Sunday, June 16, 2024

Farewell John Kordyback

Software DevelopmentFarewell John Kordyback


John Kordyback, a treasured colleague and friend, died last week, aged
64.

Once the bus from Denver airport had pulled into the Colorado ski
resort, and I’d deposited my bags in my room, I set out to begin the
weekend. It was June, so there was no snow on the slopes, but I wasn’t
here for the mountains, even though I love to hike in them. My attention
instead was to my colleagues, a couple hundred of which were there with me
for a North America “awayday” – a weekend gathering of employees of
Thoughtworks. Walking along I was soon hailed by a welcome face in a flat
cap, sitting outside with a glass of beer as work-in-progress.

I’d first met John Kordyback ten years prior to this. I was visiting
our new office in Calgary and one of my co-worker friends said “you’re
really going to like this new hire” and was quickly proven correct. While
the elders in the company were people just into their 30’s, John was my
age. Happily I discovered that he also shared my sense of humor, and
took delight in friendly banter. Of more professional importance, he found much
that appealed in our embrace of agile software development.

The world of agile software was very different in the early 2000s.
These were the days when agile ideas about embracing change were
considered irresponsible, when nobody thought that real programmers should
be testing their own software, and deployment into production only done
once or twice a year (not counting bug-fix emergencies).

When I sat down with my own glass of beer, agile had grown into
desirability, and many clients wanted folks like John to lead their own
journey into this style of software development. But John had found a
particularly challenging route, applying agile techniques to legacy
systems, in particular: Mainframes.

Most of my colleagues were wary of working in legacy systems. They were
usually frustrated by poor modularity, few automated tests, and fiddly
deployments. But John recognized that these were called legacies because
they were valuable to their recipients. Every day we carried out
interactions with software that led, sooner or later, to transactions on
mainframes. I wanted to hear what he’d found and how he coped with the
challenges.

John was well suited to this work because he understood the core
principles of agile thinking, ones that were often lost in a world of
two-day Scrum masters. He was aware that the journey from Mainframes to
Continuous Delivery was one of a thousand small steps. (The title of one of his few conference
talks.) To carry these out he’d learned the most important thing was
to introduce thorough testing, and gradually simplify the path to
production.

But the most important core principle of agile that John understood was
that agile habits were founded upon humans working together. When John
went into the mainframe world, he listened to those already there. There
were lots of folks in mainframe development who were keen to try better
ways, but needed someone who, while they understood newer techniques,
wouldn’t tell them how to do things that wouldn’t work, but instead would
would combine with their experience to discover how to improve mainframe
development

John naturally worked this way because above all things, he cared
deeply about the people he worked with. When the topic of John has come
up, the thing that always dominates our memories is his kindness. His
humor was infectious, but not cruel. When he faced opposition, he tried to
understand where it came from, understanding that often people do bad
things because they have been taught to suffer such behavior the hard way.
His goal was much greater than agile, it was to bring decency and
happiness to people’s working lives. To create an environment that would
enable to best of us to thrive and multiply these environments.

I haven’t seen John for far too long. During his illness we often
talked on zoom. Just as he was with his work problems, he faced the demon of
cancer with a positive air, even when the news was grim. He had hoped for
an easier battle, one that would allow him to work with me to write down
his discoveries while he was temporarily away from his clients. Sadly it didn’t turn out
that way, and I’ll no longer be able to seek him out
at a gathering. But the memory of his smile and banter will never go away.
That part of him will live in our memories for many years yet.

Martin Fowler : 26 March 2024

John has inspired and influenced many people in his career. Here a few
of them add their thoughts on his professional life.

Joanne Molesky

author of “Lean Enterprise”, John’s wife

My first career was in health care. I left that field in the early 1990’s due to the stress of constantly working in underfunded conditions (not to mention diminishing opportunity for work). As I searched for a new career, John encouraged me to learn how to use email and teach others how to use it. From there, he constantly encouraged me to keep going and pick myself up and move on when I stumbled and had doubts that I was smart enough and good enough to work in the Tech industry. He stuck his neck out many times by vouching for me in stretch roles that became available. I would never have been considered for them if he hadn’t done that. He told me once it wasn’t because we were married, it was because he knew I could do a really good job and I would not fail. He has a wonderful gift to help people see the brighter side of life and give us hope that we can do a good job despite the numerous barriers that need to be overcome.

