Remembering Matt Gray

At the end of the memorial for Matt Gray, his wife Carie called for the worst puns heard from Matt. He and I shared a love of wordplay and while I’m certain I’ve forgotten far more of his jokes than I can remember, at least some of them were memorialized in a text file that began its life in an issue tracking system called Bugzilla. I haven’t worked with Matt in over 10 years, but I have a copy of the text file from that era, and just after Matt passed away, I spent some time reading through the entire file again, pulling out just the quotes attributed to Matt. These are the ones I felt have the best wordplay:

“You can’t spell abuse without use.”

“It’s a bug fix… with benefits”

“You just got hexidecimated!”

“Change disappear? Whoda trunk it?”

“Sweat happens when muscles cry.”

“ONE TABLE TO STORE THEM ALL
ONE QUERY TO FIND THEM
ONE JOIN TO GROUP BY AREA
AND IN THE REGIONS BIND THEM”

“That’s all dreams are — rows in a spreadsheet.”

If there is such a thing as a 10x developer, Matt was one. But he was so far from all the stereotypes. He was generous with his time to a fault (always willing to put extra effort Into a project, even when he wasn’t assigned to it), and definitely one of the most humble people I’ve met with that kind of skill. It really felt like he could make anything happen with enough time (and coffee and pizza).

When I first started learning iOS development, it was a stretch for me. I was a mostly self-taught programmer, without a computer science degree, and I’d never written a compiled language before. I’d also never worked in any IDE (unless you count vim). I spent a lot of “after-hours” hours at the Clockwork kitchen table, banging my head against pointers and learning to manage memory via reference counts. One night, Matt sat down next to me and helped me work through an issue I was having, and in the process explained how to use Xcode’s step debugging feature. Keep in mind, at that point, Matt and I had worked together for at least 6 years, and never in all that time had Xcode been part of actual workplace project. He either knew how to use Xcode from before his time at Clockwork, or through some other after-work activity. (I didn’t think to ask at the time, and now I may never know.) As I tweeted cryptically after Matt passed, that evening conversation changed my life. It became ridiculous to me to work in an environment that didn’t have this modern convenience. I slowly migrated to working on iPhone apps full-time, and I have certainly never looked back.

Much earlier in our careers at Clockwork, when Matt wanted to move into management, I was actually rather taken aback. Here was this guy who was the most talented developer I’d ever met, and he was going to waste those talents by spending time managing people instead? I don’t think I understood his motivations at all at the time, although of course I didn’t begrudge him wanting to “move up” in the world if that was it. He was far too likable to hold any animosity. Over time, he became a great manager. (It never hurts when your manager has previously done exactly the job you do.) I only felt like I understood after my last zoom call with him, when Matt emphasized that as interested as he was in technology, it was never about the technology for him, it was about the people using the technology, and about the people making it. “…It was always about the people”, he said.

Matt made a positive impact on so many people, and so many lives, including mine, were changed for the better by knowing him.

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