San Francisco 2012
Twitter: @parenteau

Michael Parenteau

"I wanted to do something different than a conference. I wanted to meet people in their worlds, see what they were up to, share what I've been up to & maybe even collaborate with them."

day 1

So I'm in San Francisco… Now what?
JUN 18

The Story

Over the last couple of years, I have attended a number of conferences that have been fun and inspiring. The one thing they all have in common is that I have met some great people that I wished I could share more time talking about projects or even collaborating on something. I love going to these conferences, but I was looking for something more — something different.

At Relevance, where I work, everybody gets a conference budget. I thought, "Maybe I could take a journey instead. Maybe I could go to San Francisco and visit different companies and meet people in their worlds."

Planning the Trip

When I thought about doing this, I put together some loose plans, but didn't have any specific dates and times lined up with people or places. I figured I'd be able to do that "on-the-fly" and leave some room open for adventure. You know.. by leaving some schedule open, maybe I will randomly meet people and get to see some amazing places I didn't intend. While that seemed like the right thing to do, next time I will try and line up at least my first day.

Day one was all about planning. I spent the day trying to line up some of the specifics: where would I go, when would I get there, who would meet with me when I get there kind of stuff. While all of this seemed to be about creating some structure for the trip, I did get to experience some unexpected magic!

The Magic Bus

I hopped on the 14x bus from Outer Mission to the SoMa area. I wanted to visit software product companies, and so it just made sense that I try and land a spot there. I figured, I'm on East coast time and awake at 4 a.m. — I'll find a coffee shop, get charged, open my laptop and line some stuff up.

Coffee or Chemistry?

When I got off the bus, I fired up Yelp and searched for coffee. Saw that there was a Blue Bottle coffee shop and had heard good things, so I walked there. Holy shit! I ordered a small pot of a single roast African Gamayo and watched as they stirred something over a Bunsen burner-like contraption with vessels that looked like lab glass. The dude working the fire was obviously caffeinated and very into what he was doing. When I got my pot of coffee, it came in a stand holding a small florence flask of hot bean juice and the coffee cup also resembled a beaker. It came with instructions as to when the optimal temperature would be to drink this fine nectar. The only thing that was missing was a thermometer… and maybe safety goggles. I joke around, but the coffee was amazing. This was certainly foreshadowing for how coffee in San Francisco was to ruin coffee for me for at least the next two weeks!

Blue Bottle looks like a science lab. Pot of African Gamayo

Time to Get to Work

After I was sufficiently caffeinated, I walked around to find a place to sit down and plug in my laptop. It was time to get real. While I walked around, I noticed the branded clothing adorned on people carrying laptop bags. Logos of tech companies I was familiar with were all around (Square, Zaarly, Twitter). This seemed like a good sign.

I found a little cafe that had food, coffee and most importantly… power outlets! So, I acquired a table and plugged in. At first I was just re-checking in with folks I had reached out to earlier when I first brainstorming this idea. I wrote emails and sent direct messages on twitter. I needed to set some actual times with people to meet up. While I sorted some of this stuff out, I had a moment to check-in with some coworkers and do some project work. It didn't take too long for the emails and DMs to start coming in. The plan was coming together.

Here's what I lined up:

Lunch via 140 Characters

I started to get hungry. While reading my twitter feed, Jeff Broderick, a product designer I follow but have never met in person, sent out a tweet asking if anyone wanted to join him and Manolo Sañudo for lunch. I replied eagerly as this is what I was there for. This is why I wanted to keep my schedule loose… for adventure time!

We met for some sandwiches and talked shop. It enjoyed listening to Jeff talk about what he was doing. He wasn't working for anybody, he wasn't contracting… he had just partnered with some folks and solely focused on building products that he wanted to design. He talked about his current project and how he wanted to only ship products with features fully baked. You know, not just ship something to ship it and test… but really ship features that he feels good about. These are features he feels look polished and have nice interactions, but then also need to provide value to the user and the business. He talked about minimizing distractions… thinking for the user instead of making them think. He talked about designing with sort of a "less choices, more guidance & focus" philosophy. If you aren't familiar with any of Jeff's work, I suggest that you take a look at some of his projects on dribbble. I think he has done some pretty fine work!

