is our photographer and marketing/design intern. He was born and raised in Chicagoland, and now attends Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, where he’ll return for his senior year of high school this fall. Alex has interests in science and math, but at Table XI, he’ll be working with client services to explore new ways Table XI can create value and help clients. He also loves to travel and learn new languages, and has climbed the two tallest mountains in the Rockies.

Keep up with Alex at @alextamkin.

June 20, 2013 - No Comments!

6 Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Code (and Why You Should)

hopscotchWith all of the hype surrounding fast-growing tech startups, as well as discussions about improving our education system, teaching kids how to code is top of mind for many people these days. Large scale change is in our future, and I look forward to a day when coding is as integral a part of early education as reading, writing, and math.

Fortunately, you don't have to wait for "someday" to get your kids coding—here are 6 tips to help you spark and sustain a child's interest in programming:

1.  Emphasize that Coding = Creativity

Coding is as much about creativity as it is about math, science, and problem solving. The stereotype of computer programmers as math nerds scares many people away from coding, adults and children alike. But coding is creating and making things come to life—drawings, games, robots, applications. Most kids like to create things, so coding will come as naturally as painting a picture or building something with Legos. Capture their interest by emphasizing creativity, and they'll naturally learn some core programming concepts along the way. Keep it fun and don't force it—not all kids like to paint, and not all kids will like to code either.

2.  Encourage Exploration

Find age-appropriate tools that give your child enough room to play without needing to read an instruction manual every few minutes. The process of discovery—or the "I wonder what will happen if I do this?" moment—is a core component of a coder's world. Encourage your child to experiment, and keep an eye out for signs they're reaching the limits of a specific app. Even if you're not a coder yourself, you can learn along with your child.

Here's a list of free apps/websites to get you started:

Daisy the Dinosaur (iPad, ages 6-10): This simple iPad app will get kids excited about being able to control the movements of a character on screen using basic commands. As an intro to coding it’s even great with younger children, but may not hold older children's attention for very long.

Hopscotch (iPad, ages 8-12): From the makers of Daisy the Dinosaur, this app is fun, easy to use, and lets kids create drawings and more complex animations with a whole cast of characters to choose from. You can also share your programs with other Hopscotch users via email, which is great for encouraging kids to play with friends and share their creations.

Scratch (web, ages 8-16): Scratch has been around for a while and has an active community of young programmers. It builds on some of the basic programming controls used in Hopscotch, and introduces many new tools for creating more unique and complex animations and games.

Codecademy (web, ages 12+): Codecademy provides free online courses in specific programming languages. Older children who show a sustained interest in coding may be ready to start learning to program on their own. The course on HTML and CSS is a great place to start, and it will teach your child how to create web pages from scratch.

3.  Tap Into Each Child's Passions

Coding can be used to create many different kinds of programs—try those that interest your child and don't write off coding altogether if they don't enjoy one specific flavor. There are apps that focus on everything from drawing to animation to storytelling to game design. Kits like Lego Mindstorms, Sparki, and littleBits let kids design robots and create programs to operate them. Avid readers can build websites to publish reviews of books they've read. Sports fanatics can build websites to track the stats of their favorite players or teams. Tap into something your child already enjoys doing and show them how to use coding as a new way to bring their ideas to life.

4.  Make Coding a Social Activity

Find opportunities and encourage your child to code with other children. As they grow, having a network of friends who are also interested in coding will go a long way to keeping them engaged. "Kids become coders because they are friends with other coders or are born into coder families," Mimi Ito recently pointed out in a Fast Company article. Doing a quick search in your area will likely turn up a number of options for local summer camps or after-school programs. You could also gather a couple of kids and help them participate virtually in an online program, or find someone to help you create a project to get them started.

5.  Find a Mentor

As Mimi Ito noted, children of programmers are more likely to code than children of non-programmers. But hope is not lost if you're not a programmer yourself! There are plenty out there and most would be excited to help you. Find a friend or family member who codes or works in a technical field and ask them for assistance. (If your child is at that age where they want to do the opposite of everything you suggest, this may be even more effective than doing the mentoring yourself.) This person can guide your child when they hit a roadblock with a program they're creating, challenge them to keep exploring, and show them what different coding careers could look like.

6.  Keep Problem Solving Fun

Programmers like to solve problems, and many professional coders choose where to work based on the types of problems they'll get to solve. Whether or not your child gets hooked on any of the apps listed above, you can always encourage them to be curious, to tinker, and to solve problems. Push them to learn how something works and to find different ways of doing things, or make puzzle games a fun thing you do as a family. A child who enjoys creative problem solving may get into coding somewhere down the road, even if they're not interested today.

