16 Years, what do you get? A Job at Roundarch! Welcome to Jory Cameron, Roundarch Labs Intern

Before I tell my story, I figured I would reminisce a bit about when I was 16 years old. I inherited an electric piano from my grandfather and in the “working songs” song book was the musical notation and words for the song “16 Tons”.

To this day, I remember the lyrics, as well as how poorly I played it. “You load 16 tons, what do you get? Another day older, and deeper in debt”. If you think I am crazy, check out this Youtube video of Tenessee Ernie Ford singing this working-man’s classic.

Lets move forward 20 years…

A month or so ago, I was about to head to the SXSW technology conference in Austin, TX. I travel a lot, and whenever I hit the road, I have to pack up my 17″ MacBook Pro and tote it along with me, along with everything else I end up bringing along in my computer bag/man-purse.

My computer weighs a lot, and sometimes I question why I tote it along with me on trips when my main use of a computer is to check and respond to emails, give presentations using PowerPoint or keynote and browsing the Web while back in my hotel room.

To make matters worse, a week before SXSW, I had sprained my leg, and was walking with a cane for the foreseeable future. The promise of lugging a 30 pound bag while being on the road for a week and a half was not exactly my idea of fun. While there was nothing I could do about it, I thought to myself that I should start thinking about my future travels and what I could do to lighten my on-the-road load.

This is where my story really begins.

Up until this point, I had been reading a lot about netbooks. I used to be the “more is more” type of guy when it came to computers, but the notion of storing everything out on the cloud and using my computer for accessing remote data was something I’ve grown more fond of as I see connection speeds getting more reliable and machines getting smaller and more powerful.

I loved the idea of using a little netbook, but was unsure what it would be like to actually try to use one while traveling. My concerns were those of most folks: Can I type on it ok? Is it fast? How does the screen look? I couldn’t see buying one online until I had the chance to see one in person and test it out.

It was two days before I had to head to Austin, and for some reason, the idea struck me: Look on Craigslist to see if anyone in Austin might have a netbook for sale. I could meet them, check it out, and if I liked it, purchase it on my trip. The timing seemed perfect, so I started searching. I came across a post by a guy that was selling a Dell Mini-9. His ad was articulate, detailed and it was clear to me that whomever posted this knew more about hardware than I did. Not only was he selling a mini-9 netbook, but he made it clear that he could customize it for me. That was encouraging.

I tend to be pretty particular when it comes to how I like my own computers to be set up / configured (go figure), so I began to go back and forth in emails with him. He not only responded to my questions, but he started throwing all sorts of interesting ideas at me related to hardware customization and software development. It gave me the idea to ask him if I could have him pre-install some software, configure it to run a variety of operating systems, put in a large hard drive, upgrade the memory, etc. Hey, if I’ve got a guy who really knows his stuff, I might as well take advantage of it.

He wrote back with enthusiasm and even suggested that we take it a step further and replace the stock netbook display with a touch-screen. “That would be great with the proposed functionality coming in both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard”, he wrote.

I responded to him “This sounds great. Let’s get together in Austin and we can discuss it. By the way, you seem to know a lot about software and hardware and it is obvious that you are pretty up to speed on system-level programming and the like. Where do you work?”.

I had anticipated that he’d respond back to me with something like “I work at Dell” or “I’m an IT guy at a company in Austin, and I do this on the side”.

What I got instead was “I don’t have a job.”

Thinking that my new mysterious computer guru email friend might be a victim of the bad economy, I asked if that was the case. “Are you looking for a position now? Did you get laid off recently?”.

His response?

“Hey Dave. Actually, no. I didn’t lose my job. I’m only 15.”

I couldn’t believe it. 15?!? Where did this kid learn this stuff? How did he become such an expert? How does he have the time? Should I even be emailing back and forth with a 15 year old kid? After all, we did meet on Craigslist. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position to where I was negotiating with a minor without parental consent.

With one hand scratching my head, and the other on the keyboard, I emailed Jory back and asked if he would ask his parents to come with him to meet me at the conference center. I’d take them to lunch, discuss things with him, and see if I could get him to create my ultimate, custom, traveling computer.

Fast Forward two days….

It was 11:00 AM. I grabbed our two visitor passes from behind the Roundarch booth and headed down to the street to meet Jory and his mother, Shelly. I met them on the corner outside of the conference center, handed them their passes and thanked them for meeting me. Jory was excited, and his mother Shelly seemed thrilled that Jory was able to get in and check out all of the stuff at the conference.

