Friday, February 08, 2008

So it goes... R.I.P. Steven J. Metsker

I was just devastated to find out that my friend and former customer, Steve Metsker, passed away yesterday. I had not the slightest idea he was ill. They discovered some form of cancer on January 11 and less than a month later he succumbed. Apparently he was in a lot of pain toward the end so the swiftness was in his best interest, but it is so hard to make the mental shift and realize that the world is one Good Guy shorter today.

I met Steve when I was hired as a consultant at Capital One as a contractor. They had a project that had taken a group of PowerBuilder developers, given them some modest Java training and told them to go forth and build Enterprise Java applications. Hilarity ensued.

After many false starts, missteps, etc., Steve was added to the team to help. Within a year (my recollection on the timeframe may be wrong, but the results are not), he had helped turn them into a functioning, consistently productive team.

As I worked with him, he and I developed a friendship and mutual respect. We had similar senses of humor and enjoyed talking about software, life and everything. I showed up at Capital One very excited about the ideas of Aspect-Oriented Programming. Steve shared my interest, but cast a cautious eye toward silver bullets. Still, I credit him with encouraging me to send myself to the first Aspect Oriented Software Development conference in Enschede in April of 2002. That was a pivotal point for me as it was there I met Gregor who introduced me to Ron who introduced me to Jay.

Steve was an accomplished author, mentor, speaker, trainer and all around sharp guy. I remember one time when his parser book had been translated into Japanese, he was curious what the Japanese reviewers said:

わかりやすく簡潔で超おすすめ

My Japanese is pretty good, but had gotten rusty, so I ran that through BabelFish and came up with:

"To be easy to know being brief, the super male be completed"

The gist of the review was that it took a pretty special person to make a book about writing custom parsers in Java so simple, accessible and brief. He also wrote about Design Patterns, UML, Software processes and pedagogy.

That was Steve's gift. He was a talented communicator; a distiller of ideas. He was very much in favor of hands-on instruction and used the approach at various OOPSLA and other conferences to teach people about Design Patterns.

Recently, Steve had attended several of my NFJS talks on REST, the Semantic Web and NetKernel and was again cautiously optimistic about building scalable, maintainable systems with these ideas. I don't think he had quite wrapped his head around the full picture, but we were working on that.

A little over a year ago, Steve asked me to be part of OOPSLA as the Demonstration Track Chair. I was flattered and happy to do it, especially since I would get to work with people like Dick Gabriel, Joe Bergin, Guy Steele, etc. The last time I'd seen Steve was in Montreal last October. We had a lot of fun and spent a good amount of time together, eating, drinking and just gabbing about software. It was at this OOPSLA that I got to hear Fred Brooks, John McCarthy and David Parnas in one day! That evening, through a weird series of coincidences typical of my life, I ended up joining John McCarthy for dinner and got to explain some of the ideas about the Semantic Web to him. Talk about the highlight of my career!

I owe a lot to Steve and his influence, guidance and encouragement. But as enthusiastic as he was about his career, books, etc., nothing was more important to him than his family. I heard so many stories about the various activities with his wife and daughters. They were all precious to him and it showed. I don't think I could end this any better than to quote him from a variety of emails. They do a good job of showing his enthusiasm, supportive spirit and wide interests:

About his willingness to pitch in and be involved in his daughters' activities:

In other news: Today’s Pinewood Derby day, where 50 or so boys race little tiny cars they’ve built (in the morning), and then about 50 girls race in the afternoon. I was the least averse to volunteering to help, and am now pretty well running the whole thing. There’s a ton of logistics and operational stuff, with an aluminum track to set up, an electrical timer (with a laser switch!), and race management software. Man! Anyway, I think I’m prepared. If I pull this off, though, I’ll send along a revised resume!

About his interest in fostering clear communication to people submitting tutorials to OOPSLA and encouraging them to be involved again and again:

I notice as I fill in my tutorial reviews that some of y’all are not filling in the section on “Evaluation, including points in favor and against, and comments for improvement.”

It’s important to fill this in.

Filling in this section is a courtesy to the submitters – they need to see what we’re thinking, especially when we reject. It helps them grow and submit better tutorials next year. It can incent rejected submitters to try again. (It might, I suppose, have the opposite effect, depending on our wording. But I can’t imagine that pure silence is better than trying to give them ideas on how to improve.)


On his encouragement of me and my career:

Ya know, I gotta say, you're one of those people who seems faintly
bemused that others see a lot of potential in ya. Self effacement's Ok, but it's Ok to believe in yerself too.


On his reminder to me to not let work overtake more important relationships:

Glad to hear it, given that I assume with not one moment of doubt that you do not allow your busy schedule to any way impinge on your relationship and partnership with your beautiful wife. :)

And finally, the last e-mail I got from him was an idea he had submitted to Threadless based on a conversation we'd had:



As I said, the world is down one Good Guy today.

