rtyler

My journey at Slide (part 1)

As some of you may, or may not know, this friday October 23rd will be my final day as a Slide employee. With my journey at Slide nearing its completion, I wanted to document some of how I've gotten here and where I've started, if for nobody other than myself.

Officially I started at Slide April 2nd, 2007, though my journey to Slide started far earlier. At the end of my fourth semester at Texas A&M my then girlfriend, now fianceé and I decided we were through with College Station and to move to San Antonio; most Texans would consider this a lateral move at best. I had every intention of resuming my studies at UTSA following a brief stint at San Antonio College clearing up pre-requisites with a slightly lower price tag. By the end of fall semester it had become clear that I wasn't cut out for college, I stopped attending and focused full time on software. At the time most of my experience and contacts were through the Mac development community, primarily via IRC on the Freenode network and developer mailing lists for various open source projects. Through my involvement in the Bonjour mailing lists and work with the API, I had at one point impressed Bonjour's original inventor Stuart Cheshire enough to land an interview at Apple for the Core OS group, working on Bonjour.

Sitting on the Continental flight out to San Jose, I practiced writing network services using BSD sockets and pouring over as much C as I could possibly manage, all told I likely wrote around 3 multicast service/client pairs on that flight. What I wasn't prepared for was the "computer science" nature of the interview; I bombed it with my rudimentary algorithms knowledge and lack of experience working with C on a day to day basis. Fortunately, my last interviewer of the day was Ernie Prabhakar then a product or marketing manager for the Core OS group; Ernie indulged me in a very interesting conversation about Apple's position in the open source universe, product direction, etc. Despite bombing the technical portions of the interview, I suppose Ernie saw enough enthusiasm in me to refer me to Dave Morin at Facebook (the two worked together at some point).

Those that know Dave Morin understand that the man wields a Jobsian reality distortion field, even via email 1500 miles away in Texas I felt the power of the field and was drawn to Facebook. While I was ultimately disappointed to not have landed my then-dream-job at Apple, I was incredibly excited to be flying back to Silicon Valley to interview at Facebook. When I mentioned to daver (Dave Young) on IRC that I would be flying back out to see the nice folks at Facebook in Palo Alto, he also arranged an interview at Slide the day after.

A number of factors likely lead to my failure to excite my interviewers at Facebook, not having a Facebook account for one didn't help, I also think I uttered "fuck" under my breath once or twice while sketching out problems on a whiteboard. Considering my interview was done mostly in "the game room" due to a scheduling error, I didn't think I was being too unprofessional. As one could assume, my interview with Slide went substantially better, I accepted an offer to join Slide as a junior software engineer working on their now defunct desktop application(s).

My start date was set for April 2nd, within three weeks I had terminated the lease on my apartment in San Antonio, tossed, sold or otherwise gave away the majority of my belongings and furniture and packed my VW Jetta to the brim and drove west. I didn't particularly have a plan other than "show up, get to work" (I was 21, how young and foolish), so I crashed on daver's couch while I settled in and started searching for an apartment.

My early days at Slide were all about getting up to speed on Python (Slide's language of choice) and ActionScript 2 (Slide's only option for Flash at the time); I started helping with the Windows client, mostly in the spagetti-driven Flash-based screensaver product. Towards the beginning of May, Jeremiah (then Director of Engineering, now CTO) and Bobby (another engineer) were working with some preview APIs from what would ultimately become the Facebook platform. For whatever reason I started working on trying to incorporate some data from Facebook into our desktop client (optimal synergy, etc) and became the third engineer working at Slide on the Facebook platform in its infancy. As May came to completion, we (Slide) were invited to "F8" to unveil some of the applications for their new platform we had built.

Donning my trusty brown cordoruy sport jacket, dark blue Slide t-shirt, I helped man Slide's booth presenting some of our apps: SlideShows and YouTube Skins (both products turned out to be utter failures). As the business/presentation portion part of F8 wound down, I grabbed a 19" monitor and told Max and Jeremiah that I wanted to stay for the hackathon but didn't have any idea what to hack on (being a desktop developer and all). Max leaned in and muttered "Top Friends" on his way out, leaving me to set up shop with the only dual screen setup in the hackathon, at a lonely table by myself (I hadn't figured out how to socialize at that point). Coming from a desktop background, I hadn't a clue what I was doing, I could barely figure out how to get pages working on Slide's infrastructure, let alone all this FBML, FQL and JavaScript malarkey.

Fortunately in the days following the hackathon, I was able to enlist the help of Sergio, the best web front-end engineer Slide had to offer to help me create a grid of drag and droppable images along with some other pieces of front-end to make the application palatable. All said and done, if I remember correctly, Top Eight launched less than a week after the platform did, my first "big" project at Slide. Originally I couldn't get database resources for the app, so I stashed the friends list inside of the profile FBML and then would subsequently retrieve back from Facebook when I needed it, using regular expressions (had help with that too) to pull the list of Facebook user IDs out; that hacked up solution lasted for all of maybe 30 minutes on live as soon as everyone saw how god-awful slow it was.

Day three of Top Eight, I learned what "viral meant". My parents had neglected to pay their phone bill, taking my "family plan" number out with it, meaning I couldn't receive the frantic calls from Jeremiah as I slept-in that morning. Turns out by giving the Top Eight a callback URL with Facebook that hit "www.slide.com" was proving impossible to load balance, resulting in a couple hours of site issues for the rest of Slide, as Top Eight skyrocketed hundreds of thousands of users in a single day. I awoke that morning to pounding on Dave's door (I was still on their couch), opening it I saw Carey (another desktop developer at Slide) who said "your phone's off." Not my preferred way to wake up, but it sufficed. I sheepishly called Jeremiah on Dave's house phone.

Jeremiah was pissed. Not "who ate the rest of my hummus" pissed, righteously pissed, at me. Here I was, living on a friend's (who I met on the internets) couch, without a proper mailing address trying to figure out how this startup thing worked, and Jeremiah was furious with me. If there were such a thing as an "ideal time" for an earthquake, I would have gladly accepted that as an alternative.

Once the smoke cleared and tempers cooled, we looked at some of the installation and growth numbers of Top Eight during the previous 6 hours; I had found myself a new job at Slide. From that day forth, I was "the Top Friends guy."

Continue on to part 2, part 3 and the end

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