I Meet Some Heroes February 22, 2013

I just got back from three days at “An Event Apart“, which is billed as “The design conference for people who make websites”. The conference was created by Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer, both of whom were instrumental in my formative years as a professional developer in the late nineties. Jeffrey wrote the classic “Designing with Web Standards“, and Eric gave us “Eric Meyer on CSS“. I’ve followed them both ever since.

Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman

Once at the event, it felt really surreal to just see these guys walking around like the rest of us mere mortals. I’d turn around and there would be Jeffrey Zeldman in the lunch line or I’d pass him in the hall. It felt super weird to be, at least for those three days, considered a peer to someone who has helped you so much. These are people who literally helped make it possible for me to feed my family for the last 16 years.

I got a dude nod from this guy.

I got a dude nod from this guy.

In these situations, I’m very careful to respect people’s time. You want so badly just to run up to someone and be all fanboy on them. But you have to play it cool, and understand that these are just people, too. I remember back to a previous job, our office was in a complex that was regularly rented out to movie productions. For about 3-4 months, a production company making a movie directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton was our neighbor. So almost daily, we’d see Billy Bob and other crew members just walking by, chatting or having a smoke break. It was all I could do not to introduce myself and gush about loving his work. But at the end of the day, he’s just a guy trying to do a job. He’s got the same crap to deal with as the rest of us. I never did talk to him, but a couple times in passing, I got the “dude nod”.

Before the conference, I’d thought about giving Jeffrey and Eric caricatures I’d done of them. After the first day, I was just exhausted and didn’t have time. The next day, Eric randomly tweeted that he was hoping to meet up with “AtlantaJones” to chat. Naturally, I was surprised and excited. I stopped to chat with him between sessions, and I think he just wanted to say “hey”. And he actually did remember that we’d met one time before when I spoke at Ohio University, where he was keynoting a conference.

After that encounter I decided I simply must do the cartoons, and did them both that very night. I mean, when might I see either one of them again, much less together at the same event?

The next day, the last day of the event, I was lucky enough to find them both together before the first session. I gave them both their cartoons, each of which was signed by me, with a short note saying something along the lines of “Thank you for my career”. I realize that was a bit of hyperbole, but come on.

To my delight, they both absolutely loved them, and Jeffrey immediately wanted to take photos of us. Of the inscription, Eric said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I do have to take issue with that, though. Your success is all you. If we could be of some help with that along the way, we’re humbled. But the rest is all you.” I kinda dig that sentiment.

And to top it all off, Jon Tan, another speaker at the event, was so impressed with their cartoons, he ordered one for himself on the spot!

All in all, a great three days, and I’m so glad I took a chance that two of my web development mentors wouldn’t think it was super creepy to get a cartoon from a fan.