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Bryan Stearns 26 February 2008

Bryan Stearns

Software, food, flying, and way too many movies

A recovering Californian, Bryan just finished his first year in Portland with partner Gina and dog Scout; he also just finished a stint at Mitch Kapor’s Open Source Application Foundation, working on the Chandler personal information manager. He’s often found himself in the right place at the right time.

Bryan got his start in software by getting lost in Santa Monica, California, and asking to use the phone at The Computer Store, the first computer store in the world. After typing his name into a Tiny BASIC interpreter and getting his first “syntax error,” he tried typing his street address and *didn’t* get an error: wondering why not led to a job in the store, which got him a key and 24-hour access to its inventory of books.

The store job led to work at Apple (he bought Apple ][ serial number 151), where he got to work on several key system and software projects over 14 years: his signature was molded into the cases of millions of early Macintosh and Macintosh Portable systems, and his name was hidden in several system ROMs, as well as upside-down in plain sight in the read-me file icon used on Macintosh in the late ’80s.

While at Apple, Bryan caught the aviation bug, becoming a private pilot and flying to 38 states. He volunteered computer services for aircraft judging at the big fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for nine years.

After Apple, Bryan joined Classifieds2000, a tiny startup where he was responsible for back-end infrastructure, helping it grow from serving 100K pages per day to more than 10 million as Excite@Home’s ecommerce platform.

Nowadays, he’s doing Ruby on Rails web development, consults from time to time under an assumed name, plays guitar badly, and dreams about flying again.

What are you up to?

I’m currently immersed in the Portland International Film Festival: I’ll finish the festival having seen more than 65 films in less than a month. I’m fascinated by storytelling and the variety of stories from around the world.

I prepared for the festival (and set up my next career move) by developing http://festivalfanatic.com/, a web site to help people schedule their attendance at film festivals like PIFF – it also shows off my skills with the Ruby on Rails web application framework.

What are you into?

I’m very lucky that I love what I do: software development provides constant challenges and learning experiences; I’m one of those people who’d do it for fun even if they didn’t pay me. I’ve also been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time: I worked for the world’s first computer store, got to work on the Apple IIe, Macintosh, and Newton at Apple, and learned a lot from the Chandler project.

When not in front of a computer screen, I spend a lot of time watching big-screen movies, from the worst Hollywood cranks out to the best from all over the world. It’s fascinating how other cultures tell stories; it’s also a significant point in history, in that the cost of production has lowered the barriers-to-entry for audiovisual storytelling (this is both good and bad, as it turns out!).

I’m also an instrument-rated private pilot, though my currency is long lapsed: Someday it’d be fun to visit the dozen states I haven’t flown to.

What do you like most about Portland?

Since we moved up last year, Portland has been a continuous series of good surprises: the vibrant cultural community (from several big and small film festivals to First Thursday), the variety of wonderful food (from carts to VQ), and especially the friendly people.

(Many of those people are the team behind this site and events like Ignite Portland, BarCamp, and Startupalooza – Portland’s technology community outshines the community I left behind in the Bay Area.)

What do you want from the next phase of your career?

Having worked for companies of all sizes, I’ve discovered that I most enjoy the startup environment: a small team of people where everyone’s working hard and knows that everyone has to do a good job for the company to survive and thrive. Right now I’m looking for a good fit, and building skills to get ready for it.

The pace of change in the technology world is thrilling: constant learning is required to stay ahead of the curve. That’s part of why I’ve been focusing on getting good at Ruby on Rails: it feels good to apply a lot of my previous experiences in new ways.

Which state have you spent the least time in?

I flew myself around the country in a small airplane about ten years ago; I’d originally wanted to hit all 48 conterminous states, but bad weather kept me from visiting Montana… and after giving up on Montana, it was easy to give up on North Dakota, then more bad weather in New England, so that trip ended up hitting only 34 states.

The best day was in Albany, Missouri, where I’d stopped to wait out nearby thunderstorms: walking along the highway from the airport to town, someone stopped and offered me a ride (and I wasn’t even hitchhiking!). He drove me around town to find an open restaurant, and we happened to bump into his cousin, the town doctor, who invited me to lunch. Lunch turned into an afternoon helping with errands, seeing his car collection, and rounds at the hospital (where I was introduced to his patients!), then dinner and a night in their guest room. They told me before bedtime that they liked to sleep in, so if I wanted to get up early I could take the Chevy to the airport and leave the keys in it.

(Oh, yeah, I did go back and check off Montana: I found the airstrip closest to the southwesternmost corner of the state, and did a touch-and-go: one wheel down for about 4 seconds.)

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