What I love about building things
Since I was a kid I always loved building things. My earliest memories are of creating vast Lego fortresses complete with doors that opened, and closed (which was a big deal to a five year-old), and of course lots of tiny rooms to store things in.
A few years later I can remember ditching my Lego kits for a computer, and then, well, it’s safe to say my whole world changed, but my fascination with building things didn’t. In fact, one of the first games that got me excited about computers was Sim City, where, just like with my Lego’s — I was able to build my own cities.
What really captivated me about Sim City as a kid was the fact that I could build something and then see a simulation actually take what I built and poof — generate a real world around it. Those roads that I spent all that time building now had cars zipping along on them, my stores, oh yeah — they were in business.
Of course the occasional Godzilla attack could destroy most of my city, but part of the fun was re-building and iterating as I went.
And yes, this is what Sim City looked like when I first played it…
After Sim City I can remember getting really into Bungie’s original hit game — Marathon which I liked because I had a Mac and back in 1995 Marathon was all the rage for Apple geeks like me. If you’ve never played Marathon, just think Halo v0.01 — it was essentially where Halo and a ton of other FPS games got their inspiration.
Of course it’s also fair to say that Marathon got it’s inspiration from games like Doom or Wolfenstein, but we’ll save the debate there for another time.
What I liked about Marathon wasn’t as much the running around and shooting part - I liked building levels, and Marathon 2 had a pretty amazing level builder for the 90's. For the first time in my life I was building three dimensional worlds digitally, and to then playing in them - it was an amazing experience.
After I started building levels in Marathon 2 I became more interested in building levels in any game that I played. I went on to make levels for Warcraft II and a number of other games, nothing too crazy, just for LAN parties since back in those days you had to bring your computer over to a friend’s house if you want to play a networked game.
I think my game level-building fascination ended in late High School as I was completely focused on academics and, level building, wasn’t really on the schedule. In college I stopped playing games entirely and started writing code and building software.
Boom! Mind blown again, now I was writing code that was building something, but this time from scratch, or it least that’s what it felt like. I really enjoyed the challenge of building software that had to meet a particular set of performance metrics. Learning things like C and Assembly allowed me to get low level and optimize the way software was running based on the chip it was going to be running on.
This opened my mind to an entirely new way of thinking about building. While Sim City introduced me to building things in a digital world, learning to code taught me about optimizing what I was building to actually do something useful in the real world. Building levels for games seemed so simple to me at this point, I was constrained to the software the game developer had made for building levels. While these were easy to use, the customization options were limited, and for good reason.
After coding for five years my mind had re-wired itself. I wanted to build software systems that solve real problems in new ways. To me it felt like the ultimate challenge to someone who loves building things is to build something that hasn’t been built before.
And that’s exactly what led me to Sonos after I graduated college in 2004. At the time Sonos was a tiny company (originally called Rincon Networks) with a massive vision — to change the way people listened to music. I can still remember the day that I interviewed at the Santa Barbara offices, everyone was so passionate about the vision — these were builders on a real mission!
What I loved about being at Sonos is that we weren’t afraid to build something entirely new. I was watching the first software-defined speaker be created, we were building something that really was truly different from anything on the market. In the early days you had to get under the hood to understand what a game-changer the product was. This of course means that for my first five years at Sonos, all my friends thought I was crazy when I told them, “honestly — we’re doing more than just making speakers, we are building something entirely new and different…and it’s changing the way people listen to music.”
I was at Sonos for almost a decade but I didn’t write a line of code, instead I traveled around the world opening up new business in Asia, Australia, Latin America, Canada, and back here in the US. I can now say with certainty — Sonos has forever changed the way people around the world listen to music, and watching it all come together was pure magic.
After Sonos I had to jump right back into building, this time a SaaS software solution for predicting body measurements. When we started our company we realized that nobody had done what we were doing, there was no reference point to start with and build on, it was blue sky.
That was more than five years ago and it’s exciting to see our technology being used by brands and retailers around the world. There’s a chance you’ve actually used what we built, and you didn’t even know it! That being said, the hardest thing about building something new is getting people to understand what you really do. For years everyone thought of Sonos as just another speaker for your iPod or iPhone. Once people started using Sonos they learned that it was so much more than that.
Of course building anything usually isn’t an “I” kind of thing. While the post is titled, what I love about building things, that’s just because I’m writing this article from my point of view as someone that has build things with other people. If you think you can build everything yourself, maybe you can, but I can tell you it’s a lot more fun to build together. When I think of building now, or in the future, the most important thing to me is the team — that special combination of people, marching to the beat of the same drum, is what turns a vision into a reality.
So what do I love about building things? I guess if I had to net it down to one sentence I would say — I love watching people use what we build and seeing the impact it can make. In many ways it all started with that first game of Sim City, when I saw the city I built come alive for the first time, and that feeling never gets old…
Did you like this article? If so please do me a favor and hit the 👏 as many time as you’d like, seriously — go nuts! :)
About The Author
If you liked this article — please take a minute to hit the 👏 button a few times to help other people find it. Of course I would love to hear from you, good or bad, feel free to share your thoughts on this article in the comment section below!