Introducing children to coding will open up a whole world of possibilities for them later in life, not to mention the enjoyment they'll get from having new tools to create with today. But it's also important to remember that coding isn't for everyone. Not every child likes to paint or play baseball or dance, and not everyone will like to code either. Don't force it. Show them the apps, provide some support, and let them drive. If they don't show an immediate interest, they may yet come back to it later.

May 24, 2013 - No Comments!

New Mugs for Spring!

We've had a lot of hiring activity since the new year. Say hi to the new faces that have sprung up around the office.

Bradley Schaefer, DeveloperBradley Schaefer, Developer

We rang in the new year by bringing on Bradley as a Ruby developer. He’s worked as a software engineer at a Who’s Who of tech firms including Stubhub, AOL, Anything Social, and Bebo. Given this, it’s not surprising that Bradley thinks everyone should get some programming experience under their belts: “It’s not only useful for a wide variety of applications, but it also teaches you logical thinking, humility, patience, communication skills, and tons more.” Bradley also serves as a member of the RSpec team.

Keep up with Bradley on his blog and @soulcutter.

Jon Buda, DeveloperJon Buda, Developer

Very active in Chicago’s dev scene, Jon helps run RefreshChicago, a popular meetup that promotes the sharing of knowledge and ideas in design, technology, usability, and standards. He also helped launch Desktime, a global coworking and shared workspace service. Hit up Jon if you agree that everyone should spend some time in Michigan’s UP, or if you want to hear the tale of his missing uvula.

Keep up with Jon on his blog and @jonbuda.

Jen Mozen, Delivery Principle

Jen Mozen, Delivery Principal

Jen is an entrepreneur and digital media consultant. She studied computer science and has spent much of her career leading agile software development teams globally. In college, Jen developed a passion for getting girls interested in STEM fields and is excited about making software development more accessible to everyone. This past year she helped launch the Chicago chapter of Girl Develop It, a code school dedicated to empowering women to learn how to develop software. She's a self-confessed learning junkie (Coursera, Codeacademy, etc.), avid reader, enthusiastic sports fan, and cool aunt.

Keep up with Jen at LinkedIn and @jmozen.

alex_head053cebAlex Skryl, Developer

Though he originally hails from Ukraine, Alex has been a freelance software engineer in Chicago for the last several years, working for such names as Enova and Trunk Club. Earlier this year he took some time away from his monitor to drive a rented Camaro really fast down HWY 1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. It’s possible a speed limit was broken here and there. Alex was recently accepted into New York's prestigious Hacker School, so we're sending him off with warm wishes for a summer in the Big Apple.

Keep up with Alex at his blog and @_skryl_.

Gabriel Gironda, DeveloperGabriel Gironda

Gabriel joins Table XI via Austin, TX, via Chicago, IL, via Harrisonburg, VA, and originating from Sydney, Australia. He enjoys making computers do things they both should and shouldn't do, and finally fills the long vacant position here of "person vaccinated against rabies."

Keep up with Gabriel at his blog.

Lloyd Philbrook, DevOpsLloyd Philbrook, DevOps 

Lloyd lives in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia for now. He mainly works while we’re asleep, making sure that all our servers keep purring along. If he isn't trying to tweak a Chef cookbook or write another bash script to automate himself out of a job, he's at -60 feet hanging with the fishes. We might actually meet him face-to-face one day.

April 26, 2013 - 1 comment.

11 Tables Drawing Game! The Answers

Behold, the entirety of our new piece of artwork, "11 Tables."

TXI 11 Tables Drawing scaled

And all the TXI references, moving clockwise from the upper left corner:

