Thank You Dad
An Homage to the Fathers of UX
Many years ago, I recall hanging out with my dad at work, as a young boy; I was about 5 years old. He was designing hardware; he was designing computer chips. Not just any computer chips, he was creating chips that would go on to help scientific research that would one day save the world — and lives. Some of his computer chips ended up in the Texas Instrument calculators you used in high school. Others are used today helping scientists evaluate temperatures of molten lava and magma.
Dad was very much into computer science and every summer he sat my older brother and sister down in front of an, huge-old beige, Apple computer and required us to learn math. As if we needed supplemental/advanced algebra at 13, 10, and 7-years old.
On occasion he would specifically pick me to use the drawing software and ask me to draw my favorite cartoon character; I drew a house instead. My brother Javi resented him for that. After all, all the other neighborhood kids were having fun, and swimming at the community swimming pool. And I’m sure we could have been too, had we completed our then seemingly arduous math homework. My sister Betty and I just powered through it, we had a general dislike for the task, that was certain; but Javi, Javi hated it. Javi hated my dad’s style of artificial pressure. That sentiment would soon spread amongst the rest of us like a slow-incubating virus.
Saturday’s in Stafford were sort of magical like that. It seemed like every weekend there were garage sales.
Dad didn’t stop there with his desire to get us to be smart and independent. I remember seeing a Hasbro G.I. Joe elevator at K-Mart, for about $13.00 (a lot of money back then). When I asked my dad for it he drove the streets of Stafford Texas and found an Erector Set at a garage sale for a dollar. Saturday’s in Stafford were sort of magical like that. It seemed like every weekend there were garage sales. Later that day I made the elevator at home with the Erector Set; I was only 7-years old.
“He pushed and pushed until we cried. Until we grew frustrated. Until most of us resented him. Maybe even hated him.”
Dad found our strengths and pushed us. Not just with science and math. Javi learned the Suzuki method for Violin. Betty (my sister) learned to play the flute. I mastered the sitar.
He pushed and pushed until we cried. Until we grew frustrated. Until most of us resented him. Maybe even hated him. The amount of math and science, and even art, we learned was immense! Javi, respected his wishes and ended up in tech. Betty also respected his wishes. But me, I rebelled. I vowed never to be a computer science major and never to go into computers.
Instead I went down the path to become a physician and learned a vast amount of psychology, physiology, and biology. But you know what? You can’t fight destiny. You know what else? My medical education and training actually proved to be vital to my success as a designer — I’ll save that story for another Medium article.
You see, the grooming, and those days watching dad work, subconsciously triggered something deep down inside of me. I wanted to solve a problem. Cancer is a problem. A broken bone is a problem. Medicine gave me an avenue to solve problems and help people; just like dad did.
“ It was clear that I had the propensity to code.”
Years later, I realized medicine wasn’t the problem I wanted to solve. Javi asked me to help him as a project manager at his startup in Irvine California. I managed and produced cartoon shows that were built in Macromedia Flash, and watched online, during the dot com boom. A month later our Flash developer quit. I wrote 6 episodes of a show and I had already recorded the voice overs — and I wasn’t about to let my work go to waste. So I learned Flash; in a weekend. It was clear that I had the propensity to code. It was clear that computers where somehow ingrained in my DNA.
Dad knew what he was doing. Javi knew what he was doing. I knew nothing. The day I started learning Flash, a flame inside me was ignited! That event triggered the rest of my life events that brought me to where I am today. Had it not been for dad, I would have never been this successful in life. Javi gave me a chance — and gave me the resources to flourish.
Often, in life, you’ll find yourself pushing away what was always a part of you the whole time; only to realize it was the best thing about you and an inseparable part of your being. That’s what happened to me. I wanted so bad to not be my dad. So did Javi; but look at us now.
I don’t see much of Javi, or dad today. But I still seek out great mentors. This month marks the anniversary of the 28 year start of modern UX Design as we know it! And it was all kicked off by one of my mentors (he didn’t volunteer, I just decided to pick him). 28 years ago, when I was building a wooden house for my G.I. Joe’s, in a small town called Stafford Texas, Jared M. Spool started UIE. And oddly enough, without knowing, I started my career as a product designer.
Thank you dad! Thank you Jared! Thank you Javi! Thank you to David Sciacero (voluntold mentor)! Thank you Grace Hopper! Thank you mom! Thank you for never giving up and always pushing us to be the best! 🙏🏼
Yesterday I had the opportunity to give advice to some really smart interns. I hope this piece of advice helps you in your journey to discover who you are. Here’s what I told them: “…find someone older than you, who embodies who you want to be when you’re their age. Don’t think about what you want now, think about what you want in the end. Then latch on to that person. Bug them, ask them questions. Share your life with them. They’ll show you how they did it — in turn you’ll make the same correct choices and sometimes the same mistakes — but you’ll end up discovering your true self and find your path.”
Nostalgic Packing Peanuts
I can still smell the packing peanuts from dad’s office, he worked right next to the shipping and receiving warehouse, with his best friend Darnell.
I can still smell his scent mixed with Tide detergent, on his slightly faded blue Oxford button downs he wore religiously (Jobs/Zuckerberg style).
I’ll forever remember him sitting at a large white drafting table with a pencil ✏️in his ear, smiling back at me with an architects lamp, illuminating his left shoulder — inciting a clever mix of hope and adventure.
When I asked him what his job title was this was his answer: “I’m not an artist, or a designer, nor am I an engineer, I’m all three of those.” Sound familiar?
Though this is a homage to the birth of UIE, my dad, and many great male and female mentors who helped mold me — I want to also leave you with a bit of wisdom and inspiration.
Fail but learn. Change but grow. Receive but also give. Solve a problem but only the ones you’re passionate about. And most importantly — thank your mentor.
“Thank you dad! You will always be my source of true inspiration!”
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Jonathan Bowman is a UX Engineer living and working in Silicon Valley. He has been designing interfaces since 1999. He’s the founder of Cap Gun Media. He is Co-Founder of Oxygen for Autism. These days, you can find him working on revolutionizing the data visualization experience, in Mountain View California. When he’s not working you may find him on his back porch relaxing on his hammock reading a book.