Dude, Mentor, Friend: A Tribute to David Hussman

My dear friend and mentor David Hussman passed away Saturday afternoon after an aggressive battle with cancer.

In January 2013, mere hours before I was supposed to have an interview with David at DevJam, I discovered via Google that David had been in a hair band, which was the most incredible discovery I could have ever made. If you know me you know my love for 80s hair bands knows no bounds, so I was STOKED. Probably too stoked? In fact, my wife made me promise not to bring it up during the interview.

Somehow I kept my mouth shut about it (temporarily!), but that first afternoon when David and I met we spent over 3 hours talking and talking, a little bit about the job but mostly about music. We talked about how very much we loved David Bowie, and we talked about The Replacements, about Soul Asylum: both bands whose members had graced the halls of the building we were standing in. What I remember most about that conversation is we could have talked for so much longer — it was like we’d been friends for years.

The next day I got the job. I knew nothing about software development, but he gave me more than a chance: he gave me an opportunity.

I spent nearly 3 years working side by side with David. We both loved to write so we would bounce ideas off one another, often like weirdos at 6 in the morning, because Morning People. Our little “band” of 4 employees at DevJam always felt like I working with family. When I first started at DevJam I had no idea how lucky I was to have the chance to learn so much from someone who understood that developing a product is so much more than silly tools and burndown charts: he was all about the conversation and the journey we take to get there.

David was all about growing relationships. When my wife and I eloped he showed up at the little pub to share a toast with us and our loved ones. I also got to know his amazingly wonderful wife and daughters so well and met dozens of people from around the world who couldn’t say enough good things about him: how he not only taught people how to build better software, but how relatable and pragmatic he was across cultures, from California to India, Prague to Tokyo. It was his gift.

After I left DevJam and started to coach on my own he was still the first person I’d email or call if I were stuck with a really hard problem. He’d always be open to meeting up with me over coffee to help me with something he’d solved a million years before, but instead of being condescending he’d ask a more powerful question to REALLY make me think. Then we’d talk about our families, then we’d talk about travels and music and would generally be super silly. He was always so much more than a boss (a word he refused to let people use for him), he was a friend.

My favorite memories of him are those ones where we’re laughing; stupid inside jokes and music snobbery abounded. He frustrated me plenty, too! David could be incredibly tough. And I think a good mentor does that: constantly challenges you and pushes you to ask why.

The last time I saw him and we were forced to say goodbye he told me that if I ever mess up he promises to send my books flying off my bookshelf — that I’ll know it’s from him. I know I’ve got lots of mistakes left to make and look forward to receiving that message.

I’ve never really lost a close friend before, and I never had a mentor until that one day I met a former hair band dude who loved music as much as I did, and with that came the career I didn’t know I wanted and a wonderful friendship. He changed my life and the lives of so many others in the agile space, in the music space and beyond. I will miss his presence more than I think I can even comprehend right now. My heart goes out to his family and friends and everyone who knew him. He was the best kind of different: just ask us.