  1. Green roof, symbolizing our commitment to environmental causes
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger, aka designer Jon Fernandez
  3. CEO Josh Golden shooting rubberbands
  4. Moran Home Brew, courtesy of Paul Moran
  5. Delivery Director Alicia Drucker and her pack of index cards
  6. Marketing Director Kate Garmey, aka the Disaster in Heels
  7. Finance Director and money whiz Tina Stump
  8. Our string logo
  9. Rails, of Ruby on Rails fame
  10. Steampunk devs, aka Mike Laurence + Jason Pearl, creators of Deepworld
  11. Copyeditor Kathryn Achenbach + an insane pair of shoes
  12. Designer Daniel Strabley putting random labels on things
  13. Sunset view from our office
  14. Clients Zocalo and Dickson graffitied on the wall
  15. Bertrude, the Costa Rican parrot and unofficial company mascot
  16. Fishtank from the old office
  17. Pythons, like the language
  18. Developer Byron Galbraith in his kilt
  19. The Motherboard
  20. Client YMCA
  21. Nerf Armory
  22. Cheese Dispenser + Meat Faucet Conference Rooms
  23. Our friendly neighborhood Starbucks
  24. Client Services Director Greg Baugues has been known to ride a cow when necessary
  25. Developer + partner Erik Schwartz and his transformer bike/nerf gun
  26. Motorcycle enthusiast and finance guru David Hartmann
  27. Bowling Alley Conference Room, complete with tables made from bowling alley wood
  28. Developer and modern dancer Annie Wang
  29. Developer and percussionist Jason Hanggi
  30. Developer and sombrero-wearer Jon Buda, fresh back from Mexico
  31. Developer and Dr. Seuss lover Andrew Horner
  32. Georgia Tech grad and Agile Lead Noel Rappin
  33. Developer Bradley Schaefer, formerly of StubHub
  34. The corner of Jefferson and Van Buren, home sweet home
  35. Client Strange Cargo, selling tees
  36. Macs growing on an Apple tree
  37. Developer Chris Stump, sitting on a stump
  38. Developer and resident Dr. Dolittle Gabrielle Dewitt
  39. Barefoot developer Micah Gates
  40. Client The Spice House, dishing spices
  41. Artist Ethan Orbach as the Bespectacled Guy on the Street
  42. Bowling Night!
  43. CTO Matt Lineen takes aim with his death stare
  44. Delivery Principle Subha Sriram, mother of triplets
  45. Developer and standup comic Dan Rench and his family
  46. Star Wars Movie Night!
  47. Business Analyst and popcorn aficionada Melissa Enguidanos
  48. Technology Practice Lead Doctor John Gore
  49. Intern and Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman Peter Park
  50. Intern and Weasley brother Nate Hartmann
  51. COO and flaming ginger Mark Rickmeier
  52. Developer Woody Torres, aka Woody Woodpecker
  53. The Table XI kitchen
  54. Technology Practice Lead Rich Wu, watering the plants and getting the coffee
  55. Partner Emeritus Jordan Ho, taking photos of food
  56. A lobster, the obsession of Mainer Kate Garmey
  57. Rockstar Chef Aram Reed
  58. Mobile developer Ed LaFoy, who's never been on a plane
  59. Office Manager Ellen Brast, handing out $5 hour bounties
  60. The Rozelle painting above Ellen's desk
  61. 11 tables scattered throughout

Congrats to Kentaro Ebersole, who guessed the most correctly!

For close-up sections of the drawing, check out parts one, two, three, and four of our game. Thanks for playing!

April 24, 2013 - No Comments!

Fun with Our New 3D Printer

3D printing (otherwise known as "additive manufacturing") is a subset of the growing field of rapid replication. It's the process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model, and it promises to shape the future of manufacturing. Eventually 3D printers will create customized objects and parts-- whatever you can imagine-- with the ease with which you can print a document on your laser printer. While the technology isn’t quite there yet, it’s getting very close.

Table XI jumped on the 3D bandwagon this month and picked up the Up! Mini from our neighbors at Inventables. Having a 3D printer in the office gives us  a chance to experiment with this growing technology and stretch a part of our brain often neglected while coding. Developers are always creating, but rarely have tangible output. Our Up! Mini creates a tangible, real object—a uniquely satisfying feeling.

So far we've been hosting a series of "3D tours" for anyone who wants to take our new machine for a test drive. Interested in swinging by for a visit? Let us know.

[portfolio_slideshow exclude="13969"]

April 18, 2013 - 1 comment.

Iterating to Excellence: A Look Back on 11 Years

perksTable XI recently celebrated its 11th anniversary, which has been the source of both celebration and reflection. We certainly couldn't have made it here without the help of some of our first clients, like The Spice House, Dickson Data, and Chicago Dryer. But we also couldn't have accomplished what we set out to achieve without the team, many of whom have been with us since our early days.

Last month's Table Talks centered around the theme of "Innovation." I used the opportunity to deliver a presentation on business hacks using company perks. Sure, some things like company retreats to Costa Rica and freshly prepared lunches make Table XI a great place to work, but what many people don’t understand is that they also help solve real business problems.

But it’s taken a lot of tinkering to get where we are today. We’ve tried a lot of things that didn’t work—ask anyone here about the noisy ping pong table we once introduced—but we expect some things to fail and some to stick. When we build software, we never presume we'll deliver the final product on the first go. Rather, we deliver in increments, get feedback, and continue to iterate. Why should building a business be any different? We’ve just applied these same agile methodologies to management.

