My First Week At Big Nerd Ranch August 24, 2013

The phrase “dream job” is thrown around quite a bit, and can mean vastly different things to different people. For a journalist, the dream job may be working for a big, national newspaper. For a film student, getting to work with Scorsese. An artist’s dream job may be to work for Disney or Marvel. For a web designer, the dream job might be working for shops like Happy Cog, Filament Group, Clear Left or…Big Nerd Ranch

Some first-day swag Some first-day swag

I’ll be honest, when BNR first showed up on my radar, I wasn’t exactly sure what they did. I knew they did a lot of developer training, specifically for iOS and Android. But beyond that, it was a bit of a mystery. Once I started poking around, I realized how much they were really into, including week-long trainings at their “ranches” (literal cabins), customized on-site corporate training, custom mobile apps and web apps. It also didn’t hurt that their founder was a former developer at NeXT and a developer and trainer at Apple.

But it was this video that sealed the deal for me and I instantly knew this was where I wanted to be:

Did you see that? I watched it with my wife, and when it was over she turned to me and said, “These are your people.”

I still can’t exactly put my finger on any one thing, but everything about them just felt right. I likened the vibe at Big Nerd Ranch to feeling like a “PIXAR for developers”, if that makes any sense. I immediately applied for a front-end developer position that was open.

Coffee is serious business here. Coffee is serious business here.

Long story short, the process was about 3 months total, the final two weeks being the most excruciating I’d ever had waiting to hear about a job. But I totally understand why it took so long. Above all, at Big Nerd Ranch, culture is paramount. While it’s important that you be a great developer, it’s even more important that you be a great culture fit. Their three tenets are to be “hard-working, brilliant and kind”. And that’s evident with everyone you’ll meet there.

My first day at the Ranch was like the first day of school. I was pretty nervous. This was a group of people I’d hoped were just like me, and I was not disappointed. My day started with a quick tour of the offices and some brief training on their somewhat intimidating coffee apparatus. I then was given my goodie bag, which included a wireless Apple keyboard and mouse, Big Nerd Ranch t-shirt and a book.

The book, as it turns out, is required reading for all new nerds. It’s called “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”. The book outlines a new and better way to work, called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). In a nutshell, its mantra is: “Work wherever you want, whenever you want, as long as the work gets done.”

Coming from working at agencies for the last several years, this new thinking was a shock to my system. In its first few pages, this book so perfectly summed up my previous working environments, it was uncanny. As I read it over the next couple days, it was simultaneously exciting and depressing, as it pretty well summed up the last seven years of my life. Seven years spent commuting over an hour to a desk to log eight hours, no matter how productive. Seven years filling out time sheets to the minute, keeping track of and hoarding PTO and sick days as if they were precious relics. Seven years of pointless meetings. Seven years of environments where employees are treated like children, seemingly incapable of doing what needs done. Honestly, I felt like I needed to go through deprogramming to un-learn that behavior.

Now, thanks to Big Nerd Ranch, I’m able to get in a little later, shave off some commute time and see my daughter for a few minutes in the morning. If traffic is awful, I no longer have to feel guilty about being “late”. I’ll finally be able to go to my daughter’s first day of preschool, and special days like “Donuts with Daddy” (both of which I missed last year). And if I feel I need to work from home to concentrate on something, or if I have to meet a service person at the house, or whatever, I can do so without any guilt whatsoever. Like I said, this will take some time to wrap my brain around.

And there was much rejoicing...  And there was much rejoicing…

I also get a brand new Macbook Pro to work on, which I’m free to customize and make my own. Oh, did I mention the entire place is Mac-based? Such a relief not to have to deal with random PC’s, file format differences, etc. Also, everything is based on Google apps, including Mail, Calendars and Groups. Death to Microsoft Exchange!

I could go on an on about what’s great about their infrastructure but 1) it’d be boring and 2) there are just certain things that should remain a mystery.

On my first day, I got charged with at least two blog articles, one of which should be getting published very soon. And by the week’s end, I’d already drawn a cartoon, a t-shirt design for my front end development team.

T-shirt artwork for my development team. Yes, that dinosaur is throwing up the HTML5 gang sign. T-shirt artwork for my development team. Yes, that dinosaur is throwing up the HTML5 gang sign.

On day two, I attended my first company meeting, referred to as a “fireside chat”, in which we learned about all kinds of cool new stuff…none of which I can tell you about. And as if my first week wasn’t already getting off to a great start, we were also treated to one of BNR’s regular “bacon bonanza” breakfasts. Mmmm, bacon. And later that night, I got to sit in on my first BNR Game Night, where folks will get together to play board and card games. I finally got to learn and play Munchkin and we had a marathon 4-hour game!

First BNR game night was a 4-hour round of Munchkin! First BNR game night was a 4-hour round of Munchkin!

To cap off the week, I got to sit in on my first client meeting, for what may quite possibly be the most challenging and fun project I’ve worked on yet. So yeah, it was a good week.

I think what’s impressed me the most, though, is that every single person you encounter at the Ranch will stop and introduce themselves and ask what you’re working on. And nobody is afraid to ask for help, nor stop what they’re doing to help a fellow nerd work through a problem. Everyone truly loves what they do and cares about doing it right.

I’ve worked places where some developers just seem to put in their time and clock out. Not here. We’re all passionate about what we’re doing and I think it shows in everything that comes out of Big Nerd Ranch. I’m excited and incredibly honored to be a part of it. Here’s to many, many more great weeks ahead.