Big Nerd of the Month: Steve Sparks

LeAnn Boucher's Headshot
LeAnn Boucher

After a brief hiatus, we are pleased - nay ecstatic - to bring back the Big Nerd of the Month. For our regular blog readers, this latest winner is a name you frequently see within these revered web pages. He is a Nerd amongst Nerds. His coding chops are undisputed (can we say Clash of the Coders winner?). His hacking reigns supreme. His creativity is unmatched. In fact, he is the brains (and voice) behind our recent Cocoa Got Blocks music video masterpiece.

Without further adieu we are very proud to announce Steve Sparks as the June Big Nerd of the Month in this the year of the Nerd 2013.

BNR Blog: We always like to retrace the path our Nerds took to make it to Big Nerd Ranch. It’s always interesting and makes us realize how grateful we are that the path stopped here. What’s your story?

SS: I had worked for a number of years in a startup while Big Nerd Ranch was growing, and then left in 2009. Having known Emily and Aaron, I had been wanting to be a Big Nerd for a while, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself. One day Aaron found himself with a project that required a fairly wide breadth of skills, from hardware hacking to web services. He hired me for that role. After that project ended, I’ve been on iOS projects, mostly. I’m really enjoying the sweet spot between the constraints of mobile and the performance that these devices have nowadays.

BNR Blog: Stealing a recent question posed by frequent Big Nerd Blogger MarkD, what is your superpower?

SS: Geez, that’s a tough one. Curiosity? Optimism? Perfect pitch? I really think it’s the coffee. A good cup of coffee is worth Aquaman’s ocean telepathy anyday.

BNR Blog: We recently debuted your music video masterpiece - Cocoa Got Blocks. Just how in the world did you come up with that idea?

SS: Oh, I’ve been a fan of the original since back in the day. I sing it about things all the time. “I like this booth and I cannot lie” while going to lunch with the guys the other day. “I like my car and I cannot lie.” And then “I hate pthreads and I cannot lie” just didn’t have that je ne sais quoi, y’know?

BNR Blog: As part of the team that won the epic coding competition, Clash of the Coders, you got to pick a pretty unique prize. What was it?

SS: I got Modernist Cuisine. It’s one-third crazy takes on standard recipes with a smattering of exotic stuff (like cooking with liquid nitrogen), two-thirds food porn. The images and quality of print are outstanding.

BNR Blog: What delectable dishes have you made? And when can I come over for dinner?

SS: I’ve had a sous vide unit for a while (built one based on the Make: article) but he’s really pushed me to use it for more than just beef. I’ve gained confidence with fish, and started really killing the chicken.  Now I want to do some stuff that’s too hot for the old unit, so I just built a new one that’s reliable up to 100C for continuous duty.

As for coming over for dinner, y’know, we could arrange that. No doubt all the kids would love the tire swing while we savored the good stuff. You’d bring the wine, of course.

BNR Blog: I saw a recent Facebook post about Diamond Dallas Page and his DDPYoga. (Friendly reader, you do follow "Big Nerd Ranch" on Facebook, yes?)

Would you recommend DDPYoga?

SS: Oh, most definitely. It’s been really awesome for me. As a computer nerd I’ve spent twenty years constantly hunched over. Once I had kids, holding them just destroyed what was left of my shoulders. By doing the DDPYoga workouts, I’ve really improved my posture and flexibility and brought back a LOT of the shoulder capability. It’s given me a lot of strength too, allowing me to squat for fifteen minutes while they filmed the opening shot of the video. :) The standing desks at Big Nerd Ranch and my own treadmill desk have been helpful in this regard too. No more hunching!

BNR Blog: We define being a Nerd as being passionate about something, usually something interesting and unique. What are your Nerdy hobbies?

SS: Mostly my big hobby is learning. I love understanding a topic through-and-through. On that note, I’ve gotten nerdy about barbecue, coffee, fermented foods (beer/wine/cheese/pickles), music production, electronics (specifically discrete logic on one side, and tube amplification on the other) and wrecking my wife’s viewing of a fiction movie by pointing out the Joseph Campbell references.

BNR Blog: How does it feel to accept the mantle of BNOTM from the BNOTM (millenium) Chris Stewart?

SS: Chris is the King, of course. I accepted the CotC mantle from him too. I’ve spent this year working on a project with him, getting to know him, and he’s brilliant. (Just like all the other Nerds, heh.) It’s pretty fitting that he held the award for the most consecutive months. Of course, when they announced the winner, he and I were in a scrum meeting, so we didn’t find out til later.

BNR Blog: What piece of flair are you adding to the trophy?

SS: The trophy has a cowboy as the centerpiece, so I’m going to paint the cowboy to look like my Cocoa Got Blocks character, complete with a mouse necklace made from dental floss and a grain of rice.

BNR Blog: And finally, it’s the season for college graduates to be freed upon the employment world. What advice would you give today’s college graduates?

SS:

  • You get a job by earnestly wanting to help your employer in the ways he needs help.

  • You keep a job by consistently helping your employer above and beyond what he asks.

  • You lose a job if you do it so well your employer can’t function without you. So share what you know freely, and your value will just increase.

  • You don’t really need an employer anyway, you CAN do it yourself.

  • “Set your sights firmly on a course and the universe will marshal its forces to support you.” Don’t know who said that, but it’s a favorite quote and bang-on true.

  • Most importantly, you could be doing your job, or you could be starving on the side of the road in Africa, hobbled, with no chance for redemption. Given those two options, even the worst office job is AWESOME and the coworkers are really not such bad people.

BNR Blog: Congratulations Steve! You are truly a Renaissance Nerd and we’re grateful to work with you.

If you missed it, watch Steve’s_ Cocoa Got Blocks_ here!

Big Nerd Ranch's Cocoa Got Blocks from Big Nerd Ranch on Vimeo.

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