Manolo, who also has a pretty nice portfolio, was in SF on a tour of his own before he goes back to school. I ran into both of these guys again while I was in town. For a big city, it seemed that the circles were smaller than I had thought they might be.

After a great lunch, I talked about what I did, the tools I worked with… the types of tech that I've worked with at Relevance. I might've scared these guys a bit with my "Designers should learn to use the Terminal" zealotry, but overall I'd say lunch was a success.

I wanted to set up some time to work with Jeff on getting more familiar with the whole git/heroku deploy story and walk him through some of the stuff I have been using like middlebot and middleman, but time was limited and it just didn't line up.

@brdrck - The offer still stands… if you want to do some remote pairing, I would be happy to do that if you are still interested. :)

Cask - a Whiskey Heaven

After lunch, as I parted ways with Jeff & Manolo, I noticed a sign with the word "Cask" hovering over a site of glorious whiskey… lots and lots of whiskey. Cask is what I would imagine a wizard's library to look like. The space was dark, wooded & the shelves were organized with bottles of spirits from different regions and grain. I found an interesting bottle of (Whistle Pig Rye) and decided to bring it back to my friend who was putting me up for the week. I sent out a tweet to Justin Gehtland, whiskey connoisseur and CEO at Relevance, with a photo showing some very rare whiskeys. He later requested the exact location of this fine gem — If you like whiskey and find yourself in SF, you should check it out. No, it's not the place where they sell kilts and serve booze (that actually exists)… but it is, no doubt, a good find!

Whiskey tricycle Cask wall sign Whiskey display Whiskey library Whistle Pig Rye, this was delicious! The rare whiskeys

Wait a Minute, I Know this Place!

I started to walk back to Mission St. to get on the bus. Then I thought… wait a minute, I know this place! See, a while back I lived out here to go to the San Francisco Art Institute. During that time, I used to visit the Museum of Modern Art all the time. And now once again, it was right across the street. I didn't want to pass up the chance to take a walk through.

There was only an hour left to check out the collection, but it was enough. Well there could never really be enough time to look at all the work there, but it was at least enough time for me to have an emotional experience. I cried, I smiled and my jaw was dropped. See, this may sound harsh, but I feel sometimes that life would be shit without art. Going to the museum made me want to make everything I do matter, make everything count!

It was a great end to day 1.

Elmer Bischoff painting Featured mural at the MOMA Francis Bacon painting MOMA architecture MOMA architecture MOMA architecture

NOTE: The last 30 minutes of every day at the MOMA is free. If you're in the area at that time, you should go.

day 2

A day at UserVoice & a dribbble meetup.
JUN 19

A Day at UserVoice

The day before, I was able to sync up with Josh Rudd, the Director of UX at UserVoice. We planned for me to stop by at the office and work there for the day. This was sort of cool as not too long ago, Muness Alrubaie, President of Relevance, sent me a link to a blog post entitled, How we use Trello & Google Docs to make UserVoice better every day. I found Trello to be a really great productivity tool and started using it to keep track of things and for collaborating with a team. I was excited to meet these guys and get to learn a bit more about their product and how they work together.

In the morning

I again hopped on the 14x bus (starting to see a pattern here) to SoMa, where the UserVoice HQ is. When I got off the bus, I wanted to find some more of that amazing coffee. So I fired up Yelp again and looked around for what people were saying was really good coffee in the area. I found Special Xtra. They were brewing Blue Bottle coffee, pour-over style, and it was delicious.

I was still on East coast time. Nobody was going to be at the HQ when I got in the area. So I took my coffee and found a spot to sit down and do some thinking. The city seemed to feel different than when I lived here 12 years ago. I was different. SoMa was just a bus stop to me back then. I never really spent any time in that area. Once upon a time, I was a "starving art student" and today I am a software designer with an amazing job. I thought a lot about how I was going into someone else's domain today and how I would get to peek at what they do, where they are, who they are… and then get a chance to compare it to where I'm coming from. I wanted to give these guys a good experience and also wanted to make some new friends.

