Thirty One, thoughts on human software versions

The night of my Thirtieth birthday, this time last year, I was gifted a beautiful poster that my girlfriend and her friends had all drawn pictures and written notes on to celebrate the occasion. One of the illustrations was the outline of an iPhone, with a dialog on screen showing the text “installing James software version 3.0”. This got me thinking about my own version history, what the 1.0, 2.0 and so on have meant for me, and will mean in the future.

If we take v1.0 to mean everything up until the start of third level education, I think I had a fairly typical experience for white, straight and nerdy Irish kid born in the 90s. I was born in a country that was poor and still heavily under the influence of the Catholic Church. Both divorce and homosexuality were illegal, Maggie Thatcher was still in power in the UK, and the Troubles still hung over the Island. The Internet barely existed, Ireland wouldn’t make a connection to the internet as we know it until 1991. We didn’t have a TV. The following 18 years are a story of tremendous economic growth, the emergence of the new Irish middle class - people drinking coffee from disposable cups, satellite TV, 2 car garages and by the mid 2000’s, maybe it was time for families to start thinking about buying a second house. My own family hit some of these notes, and missed some too.

We got our first home computer around 94 or 95, a castoff from my Mother’s office. It ran DOS, it was made by an Italian typewriter company and I thought it was magic. In many pieces of writing where a software engineer describes their first experiences with a computer, it usually is the start of an obsession, one fuelled by late nights teaching themselves BASIC. That didn’t happened here. I was fascinated by the computer, but had no inkling that I could instruct it what to do, that I could use it to make things, and I had no one around me that knew any better either. The truly transformative moment came much later, when I got my first Mac.

A family friend handed down his iBook G3 in Bondi Blue, and it was the gateway drugs of all gateway drugs. This alien looking device was like no computer I’d ever seen, it was colourful and had the most elegant way of tucking away it’s power cable for storage. It had these beautiful soft touch plastic accents that just invited you to touch it, to pick it up and marvel at how such a thing was made, but more than anything else it was fun. It ran Mac OS 8 and had wi-fi, even if my home wouldn’t have wi-fi for years to come.

I was obsessed with this object, and the company that had created it. I think the most current Mac on the market at the time was the G4 Mac Mini, and I remember buying MacWorld magazine to read about it. Seeing OS X, even on the pages of a print magazine stirred up the same feelings that a beautiful piece of music or art could. How did the rest of the world not realise this was clearly the way to go? Being into the Mac back then truly felt like being part of secret club, a place for “the misfits”. Am I happy that the Mac has become exponentially more popular in the years since? Absolutely, but there was something very special about that “insider” feeling, especially for someone that struggled to fit in during their teens.

My introduction to and subsequent obsession with the Mac, and healthy dose of utter chance led to my first job, and what I would consider the upgrade from James v1.0, to v2.0. I managed to land a job with Compu b, an Apple Reseller during my first year in college. To this day I firmly believe that every single person on earth should work a customer facing role in retail at some point in their life. Any shyness will be beaten out of you by the sheer number of face-to-face interactions with new people, and with good mentoring and support the confidence to stand up for yourself when these people turn difficult will emerge too The world would be a kinder place if each and every one of us had empathy towards retail staff, and the best way to learn this empathy is to be in the trenches during a retail rush like Christmas.

If you really want to kick your personal development into overdrive, get a job in retail with a company that’s about to grow from 4 people, to 50 across multiple locations in the next 3 years. The people I met at Compu b as we expanded across Ireland were, and remain, some of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever come across. Some I’m no longer in touch with, some I message every now and again to check in with, but if I was handed a budget to put together a team to get something audacious done in a minuscule amount of time, I know where a lot of the names would come from.

I think this is my biggest take away from the upgrade from v1 to v2. Surrounding yourself with people that are enthusiastic, passionate, a little bit naive and all round decent human beings. I think too often people are afraid to really sink their teeth into the things they’re passionate about. For me it was the Mac, and where v1 James would try to hide that level of enthusiasm for fear of being called out on it, the beauty of the world is that there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of other people out there that share that interest, and v2 James let himself find a group to share that with. Those people, and that job helped to lay the ground work for v2 James to make a series of decisions that take us on a journey to where we are today, with a trip to the inner workings and politics of the music industry along the way.

Written on January 9, 2021