Six Months Ago

Joey devilla and microsoft founders

Six months and one day ago, if you’d asked me where I’d be working today, I’d have told you that I’d be at Microsoft, working as a developer evangelist, angling for a promotion to senior developer evangelist (mo’ money, mo’ responsibilities) and being the point man for mobile and tablet technologies.

Cusec 2011
Six months and one day ago, if you’d asked me what I would be doing two days from then, I’d have told you that I would be boarding a train bound for Montreal to attend CUSEC, one of my favourite tech conferences.

High park
Six months and one day ago, if you’d asked me where I’d be living at this very moment, I’d have told you that I’d be living in the High Park neighbourhood of Toronto.

I’d have been wrong on on all three counts.

Emergency room

Those of you who read my blog entry from January 19th — My Hospital Week know what happened six months ago today: I ended up in the emergency room, lying half-awake on a gurney, wondering “Is this what dying feels like?”

I spent the better part of the week in the ICU, and it’s described pretty well in the article — except for one story which I decided to save for a later time. That time is now.

The Missing Story

The senior nurse assigned to me was a lovably cranky woman who on first impression might remind you of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She’d seem gruff at first,  but after a little while you’d discover that she was a nice person who just didn’t take any crap at all.

“Dr. deVilla’s son,” she said to me when we met. “Hope you’re not expecting any special treatment on account of who your mom is.”

“Just want to get out of here alive,” I said weakly, my voice reduced to a thin whisper from the infection that nearly sealed my throat shut.

Iv bag

“No guarantees,” she said, as she exchanged the empty IV hanging from the pole for a fresh one. After two full days in the hospital — one in the ER and one in the ICU — the test results were still inconclusive and the doctors still couldn’t say with any certainty what I had. They’d decided that my situation was dire enough to take the shotgun approach: a steady diet of broad-spectrum IV antibiotics and pure oxygen, backed up with the occasional blast of ephedrine gas. I spent those first two days bouncing between semi-conscious and unconscious. I have a vague recollection of a couple of doctors describing my situation as “touch and go”.

Joey in hospital

The treatment starting working on the end of that second day, and by day three — Thursday — things were looking up.

“Heard about how you talked the junior nurse into letting you use the can instead of the bedpan,” said Nurse Crankypants. “Wouldn’t have happened on my shift, believe you me.”

“Lucky me,” I said.

“So how’d you get all infected like that? You drink out of the toilet bowl or something?”

“No idea. Was at a couple of dive bars, that’s about it.”

“It’s been twenty below for days. Theres a lot of what looks like flu going ’round. That might have something to do with it. Any major stress in your life? Big changes?”

Wife asked for a divorce a couple months ago, moved out a couple weeks back.”

“That figures. So, you have something to live for, or you gonna die on me here?”

“I’ve got a plan. A lot of it is travel. She hated it, I love it. Maybe even get a transfer and relocate. Change of scenery. Make the most of it. Opportunity, not crisis.”

“Okay, good. Between this,” she said while tapping the IV bag full of antibiotics, “and a positive attitude, we just might not tag and bag you.”

“Good to hear.”


Joey at cloud cafe
Me at Cloud Cafe, on my first week out after recovering.

A week after getting back on my feet, a friend asked if my near-death experience changed me. I replied that I had become “like me, just more so.”

Around the same time, Shopify’s Edward Ocampo-Gooding asked if I could give him some pointers on finding developer evangelists. I put together a list of qualities to look for and tips that might help him in his search.

Sausage on a fork
This will only make sense if you know the story.

A week after that, I would, in an incident that’s spoken of in hushed tones, come to the realization that it was time to work somewhere else. For a number of reasons, that’s a story best told in person, over drinks.

Consolation fries
A day after came something I call the “Consolation Fries Affair”. It was part test of patience, part test of character, more amusing than traumatic. And hey, I got free fries! This too, for a completely different set of reasons, is also a story best left for an in-person, with-drinks telling.

Where Do I Sign?

Tobias lutke

That weekend, I got an email from Shopify’s CEO and co-founder, Tobias Lutke. Tobi thanked me for providing that information to Edward, suggested that the start-up world had been missing me and asked if I would consider joining Shopify as an evangelist.

“You have no idea how perfect your timing is,” I told him. “Let’s talk.”

Shopify in winter

I took a personal day and flew to Ottawa to chat with Tobi and the Shopifolks and by the end of the day, I was nearly sold. I told them I’d need time to think about it.

Sxsw badge

I met up with the Shopifolks at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas and with my IE9 promotional responsibilities taken care of, I met with them on the last night and they presented me an offer letter.

“Let me get this straight: it’s a pay cut, more risk and a total disruption of my life?” I said. “Count me in.

And Here I Am

Joey at barcamp portland 2011
Me at BarCamp Portland in late May.

It’s been half a year since my check-in, iffy prognosis and adventures with suffocation and call button repair at the hospital. Between hospitalization, travel and living away for the summer, I’ve been in my own home less than half the time this year. I’m in a place that isn’t my own, in a town where I have only a vague idea of the geography and know only a handful of people.

I’m five weeks into my new job as Shopify’s Platform Evangelist. I have left the security and the fat paycheque of a Fortune 50 company for a start-up. I’m in Ottawa for the summer in order to immerse myself in the company properly. I’ve gone from a company where I was at about the median age to being part of the “adult supervision”.

Strangely enough, in spite of all this change, I still think that I haven’t ventured far enough outside my comfort zone. There’s still a lot more I can do, and there isn’t a better opportunity than the one I have right now to do it.

Screw you sign
Me in the woods near Mount Ranier in late May.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

8 replies on “Half-a-Versary”

Dude, it was an honour to share the stage with you and I am very glad to hear you’re finding supreme happiness at Shopify! You are awesome and the team isn’t the same in Mississauga without you around. Will have to set up time for drinks…

I am very pleased you’re doing well and the story is a great one, inspiring and you tell it well. Be of luck and when the travel-to-Amsterdam time comes, you know where you’ve got a place to hang your hat.

You should look into Ultimate Frisbee while you are in Ottawa. There are tons of groups to join and (almost) all are the fun, relaxing, go-for-beer-after-the-game types!

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