UserVoice HQ & the Team

After coffee and morning meditations (or maybe donuts), I walked up to the building where the office was. I looked at the plaque identifying which floors businesses were on with their logos. I recognized a couple of the products and again had that thought of SF being a super familiar, real-world version of an Internet that I know.

I took the elevator up to the floor where the office was and when I got off, there was a giant chalkboard wall with the company logo and various illustrations in-progress. It was a wonderful first impression. It had a certain touch that emulated a "we're all about people" kind of attitude. I could tell that I was in for a treat.

Chalk wall at UserVoice entrance

When I got in, I was greeted by Josh Rudd and Chad Bercea (designer & super dude). Josh gave me a tour of the space.

They had just moved in and were at that threshold of building their company with a cool culture and fun office environment — complete with an "old school" arcade cabinet full of video games. It was a nice space and I think they are going to do some really fun things with it.

After getting the full tour, I got to meet the team. I sat with Josh, Chad and also Jonathan Novak (Lead Developer). I shared with them a bit about myself. I gave a presentation on some of the side projects I have worked on, talked about what I do at Relevance. Talked about what I was in SF for and why I wanted to do this trip. They were all really receptive and I was grateful to share. I got to hear a little bit about them and what they were doing there too.

UserVoice is growing… but growing smart. They don't seem to be just taking money and hiring the world or spending money on giant toys. They have a really great product with a pretty large group of users. They are focused on making their product better and more useful to these people. I was really impressed by their attitude and approach to product design / development.

That Sure is a Tasty Burger

When our bellies started talking to one another, a bunch of us walked down to Super Duper on Market St. I obtained a burger, complete with bacon & BBQ sauce and a side of garlic fries — woah! The burger was super juicy and delicious. The garlic fries were generously piled with minced raw garlic. They also had jars of what seemed to be house-made pickles over by the condiments. The place was clean and had a pretty hip vibe. Super Duper, I approve.

Afternoon Hacking

After lunch, I set up in the design room on the couch. I decided to work on a project that I had started called middlebot. It is basically a project generator for using a bash script to install a fresh middleman app using a project template and then in the terminal you are prompted on generating a public Github repo and then also a Heroku instance. A little while back at the Hacker Bed & Breakfast, an annual event hosted by Stu Halloway, I hacked on middlebot with Muness to get the github repo portion working. Then I ran into issues with the Beta version of middleman and Jason Rudolph helped me troubleshoot. Anyway, not to get too far in the past… but there were issues and the bugs were fixed. So, I went ahead and updated middlebot.

While I hacked on some of my stuff, Chad had me take a look at what he was doing. UserVoice was organizing a conference called UserConf. He was working on a particular feature of the website and asked for my feedback. The site looked beautiful. We talked about a couple of different ideas and he ended up implementing one of them. Take a look at the feature in his dribbble shot.

Thank You UserVoice

I want to take a moment to say thanks to the team at UserVoice. I'd also like to give a particular shout out to John Long, a designer/dev on the team there in the Raleigh office for introducing me to the SF people. I had a wonderful time hanging out and getting to know these guys.

UserVoice is currently looking to bring on some people. If you have a good design sense, know your way around a Rails app and have a good attitude… and you want to work at a cool product company in San Francisco or Raleigh, NC, you should contact them.

Spontaneous Dribbble Meet-up

On the twitters, there was talk about a SF dribbble meet-up. And, it was right around the corner from the UserVoice office… so I could walk there — perfect!

I stood out in front of the Thirsty Bear and waited for people to show up. I waited some more. I walked inside to see if there were people around… nope. So I went back out front and continued to wait. The time was set, I looked at my phone to see if I was early… nope, the meet-up should have started an hour ago. Hmm.

Right when I was about ready to bail, almost everyone showed up at once.

I'm glad I stuck around. I met some really great people and talented designers! Some of these folks I have been following on dribbble for years like Morgan Allan Knutson & Brian Benitez. I also got to see Jeff & Manolo from yesterday's lunch. Jay Robinson came by and we got to talk about Sencha, Relevance… and some of the differences between in-house product design and client services. He introduced me to some of the other folks there that he knew. Also, Jay and I talked about doing some retina supported icons for hooppps and a responsive layout for tablets. I have determined that it's about time I give hooppps some updates. Hopefully in the next month I will roll out some updates. If you have ideas or would like to contribute, here's the repo. Feel free to send a pull request.

