Stranger 75, Day 75 – Meet Sam, the “Sir Skibbles of Gaming and UI Engineering”

Stranger 75, Day 75 - Meet Sam

I met today’s Stranger actually as I was otherwise turned down by my initial prospect. See, I was in the kitchen area of my office, and I was talking to one of my colleagues as two other people walked in. I didn’t know either of them. I did, however, realize that one of the guys was wearing the exact same button-up I was. So they noticed me staring while my colleague suggested I make him today’s Stranger. I asked him, but he said he didn’t have time. I then turned to his colleague, however, and asked him. He did have a few minutes to spare, and happily accepted to be today’s Stranger.

Note: Kailee, Stranger 73 also walked by today, and was encouraging of one of the guys to be the Stranger. That was nice.

Meet Sam, 31

Who are you?

“I am the father of… two dogs.” Haha, the pause and then finding out he was talking about dogs threw me off.

“… And actually have a baby boy on the way in April. First child.” (Congrats!)

“… And I am the lead UX engineer for Rigor here at Atlanta Tech Village. So I kind of handle — I work with the engineering team. I’m the lead, but I’m also the only.” He laughs. “I handle all of the front-end development — user interaction, user interface. That sort of stuff for our web application.”

Do you love UX? If so, what do you love about it?

“I do! I love… design, in general. My title, I think, is mis-leading for what I actually do. I get approached by people who are very interested in UX. I think UX has a very loose definition to it. Many people have different definitions of what it is. I do not do much of the full-fledged research stages where I think a lot of people think with UX you go out with a team, go to other companies, you look at websites or you look at whatever it is. You analyze and pick apart. Figure out all the best ways. You go through this whole process. You have this budget by a big company or something like that. You’re given a month or two months to basically rip something to shreds and come up with a better solution.”

He clarifies, “… which is not really what I do. I do a lot of that, but in a very short amount of time. A startup is not going to give you that flexibility because you have to move a lot quicker. I’m more on the coding and development side which I enjoy, but as I said, I don’t think my title is as fitting. And I can change it. I’ve already talked to everybody on the team. I can change it if I wanted it. I don’t really care.”

If you could have any title, what would it be?

“I’d probably just change it to UI Engineer or something like that. Something small where it gives a little bit more… let’s you know I do more on the coding side, less on the strategic research side.”

Do you love being a part of a startup? If so, what?

“I do. I worked for big companies. I grew up in Georgia, but I ended up moving out to NYC for a couple years. Then, I was out in LA for a few years. I’ve worked at big companies across multiple different industries. My career has spanned all types of different fields. And you know, the big companies are all generally about the same — the environment is kind of crappy. The culture is… lacking. Some of the companies have thousands or tens of thousands of employees. Some I’ve worked at have just a couple hundred employees. So on the small or medium side.”

“I came to Rigor… actually, I was in the Village for another company, RenterUp, with a good friend of mine. It was just me, him, and the Founder, David F. And so I just loved it. The culture here, in general, is fantastic. Unfortunately,RenterUp has kind of faded a little bit. So now, I’m with Rigor. I came on with the team of like 15 or 16 at the time. It’s awesome. Everything’s about the culture. Everybody’s there to support one another. You don’t have those office politics that play in where people are always trying to stab you in the back even if like they’re the best friends to your face.”

“I do not miss the old jobs that I had. BUT at the same time, I think it was definitely important for me and for a lot of people to experience that. It’s the same thing like if you’ve never worked retail in your life. I feel like everyone should’ve worked in a retail job at some point so that you’re a little bit more empathetic for what people in these positions go through now. It just sets you up better for life, in general.”

You’ve talked about culture and part of big companies… been in NYC, been in LA, and now you’re back in Atlanta. How would you describe how Atlanta compares to the other two cities culturally?

“People always ask me do I miss LA. Something I miss a lot about LA was the entertainment culture that went on there. I enjoyed on the day-to-day having conversations about movies and television. People have that here, but you sort of have to reach for it/ dig for it a little bit to get it out of them. Just conversations are different in Georgia because entertainment isn’t everything. There aren’t billboards every 20 ft promoting a new show or something.”

