Countdown: June, 2016

Thirty-one years ago, my parents bought an Apple IIc, and shortly thereafter, two games: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Rocky’s Boots. The former taught me a love of problem solving, reading, and probably travel. The latter taught me the fundamentals of programming and logic — I often wonder why it hasn’t been updated for the iOS-set.

Twenty-nine years ago, I sat down in front of Mac in a classroom and met Logo’s turtle for the very first time. In some ways I’ve never really stood back up from that.

Twenty-four years ago, my high school computer science teacher convinced the school to let him teach a senior-level programming class for myself and 2 other students, so I could continue pursuing my passion. I owe much of my life to that act of attention and kindness.

Twenty-one years ago, I built my very first website, a simple little thing to help me keep notes, and provide the players a recap, for my Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. It didn’t do much, but it represented my first web-based programming, in Perl.

Twenty years ago, I was hired at Envolve Communications, and wrote my first professional website — a Vancouver handyman finder (waaaaay before it’s time), IIRC.

Seventeen years ago, I joined a startup called Up In Front, and got my first taste of dot-com insanity, hours, pressure, success and failure. It was an amazing 15 months before the crash.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote the first version of a CMS, The Pencilcase, with, at the time, an important distinction: it spat out (mostly) standards-compliant and accessible markup. It also had a rudimentary templating language to let my non-programmer design partners pull in dynamic content.

Fourteen years ago, I met Jeff Schafer, a good developer with an excellent business sense. We quickly realized that our skill-sets were complimentary, and we sought to work together.

Thirteen years ago, Jeff & I founded Pencilneck Software. From the start, we had a set of core goals that served us well:

  • Be high-touch: Technology is scary, and we can change that. Always listen to the customer’s needs, not their wants. Sweat the small stuff
  • Respect Expertise: We never set out to be a full-service shop. We wanted to provide excellent back-end code, and partner with experts to provide design, copy, etc.
  • Be a plumber: We prided ourselves on long-lived, excellent code that served our clients, not our egos. We built every website on the goal of a minimum five-year lifespan.
  • Stay nimble: We actively chose to not grow large, but to stay small, and able to shift focus as needed. Hire only when workload dictates — we embraced the agency model.

Eleven years ago, we released version 3 of the CMS, now renamed the The Pencilneck CMS. This project became the basis of all sorts of related platforms, as well as powering some 100+ websites. Several sites still happily use it today. It was modular, extensible, accessible and standards-compliant: From the beginning, we abandoned table-based templates in favour for the still-emerging CSS & standards-based layouts

Eight years ago, in a shift for the company, we were hired to build an entirely new platform for a client. It was the start of Pencilneck as “the version 2.0” company, specializing both building prototypes for clients, and scaling existing codebases to new versions, new levels.

Seven years ago, we became a distributed company when Jeff moved to Texas, and we ran two offices. This trend would continue to expand as we hired new contractors and staff. This transition forced us to confront how technology & tools can both build and break culture. It started a long internal conversation about the importance of the human on the other end of the interface.

Five years ago, we took stock of how poorly the websites we built for our clients were managed post-launch, how many problems our design partners had with dealing with technical requests, and launched a high-touch managed hosting service, specifically aimed at helping design firms and non-technical site owners have worry-free hosting. This move felt directly in line with our renewed focus on customer experience – both in the websites we built, but also in how we worked with our partners.

One year ago, I knew it was time for me to move on: I’d done more than I’d ever imagined possible with this company, with my partner, with my staff and with my clients. I was listless and no longer loving the work that I did. After long discussion, the decision was made to try and sell Pencilneck’s core services: managed hosting and top-shelf development. I would also leave at the same time.

One month ago, we completed the sale of Pencilneck to Pantek, a Cincinnati-based hosting firm whose approaches to caring for their clients closely matched our own philosophies, and who was looking to build out an in-house development arm. Jeff and the Pencilneck staff are all moving on to Pantek, which is an excellent turn of events. I can move forward on my own knowing that my team, my clients are all in good hands moving forwards.

Today, I have left Pencilneck. I’m thinking about what’s next for me — what’s my next focus? It’ll be something new. I’m doing some freelance work as a CTO-for-hire, taking what I’ve learned over the past thirteen years at Pencilneck helping clients build new companies, and scale existing platforms. I’m taking courses, learning new tools and languages in realms that are new to me. I’m thinking a lot about the process & tools of site management, both from an agency/contractor’s perspective and the site owner.

I’m excited to explore the future!