After Hours at Jeff's Place

After drinks at the Thirsty Bear, some of us walked to Super Duper to get a bite to eat. When we got there, it was closed. We continued to walk around to look for food. At one moment, I was pretty hungry and saw a convenience store and I ran for a banana. I might have had some people thinking I was weird at that point.. "who is this overexcited guy with the banana?" - haha!

Eventually we abandoned the food idea and decided to go to Jeff Broderick's apartment. This was great — again, exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. This would have been a rare occurrence at a regular tech conference.

I got to hang out and discuss all sorts of cool things with these guys. I sat and hung out with Marshall Bock (designer at Google). He had just finished a revision of his website and we looked at the responsive layout on his phone. I talked with Brian Benitez about his time at Disqus and then how he has gone out on his own a bit since. I'd followed Brian's work on dribbble for some time. You should take a look as I think it is beautiful. I set up a time to meet with Morgan to visit Dropbox later in the week. I also got to meet Juan Arreguin (designer at SocialCast) and talk about being a designer/dev hybrid. It was awesome. I had a lot of fun and got to make some new friends. Next time I'm in town, I will definitely look them all up to hang out. They were all really welcoming and it was a joy to see what delightful things they were all working on!

day 3

A day at Storenvy & dinner-hack with Chris Eppstein
JUN 20

A Day at Storenvy

A company I was really looking forward to visiting was Storenvy. If you're not familiar with who they are, Storenvy is an e-commerce platform for people to sell their goods, targeted at artists and craft-workers. I heard them explained as the "tumblr of e-commerce". I just think they are a really neat bunch of people who know how to have some fun!

Little Bit'o'History

Some time back I read a blog post entitled "How I Got Kicked Out of Y Combinator and Then Raised $1.5m for My Startup". It was written by Jon Crawford , CEO of Storenvy, and told the story of how the company started and almost died. But not really… it is a great tale of going after your dreams at all costs. And, it really says a lot about the company's culture & office vibe.

I met Jon and Janette at Lessconf. I talked to them about their company, their story and a little bit about how they use rails to develop their product. Jon spoke at Lessconf 2012, and about how friends matter. This was one the reasons that I wanted to drop by and check them out.

In the Morning

Earlier in the week I set up a time to meet Adam Hendle (also met at LessConf), Storenvy's community manager, at the office. One thing to note is that this time I was not in SoMa. I was in the 16th & Mission area… an area I was more familiar with back when I lived here as a BART station I used to get back and forth from home to school was here.

I met Adam out in front of the office and he gave me the tour. The rest of the team didn't show up until a bit later as they had all been up late the night before working on promoting t-shirt makers on their platform for international t-shirt day. All t-shirts were $10, and so I bought two. Thanks guys!

I really dug their office. They had that scrappy start-up vibe… not a huge space, but it was really nice. It was decorated with vintage furniture and they had a wall of art, all of which came from people on their platform. It showed what you can do with a little creativity and without breaking the bank.

I got comfortable on their nice couch and hacked a bit on a side project: menubar, a Compass/SCSS mixin for generating menubar styles, complete with all css drop-down capability.

Art on the wall by people using Storenvy This is the "treehouse", where devs worked Exposed brick on the interior looked really nice The main office section

Lunch: Burmese Noodle Bar

When lunchtime came, Adam took me to Yamo, a Burmese noodle bar. This place was a total dive hole-in-the-wall… literally! I think that there was maybe 5 stools in the place total and they cooked the food behind the bar in front of you. We had to get the food to go because the place was already sat full. It was delicious! A bit oily, but super tasty. I don't even know what I ordered… not even at the time. I looked over and was like… I said some stuff, the lady said stuff in another language… I gave her money — boom! Some food is coming my way. In retrospect, I would not have done it any other way.

Yamo News Super Hole in the Wall Dive!

