On Serendipity in the Boulder Tech Community and Beyond

On Serendipity in the Boulder Tech Community and Beyond

Below is a story I’ve told verbally many times and am now capturing here for posterity, the journey of how I landed at a startup called Gnip in Boulder, which had a significant net positive impact on my life. It involved a lot of luck and serendipity, most of which was generated by the actions of a few folks in the Boulder tech community taking the extra time to help a stranger even when it didn’t seem to benefit them directly.

In 2009, I was two years into my first job out of school at a defense contracting firm on the east coast. As luck would have it, my manager decided to bring me along to meet with one of our clients based in Colorado Springs. Following that meeting, we went for a short walk in the Garden of the Gods. The beautiful mountainous red rock scenery was quite the juxtaposition to my childhood’s surroundings in Delaware, one of the country’s flattest states. Immediately following that walk, I half-joked, "This has been a fantastic trip, but you shouldn't have brought me along. I'm going to move here." A few months later, I was driving across the country in a U-haul with my partner, Amanda, our labrador Jackson, and all of our belongings in tow to join a relatively unknown startup call Gnip.

Even though I worked with some fantastic people and was on the fast track at my current job, I felt burdened by the amount of red tape in the defense space. More importantly, building a career in the defense industry didn’t align with my value system. I decided to put some intentional energy into exploring opportunities in the startup world where I expected the pace would be much faster and I could choose a domain that aligned with my values.

To get my foot in the door, I researched who was influential in the Boulder tech community. David Cohen’s name, co-founder of Techstars, jumped to the top of the list. He had just selected the startups for the 2009 class of his newly formed accelerator. I decided to send him a cold email doing my best to explain that I was a young, hungry, engineer looking to move to the area and make an impact. David decided to take the extra step to help a stranger by broadcasting my resume on Twitter, a startup that was just starting to enter into the common lexicon after its debut two years earlier at SXSW. A number of his portfolio companies reached out, which led to a meeting with the founders of one of his portfolio companies, Everlater, Nate and Natty.

On a cold December morning, I met Nate and Natty at their favorite Boulder coffee shop (a place that would come to have a special place in my heart), The Cup, a local institution that we recently said goodbye to. The three of us huddled around a high top two-seater table by the window and discussed our backgrounds and the company’s direction to understand if there would be a mutual fit. Towards the end of the discussion, it was clear they needed someone with more front end and design chops, neither of which have ever been in my wheelhouse. Rather than embracing the default route and parting ways, again, Nate and Natty decided to help a stranger by suggesting that I talk to the CTO of Gnip, Jud, who they happened to be subleasing office space from at the time. We walked across the street to 1601 Pearl, where they introduced me to Jud. We had a brief discussion, which I remember including quizzes about the meaning of various HTTP response codes. Jud decided to take a chance on someone he just met and asked me to come back later that afternoon for a more formal interview. After a few hours of technical interviews in front of a whiteboard with Jud and their two senior-most engineers, I walked out of there thinking, "well, at the very least, that was a learning experience.” By the following week, I had a job offer in hand.

A few days in late 2009 set me on a ten-year path included the acquisition of Gnip by Twitter in 2014 and culminated in running the Boulder office and the Engineering team responsible for Twitter’s iconic developer platform. And, more importantly, making many lifelong friends along the way.

I departed Twitter in February to take a mid-career break and recharge my batteries a bit. While the break experience hasn't been what I originally envisioned it due to the hand 2020 dealt us all, I feel very fortunate to have been able to slow down and recharge nonetheless, fully recognizing that this is a privileged position in a world that is trying for so many right now.

There was a lot of luck and serendipity involved in the early days of this journey, and all along the way. It all started with a cold email, a tweet, and many folks taking the extra step to help someone they didn’t know. This last bit is something I've seen play out countless times in the Boulder tech community. A practice that I do my best to continue to embody as best I can.

After a bit of downtime, I'm beginning to gear up and consider what’s next for the next decade of my career journey. If you're looking for someone to help you grow and scale your engineering team, I'm open to chatting. My resume is here, and my current thinking on what is important to me professionally in the next decade is here.

Lastly, if you’re looking to break into tech or are an engineer seeking career advice, I’d be happy to do my best to help. Please do reach out.

Email is best: ewryan [at] gmail.

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