The night that I signed the papers, I went for a walk down Mt. Auburn street. I played BellX1’s 'Built to Last' on repeat. Around me, trees reached their bare branches into the darkness, their last leaves descending among footfalls on cobblestone streets, where students wrapped in coats and fuzzy boots dissolved into the soft shadow and warm glow of street lights, sounds of laughter in Cambridge on a late fall evening.
It was the first real employment contract I’d signed, as a 22-year-old coming straight out of college into a tech startup. The CEO and I were the last ones in the office, sunset giving way to darkness outside as I read through pages of non-compete and non-disclose and salary contract. They asked for prior art. "What have you done?,” said the voice in my head, “what have you done that gives you the right to be here?" It was a voice that I’d get to know intimately well over the next few years. I drew a picture of a time machine, because you never know.
Alongside the other papers was a shareholder agreement granting me a tiny portion of the company. “Right now it's worth a few cents,” the CEO told me, “but it could eventually amount to something.” I signed it.
What followed were weeks, months, years of hard work. We think of technology as something intellectual, but my experience of technology has always been distinctly human. What you make as a company is a reflection of who you are and who you are growing into, and all of these things come from people and the way they feel about their work. The undertow to your every day is a deep hunger for growth that drives everything around you. At a startup, change is the air you breathe. You never live the same experience twice, so it's up to you to really be there. I wish I’d asked more stupid questions, I wish I’d gone to the afterparties and stayed up later talking to friends. I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to grow up.
I found out that we’d been bought from a text message when I got home from a week at a monastery out west. Our team of 30 was now over 300, soon to be part of one of the largest software companies in the world. My shares that had been worth a few cents did end up being worth something. Which is nice - makes me feel like I’ve done something, like I am somebody.
In a few weeks I’ll be signing new paperwork, this time for the big company. There will be a section for prior art - what have I done? I’ll put down a few apps and a technology podcast with a friend. I’ll detail the plans for an all-nighter spent pushing a release, for Mexican food in the morning, for chaider and Darwin’s sandwiches and accidentally drawing hamburgers on walls without whiteboard paint. I’ll mention flying drones from a rooftop and scaring strangers in the street; drinking old wine from the fridge and dancing until last call; building great things with friends. A damn good recipe for banana guacamole. And a time machine. You never know.
I’m working on a documentary about how humans interact with smart devices and apps. The project is called If You Build It, and so far I’ve filmed about 50 interviews. If you have an interesting story about how smart devices have affected your life, or just want to be part of the film, email me.