Afternoon Hacking & Meeting More of the Team

After lunch, I continued to hack on and actually released menubar. When the rest of the team came in, Jon walked in the door and was like, woah… what are you doing here?!? Haha!

I got to talk with some of the other folks (designer & engineers). Their head engineer, Corey Reece, found out that I was located in North Carolina and we connected instantly. He really loves NC! I showed them all a bit of what I was up to and talked about why I was there. It was a good time.

Thank You Storenvy

I want to take a moment to say thanks to the team at Storenvy. These guys are a really neat group of people. They have that real grass-roots vibe of a start-up in SF. They don't seem pretentious at all. They just do what they love and believe in it. When I had got there… a couple of days before they reached 15,000 stores on their platform. They are growing. Just this week I checked again and they now have 16,000+.

Storenvy is hiring. If you see what they are up to and connect with their product/vibe… you should check them out.

Dinner-hack Session with Chris Eppstein

At about 4pm, I wrapped up at Storenvy and headed over to the BART. Took that to CalTrain to San Mateo to meet up with Chris Eppstein. Earlier in the week, I reached out to him and explained a bit about what I was up to. I asked if he might be interested in getting together for a beer and/or a hack session and he agreed to meet with me.

I am a big fan of Chris's work with Compass, a Sass framework for generating beautiful, cross-browser compliant, stylesheets. I was super excited for a chance to meet and hack with him.


We had never met before in person. We follow each other on twitter and stuff and had some exchanges… but this was the first time that we had actually talked in depth about anything.

We went to a T.G.I. Fridays (conveniently by the bus stop) and ordered a pitcher of beer. We got to know each other a bit, where we worked, what we did… that sort of stuff.

Chris works for as an architect. I asked about that and he has a really great personal story about how he got there. After learning more about his journey, I liked him for more than making a nice tool for designers/front-end devs. I liked him as a person. That sort of stuff… it just matters to me.

What to Hack On?

After a bit of beer and chicken wings, Chris asked, "So, what do you want to know about Compass?" I replied with sort of an "I don't really know" answer. For me, I just have been using it and learning. I have been passionate about sharing what I learn with examples of it in use on ribbons, paper stack and menubar, but I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to learn from here. I just know that I want to contribute and work with cool people.

So, I suggested that we talk about an interaction that was had on twitter between he, Chris Coyier and myself. the whole thing was based on a blog post entitled The CNS Color Naming System by Tab Atkins.

The thing that Chris Coyier said was:

"I *love* the idea of : background: color(very light red); which maps to appropriate value. See @tabatkins blog :"

So we talked about this. What does this mean? Surely we should do something like this in Compass before introducing this to the CSS spec or even Sass itself.

Think Before You Write

I'm pretty sure that this is not how every software problem gets solved. I know that at Relevance we do a lot of pairing and we think before we write often, but sometimes it's a challenge to separate thinking & talking from punching keys. It was notable that before Chris and I even looked at a computer, we talked about the problem for a bit. We talked about why we would want this ability to express colors with words in this proposed way.

I talked about what it's like to hang out in my studio with tubes of paint. How I achieve colors I want through blending from proprietary colors (like Windsor Newton cobalt blue and Golden cadmium yellow, etc). I don't think in terms of hexcodes or even RGB or HSL. I am pretty much designing in the browser via code these days and I still have to fire up another piece of software to get color values.

We talked about naming and what some of these words might mean in terms of math. Like "very" or "light", even "greenish" or "warmer/cooler". After a while it started to get a bit more clear that we were touching on a potential solution and not the problem… he fired up his notebook and began to type out a simple DSL with some comments on what the operations/values might look like. There was even some possibility to provide some specificity in terms of what math "very light" might mean. And maybe we can parameterize the initial meaning of color as opposed to relying on the browser definition of say, blue.

We had to come to an end. The last trains were on their way and we left with some good parting thoughts. Chris was super fun to work with. I really appreciate him hanging out with a student like myself. He had a lot to teach, he was patient and explanatory… and encouraging. I really appreciate him meeting with me.

Thanks Chris!