The next few hours basically consisted of me introducing Jory to my peers in the industry. I introduced Jory to the Roundarch team, and tracked down my good friend Josh Holmes from Microsoft. You see, Jory is home-schooled, as was Josh. Josh is a brilliant technologist and is highly respected by others in the industry in his role of technical evangelist dealing with RIA and user experience-driven software for Microsoft. It was clear from the start that I wasn’t the only one who was blown away by Jory’s knowledge of technology and more importantly, understanding of experience design. He didn’t just talk about hardware and software, but how people use them. It is rare that adults have such balanced thinking when talking about next-generation technology, so I was floored to hear some of Jory’s thoughts on the balance of the two.

The Jory Show

After meeting with Josh, Adam Flater, Ryan Stewart from Adobe, an Engineer from AT&T Labs and several others we ended up sitting around in a cafe talking. Well… let me be clear: Jory talked. We, like the group of 10 or so bystanders, just sat back and listened to this 15 year old kid talk about everything from saltwater powered vehicles to porting mobile operating systems from one device to another. Jory told us about how he created a Web application that tracks the national debt, about his opinions on multi-touch, and he even gave an ear full of suggestions to the guy from AT&T about how the iPhone operating system could be optimized better for the hardware that it ships with. It was the Jory show.

Before I knew it, a line had formed. People wanted to talk to Jory. They wanted to meet him. He stood at the end of a table where we were all sitting and preached his version of the technology gospel, and before he was done, had a group of faithful believers. It was a thrill to see this all take place, and even more fun to spend some time with Jory and his mom to learn more about them, and about how Jory happened to soak up as much knowledge at such a young age.

I learned that Jory was doing HTML at the age of 5, lives 52 miles north of Austin in a rural community, is no stranger to ranching, rebuilt a VW bug by himself by reading books, and has very supportive parents that understand he’s not a typical kid. I was surprised to learn that Jory didn’t have a computer to use, because he had traded it for a Wii so his mom could use Wii fit.

The day blew past us quickly, and before long, it was time for Jory and his mom to head back to the country. My head was spinning over my conversations and filled with excitement. You hear so many stories about how kids are bad at math and science, and then you meet someone who has such promise.

Banding together to provide opportunity

I think all of my peers recognized something special in Jory. So much in fact that we decided to band together, throwing our cash and resources into a hat so we could help provide some support for our new teenage friend. Josh Holmes got Jory enrolled in the “Microsoft Dreamspark” program and Ryan Stewart from Adobe said he’s send Jory a box loaded with Adobe software. Pek Pongpaet, who works with me at Roundarch tapped into his contacts and the next thing I knew, Brian Fitzpatrick (who manages the Google technology center in Chicago) was shipping Jory a brand new Android developer phone and a bunch of Google swag. I received Paypal donations from a bunch of Roundarch folks as well as others in the industry, and was able to let Jory pick out his dream laptop on eBay, and went online with him to purchase it. I can’t thank everyone who contributed enough. You are all amazing folks, and have helped to give Jory a great opportunity to learn, tinker, build, and innovate.

This all just seemed like it was meant to happen. Jory’s knowledge, positive attitude and communication skills were inspiring to me. So much, in fact, that it prompted me to discuss Jory with the management team at Roundarch. I remember calling Jeff Maling (Co-President of Roundarch) to tell him all about Jory and about how interesting the last few days had been, and was thrilled to hear his response to me.

“Why don’t we hire him?”

So we did.

Welcome to Roundarch!

It is official. Jory, who just 16 years old, is now an intern at Roundarch.

He will be living in Texas and working remotely. We made things official a few weeks ago, and Jory and Shelly flew to Chicago to participate in orientation and introduce himself at our Monthly company meeting. Jory is going to be assisting with a lot of things at Roundarch, and will be focusing most of his attention on doing research and development for our Roundarch “Labs” projects, including working with building out human interface concepts and prototypes, development of hardware, mobile application design and development, and writing blog posts on his experiences and thoughts.

Jory Cameron, Roundarch’s new intern, engrossed in conversation with Roundarch’s Adam Flater on the morning that Apple announced the iPhone 3.0 SDK features

The first thing that Jory will be doing is writing a paper / blog post that compares the iPhone 3.0 SDK and hardware capabilities against that of Google Android and other device manufacturers.

We expect great things from Jory, and are very pleased to announce him as an addition to the Roundarch team. I’d like to thank everyone that played a role in this over the last couple of months including everyone at Roundarch, Microsoft, Google, and Adobe.

It is an exciting time, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to help mentor (and learn from) such a brilliant young mind.

Jory? Take it away!