Tales from my job search: My “Silicon Valley” moments with Pebble

by Joey deVilla on March 30, 2017

Here’s another interesting tidbit from my Magnum Opus Job Application that you might have missed…

You are watching Silicon Valley, aren’t you?

If you’re a regular reader of my personal blog, The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century (and hey, it’s possible, what with over 27 million pageviews since its inception in 2001), there’s a slim chance that you might remember my Secret Side Trip in the summer of 2012.

The Pebble smartwatches of that time (2012).

As I write this, almost five years have passed since the Secret Side Trip. In that time, I have never revealed where I went or what the purpose of that trip was. It can now be told: I was in the San Francisco Bay Area (which I call “The Other Bay Area” since I live in Tampa) to interview for evangelism positions at a couple of companies that I’m quite sure you’ve heard of. One of them was the smartwatch company Pebble.

The importance of networking and writing good cold emails

I was in the Philippines in June 2012, and it was generally known in my professional social circle that I was looking for new opportunities. I didn’t have international roaming (I was still living in Toronto at the time, and didn’t want to pay the exorbitant data roaming rates that my mobile provider, Rogers, wanted), but still had online access thanks to hotel wifi.

One evening — which would’ve been morning on this side of the globe — I received a couple of messages on friends via social media telling me that they’d seen an announcement that Pebble was looking for a developer evangelist, and that they thought the role was made just for me. I never saw the announcement, and without my network, I never would’ve known about the opening.

I quickly jumped on the opportunity and wrote them an email, text text of which I’ve copied and pasted below:


Date: Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 3:11 PM
From: joey@joeydevilla.com

Subject: I want to be Pebble’s developer evangelist!

Dear Pebble people:

I’m Joey deVilla, and I’d like to throw my hat into the ring for the position of developer evangelist promoting Pebble. Yours is an exciting project in my favourite field — mobile development — and I’d love to be involved!

I have a dozen years’ experience working either as a developer evangelist or playing that role as a programmer. I’ve been blogging actively since 2001 on my personal blog, The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century (http://joeydevilla.com/) and my technical blog, Global Nerdy (http://globalnerdy.com/), has been around since 2006 and got 1.5 million pageviews last year. I’ve organized developer events ranging from small gatherings at coffee shops to cross-country conferences for thousands of developers and IT pros and I’ve delivered presentations at these events.

Among the companies for which I’ve held the developer evangelist role are:

– OpenCola, Cory Doctorow’s startup, where among other things, we helped popularize the concept of “Whuffie” (a unit of social capital, defined here: ). OpenCola’s development offices were in Toronto, while Cory and I worked out of the evangelism office in San Francisco.

– Tucows, where the position was called “Technical Community Development Coordinator”, the longest title I have ever held (it’s one syllable shy of a haiku). I shortened it to “TC/DC””.

– Microsoft, where I was hired from the open source world to reach out to developers who might not ordinarily consider using Microsoft tools and technologies. I promoted ASP.NET MVC, Windows Azure and was on the Windows Phone “Champs” team. I also helped organize events like “Make Web Not War”, a conference on Microsoft/open source interoperability.

– Shopify, where I most recently worked. I oversaw the Shopify Fund, a $1 million pool of money being used to encourage developers to build apps on the Shopify API and was Shopify’s representative on the 2011 BarCamp Tour, a group of startups that sponsored and actively participated in BarCamps across the country.

I’m also known for bringing my accordion — I call it “social hardware” — to developer conferences and gatherings. I play rock and pop accordion, from Nine Inch Nails to Britney Spears, and I use it as a tool for breaking the ice, livening up technical presentations and adding a little fun weirdness to conferences (here’s a video of me performing at the evening keynote of RailsConf 2007: http://www.globalnerdy.com/2007/05/24/playing-accordion-at-the-railsconf-keynote-or-theyd-never-let-me-do-this-at-javaone/)

I’m currently based in Toronto, but I’d be willing to relocate for the opportunity to promote Pebble. I’ve lived and worked in the Bay Area before (during the Bubble, at OpenCola) under a TN-1 visa. I still have my U.S. Social Security card and also have a NEXUS card, which cuts the time I spend in U.S. Customs down to 10 seconds.

I believe that I would be the perfect evangelist for you, and would love to talk to you about the opportunity to evangelize Pebble to developers. I’ve enclosed my resume with this email (PDF, 110K). If you have any questions, I would be very happy to answer them.

My LinkedIn profile:
http://linkedin.com/in/joeydevilla

My resume:
http://www.globalnerdy.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Joey-deVilla-2012-Resume.pdf

My technical blog:
http://globalnerdy.com/

My personal blog:
http://joeydevilla.com

My Twitter account: (@AccordionGuy)
https://twitter.com/#!/AccordionGuy

A mere four hours later, I got this reply from Pebble’s founder and CEO, Eric Migicovsky:

Date: Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 7:02 PM
From: Eric Migicovsky
Subject:  Re: I want to be Pebble’s developer evangelist!

Hey Joey,
Thanks for sending all the info. It would be really good to chat soon. I’m in UK right now for Leweb, but do you want to Skype on Wednesday morning EST?


The next day, we were chatting on Skype, with him in a hotel room in London, and me in the business center of my hotel in Manila (The Ascott in Makati, which I highly recommend), both of us dealing with the sound occasionally dropping out and trying to work out dates for meeting up for an in-depth interview in Palo Alto.