Like many of us of a certain age who have worked in tech, John never received a formal training in software development or management. His degree is in Philosophy. He took some stats courses at university. He taught himself how to code, test and understand systems. Before John started working in Tech, he worked with disabled persons in group homes. He has a great deal of compassion for the less fortunate in the world and would stand up to bullies when he saw them behaving badly towards the vulnerable. He mentioned that rather than confront and punish, he would use positive reinforcement behavioural training techniques with problem people at work so they could become a productive part of the team. I think those years working with disabled people (greatly underrated and underpaid work) paid off in spades later in his career.

Ian Robinson

author of REST in Practice

Jim Webber and I worked a lot with John, in Calgary, over 2007 and 2008. We went from a one-week troubleshooting gig to a large change programme almost overnight. I think John had a tolerant skepticism towards our big theory and broad-strokes consultancy: while many of us lost ourselves for a while in an abstracted, somewhat confused, big-picture take on proceedings, John sought to provide a steady counterweight, working in his patient, humble way to establish trust and credibility by teaching and encouraging good practices in the engineering teams on the ground.

John understood that software is a social activity, and that change is often best rooted in day-to-day activities and habits, in trust, and can be most enduring when it emerges from the ground up. He led by doing, by being candid about experiments and mistakes, by creating space for young, upstart ideas and enthusiasms, and by having fun.

In terms of impact on my career, I think there was a practical impact then, and an influence now, as I continue to work out how I might live a significant professional life. Sometime in the early 2010s, I thought I wanted a “name” for myself in our industry. Sometime later, I realized I didn’t. I’d had mayfly ambitions: John’s long career confirms for me now that a significant professional life is not a once-and-done affair. Every engagement is first and foremost an engagement with a fresh group of unique persons. Success, trust and respect don’t just roll over from one engagement to another – every interaction starts afresh to build today’s way of working together. There has to be a strong core of compassion and openness, of here-and-nowness, for someone to maintain that ability to build team foundations over and over, over many years – and John had that core.

Besides our software interests, we shared a lot of touchpoints around British comedy and science fiction, and we laughed a lot – mostly at ourselves, which I think is the kindest laughter. I think that characterises John’s professional life: an effortlessly inclusive interplay of ideas and activities conducted with a light touch of patience and humor – he was a humble but hugely influential teacher, leader and friend.

Sharlene McKinnon

This memorial was both easy and hard to write. It’s easy because John had such a lasting impact on my career, and it’s easy to tease that impact out of all the silliness that we deal with as consultants. It’s hard because it feels so wrong to be saying goodbye. It’s far too soon.

John is a storyteller, and he has a way of using stories to connect and bring out the best in people. I remember meeting him in 2008. I went to a client site on my first day at Thoughtworks, and I was so green. I worried that I’d mess up because I didn’t know “Agile.”

I ended up on his team and the first thing he said is, “Don’t worry about that stuff. The most important thing is to get people talking to each other.” And, that’s what we did. We spent months just focusing on strengthening the human connections while changes in technology swirled around us at a blistering pace.

What strikes me is that I remember the human elements from that time—the laughter, John’s stories, his wisdom and genuine desire to help. And I’ve forgotten the tech and project details, because they weren’t that important. Technology is fleeting and like a high-speed train that moves at an unmanageable pace. It was the conversations and connections that we had on that train that glued us together and made the journey memorable.

One of the things that John used to say to me was, “That person is stuck in the weeds. Go help them see the forest.” I’ve built a career out of helping people get out of the weeds. This was something that John recognized and fostered in me in those early years (I didn’t see it). I feel blessed to have known him.

photo: Suzi Edwards-Alexander

Steven Deobald

It’s been over a decade since I worked with John, and I don’t have any specific anecdotes to share. However, I did want to describe the way in which he handled a (sometimes difficult) team. He was not the sort of person who would either dominate conversations and present himself as the authoritative leader of the group, nor was he the sort of person who would sneakily “consult” his way to the right conclusion.

