Rolemodel Recap Day 1

Rolemodel Recap Day 1

Doug Bradbury

January 20, 2011

I spent the last three days on a Journeyman trip to visit Ken Auer and his team at Rolemodel Software in Holly Springs, NC. I first met Ken at SCNA and after hearing his heart for apprenticeship and living an integrated life I’ve been looking for an opportunity to visit ever since.

I arrived late Sunday night and settled into the Rolemodel guest room (which doubles as the Rolemodel break room). Ken has build a new facility that has shortened his commute to the 20 steps from the upper level where he lives with his family to the lower level where the Rolemodel Software team does it’s work.

After a short but sound sleep in the guest / break room, I joined Ken in the morning pairing on one of his rails projects. This particular application began life as a Spree implementation, but has since gained more and more custom code and functionality.

Ken explained to me the interesting place that this project is in. Ken referred to it is as a pivot point, which he says is a lean startup term. The entrepreneur launched with one business plan in mind, but what people are using the most is only a small part of that orginal plan.

So the “pivot” is to refocus on the successful bit, listening to their feedback and growing and expanding that part of the business.

This project was suffering a little from growing pains. Using Spree has made many things difficult and the system is approaching the point of needing an overhaul.

Ken reminded me of the importance of throwing away early prototypes and starting fresh, armed with the knowledge gained from the experiment. It is often hard to do, but eventually those early shortcuts taken to prove out an idea quickly catch up and halt further progress.

I joined Ken and his family upstairs for lunch where they shared with me the stories the many “prototypes” that their lives have tried. I heard about the starting and stopping of Rolemodel Studios, a video production company that involved the entire family.

I heard the baby grand piano in the living room played by Ken’s daughter. I saw the lego constructions of their youngest.

I was impressed with the way that Ken and his wife have listened and observed their children’s interests and talents and created an environment where they could run with those things in a safe and fun journey of self discovery.

Ken’s middle child is currently apprenticed to Rolemodel’s graphics designer, and I watched him being mentored in the afternoons on the tools and practices of good design.

In the afternoon I sat with Paul Nicholson on a mobile Javascript project. The application was being built for a research group so in many places it defied the normal patterns of usability in a typical application.

Everything being done was being done for a specific purpose and it was important for things to work the way they did for the sake of the research. It was great for me to see someone using javascript to build a mobile application.

Mobile is one of the next domains I will be working in, and I’ve been trying to figure out if javascript or native apps is the way to go.

The Auer’s were very gracious by inviting me to share the evening with them. A wonderful meal, a cozy fire, and a family sing-a-long left me inspired.