“Professionally… you know, I was not big in startups. I didn’t really know about startups, or the term startups, at all, really when I was in New York. That wasn’t something that ever came across my radar. I think maybe in LA, Shark Tank started to get big on TV, so I started hearing more about it. I never, personally, used the term ‘startup’. It wasn’t until I got back here in Atlanta, I didn’t even know about what David Cummings was doing with startups at the time until my friend, Eric, who I was with RenterUp with and coincidentally, we both came to Rigor at the same when RenterUp kind of went away. He sort of introduced me to it because he worked for some startups. And then I did a startup weekend here in Atlanta that was hosted out of ATDC, and my wife and I actually did that. We competed on different teams, and her team came in second. My team came in third. Which is crap because her team didn’t even have a working prototype or anything. It was just a bunch of slides that they clicked around to make look like a site. We actually built that, so…” Haha! Sounds like they built a minimum viable product (MVP) to win.

“But that startup weekend was huge for getting me into this, and opening up my eyes to startups, in general, and the growth of startups here in Atlanta. So I think Atlanta is on pace for becoming a big startup scene known around the country.”

So you talked about giving yourself your own title. You just mentioned entertainment, and I’ve recently talked to people who liked video games and comics. I was thinking what about entertainment interests you?

“I just enjoy the scene… the buzz… and talking about. At that point in time, I don’t wish I still did all of this, but it was interesting to discuss celebrities and statuses and things that were going on that really didn’t relate to [me] at all. It was fascinating to be around that. And to bump into celebrities was always kind of fun. Kind of cool. So I enjoyed that.”

“You mentioned games, though. I thought you were going to ask, ‘oh, you look like someone who might be a gamer or something like that’. I do play some games now. Interestingly enough, a fun fact, I used to be a professional gamer for Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament 2003.” How great!! I just talked to Bruce, Stranger 70 about UT2k3! I share this with him and my affection for UT.

“Yeah! That’s cool! That’s fascinating. I feel like you say Counter Strike around here, or Half-Life a lot people have dabbled in it. Yes, I was on a couple different teams. We had a manager. We traveled around. We did the CPL which is no longer a thing anymore — the Cyber Athlete Professional League. Big events took place maybe twice a year. Won some money. Won more, I feel like I won more, swag and free processors and motherboards. I remember one point at a small local tournament, everybody won a 24-pack of Red Bull. I drank that in a weekend which is terrible. But Unreal Tournament was more of my shining star.”

“I competed in a UT2k3 event here which was the local Georgia qualifier for the World’s Cyber Games. I won that, and that was right at the end of high school — my senior year in high school. The US qualifier — the World Cyber Games took place in Korea, I think… I can’t remember — I didn’t actually end up going to it because…” He pauses for a moment to recall.

“I won the Georgia event. I was given a free flight, trip, hotel out in LA to compete in the USA qualifier which if you win that you probably place in the top 3, then you represent USA in UT2k3 overseas in the World Cyber Games. But…”

“… my parents have always been — obviously, school came first — my parents were always good about, you know, ‘do what you think is best. Keep your grades up and we don’t really care. You’re winning money. You’re winning free swag. You’re having fun playing games. You’re doing well in school. That’s fine.’ But I remember I had been doing a lot of gaming at that time, and I didn’t even try and ask my parents for permission to go to LA. The qualifier date in LA took place the first week of college, so that would’ve been my first week going to UGA, and it was basically a decision do I go to my first week of college, or do I go to this video game thing?” He smiles.

“I can’t even swing that with my parents because they would flip out. They’d just be like, ‘are you crazy? You’re going to school.’ I didn’t even end up going to the LA event, and I felt like that was the end of my gaming career. I tried to play a little through my first year of college, but… other priorities came up and pushed it by the wayside.”

Do you play any games now?

“Now, I really like to just play socially, with friends. Get on a headset and play with some friends. I play Battlefield 4 on Xbox One… which I also used to hate console gaming. I still don’t love console gaming. I’ll take keyboard and mouse any day of the week. My thumbs just aren’t as agile as on a mouse,” he laughs. “Sometimes, I get… pissed in the games. You know, having to play with the joysticks, but it’s fun. I enjoy it. I don’t play that much, but Battlefield’s my game.”

Thinking about all these things you’ve done. How would you describe yourself? What would be your alias today (from video games)?

He laughs. “My alias? My gamer tag?” He laughs some more.

“Well, my gamer tag on Battlefield is Sir Skibbles.” Hahahaha. We both laugh about this. “I don’t think you’ll find anybody else with that name!”