Instead, John just spoke clearly and honestly. A standup with John was always a sort of palate cleanser, no matter how difficult yesterday had been. His sense of humour was often the secret sauce that helped a team gel.

He was a very natural mentor and leader, in that he would largely stand aside and let people grow on their own. Instead of pushing or pulling, he would calmly step in — like an experienced gardener — to guide and protect the youngest among us as we figured out what the heck it was we were really doing. Sometimes this guidance was technical and internal, sometimes it was political and client-facing. Sometimes it was just a hug when someone clearly needed one.

On a much longer timescale, John’s mentorship meant teaching others to be mentors. Not by coaching or running seminars, but by his own example. Sadly, a large part of what I enjoyed so much about working with John is ineffable. But everyone who had the privilege of working with him has surely felt it.

Mike Jones

My very first introduction to “QB” (a nick-name for John) was prior to my TW employment. I was an integration developer co-located with a TW team. At one point during my very first day on the project, QB jumped out of his chair, yelled ‘Dopio’ and walked out of the room. I had no idea what was happening but then the entire TW team also popped up and walked out of the room. I was caught off guard but they motioned to me to join them and I quickly discovered that ‘Dopio’ (double espresso) was QB’s favorite drink at Starbucks. Proclaiming ‘Dopio’ was QB’s cryptic way of saying ‘Come on team, let’s go for coffee’. That is a very fond memory of mine.

James Pickett

John and I worked closely together in 2018 through early 2020. During that time, I think John and I had more meals together than I did with my family! When I joined Thoughtworks in 2017, I was both a lateral hire and a person with skills/experience that were “non-core” to Tw at the time. I count John as one of a handful of Thoughtworkers that really helped me find a way to have an impact for our clients and the company. We also had so many conversations about so many topics beyond Thoughworks (family, kids, tech industry, and all things Canada!). Rest in peace John. We’ll miss you, and we are all better for knowing you!

Evan Bottcher

John was a presence in Thoughtworks from the time I joined in 2006, one of those voices in the noise inside our mailing list, who when he spoke up you listened to what he had to say, as you could tell it was reasoning from a wide experience base and a high intellect. I inherited him as one of the “elders” one of whom I felt that I became later in my time at Thoughtworks.

I think the thing I would highlight was his experience in working with teams applying agile methods to mainframe development, including test driven development. I know for several years afterwards I would connect John with Thoughtworks teams all over the world when they would bump into this weird world of mainframe and needed someone to help give them the ‘Rosetta stone’ to have good conversations and influence with them. John would graciously take the calls and provide that bridge to a different era of development.

Aleksandar Serafimoski

John was an amazing friend, mentor and an amazing human being. He always cared about people, and way out of his way to feel people heard, acknowledged and feel as part of the team. His knowledge and experience with legacy modernization and testing has been invaluable. He was always willing to share his perspective and to help people when they were struggling. I will definitely miss him at TW and in life! Rest in peace John.

photo: Kelly Cronin

Angela Ferguson

I had the absolute privilege of counting John and Joanne friends since they were here on assignment in Melbourne. One of the things that really stands out to me about John is his ability to really feel the joy in (almost) any situation and to want to share that joy with others, while simultaneously not hesitating on calling bullshit when it needs to be called. His desire to take colleagues along on his professional journey, to champion for them and to help them to also see the joy in working with great people was brilliant. Even though I’ve only seen him sporadically in the past years – and I feel very lucky to have been able to see him this past September – I, like many others, will miss having him here.

Brandon Byars

author of Testing Microservices with Mountebank

Everybody needs a mentor when they move into a stretch role. The first time I took on a leadership position at scale, I was fortunate to have John Kordyback mentor me. He taught me to “lean in” to problems rather than run or hide from them. He taught me the importance of walking the halls and talking to people, because working at scale meant building and relying on your network to get things done. He taught me to laugh at the daily tribulations rather than become burdened by them. He helped me think not just about technology, but how to implement technology through people, and how to stay resilient when the challenges felt overwhelming. John did far more than help me become a better technologist and a better leader; he helped me become a better person.

