I once met a man in Room to Think who had a lot of crazy ideas. Chief among them was having me make something new for him and his company - a way to make the lives of roadies easier by moving the tedious tracking of their gear from the desktop to their pocket - and building a software team in the middle of the desert. His name was Jeff Payne and he wanted me to make an iOS app for his company Flex Rental Solutions.
Life at Flex Rental Solutions
After a small misadventure in Node.Js, he hired me full-time in November 2013 to build the new Flex Mobile application in Objective-C. By and large, it involved sitting in my windowed office and convincing an esoteric combination of CocoaPods from the web and Objective-C from my fingers to make life in the warehouse easier. Rather than teams of people pushing a cart with a computer on it, or moving equipment past a station on the way to a truck, they can simple pull out their iPhone and scan away.
The more interest stories involve the people encountered along the way. Too numerous to mention. Flex hired Maria Barker, at the time a city of Richland employee with a background in accounting, to do QA. Under the tutelage of Courtney von Nieda, she waded through spreadsheet after spreadsheet of test cases to become the new head of QA by the time I left. Erin Schmidt was hired for UX design and helped not only solve the problems introduce by iPhone 6+ (AKA "Clown Phone"), but also generally relieved me of having to make my own art assets. The world is better for it.
The app hit the iTunes store in December 2014 and is the industry's only mobile solution for helping roadies spend more time with gear and less time with computers. We felt like a team of rock-stars helping the people who help rock-stars make the world a little less difficult one pocket at a time. It was a unique opportunity to help a small team grow and Tri-Cities proved to have everything needed to build something new. It was a once in a lifetime experience in many ways, and I will miss the Flex team as I move on to my next challenge in my career.
But it didn't stop there...
Guns of Ireland
Jeff Payne is not just a Java developer who spends all day stroking his chin and wondering how to make inventory systems more like accounting systems. He is trained in theater and has a background in professional performing arts. He can write code, but he can also write a lot more. In my time at Flex, I got to not only see a new team of Tri-Citizens redefine what iPhones can do for roadies, but also a new team of Tri-Citizens redefine what Tri-Cities can do for Irish history with Guns of Ireland.
Jeff has a trunk of terrible and beautiful ideas that he carries with him every day and he's not afraid to throw it open and start shuffling through them like Carrot Top in line to get on an airplane. One day he pulled out and blew the dust off of one of his better ideas in front of Mike Speegle, writer extraordinaire and the finest beard in Eastern Washington: an Irish jukebox musical. Mike, being more Irish than a whiskey-soaked potato on St. Patrick's day, leapt on the idea.
The Flex team got to watch their hair-brained schemes transition from conversation, to rough drafts, to a lot of mysterious time away from the office, to a workshop production, and finally, a real world premiere performance on Friday, May 1st. I've been watching with great anticipation and must say it blows my mind every morning to wake up to something like this in my Facebook feed...
A bunch of kids are about to make history in May, the final effort of hundreds of hours of work that all started in the Flex office. I am hopeful this will be Jeff Payne's enduring legacy for Tri-Cities and a chance for all of us to be reminded that there is no limit not only to what you can do, but to what others will help you do. All you need is a bunch of people and a crazy idea.
PS: I said one of Jeff's "better ideas". His best idea? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but it involves yet more music and beverages. Prepare for Tony acceptance speeches!