The Little Barbarian

One of the first questions you undoubtedly have on your mind is, “Why The Little Barbarian?” You need to know who I was at 18 to understand the answer to this question.

Brief Childhood History

I grew up seven miles outside Columbus, WI (population 4000) – surrounded by corn fields, woods, and streams. My parents bought the house in 1975 and still live there today.

It was heaven for my 3 younger brothers and me. We’d build tree forts in the summer and snow forts in the winter. Our top activities were fishing in the creek at the bottom of the hill and hunting at my uncles’ farms in the winter. When we weren’t doing that, together with my cousins that lived down the road, we’d play whiffle ball, basketball, football, and usually end up in some kind of wrestling match.

In addition to playing hard, we also worked hard. I helped my uncles and cousins bale hay, shovel manure, feed cattle, and pick stones out of their fields (one of the worst jobs of all time). When I turned 16 and had a driver’s license, I went to work with my dad doing concrete construction. If you want to really know what hard, manually labor is, pull 75 pound forms off curing concrete in the hot sun.

There’s a lot more to tell but let’s stop there, I think you get the picture – or at least hear the faint sound of banjo music in the background.

By the time I went off to college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was proficient at hunting, fishing, hiking, rough housing with other boys, and felt totally comfortable around a bunch of hard drinking construction workers. I wasn’t exactly a picture of refinement.

Corey, who lived across the hall of my freshman dorm room, along with most everyone else on the floor, quickly figured this out. While I became good friends with many of them, they simply couldn’t resist the urge to make fun of the “hick” from “nowhere, WI”.

The “Little Barbarian” became their nickname of choice. Instead of fighting it, I decided to embrace it.

Jobs #1, #2 & #3

After getting an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering in 1996, I took a job in Minneapolis working for a small company selling robotics equipment. It was an awful job, but I’m grateful for it. Every engineer should be required to spend at least a year doing cold calling sales.

I was 23 years old, fresh out of college, and calling head factory engineers to tell them why they needed our products. These guys (and they were almost all men), were usually in their 50’s and knew a lot more about engineering than I did. Still, it was my job to talk to them, learn what they needed, and try to help.

I learned a lot about communicating with random people in that job but never grew to like it. Three years after starting, I went back to the UW-Madison to pursue a Master’s Degree in computer science – job #2.

I was fortunate enough to get an offer to be a TA in the department. This meant free tuition, healthcare, and a small stipend for teaching undergraduates about software. Those years in graduate school were incredible.

I loved the course work – mostly operating systems and computer architecture. Teaching was also rewarding. Not to brag (okay, maybe to brag a little bit), but it turned out I was a pretty good instructor. Eventually I won the CS department’s TA of the year award.

The UW asked me to stick around after I completed my Master’s Degree to lecture. Since I loved Madison and academia, I agreed and spent a year teaching upperclassman and first year graduate students. It was a fun life!

Then, in 2003, Microsoft gave me a call to start job #3 as a software developer in the Windows group. It was interesting to go to work for Microsoft at that time because they were primarily viewed as an evil corporation by the academic circles I was in.

But I came to respect what Microsoft did. Sure, there code may have seemed buggy and insecure to people on the outside (or those living in the academic bubble where real world concerns – like backwards compatibility – didn’t apply). However, witnessing the effort that went into building, fixing, and managing this monumentally huge piece of software was impressive. There was something gratifying (and terrifying) about knowing hundreds of millions of people were going to be using the code you wrote.

After 4 years, though, I felt like another cog in the wheel and needed a new challenge. I decided to leave Microsoft to start my own business doing backend web development for small companies. Eventually this led to my calling.

My Calling

Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, talks about how work, when seen as a calling, ceases to be a drudgery or duty and becomes a passion. I didn’t know running a smartphone & tablet repair company was going to become my calling but somewhere around the beginning of 2009 that’s exactly what happened. There’s an About Jet City Device Repair page on this blog and you can read for that genesis story.

Going from fixing a few phones in my basement to a company with 6 locations in 4 cities, 30 employees, and millions of dollars in sales has been an amazing, humbling, gratifying, frustrating, and exhilarating.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned? There is no end to the number of lessons to learn.

I’ve enjoyed learning how to…

  1. …fix devices.
  2. …do marketing and sales.
  3. …create a fantastic customer experiences.
  4. …create a great environment for my employees.
  5. …manage people.
  6. …build and manage processes.

And the list could go on and on. I’ve come a tremendous distance on this journey, but the farther I go, the more clear it becomes that the journey is the goal. That’s what makes it so fun!

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