Stefania Stefansdottir

I had the fortune to very briefly meet and work with John in 2020 at
Thoughtworks. John was a person that somehow managed to leave such a
positive impression on the people around him. How he approached
architecture and software delivery tied to legacy systems was somehow
so tied to empathy for the people working with it and understanding
the value of the system that it still stays with me 4 years later and
has influenced how I interact and work both with legacy systems and
clients.

Martin Andersen

When I met John I was working in the Calgary office, which at the time was the epitome of TW’s “like college but with money” slogan – we were all young, it was somewhat unhinged, and it was a lot of fun. One day I heard there was some excitement that we’d managed to hire this senior guy from TransCanada, older and more experienced. I could see the value in that, but to be honest I really wasn’t looking forward to it. I felt like the mood would shift, get more serious and boring. Of course once he arrived it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t the case. John was always an incredibly youthful person. He was enthusiastic and curious and always full of energy. And he loved both the things most necessary to make this industry work its best: technology and people.

I was always impressed by his ability to remain interested in and focussed on detailed technical problems. A lot of people age out of this as they shift or drift more into leadership and management, but John always wanted to be close to the metal. And while it’s not uncommon for people to want to remain involved, in an industry always changing as fast as this has, so many don’t keep up. But John did. He never tired of learning, and you could always see clearly his excitement about whatever it was he was pursuing.

I was more impressed, though, with his interest in and focus on others. When you were with John he was with you. He was interested and engaged. He had a wry, playful sense of humour. Could be serious as needed, but would always rather be smiling, which he usually was. Everywhere he went he made friends and put people at ease. He’d land at a client site and have it all mapped out before you knew it, joking around with VPs and junior devs alike. Some people make forging these business relationships seem like work, transactional, but I never got that sense with John. It felt like he truly did just enjoy making connections. Really, he had the same enthusiasm and curiousity about the people he worked with as he did about the things he worked on. He made it all seem fun. More than that, he made it actually fun. It still makes me laugh that I ever thought he might be some grey stultifying presence. I’m glad I had the chance to spend as many years around him as I did. I’ll miss him.

Ranbir Chawla

SVP Engineering, RB Global

I met John during a Project Discovery while I was working at Thoughtworks, and I was immediately impressed with his ability to listen to the clients, ask perceptive questions and reach a quick understanding of the deeper below-the-surface issues at hand. John always displayed a deep empathy for people, and at the same time a very practical mindset that helped us all see how we could break down a large problem, understand the human aspects and how they intertwined with technology problems. He was a fantastic communicator, able to break down a complex solution into something very understandable by the audience he was with. He and I used to joke that the best way to make sure you understood a problem was to explain it to your mother first, and if she get’s it, well then you must understand it as well; so now you are equipped to help take your clients on a journey to their end goals without losing them in some deeply technical presentation or planning cycle.

With that level of practicality and communication John and I were able to partner with our client leaders to show the value of small-batch work, frequent deliveries of software to their product teams (weekly vs. quarterly to start) and in the end changed across the organization how software was delivered, dragging their other consulting firms into the process. All the while John kept smiling, joking, and taking people on that journey in his own special way.

Most of all, John made that constant on the road time away from home fun and comfortable. I’ll treasure the simple dinners at the local Indian restaurant in Spring Texas, or burgers at the local bar and grill he loved that we named The Kordy Shack. His humour, empathy, and ability to weather whatever storm hit us left an undying impression in my soul. As an older man only 3 years younger than John, I still would tell him “Someday I’ll grow up to be just like you sir 😊”.

photo: Aleksandar Serafimoski

Vanessa Towers

I first worked on the same account as John in 2013 and then later on in 2020. John was a standout in both instances, quickly earning a strong reputation as a technical leader, modernization guru and all-round kind hearted human. John’s humor got everyone through the most challenging times during ambitious client engagements. John’s commitment to our clients was second to none, working on a distributed account at scale from the US West Coast meant John and I would often start our working day at 5am, with John typically taking charge of driving critical meetings and working sessions at this time, with several cups of coffee needed to keep us going through the early hours. John’s dedication to growing the next generation of Thoughtworks leaders was an incredible gift to those around him. John was an inspiring colleague, friend, gardener, cook, father and dedicated husband to Joanne. He will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at Thoughtworks.