If you’re curious to know what did stick, take a look at my presentation below (and check out the rest of the Table Talks on Innovation on our PechaKucha channel).

April 6, 2013 - No Comments!

Embed Your Vine: The 6-Second Guide to Tomfoolery



We've gone all kinds of Vine happy at the office, and now, with the recent announcement that you can embed your 6-second movies, we thought we'd give it a try. Here's what's been going on at Table XI, six seconds at a time.


The sun rises on a Code Retreat:

With a brain food breakfast courtesy of our new 3-D printer:

But then Corey Haines makes us delete our code!

So we turn to Jason Hanggi for some soothing beats:

But John Gore is not amused.

Check out more photos from Code Retreat!

April 3, 2013 - No Comments!

Josh Talks to WGN’s Bill Moller

This past weekend Bill Moller of WGN Radio interviewed our fearless leader (and fast talker) Josh Golden about entrepreneurship and what makes Table XI a different kind of tech company. Give it a listen:

We've transcribed some of the highlights below:

Bill Moller: See if you think these numbers indicate somebody’s got a good idea: In 2009 the annual revenues for this particular business were $1.25M. Now, three years later, nearly $3.5M, and the number of full-time employees more than doubled in that same time. Table XI [is] a digital service provider. What does that mean? Technology, software, hardware—it’s a headache for a company, and Table XI is hired to run it. Is that about right, Josh Golden, founder and CEO?

Josh Golden: That’s very much right, we are a provider of digital solutions for mid-market companies. We focus on the strategic context, so what is the business trying to achieve...and how can we help them use the new tools—Internet, mobile, etc.—to achieve those goals.

BM: To me, that’s almost boilerplate, for companies like you. We all are hearing "companies that do digital solutions for mid-market companies." So what’s different about you?

JG: Well, what’s different about us is that we really focus on partnering with the customers in long-term relationships. We’re still working with our oldest customer that we started serving eleven years ago, and as they’ve grown and developed their digital presence, so have we. We’ve helped them now start building digital products, marketing those products more effectively, and we’re really in it for the long haul. It’s not just come in, do a project, then hand it back to your team. It’s come in and partner with you and stay with you through the thick and the thin of this crazy digital revolution we’re in the middle of.

BM: So you have a pretty high retention rate then?

JG: A very high retention rate...The first two customers we started working with, both Chicago-area customers—Dickson, monitoring solutions in Addison, IL, still with us; and The Spice House, in Old Town, Evanston, Milwaukee, and Geneva. They sell gourmet spices and they’re still with us, too. We’re pretty happy with the long-term relationships we’ve built with those people.

BM: Other clients include a bunch of charter schools, YMCAs in Chicago and in New York, Northwestern, U of I, and Roger Ebert?! 

JG: We’ve been working with [Roger Ebert] since we helped to reboot the show when they brought it back to WTTW, and since then we’ve been helping with some other digital strategy issues that you may hear about in the coming weeks. But we’ve been working closely with them and are really excited about that partnership. He’s a digital innovator.

[ . . . ]

BM: You’ve clearly found a need in the marketplace, you’re exploiting it, you’re very successful in doing it, but it took...about half a decade to really reach critical mass. What was going on during the first few years? There were these nice loyal customers that you had, but was there doubt and turmoil and upheaval and change?

JG: I’ll be perfectly candid with you. For a number of the years we spent looking out the window—it’s difficult to drive a car when you’re looking out the right or out the left, and we were always seeing these product opportunities—what are the things we could do? How could we pivot into something besides a digital services provider? And then, about halfway through the timespan we’ve been around, we said, you know what? Digital solutions are a huge opportunity in and of themselves. Let’s focus on what we know how to do and continue to improve and build on what we have and really make it something special in our core competency, instead of looking to pivot into something different.

[ . . . ]

BM: [It’s] one of the defining characteristics of being an’re always looking for new ideas out there...But let me ask you, you’ve got a couple employees here in the room with you—they want to think that you’re going to be around for a long time.

JG: Right, and at the core of what we’re doing, we are going to be around for a long time...I’m not going anywhere. My heart is with this thing. This thing is very much built, and the value set that we’ve helped to develop over the years, focusing around our people, building long-term relationships not only with our clients but also with our people. We have almost no turnover, we’re super good friends, people go to each other’s weddings—it’s a really tight-knit group of people.

BM: So you’re not going to look back and say, ‘Table XI did that, it’s going on its own, it’s a huge success, now what can I look at’?

JG: For me, it’s a launchpad for other things.

BM: So you build on the existing platform?

