The bigger fish

There’s a phenomena that happens to a lot of successful technical people. We meet the bigger fish and we get better for it. I want to tell the tale of how I met my bigger fish because he’s just died and it might help me process his death.

Jon Ward and I weren’t mates. He was my boss 24 years ago and we probably met up half a dozen times in the last 10 years or so but Jon will always be with me because he was my bigger fish.

In 1998, I was 23, I worked at Compuserve and I was given an amazing opportunity. I didn’t do a Computer Science degree so I had to take the long route to get into technology. I started in Customer Services and found my way to running Compuserve’s QA lab. The Sys Admin team left one day and I got the opportunity to take over managing and the office firewall. It went great! I hired a couple of great contractors, we fixed a bunch of annoying problems. I was on top of the world, I was doing what I wanted to be doing and it only took me 3 years of working to achieve my goals. I was living my best life!

The time came to build the permanent team. I interviewed Jon and when he accepted I was informed that Jon would be the manager of the team and that I would report to him. I was not amused. I thought I’d earned the right to run this team. My brother from another mother: Dave Williams, the sensible one of our dynamic duo, told me to stop throwing a tantrum and take the opportunity to learn from this experience. I did and I’ve never regretted it.

Jon taught me a lot about tech, things I’d never heard of, things that Microsoft downplayed at the time. Jon taught me how to use the \net use commands to automate command line tasks in Windows NT. Jon taught me how to manipulate the registry to automate Windows NT installations. In 1999 I was automating deployment and software build tasks 10 years before anyone coined the term DevOps. Jon also taught me the natural talents I had that were rare, I’ve built on that knowledge over the last 20 years and had a great time doing it. Jon also taught me the power of simplicity. When I was getting carried away with my own cleverness or when I was intimidated by how difficult something seemed to be he would say: “It’s just web servers and databases” in this smug way he had that I found equal parts annoying, amusing and reassuring.

If you’re an engineer in your late 20’s and you’re successful and you think you are a living gift to the technology world then look out for your bigger fish, I hope you find one as good as Jon Ward. RIP.

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