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Big Nerd of the Month: Mikey Ward

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Victoria Skinner

Mikey Ward‘Tis the season to be nerdy! One special, very merry Nerd has personified this festive motto all holiday season: our December Big Nerd of the Month, Mikey Ward. Mikey is our self-pronounced cuddliest nerd. And for good reason. Have you met him? If not, go give him a hug; you’ll feel better.

When a fellow instructor got sick this month, Mikey came to the rescue and flew to Ireland to teach a Beginning iOS bootcamp with only a few hours’ notice. He is also the organizer of the Atlanta CocoaHeads group, oversees the Big Nerd Ranch game night and co-authored the second edition of our Objective-C programming guide. He does it all!

We sat down with him to get a few tips for achieving nerdy perfection.

BNR: Congratulations on being voted Big Nerd of the Month! What new swag will you be adding to the trophy?

Mikey: I’ve had a Lego Chewbacca on my keychain for years. I’ll likely be adding one just like it.

BNR: How fitting, considering your Star Wars-related nickname. You go by many names, including “Wookiee” and “Big Nerd Ranch’s cuddliest nerd.” How’d you’d get those monikers?

Mikey: I’ve been making Wookiee calls as long as I can remember. It’s my most common form of greeting. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll make a Wookiee call when I enter a room and get a call or two in response from the folks nearby. I’m also a huge fan of bear (Wookiee?) hugs.

BNR: Sounds like you have lots of fun at work! If you had to pick, what’s your favorite thing about working at Big Nerd Ranch?

Mikey: The people I get to work with, hands down. My friends at Big Nerd Ranch are some of the best friends I’ve got, and all of them are dedicated to doing excellent work and treating each other with respect. They’re just good people.

BNR: We obviously think the same of you, since we voted you Big Nerd of the Month. We know you’re doing a lot of teaching right now. What’s your favorite part of teaching our bootcamps?

Mikey: Watching lightbulbs go off. Being around for that “aha!” moment when something difficult clicks into place is incredibly rewarding. So is getting to talk to students to hear what they plan to do with their new knowledge. I feel like I’m personally invested in their future success. I often run into students at conferences and get to hear about their accomplishments since taking a class with us, which is a wonderful feeling.

BNR: How great, and that’s what makes you such a good teacher! What advice would you give to new developers trying to break into the industry?

Mikey: I’ve got three bits of advice:

  • Build things. Whether you read a book or take a class, knowledge stagnates without practice. And folks hiring iOS developers can’t ask for 10+ years’ experience like they can for Mac or Windows development, which means you need to have a portfolio. Put some apps on the App Store so that you can point to them on a resume or during a job interview.
  • Make friends in the community. Get on App.net and Twitter (I’m @wookiee on both), and follow the developers of some of your favorite apps. Then start replying to them and taking part in conversations (tactfully, of course). Personally, I prefer App.net. It’s what Twitter was during its first year: comprised mostly of nerds.
  • Consider attending conferences. WWDC is an awesome but expensive one, and there are lots of excellent community conferences (NSConference, CocoaConf and 360iDev, to name a few) that are breeding grounds for long-lasting friendships in the developer community. If you do attend conferences, seek out other attendees you’ve met online and introduce yourself in person. I can’t even begin to describe how valuable the friendships I’ve made with other developers in the community have been to me, both personally and professionally.

BNR: Wonderful advice! Speaking of lasting friendships, you do some great stuff around the office to foster at-work friendships. We know you’re helping reinstitute game night at the Ranch. How are you going about this?

Mikey: It’s all about going from saying “We should plan a game night” to just doing it. I started inviting folks to stay after work on alternating Tuesdays to play games. We started with Carcassonne, Munchkin and a bit of Magic: The Gathering. There’s also been a few classics, including Scattergories. We’ve set up an internal mailing list (credit to AJ for that), so that we can discuss plans and game ideas. It all comes down to the age-old “less-with-the-talking, more-with-the-doing.”

BNR: We can tell that you’re all about the “more-with-the-doing” mindset. You’ve blown away the rest of our Fitbit team (and they’re no slouches!), thanks to your treadmill desk . How do you program while on a treadmill?

Mikey: I love it. I got a console-less treadmill deck and built a desk around it, and tend to keep a nice walking pace. Try to go too fast, and you won’t be able to concentrate or type. I get in about 10-12 miles in a normal workday. It’s only done a little for my weight, but it’s done wonders for my energy levels over the course of a day; I no longer feel an afternoon lull where I want to take a nap.

BNR: Since you’re our December Nerd, tell us: What’s your favorite thing about the holiday season?

Mikey: Spending time with friends and family. My older brother (I’m 30, he’s 35) and I turn into little children around the holidays. We both spend the week of Christmas at my parents’ house, sleeping in the bedrooms we grew up in. We’ll watch movies and play video games and decorate the tree, and excitedly gather in the living room on Christmas morning to wait for our parents to get the day started. I like to pretend I’m a kid all the time, but doing it with family and friends is the best.

BNR: How fun! We can’t leave our Big Nerd of the Month interview without asking our favorite question: What’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever done?

Mikey: Oh, goodness, that’s a toughie. I don’t rightly know, but here’s one that comes to mind. When I was about 10 years old, I spent a few weeks periodically duct-taping my fingers into the Vulcan Salute when I was watching TV or reading. This was to train my hand/finger muscles to more easily make the gesture without thinking about it or bending my fingers weirdly. I’d gotten the idea from my aunt, who’d told me that when she was young, she’d had to suck on a peanut to train the lisp out of her voice.

BNR: We hope you still have photos of learning to make the Vulcan Salute. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us, and congratulations on being voted our Big Nerd of the Month!

Think you’ve got what it takes to become a Nerd? Check out our open positions and apply to join the team.

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Victoria Skinner

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