JG: Exactly. The platform is growing, it’s successful, and we have people who are potentially interested in joining an entrepreneurial venture...It provides upward mobility for our staff as well, and it gives them new opportunities. So it’s sort of like an entrepreneurial nexus of sorts that we’ve tried to create, and we’re doing our best to make it special.

BM: What is PechaKucha?

JG: In Japan 10 years ago, some smart architects tried to figure out a way to teach digital creatives or architects more effective ways to present concisely—they tended to talk too much. So it’s 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide—400-second-long presentations. It’s become a global phenomenon...There’s 620 cities that hold PechaKucha Nights where people gather—in Chicago they’re usually up at Martyr’s...We worked with the global leadership team out of Tokyo who organizes the whole thing, and built a new web-based platform to be the home of where all the presentations that are recorded and archived are held. So you can go to and browse presentations about incredible numbers of topics. Our office chef, who’s a bit of a celebrity in his own right—

BM: You have an office chef?!

JG: We have an office chef. I always have a little bit of trouble talking to people in the media business about this, but yeah, there are some pretty nice perks about being in tech.

April 2, 2013 - No Comments!

Developers and Depression: End The Shame

At Eternity's Gate by Vincent Van Gogh

The first time I spoke publicly about depression in the software development community, it was three weeks after we lost our co-worker, Caleb Cornman, to an accidental drug overdose.

Caleb and I had several conversations about depression. I had shared with him my story of how I struggled with intermittent depression for a number of years before being diagnosed with Type II bipolar and ADHD. He opened up and said that he had wondered for a few years if he had something similar. He went so far as to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist, but when that day came, he was out of money, so he rescheduled. He died the next day, overdosing on the same meds prescribed to me by my doctor to treat my ADHD. Caleb died self-medicating an untreated mental illness.

In one of his last emails to me, Caleb said "I just need someone to talk to about this." It's a tragedy that he didn't have that already.

I have a theory that if you are a young adult struggling with the symptoms of bipolar, finding software development might feel a little like coming home. The software world accepts the socially isolated. It accommodates irregular sleep patterns and inconsistent bursts of productivity. It seeks those with the grandiosity to believe that they can solve problems others can't, and exalts those crazy enough to believe that they can change the world.

Watch Greg give a presentation on this topic at MountainWest RubyConf. His talk begins at 8:12:00. Greg will also be speaking at LessConf in Panama City, FL, on Apr 11-13.

I know of no formal study, but I wouldn't be surprised if the rates of bipolar and depression amongst software developers are double that of the general population. Unfortunately, we may be even more reluctant to talk about it because we've spent much of our life being praised for how well our brain works, and the idea that it might be malfunctioning threatens the foundation of our identity.

Earlier this year, the community lost Aaron Swartz to suicide. He wrote this back in 2007:

I have a lot of illnesses. I don’t talk about it much, for a variety of reasons. I feel ashamed to have an illness. (It sounds absurd, but there still is an enormous stigma around being sick.) I don’t want to use being ill as an excuse.

Sadly, depression (like other mental illnesses, especially addiction) is not seen as “real” enough to deserve the investment and awareness of conditions like breast cancer (1 in 8) or AIDS (1 in 150). And there is, of course, the shame.

The shame. The shame is why we don't talk about it. It's why Caleb could struggle for a decade in this industry, surrounded by peers suffering the same affliction, and still feel alone.

If I stood up in front of a crowd of 300 people and told them that I have cancer, I wouldn't be afraid that they might think it's "all in my head." If I took insulin for diabetes, no one would say, "Aren't you concerned that you'll become dependent on that?" If I broke my ankle and couldn't walk, no one would tell me to "try harder"— they'd tell me to see a doctor.

But we have different rules for how we perceive illnesses that affect the brain. And because of this, our colleagues are suffering, and, far too often, dying.

We can fix that. We don't even need to invent new drugs or new methods of therapy. We've got that already. We need to talk about it, and stop feeling threatened and ashamed.

It can be overwhelming to try and find a professional to talk to. Caleb said, "I'm not going to cold call psychiatrists from the Yellow Pages." For a psychiatrist in Chicago, I see Dr. David Kaiser. You can reach him at, or (773) 791-3144. For a therapist, I see John Harris. He’s a therapist, not a psych, so he can’t write you a prescription. But, if you want to sit down and talk, you won’t find anyone better.

Setting the first appointment is hard. It’s the toughest hurdle to clear on the road to getting better. If you’re not there yet, and don’t have anyone else to talk to, email me.

Image: At Eternity's Gate by Vincent Van Gogh