Miguel Enriquez

Principal Software Engineer at Next Data

Like many others, I met John at work during very difficult times both personal
and professionally. Like many technologists I knew from that time, I was very
passionate about multiple topics but John always had these pearls of wisdom to
share with me regarding technology, leadership and, more importantly, personal
relationships.

I always wondered why he always would move between meetings with executives to
our little war room downstairs with a smile that was contagious. Everyone was
practically smiling and laughing whenever we saw him walk the hallways. I slowly
realized, through conversations that I remember fondly, that he was an excellent
human being and he cemented this with great talks about tech, wise banter, great
book recommendations, a shared love for cats, and especially a contagious sense
of humor. I am at a loss of words about all good the things he was and I will
remember him fondly, smiling all the way, as a mentor and fellow technologist.

Patrick Kua

Founder of the Tech Lead Academy

John showed me early in my career what everyday leadership looked like. I first saw his name on internal mailing lists. His contributions always felt well-balanced and thoughtful, contrasting with some of the heated debates on a software development list. When he posted, his words seemed to move people, and people really listened to him.

I understood this more while working on an assignment in Canada. We worked at the same client, albeit on different projects, so I finally got to put a face to the name. Although we worked on different projects, we sat in the same cubicle area. I remember he would always greet me on arrival, say goodbye before leaving, and, despite his challenging project, always had a smile or a joke to share. More importantly, I discovered I could always turn around and ask for input when unsure about anything. He always made time to carefully listen and noticeably pause and think before responding.

In leadership circles, you often hear the saying, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.” John made everyone feel listened to. Because you felt listened to, you also listened to John when he said something. Even though my project only lasted a few months, his role-modelling underscored how everyone can show leadership without being a formal leader.

Amit Uttam

Before joining Thoughtworks full-time, I had the good fortune of being part of a team that had brought in Thoughtworks for what was supposed to be a brief “consulting and technical” guidance engagement. Just prior, I remember feeling rather drained from constantly being pulled into non-technical areas of team and business management, while still trying to keep my ever-fading technical embers alive and stoked.

It was in that brief engagement that I met John Kordyback, and he showed me that it was ok to be wizened, quirky, politely irreverent and unapologetically technical. I eventually became John’s colleague and teammate at Thoughtworks Calgary, and I can say with complete confidence that some of my most important career decisions and trajectory forks are laced with a bit of his special salt.

I am a better person for having known John, my friend.

Chirag Lakhani

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate and work closely with John on recent project together. Our in-person interactions during a recent project were invaluable, as John proved to be not only an exceptional team member but also a mentor and coach to me. His guidance on leading sessions and public speaking was particularly enlightening. John’s insights transformed how we approached client problems, urging us to think outside the box and embrace risk-taking and rapid iteration. Outside of work, our conversations over dinners provided glimpses into his passions and his love for his family. He was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his long-awaited bike, ordered amidst the challenges of the Covid era. He wanted to enjoy his bike rides during his sabbatical. Even during his illness, John’s resilience shone through. Our Zoom conversations were always filled with his unwavering positivity, and he took pride in the medical care he received. Despite facing tough days, he made time for us. We played New York times puzzles (Wordle & Connections) everyday and his competitive spirit thrived. We loved sharing scores every day with each other on our private Wordle channel. The recent absence of his scores in our Wordle channel serves as a poignant reminder that things will never be quite the same without him.

Rest in peace, John. Your presence is sorely missed.

Kelly Cronin

I only worked on one project with John, about 3 years into my tenure at TW, but he and the particular foxhole we were in there left a lasting impression on me. My first meeting with him was, delightfully, in the bar colloquially known account-wide as the Kordy Shack, where he grinned a welcome at me, handed over a menu he didn’t need, and made a few recommendations, ones which I was foolish enough not to take.