“… which all spawned from SKB was my gamer tag when I competed. Before that was Fugmire, which, don’t even ask me why. SKB was more of the name that you could look up. Although, it’s hard to find stuff these days of yore on Counter Strike anymore… from the old players from Half-Life. But yeah, SKB, and then, people were like, ‘yo, SKB… yo SKIBBZ’ Then, I was SKIBBZ for a while. And then eventually, I don’t know, at some point, I just changed it to Sir Skibbles, probably for some stupid reason.” He laughs some more.

“But that’s what I’ve been playing with for years now!” We both laugh about this together.

We talk a little more about the technical fun stuff about games including the old days of watching gamers play on-demand before this was a big thing. (Twitch was acquired by Amazon years ago for $970MM for this very audience.)

Not knowing your financial situation or otherwise, yesterday’s Stranger, Stan, wanted to ask you what made you successful beyond the “template”. Perhaps it’s something you think you’re successful in or if you consider others you know who are very successful. What made them successful that goes beyond the normal answer of “go to school, college”, etc. because people do that all the time. What sets you or those successful people apart? (Thanks to Stan, Stranger 74)

“I feel like, what I have seen for the most successful people… a lot of people are passionate about something. That’s usually the catalyst for starting a company or building an app or continuing with an idea. I think what makes that a success, and maybe makes you very well-off financially, is the ability to continue staying passionate about it.”

“So, I’ve definitely had some things I’m so passionate about. So I start working on it whatever it is. Actually, my friend, Eric, and I, we started a company together before we were at RenterUp just out of my house. We started working on something. We were both super passionate about it at the beginning — ‘this is game-changing! This is amazing!’ — like most people are with a new idea. ‘Listen to my app idea! It’s going to change the world!'”

He whispers, “…how naive!” Haha.

He smiles, and continues, “But then, probably like 3 weeks/ a month into working on something, you can tell we both started losing interest in it. We weren’t passionate about it anymore. Maybe the question there is: were we really passionate about it at the beginning, or did we just think we were passionate? I think that’s kind of what makes the most successful people. One of the reasons… What makes the most successful people so successful is the ability to be passionate about something and actually stay passionate about it.”

“And maybe it’s part of when you start seeing the writing on the wall. Maybe it’s not working out. Maybe you don’t have enough market share. Maybe it’s not really about needs. That all starts taking a beating on you. You lose passion because of that. But there are definitely some things out of nowhere you just wake up one day, and you’re like, ‘whatever this is is dumb. Why am I doing this? I need to change it up. Let’s come up with a new idea.’ I think people if they can find something they’re truly passionate about. I think it’s cliche. People say it all the time. I think if you could find something you’re truly passionate about it, figure out a way to do that the rest of your life. Monetize it. Make a business out of it, or something that’s going to keep you happy and provide for you.”

So what is a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Wow… man, that’s a good question…”

“What do you see yourself doing next?”

After the handshake.

How cool that I should meet a legend of Unreal Tournament just days after meeting Bruce and talking about video games, too? It was nice to continue reminiscing about video games after marinating on video games the last several days since Bruce.

Meanwhile, I appreciated Sam’s advice on what makes successful people successful — maintaining that passion. Or maybe more accurately, having a true passion that successful people have that enables them to also push past the tough moments. I’ve read a lot about purpose and ground into one’s “WHY” (and have talked about this several times on this journey). But meanwhile, I also started a book called Primed to Perform about motivations in corporate cultures. The biggest take-away after the first couple chapters is how PLAY is the greatest motivator for people. Sam’s point about being passionate makes me also think about what drives me, and what I deem as “fun” or “play”. That’s what keeps me motivated — fun and challenges. Like Sam, I’ve realized how passion quickly fades for people starting out some entrepreneurial journey. Maintaining that cadence and that rhythm of building something great is tough. I think many people get infatuated with this idea of entrepreneurship and startups that they take the leap, but struggle to keep going after a couple weeks. In many of these cases, I think people get excited about the idea of entrepreneurship.

At the same time, Sam’s talk about passion, is the very thing I attribute my first real startup’s demise — we ran out of the passion to keep going. It’s tough to think about sometimes, but it’s the truth. With true passion, you’ll do what you can to find a way to succeed. In fact, check out Sara Blakely’s interview on NPR’s “How I Built This”, and listen to how her passion fueled her to grow Spanx and be a sensational 0 to billion (several) success.

Meet Sam. No longer a Stranger.

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