Note: The work we did together, Chris did a write up of and published a gist the next day: A Friendlier Approach for CSS Color Manipulation

day 4

A day at Heroku & getting skool'd in ping-pong
JUN 21

A day at Heroku

As an artist/designer/developer I use tools to make my job easier. One of those tools I use often is Heroku, a cloud application platform that you use git in the command line to deploy to — super convenient.

A couple of years back when I started at Relevance, Terence Lee interviewed at Relevance. He ended up taking a job with Heroku and still works there. I reached out to him and told him what I was up to and he said that I could totally come to the office and meet up with some people there.

The Office

I met Pedro Belo at the office as Terence was in Europe at the time. Pedro showed me around the office.

The Heroku office is f*king amazing! Complete with ping pong, billiards, big screen projector with couches, nap room, office bicycles, bicycle storage and they even have jellyfish (yes, real jellyfish!). There is also a rooftop hangout spot with a pretty nice view of the city where they could have a BBQ.

One thing I noticed was a giant enamel painted metal octocat sculpture/trophy. Some time back there was a website that was launched by some githubbers about a dodgeball tournament. Well, heroku won. I asked if this was going to be like the Stanley Cup where the trophy is passed around to the winner's office every year, adding the name of the winner and date of the tournament. Pedro laughed… he said that he didn't know but agreed that would be cool.

Heroku front door Heroku Company Dashboard Heroku status dashboard Heroku kitchen with lots of beverages Relaxation room at Heroku Jellyfish at Heroku Heroku Rooftop The dodgeball octocat trophy that Heroku won

A Bit'o'Hacking & More of the Team

I got set up at a standing desk in the big bullpen upstairs. I couldn't stop thinking about what I was doing with Chris Eppstein the night before. Even though I knew that he could probably implement something better in Ruby for Compass itself… I started tinkering with some ideas using basic built-in sass color manipulation functions.

The idea that I was working with was using variables to define primary colors and then allowing secondary colors and tertiary colors to be based on those. Then I wrote a mixin to use some basic words to define manipulation like "light/dark" as default math to manipulate target color in the mixin and the word "very" to emphasize how far I wanted to manipulate the color.

This is hard. I ended up with something that was interesting, but definitely not fully baked. I did show it to Pedro and he seemed pretty into it and thought that it was interesting too. He was like… "Dude, you should meet our designer and show him what you're working on."

He walked me to a room where Todd Matthews was working on gistdeck, a way to publish slide presentations via github gists. Anyways, I showed him what I was up to, talked about what I do at Relevance, why I was in SF, etc.

I enjoyed talking with him. He talked about Art at Heroku, the work he did for their website (which is really nice!)… he showed me some stuff that they were doing for the admin side of the service. We talked a bit about the designer/dev ratio in a company and teams, how they work, etc. After our chat, he brought me to the vault where they keep the t-shirts and posters and gave me a couple of shirts and a silkscreened event poster that they did

I was sorry to interrupt him at first... but then later was pretty glad that we did. Maybe Heroku and Relevance can do some work together on something in the future... seems like they have the kind of culture where that could happen.

Ping-Pong Break

Pedro grabbed me at some point in the day and we played some ping-pong. I lost 3 games in a row. He is a good ping-pong player.

On a side note, they have a really nice panel on the wall upstairs with some widgets showing some different things on it… one of which is a photo of the current ping-pong champion. Pedro built an app that keeps track of who's played whom and what the stats are, etc. Whoever has the best record, gets to be famous… at Heroku anyway.

Pedro kicked my ass at ping-pong The Heroku ping-pong leader board


I want to take a moment to say thanks to Terence and Pedro for setting me up for a day in the Heroku HQ. I had a wonderful time in their office. Even though I got my ass beat in ping pong, it was really great to see where they build a great tool I use all the time.

day 5

Github HQ misfire & whoa I am exhausted!
JUN 22

GitHub HQ Misfire

The day before I had managed to line up going to Github HQ 2.0. Some time back in St. Petersburg, when I was at FrontEnd Conf, I met Julie Ann Havorath (Designer at Github). She said I could stop by one day and hang with the hubbers. I was also in contact with Jason Costello (designer at Github).

I really wanted to make this happen. I've worked with several people who are now hubbernauts. I really love the product and totally connect with the company culture. While in SF… it just seemed like a great prospect to connect with some cool people and work in a great space.