Over the next few months, as a “pre-technical” addition to a very technical strategy group, I made an insane pest of myself badgering everyone for details on the whys, in order to understand, and help tell the story of, what we were doing there. Anyone coming into our communal conference room in between grueling client meetings was immediately waylaid and set to narrating my increasingly unreadable whiteboard diagrams. But John had a gift for explanation, even when explaining to someone as hard-headed and pre-technical as me; a gift he’d honed via long years of seeing around corners for his clients when all they could see was a legacy spaghetti diagram; for helping them find a side door out of the technical corners they’d painted themselves into.

He had incredible patience for that sort of conversation. He gave me diagrams explaining some basic data precepts and explained some of the steps the client was going to have to take along the way to the transformation they wanted; then gave me the reality of what they were likely to do when they ran out of money and time, and where that would likely land them. He helped me fill in a big gap in my understanding of data platforms broadly. I might not ever learn how to listen like John, but I certainly learned I should listen to him. I might not have had the skills to recognize how deeply his knowledge actually rooted, but even I could tell the man was seeing the forests, the trees, and all the leaves and bugs and sub-bark phloem and xylem that kept the whole damn thing alive.

This is to say nothing of his dry Canadian wit, his willingness to be silly, his abiding love of an absurd headline or a good dad joke, and his utter graciousness in the face of this unfair, infuriating diagnosis and illness. To have such a man be cut short is certainly tragic; for him to be praising his good fortune on the way out, for the treatment he received and the support of his family and friends, and the care of his medical team, and the life he got to lead up until…. that is to his core the man that he was: following hope where it led down an arduous path, then gracefully bidding hope adieu to walk the rest of the way with realism and peace. We who knew him were lucky; and we would be lucky to face what he did as he did, with vulnerability, equanimity, and care for those he left behind. It was yet another gap in my knowledge that he filled for me, and I love him for it.

Michelle D’Souza

John and I worked together in 2008 for a number of years on my very first account at Thoughtworks. It was a large and nebulous account and most of the time I felt I didn’t know what I was doing. But John, with his big and reassuring smile (the thing I will miss the most about him), made me feel like I was capable of anything.

He was a strong believer in recognizing a person’s strengths and amplifying those. He was one of the first few people to show me the importance of the human side of technology. No matter how busy he was, he frequently popped by our cubicles to share a random bicycling story or to talk about client strategy or the new hotness in tech.

He was a mentor not just to me but to anyone who was willing to listen. He will be dearly missed…..

Nick Thorpe

The first time I met John Kordyback, he swept into a client we were working at. It was my first job, and I was nervy. I asked him what he was doing there. He pointed at the sky, and said “Air Cover”. I had no idea what he meant, but as we became friends, I came to understand it meant “influencing people many levels up from what you see from your vantage point”.

John was always concerned about people, but he never bought into bullshit. Later on, we were talking about how some of our colleagues were deriding the project as “waterfall”. I had no idea what to say to that, because it was true! He put his hand on his mouth in mock horror, and then came that wolfish Kordyback grin. “Tell ‘em to get over it”. He said.

Christopher Hastings

I met John on one of my earliest TW projects. He was kind and warm, but also had an amazing perspective on what was important. As a recent hire, I was still trying to sort through how to approach working with clients, and John was always a steady hand to focus on what was important. He was kind to swap stories of carpentry and other projects, as well. He is already missed.

Blanca Lopez

I got the opportunity to collaborate with John after I came back from maternity leave. I was overwhelmed by this new stage in my life as I was trying to find balance between professional life and my new role as a mom. Kordyback was not only a great colleague who helped me find my way back to work, he was an amazing human being who also shared parental tips, beer and food recommendations.

He was a natural leader with high values, a kind smile, dad jokes in his pocket and a perfect way to find opportunities to share his admiration for Joanne.

David Robinson

I had the privilege to work with John Kordyback on 3 occasions during my tenure at Thoughtworks. I’m a better human and a better consultant because of him. I aspire to be the kind of Thoughtworkers he was. His humility and kindness made a positive impression on his colleagues, friends, and clients. I really appreciated his relaxed attitude, even when things got “interesting”. I will miss him

Tom Clement Oketch

I had the amazing privilege of working with John extensively at a client in Houston from 2018 to 2019. His knowledge of enterprise architecture, testing in all its forms, mainframes, and legacy modernization was unmatched. His ability to command respect and restore calm to chaos in a room full of executives was magical. However perhaps my favorite trait of his was the patience and empathy with which he treated everyone around him.