Goodbye, my friend.

9 Comments:

Blogger egharvey said...

Hello,

You don't know me and I barely knew Steve but I had to comment on the excellent and heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing! I was supposed to meet Steve on Tuesday of the week he died to discuss the Pinewood Derby, believe it or not. You see, Steve and his daughter were going to "graduate" from their YMCA Indian Princess tribe this year. Many other girls/dads in his tribe are supposed to do the same, so that left my tribe to possibly take the reigns on the yearly event. We spoke on the phone the Thursday before he went into the hospital. What struck me about him was that he really wanted to do this right and discuss the process one-on-one! I was flattered that he would think of me. I knew very little about him but I felt that I missed out on what could have been a lasting friendship. I had no idea that he was a Java programmer until last week. I work at a university, on a Java-based web application. I think I would've felt at home with Steve had I gotten to know him better. RIP.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Leanne Reid said...

hi you dont know me but i knew steve and alison my name is leanne reid from belfast ireland lucky me at the age off 12 got the chance to go to the states with a schem called euro childern and lucky me got steve and alison for the six weeks i was there they took me in and looked after me just like there own child unkown to me that we where goin to build a long lastin frienshipe what a mentor that man was from day one we hit it together jokin and laughin and playin but then last week i got a bomb droped on me when alsion phoned to say that steve had passed away that news nearlly killed me as i was unawear that he had been sick as we had lost contact for the last 2 years so i didnt get to say goodbye to that father figer that i adored from the time i spent with him over the summer months that i went to stay with them but i will be makin a point off goin to the states again very soon so that i can go to his graveside and pay the respects to him that i did not get to do befor he passed away. RIP ANOTHER GENTLEMAN GONE AND SADLY MISSED BY YOUR ADOPTED DAUGHTER LEANNE XOXO

7:00 AM  
Blogger Leanne Reid said...

you dont know me but i knew steve and alsion back in my school days in belfast i got the chance to go away with a program called euro childern and i was lucky enough to be placed with steve and alison i was only 12 at the time off goin so i was really scared but when i meet them it was like meetin my own parents they made me fell so warm and welcome and we have stayed in contact over the years but last week i got that worst news ever when alison phoned me to say steve had passed away omg i said to myself as i had not got to say goodbye to him as i really looked up to him as father figer even thow icant forget then first time he had to tell me off but after five minuets he had forgive me and we where best friends again cant really say to much more as it is killin me thinkin off the happy times we spent together but next year im goin make a point off gettin back to the states so i can go to his grave and pay my respect. the world has lost another great gentleman. RIP ALWAYS REMBERED BY YOUR ADOPTED DAUGHTER LEANNER

7:05 AM  
Blogger Leanne Reid said...

you dont know me but i knew steve and alsion back in my school days in belfast i got the chance to go away with a program called euro childern and i was lucky enough to be placed with steve and alison i was only 12 at the time off goin so i was really scared but when i meet them it was like meetin my own parents they made me fell so warm and welcome and we have stayed in contact over the years but last week i got that worst news ever when alison phoned me to say steve had passed away omg i said to myself as i had not got to say goodbye to him as i really looked up to him as father figer even thow icant forget then first time he had to tell me off but after five minuets he had forgive me and we where best friends again cant really say to much more as it is killin me thinkin off the happy times we spent together but next year im goin make a point off gettin back to the states so i can go to his grave and pay my respect. the world has lost another great gentleman. RIP ALWAYS REMBERED BY YOUR ADOPTED DAUGHTER LEANNER

7:05 AM  
Blogger Notas de cata said...

Hello,
I bought the book (java workbook) and found out the url to download the code, then I decided to took a look in the site, and was something really sad for me to read that Steven has died.

Good bye Steve, I'll learn a lot from your books.

BR.
Ruben. From México City.

4:10 PM  
Blogger underground said...

As Steve's mother in law 2nd and friend 1st, I wanted to thank you for your comments so true to this amazing so well integrated man. Always grateful that he had joined our family, and as all of us, missing him, I was happy to find your post and took comfort in it. Thank you
Penny Harris

12:10 PM  
Blogger The Blonde Bitbo said...

Thank you for this genuine, heartfelt post. He was an amazing man and personal mentor to me. Gone, but certainly never forgotten, we remember the special ways he touched our lives.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Hi Brian,

Great post. This sounds like the Steve I knew. I worked with Steve during the final year of his life and will be forever better because of it. It's funny how consistent this feeling is among those who knew him. What an amazing guy.

My wife wrote a post to mark the third year of his passing that you and your readers might enjoy: http://brokenhallelujah.org/2011/02/his-legacy-perseveres/

Take care.
Joe

6:47 AM  

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