It just didn't work out. I was in the area, but timing was just off. Oh well.

Just a bit of foreshadowing here so as to not be a bum-trip.. I did get to hang at the HQ, just not on Friday. Don't worry… we'll get there.

Taking a Walk

I decided to walk around a bit. A lot happened in the past four days. There was so much going on — So many tech companies, so many talented people! I took a lot of notes and spent a lot of time on public transit. I was up from 5am to 1am almost everyday. To be honest, I felt a bit fried.

Chicken & Muthaeffing Waffles!

While I walked around, I took some pictures, took random streets and looked around at everything! I found myself some more of that fantastic coffee at a place called Cento and right next door there was this place called Little Skillet. It was another one of those garage door joints where there is no seating. you just walk up and order food. I had the most amazing Chicken and Waffles. the honey jalepeño hot sauce and the vanilla bean maple syrup… YUM!

The Utah building on the way to Github HQ 2.0 Coffee cup zombie art at Cento Little Skillet sign Little Skillet menu Gourmet food bus

Unexpected Awesomeness

While waiting in line for coffee earlier this morning, I ran into Nick Plante. He contracted at Relevance before and I got to work with him then. He happened to be in SF for some start-up stuff. People were doing something with tech in a weekend (let's see what we can build). It was funny because Nick helps organize the Rails Rumble, which he let me be an expert judge at one year. Seems like he was on his way to a similar event. It was really fun running into him here. Of all places... getting coffee in SF!

day 6

A day with Morgan Allan Knutson at Dropbox HQ
JUN 23

A Day at Dropbox

I mentioned earlier that a couple of nights ago I went to a dribbble meetup. When I was there, I met Morgan Allan Knutson, a talented designer, whom I have been following for the last couple of years. He was behind awesome works such as, opencongress, opengovernment & miro to name a few. More recently, he has been at google, currently at dropbox and even started his own thing called hypercompact.

Morgan is awesome! He was super friendly, approachable and really easy to get along with! We made some time to meet at dropbox HQ where he is currently.

I met him in front of the building and then we went in. It was like going to the Wonka factory of product company offices. Out of all the places I visited, this place was, by far, the most over the top! We started out by grabbing razor scooters to scoot around the campus. The office is in a full floor of a rather large building and there is a concrete track that cuts through the perimeter of the space.

We scooted by kitchens & drink stations, meeting rooms and collaboration spaces — complete with LEGOS and oversized connect four games. They had a glass-encased music jam room with all sorts of instruments! Nice quiet breakout spaces for quiet and even casual lounge spaces with hanging papasan beds for relaxing or talking. They had a beautiful view of the bay and Giants Stadium. This space was by far the most intentionally designed space out of all the places I visited in SF.

We scooted around and looked at the rooms where they kept company swag and t-shirts and found a suitable t-shirt for me to take home.

Learning About Dropbox & Morgan

Morgan was really open. He talked about the team, ratio of Designer, Engineer, PM people, support and sales, etc. They had 160 people on the team at the time. I am sure that they have grown since then as he said that they are really focused on growing the business. I won't say the number he quoted me in terms of target growth… but I can ensure you that they must have big plans as they are really hiring and looking for great people to bring on!

Some of the interesting things to mention are that they have pretty loose hours in the sense of work. They don't really have set scheduled hours. Instead, people are given responsibility and are trusted and expected to deliver on the responsibilities as well as work together to achieve goals. They play hard too. Just the night before, they all went out for some paintball. Some time after that, they went white water rafting.

I talked with Morgan about his role at Dropbox and it was great to hear he is not just in Photoshop-land. Not only does Morgan make beautiful pixels… he also makes live clickable prototypes using html/css/js. He loves working there and it showed in his enthusiasm when talking about the company.

Morgan recently moved to SF with his wife and daughter. He loves his family and talked about how becoming a dad really lit a fire under his ass. This is an experience I can relate to for sure! When we met at the dribbble meetup earlier in the week, I told him the story of my daughter's home-birth. I won't go into details here… but if you ever meet me in person, ask me about it… it is sure to blow your mind!