It is not often that someone as smart and outstanding as him would be willing to lay aside their lofty accomplishments to have deeply impacting conversations about everything from work and career, to family and the goofiness of American versus Canadian culture, to random conversations about the amazing photos he had taken of his cat. I learnt a lot from John, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Rest in peace, kind friend.

Ben Escudero

I have nothing but fond memories of John’s extended tour of Australia that go well beyond learning about how watching ice hockey can be considered a marital activity in Canada. Always willing to inject his rascally humour and a wicked smile into an interaction, John brought a deep sense of humanity and social connection to all of his technical engagements.

If John was on the team, you always knew that every single member of that team would have him looking out for them, supporting them, encouraging them to consider a different perspective to the situation at hand. This went way beyond being generous with his time, John simply embraced the idea that providing pastoral care was in keeping with the years of experience that he brought to every interaction.

Listening to John express his undying love for his gal, usually in the presence of said gal, was a lesson in the power of vulnerability, of the joy of being in love, and the importance of expressing gratitude for all that life has to offer. John helped shape and guide many technologists who were fortunate enough to have had his support on the tough problems that needed to be solved. His thoughtful, loving care for everyone within his orbit remains with me even after a decade of our last project together, and by gosh I love that fella for it.

Jonathan Kohl

I met John over twenty years ago when I was in my first corporate IT environment as a software tester. John had been asked to take a look at my work, and provide guidance and feedback as needed. I was a kid running with scissors writing Ruby scripts for test automation, and leadership felt that it might help to have an adult in the room. I was nervous when I showed John what I had been working on. My code solved the problems I needed it to solve, but it was simple. I was also using a precursor to what became the Watir automation tool, and he was enthusiastic when he saw what I was doing. Not only did he compliment my work and said kind things about the code I felt so self-conscious about, he had all kinds of great ideas for improvement. He helped me sell my ideas to the rest of the team, and was so positive about well, just about everything.

One day, I was upset and John came by to see how I was doing. I had been asked to digitize an information radiator that I’d created, but the stipulation was that I had to create it in Excel. When I fumed to John that it was impossible to create the reporting dashboard we required in Excel, he said: “You can do anything with Excel if you really have to.” He was right, and he taught me how to make API calls and jump through all kinds of hoops and awkwardness in Excel to solve the problem. It worked, and the managers I worked with were pleased. Over the years, he would bring it up, grinning, with a gleam in his eye. “I told you, you can make Excel do anything, even if you shouldn’t.”

John felt that there was more to explore than having a sober second look at my automation work, so instead of him reviewing and advising, we started to actively work together. We started pairing to see how testers and developers could collaborate on Test Driven Development for software projects. We figured out the best areas for a software tester to contribute, and we also figured out a lot of practicalities about having two people with different skill sets pair programming together. That wasn’t enough though, John wanted me to learn and own TDD myself, so from then on, we would pair and I learned how to write test tools using TDD, one test at a time. When I moved on to become an independent consultant, those hours spent with John really paid off. I had vital experience, a better command of necessary tools, and the influence of his positive attitude and unflappable presence, no matter how chaotic the environment was. I was also able to write articles and speak at conferences on topics we had experienced together, all because a kind and generous man saw something in a brash kid, and spent time teaching and encouraging me.

Aside from the technical side of his influence, what I will remember the most is John the person. After I moved on and we didn’t work together anymore, we still stayed in touch. He was a fantastic person to bounce ideas off of, or to ask advice when I experienced difficult situations as a consultant. If my idea was half baked, he’d let me know, but it was always a positive experience. John would also challenge my ideas, and guide me towards other perspectives, all without me feeling challenged or interfered with. Later, when I was on the road myself, I looked forward to our paths crossing if we happened to be in the same place at the same time. Meeting John like this meant I was in for an evening of good food, great conversation, sharing war stories, lots and lots of laughter, and comfort.

Many people who knew John commented on my LinkedIn
post announcing this article. If you knew him, and would like to add
your tribute to this page, let me know.


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