Over the last year we in the iOS community have had a mass exodus of our best people back to the Mothership. There was a period for a while on Twitter where like once a day I would see someone tweet “I have an announcement to make. I just made a really tough decision, but I have accepted a job at Apple.” My favorite response to this phenomenon that I saw was from Jeff LaMarche, who tweeted: “Last one to go work for Apple turn the lights off, okay?”
One day a few months ago I go on Twitter and see a tweet from Jonathan Penn. “I have an announcement to make.” Oh no. “I just made a really tough decision…” Oh please, dear god, don’t let this be what I think it is. “…but I have accepted a job at Apple.” NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
I honestly can’t tell you why losing Jonathan Penn to Apple affected me so profoundly. I met Jonathan back at my first CocoaConf in Chicago 2013. It wasn’t like I was as close to him as I eventually got to Chris Adamson. We weren’t best pals or anything. I don’t think I had a closer relationship to him than anyone else did and I actually think I probably wasn’t as close to him as other people were. And yet.
I think Jonathan has a biological mutation that causes him to secrete nitrous oxide because whenever you are around him, you can’t help but feel happy. I don’t think I have a picture of Jonathan without a big goofy grin on his face. Watching him crack up during the CocoaConf game show was a joy to experience. Additionally, Jonathan is wicked smart. I would go to his talks and feel like the village idiot because I would be blown away by his rapid fire delivery of concepts that sailed right over my head.
I guess I got used to the idea that he was always going to be here. I figured when I go to CocoaConf there are certain things that are always there. There will always be an amazing keynote by Daniel Steinberg. There will always be a Breakpoints Jam concert. I guess I thought there would always be a Jonathan Penn.
Back when I had my life changing trip to Boston, I started thinking about what kind of a person I want to be. I wanted to be Jonathan Penn. His passion and his energy were absolutely amazing. He is such a warm and giving person. He adds so much to the iOS development community. I wanted to be like Jonathan Penn.
I am being slammed this year with a lot of instances of impermanence. We got a new programming language from Apple. Many prominent actors and comedians who I grew up with passed away. I feel change happening around me everywhere I turn. The phrase I have as the title of this post, mono no aware is a Japanese phrase that talks about the ephemeral nature of existence. Everything we do has meaning because nothing lasts forever. Life is precious because we have a limited amount of it. Each and every moment we have will never come again and no matter how lousy it might seem at the time, it is special because it is transitory.
Everything in life is transitory. As a member of the generation that came during the internet boom and the Great Recession, that is painfully obvious. People don’t work for the same company for forty years anyone or have the same job their entire career. This is doubly so for computer programming. I have only been programming for the last two years and I am already gearing up to switch from imperative programming to functional programming. Before I left for my conference on iOS programming I got a bunch of help from my boss setting up iHaskell notebook to learn Haskell. I can already feel the ground shifting under me and I am trying to adapt before it is too late or too difficult.
Jonathan going to Apple felt very much like he had died. We can’t talk to him about what he is doing anymore. He is too busy to waste a bunch of time on Twitter. I don’t reliably have an event ten times a year where I can go and absorb all of the joy he radiates. He’s still here, but he is now sharing that joy with other people.
I guess I was also very upset when Jonathan left because I didn’t know that the last time I saw him might literally be the last time I saw him. Had I known that he would be moving on to another stage of his life I would have savored the time with him more. We always feel regret when it is too late to do anything about it.
Jonathan leaving makes me think about the fact that I am going to leave someday. Right now we have this amazing community in iOS, but this is ephemeral. Something else that is going to be really cool is going to come along. All the top people are going to get tired of what we are doing and are going to move on to the next thing.
I worry about my ability to let this thing go. I don’t want to be the person who graduates from high school and keeps hanging around because they can’t move on. There is an anime series, ”Angel Beats!” about a group of teenagers who had terrible lives and died young who spend time in an afterlife that looks very much like a normal Japanese high school. The point of this afterlife is to get the people in this afterlife to resolve the unresolved issues they brought with them in their previous lives and to help them move on, which in this series is called “graduating.” (My twitter avatar is of me dressed as one of the main characters from Angel Beats, not Sailor Moon.)
Sometimes it is hard to move on. You have a snapshot in your brain of this fixed point in time where things were really great or terrible. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Sisco is trying to explain linear time to the wormhole aliens. The aliens point out to him that he has frozen his linear existence. His life was trapped in amber at the exact moment when he lost his wife. He can’t figure out how to live his life after this tragedy happened.
Life doesn’t stop just because you want it to or because you have been so incredibly damaged that you can’t figure out how to cope with your new paradigm.
Imagine my surprise and delight to actually have a chance to rectify all of this, Jonathan made a cameo at CocoaConf Las Vegas this weekend. Jonathan’s parents live right outside of Vegas and he brought his whole family to CocoaConf to watch him rock out at the Breakpoint Jam.
Having the chance to sit in the audience one last time with Jonathan being a Breakpoint was a fantastic gift. James Dempsey asked me how the concert was and I told him it was the best one. He thought I was pandering to him, but I wasn’t. Jonathan brings this energy to the performances and being able to sit there and enjoy this performance knowing that it would be the last one was truly meaningful to me. The crowd was a smaller, more intimate crowd. The concert wasn’t a super rousing concert, but it felt more like hanging out with your friends goofing around, which was really nice to have.
Jonathan, if you are reading this, I hope you are not creeped out by my writing a whole post about you. I hope I didn’t bother you by hugging you a few times. I wish you the best of luck at Apple. I will try to stop talking about you like you are dead, but I make no promises.