Standing on a Ledge, Testing My Fear of Heights

After we left the office, Morgan invited me back to his house for a bit. He took me out on to his deck… which really felt like a thin concrete slab hanging off the face of a high-rise building. At one moment he said, "If you lean a bit over the rail and look to the right, you can see the Bay Bridge." I went ahead and did this and then imagined an earthquake rumbling… and then the image of this slab snapping beneath my feat and literally skydiving towards an urban landscape flashed through my mind. I casually but quickly asked to move inside.

He laughed and was like, "What, you don't want to hang out on the deck?" — Haha! I didn't think that I had a fear of heights, but for some reason in this circumstance… that rail and slab just didn't keep me thinking about the possibilities of disaster. I am sure it is all fine and I was just paranoid.

the view from Morgan's porch

Thanks Morgan

I want to thank Morgan for meeting me on a Saturday to show me around and for letting me into his home. He is a really talented individual but also down to earth. I really appreciated talking with him about design, process, product culture in the Bay, and various other activities. When I am in town next… I will definitely reach out and visit again!

Also, if you want a chance to work with him, dropbox is hiring. I'm not currently looking for a job, but would definitely love to collaborate with him on a project in the future!

day 7

Github reboot — Goodbye San Francisco!
JUN 24

GitHub HQ — Reboot

The night before, I received a call from Jason Costello, a designer at github. He wanted to let me know that if I was still into a weekend meetup, that we could get together that night or in the morning at the office. Considering I had come all that way and was unable to connect on Friday, I was extremely interested in going there as I feel like their designer scene is one that I really identify with.

They are a group of "makers". The lines between code & pixels are getting thinner and a bit more blurry in today's tech landscape. The difference between designer and developer is getting harder to tell. These concepts seem more like interchangeable roles that people take on at different times rather than static titles we put on a business card. Visiting Jason at github validated that for me.

The office

I met Jason out in front of Github HQ 2.0. We went upstairs and he gave me the tour. He showed me around the spaces, we looked at various pieces of art talked about the culture. It was really great to talk about the sort of anarchy that is github culture. We talked about the importance of side projects and how they are tested by just doing them. And how these side projects potentially become products themselves.

Github wants to improve team collaboration for people. It was neat to hear about how they designed certain spaces with the intention of going into different work modes and switching context environmentally. They have hang out space, work space, quiet space, meeting space, collaboration space… They even have a glorified whiteboard room decorated like an old WWII command room — complete with old movie projector with Polish war footage on the reel.

Look Out Heroku

Interesting side note… I asked about the dodgeball tournament they threw (the one that Heroku won and kept the big octocat trophy for). I had mentioned my question to Pedro when I was there about the tournament being like the Stanley Cup, and if the trophy would travel to the current year's winner's office. "Bastards!" he laughed, jokingly. "We will get those guys next year… and yes that is what we will do!" It was hilarious.


We spent some time sharing what I was doing in SF. I talked to him about all my experiences. I showed him the stuff I got to work on while in town and we talked about opportunities to collaborate on some stuff. One of the ideas I had for collaboration were tightly packaged solutions for the front-end. You know, things that can be extended but also don't require a lot of thinking. Stuff that is already solved so we can move on to more interesting or creative work. He seemed receptive, so I will definitely be reaching out to see if we can do a github/relevance team effort on a project sometime.


I want to take the time to say thanks to a couple of people at github for welcoming me to their home. Rob Sanheim, a former colleague at relevance who now works at github introduced me to Jason. He is a true friend and I am really grateful for everything we have shared. I want to say thanks to Jason Long, designer at github and someone who I have worked with as a contractor at relevance, for introducing me to some other folks in the SF area. That really improved my experience! I also want to thank Jason Costello and Julie Ann Havorath for bringing me in and making me feel welcome! I am glad I got to take a look at a glimpse of their world. It was a wonderful closing before heading up the coast across the Golden Gate Bridge (which only a few weeks before my trip, turned 75 years old!).

fin ~

super high 5

I want to say a special thank you to Relevance. I could not have done this without their support. For info on this site, see the github repo. I hope you enjoyed the show.