God, Code, and what’s that gotta do with me?


What do you call it when something unique and surprising happens to you? A coincidence? What about when something else even more unique and surprising occurs? What happens when a bunch of events, each one more unique and unexpected happen in series? Hi, I’m Cliff. This is my story which involves a unique chain of events which happened to me. It resulted in my having consistent access to people and organizations that many do not have while landing me on several journeys where I experienced different people and cultures. It is a story that can best be titled, “I ain’t ‘posed to be here!”

First, some background is in order. I don’t have a college degree. I am not the most handsome person in the room. I am not smart, wise, or even witty. I do work out on occasion but I am by no means strong. (I struggle, like Damon Wayans said, with 90lbs on the bar.) I am that kid from school that should have been picked on way more than I was but somehow always got over.

I want to share my story to clarify why I don’t take credit for anything that has happened to/around me. This is solely my account of what I observed in 40+ years of sucking in oxygen and expelling CO2. I recently posted about my 20 year anniversary in my professional coding career. I explained how my wife and I came up from next to nothing. What I didn’t explain was how blessed I’ve been ever since.

In my years since becoming professional I’ve managed to have some incredible experiences. I started at a company called Seagull Lighting in Delran, NJ. There I worked on an AS/400 system and built out a client/server parts & inventory GUI using VB6 and ODBC to run stored RPG procedures and pull records back. I was then fortunate enough to get my first relocation package and move my family out of the tight 1 bedroom apartment to a slightly less tight 2 bedroom apartment as I worked at R.R. Donnelley & Son’s. There I was part of a major $10 million project which resulted in a new Donnelley facility being erected right off Rte. 30 in Lancaster PA. It was my experience with VB and stored procedures which created this business opportunity. Also, it was my earlier streak of coincidental fortune that allowed me to have this unique experience. I won’t elaborate but the short story was that the deal almost didn’t happen and it came down to the wire when I had a MAJOR break through substituting the OLE/DB driver with ODBC and literally saving the day, the deal, and probably several folks jobs. $10 million dropped into the business which came directly out of Jesus’ bank account.

Fast forward a few years later where I worked at a small startup. I didn’t do anything as phenomenal as landing another $10 million deal but I did work on some cutting edge (at the time) tech. Everything from Java RMI, to Linux, to EJB/Servlets. I wrote a lexer/parser which parsed and rewrote Java Source files injecting a special String attribute in each and every class including inner and anonymous classes. It was part of a Java WebStart like tech which had a backward scaling feature Web Start lacked. I can go into way more detail but let’s just say I got into some really crazy JVM based shenanigans at this company. The funny thing was that there was never any pressure. I was mostly free to play and explore.

Years later I was blessed to work for MapQuest where I got into mobile. It was there around 2009 when I wrote an early Siri prototype using (ironically) the same voice that eventually became the default Siri voice. (This was the Samantha voice package from Nuance.) I did this work years before Siri, before there was even any voice capabilities on iOS. It was a passion project I worked over a year on. (I quietly started the prototype on Blackberry before iPhone was released.) By now I established a pattern of playing with random tech and I kept being fortunate enough to have the time and resources to do so. I had the most elaborate setup of any developer in our office and I was sooo not senior! The Text To Speech part of my concept was eventually worked into the first ever free voice guidance app released on iPhone, MapQuest 4 Mobile. This was another gift from God’s bank account, not my doing at all but entirely His work. I also did a bunch of other random/crazy stuff there like naming and animating the MapQuest star logo trying to make a recognizable character out of him like the GEICO Gecko, trying (and failing) to start an ad campaign slogan, “There’s a Map For That” and striking out on a hackathon because I was more obsessed with TDD than the app we built. LOL, Good times!

I was eventually relocated (for REAL this time) to Silicone Valley when I got hired by Skype. I did some amazing work there as well but much of it went unrecognized. I built the first Video Mail prototype working with a team out of Russia. I brought my earlier Siri prototype to a hackathon that never happened, I eventually won another hackathon building a Skype voice assistant, I built an early prototype of a realtime language to language translate feature into Skype for Android, and other some stuff. This is when God started to show off as I travelled around the world frequenting places like Sweden, Estonia, Amsterdam, London, and Moscow. I was also part of a Skype promotional event where I got to meet and hang out with the cast from the Marvel movies on a red carpet event. I watched both Captain America Winter Soldier and Guardian’s of the Galaxy premiers in the theater with the actual actors… in the same breathing space! I was invited to the after party. This was on repeated occasions.

Since moving to Cali I’ve been fortunate to work at many of the big name tech companies, Microsoft, Apple, GE, and Samsung. At each company something amazing happened.

Traveling the globe, hanging out with celebrities and the like are activities reserved for those attractive, brilliant, talented, muscle-bound, or those with any combination of these traits. The opportunity to meet and shake hands with the actual super heroes I grew up idolizing sounds like something straight out of God’s playbook.

I am merely summarizing a small amount of the highlights that come to mind when I reflect. Each one of these moments was either initiated or spear-headed in prayer and Bible study. As a software developer I’ve learned to be pretty keen at observing patterns. The one pattern that has been 100% consistent is where there was prayer in my past there was also huge blessings. Truth is there are far more memories and events that I could include. Also, I am really not that good at computers… really! I’ve failed more tech interviews than I can count and have made a fool of myself with some of the most basic tasks professionally. There are details behind these above stories that sound straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster event. There are also some dark moments that are equally as dramatic. I’ve learned to be just as grateful for these moments for reasons I can’t explain without rambling on for several hundred pages.

When I look back there’s only a few ways I can described what happened and continues to happen to me over the years. I can say, “golly gee wiz! That was an amazing string of coincidences!” But that would just sound stupid because nobody begins their sentences with “golly gee wiz”. I COULD say, “I did it all by myself because I am this super awesome attractive tech guru who has a way with computers and whom nobody can say ‘no’ to!” That’s also silly because, as I’ve said, I failed more interviews than I can count and also I was recently caught squelching exceptions with silent catch blocks *yikes* in professional Java code. (Plus I’m not attractive.) Instead I will just continue to say what I’ve been saying all along. I am blessed.

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