“First world problems are the best,” I remember saying.

Two days in the Valley

Pebble flew me from Tampa to San Francisco on their dime…

An actual photo taken on the first leg of my flight from Tampa to San Francisco.

…and put me up for two nights at this hotel…

An actual photo taken in the hotel lobby on the evening I arrived.

…so that I could do two days’ worth of interviews at Pebble HQ.

In the summer of 2012, Pebble HQ and Eric’s house were one and the same. This isn’t all that different from the office setting in the TV series Silicon Valley, with Erlich Bachman’s house functioning as Pied Piper HQ…

The living room in Erlich Bachman’s house / Pied Pier HQ in Silicon Valley.

…except that rather than being like this…

The exterior of Erlich Bachman’s house / Pied Pier HQ in Silicon Valley.

…it was more like a townhouse, closer to the center of town, only a couple of blocks from University Avenue and the CalTrain station…

Google Street View of a street near Eric’s place.

…but if you replace the early 1960s house design in the Silicon Valley promo photo below with 1990s townhouse design, Pebble’s living-room-turned-into-office setup wasn’t all that different from Pied Piper’s:

The workspace in Erlich Bachman’s house / Pied Pier HQ in Silicon Valley.

The interview

I took the photo above on the first day of the two-day interview. I was overdressed, by Silicon Valley techie standards, but I’m a grown-ass man, and if you’re over 30, in a white-collar line of work, and not in a tropical climate, you should wear a jacket to your job more often than not. I also figured that I’d also stand out against most of the other people dropping by Pebble for a job, who would show up in the stereotypical startup schlub uniform of hoodie, T-shirt, and jeans.

I spent a good amount of my time with Eric brainstorming ideas for Pebble. A lot of people feel uncomfortable when this sort of thing happens; they see this as a company’s way of milking them for ideas for free, especially when the interview doesn’t result in their getting hired. I don’t, for the following reasons:

  • The job for which I was applying requires generating ideas. I needed to prove to them that I could do that.
  • I’d rather turn all my dials up to 11 in an interview and go all out. I think that putting in a half-hearted effort in order to prevent them from taking my precious ideas and running with them without my getting anything in return would guarantee a half-assed interview performance.
  • There’s a world of difference between having an idea and turning that idea into reality. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
  • The bigger danger to me was them not hearing my ideas, not Pebble “stealing” my ideas. To quote Tim O’Reilly, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

I’m particularly pleased with one of my answers that came up during the brainstorming session. It was in response to this question from Eric: “How would you suggest dealing with the watch’s one-bit resolution?” The classic Pebble watch screens were effectively black-and-white: no color, and all their pixels had only an “on” state and an “off” state.

Windell Oksay throws the right-hand rule physics gang sign.
Taken from this article about Atkinson dithering.

I answered by saying that they should think of their screens as “retro”, embrace their one-bit-ness, and borrow as many graphic tricks from the original Macintosh as they could, such as using dithering to simulate grayscale colors, as shown in the picture above.

I also spent a few hours on their programming challenge, which was to come up with a simple app for Pebble’s predecessor, the inPulse smartwatch, which was designed to be a BlackBerry accessory. They set me up at a coffee table, pointed me to where I could download the inPulse SDK, and said “see what you can come up with.”

The exercise required using things I’d never used before (Oracle VirtualBox, the inPulse SDK) and things I hadn’t used in ages (gcc and C), but in an afternoon, I not only had a working inPulse dev environment, but a working “Magic 8-Ball” app running on the SDK’s simulator.

Outcomes and output

If you know me personally, or if you look at my LinkedIn profile, you’ll know that I didn’t get the job. I think the interview went well, and I continued corresponding with Pebble after the interview, sending them writing samples and other artifacts of my developer evangelism at previous companies, but as July turned into August and then September, no responses came. I believe they ended up going with someone else for the role.

In September 2012, when my friend Katherine Hague was still running her quick-and-easy e-commerce service, ShopLocket (which has since been acquired), I introduced her to Eric via email, thinking that it would be beneficial to both ShopLocket and Pebble, and perhaps might even get my conversation with Pebble going again. As far as I know, nothing came of it.

One bit of my output from my Pebble interview lives on today: my inPulse Magic 8-Ball tutorial, located in my GitHub account. It’s one of a very few inPulse programming tutorials still on the web today, and in my opinion, it’s the most through, best-written, and best-designed one out there. Give it a look, and marvel at my programming and writing prowess!

Why you should hire me

If your organization needs someone with technical skills who can also communicate with a wide range of audiences — even to kids, with the assistance of a puppet c0-host — you may be interested to know that I’m available and looking for work.

If you’re looking for someone with desktop, web, mobile, and IoT development skills who can also communicate to technical and non-technical audiences, or a marketer or evangelist who also has a technology background and can code, you should talk to me.

If you’d like to learn more, you can:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ian Garmaise March 30, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Nicely done Joey. I agree with your choice to freely offer your ideas, given the kind of position you were applying for. Consistent with the recommended strategy on the Ask the Headhunter newsletter, which I have a lot of respect for. Congrats on being able to hack together that app on the spot.

2 Jorge Solozano March 31, 2017 at 11:23 am

Nice doing Joey and a very possitive thinking toward the often request to share your ideas on a long working session supposed to be an interview. I have enjoyed your story and your blog. Hope you will get what you are looking for.

best,

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