I've mostly chosen the path of least resistance for my decision-making. It's somewhat controversial, but this way of thinking has (not only, but mostly) positively complemented my decisions and supported me at solving problems in a creative way. This is not a blog post about giving advice. I wanted to reflect on the ups and downs in my life. I have the privilege to know and be able to pursue my passion from an early age. The transition from hobby to work has been challenging and most importantly it has been fun.
The year 2016 had been an incredible one for me. It was overwhelming to receive the CeBIT Innovation Award 2016 for Cryptomator together with Sebastian. We saw this as an opportunity to found a company (or startup… whatever). You might ask: “Is this enough to run your own company as a full-time job?”
I don’t have a definite answer to this question (yet). Not knowing what is next and what opportunities will arise is actually very exciting. The more interesting question is: “How did this even happen?” The truth is: I’ve mostly chosen the path of least resistance for my decision-making.
This phrase generally has a negative connotation and choosing this path might be a sign of weakness. That’s why I can’t stress enough that this isn’t some life hack. It could potentially be extremely inappropriate for certain situations. Still, I can only speak for myself and my experiences. I’m happy with my current situation and this way of thinking has made me the person I am today.
Everyone has a passion for something. It can be any topic, e.g. politics, or hobby, e.g. sports. In my case, I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. I’m fortunate that my dad had an early interest in computers. The unusual part is that he was already so convinced by Apple in the late 80s, hence he prohibited any Microsoft product in our home from then on. It sounds weird and it certainly was against the trending domination of Windows. But that’s how I was introduced to Apple computers in the 90s (starting with System 7).
I’ve never owned a PC in my life. Of course, I’ve used Windows on other machines or in a VM by now. But it was tough at that time due to the lack of many “mainstream” games for Mac, which bothered me. I wasn’t even allowed to buy an Xbox, when it was released in the early 2000s. Yet, I stopped fighting against this rule and chose the path of least resistance. This is how I started to develop my own games and delved into programming.
You might think: “Wait a minute. Isn’t learning to program and developing your own games a higher resistance than buying a PC and playing all the games you want?” That’s the beautiful thing about passion. For me, developing a game is as much fun as playing a game and can sometimes be even more fun. Programming is like solving a puzzle and is very rewarding when the program is executing exactly what you’ve imagined in your mind before.
I don’t know for sure if the early contact with computers and the exclusive usage of Macs are the main reasons, but my siblings and I all ended up “being creative”. My sister is an amazing artist/illustrator. Check out her website, Dribbble, and Instagram. I’m also very proud of my brother and his wife Grace running Nyonya Cooking – a YouTube channel with over 100k subscribers and winner of YouTube NextUp Berlin (June 2016). They all have full-time jobs besides that, but they’re pursuing their passion in their free time.
I started to learn programming when I was 11 years old (so around 2000), iirc. I didn’t only develop games, I also built simple utilities for myself. When you start to see problems that can be solved by a program, you can’t stop yourself.
As you can imagine, I did it all for fun. Programming was my hobby and it still is. E.g., I didn’t want to use index cards to learn Latin vocabulary for school (which was a common technique, not sure if it still is). Instead, I developed an “index card” application so that I could learn them on my Mac. As strange as it sounds, this was the path of least resistance, because I hated learning vocabulary. At least I made it fun by mixing in programming.
I graduated from school in 2007 and there was a period of time when playing a game took over my life. I’ve spent so much time in World of Warcraft (starting with Burning Crusade) and I can’t remember programming anything meaningful during that time (roughly until 2010). Don’t get me wrong, I began my studies in 2008 and was learning a lot about programming. But I didn’t have any “passion projects”. I’m still indecisive on what to think about that period of time. Yes, it was excessive, but I can’t deny that I learned valuable lessons. Honestly, I don’t believe that there will ever be a game again that will devour millions of people at once for so many years. It’s nice to had been part of that “phenomenon”. I guess I also chose the path of least resistance on this one.
During the same time, REALbasic (the programming environment I used the most, nowadays called Xojo) started to lose its appeal. I learned Java during my studies, but it didn’t hit me like REALbasic did. I was afraid to learn more advanced languages like C++ or Objective-C, so the path of least resistance was to go along with my studies. I wasn’t as passionate about programming as I used to be. That sucked.
Fun fact: Sebastian wanted to learn Objective-C with me in 2008. He asked me many times. I still have the ICQ transcripts as proof. I wasn’t interested for whatever reasons. In hindsight, this is one of the decisions I regret most. It was a shitty time for me. Pardon my language. As you can see, the path of least resistance isn’t always a glorious one.
After graduating from school it was obvious that I wanted to study something with computer science. Do you know these “salary reports” (here is a German one as an example)? Business information systems (in short BIS, Wirtschaftsinformatik in German) is quite high in these statistics – higher than computer science. I don’t know if this study program is even a thing outside of Germany. It’s a combination of business administration and computer science. I grew up in Bonn and wanted to stay there. University of Bonn and Bonn Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences (in short H-BRS) were the only obvious options for me. But only the latter offered BIS. Thus, I only applied for H-BRS. I had no interest in going other places and doing other things. Easiest decisions of my life, right? Yes, the path of least resistance.
This actually backfired later, but we’ll get to that. The courses with economics focus didn’t interest me at all. But the mathematics and computer science courses were excellent. I’d like to especially mention the course Software Engineering. Our professor organized a programming competition with sponsored prizes. That was so much fun, we had to program an AI for a modified version of Connect Four. The AIs of each student had to battle it out in a tournament. Programming and competitive gaming – what a fantastic combination! I took third place and won an iPod shuffle, which was sponsored by Accenture.
Part of the study program was also to complete a practical project of ten weeks. I applied for an internship at Accenture, only because of the aforementioned competition. Again, I put all my eggs in one basket. I had no interest in looking for other options. Yes, I’m that lazy (and lucky ). I interned at Accenture for three months and afterwards worked there as a working student for two years. Path of least resistance, haha.
My team leader at Accenture noticed that I was an Apple geek and loved video games. We talked about iOS game development, because he pursued a similar interest in his free time. I was hesitant, because I already tried to learn Objective-C for Mac app development without any success. But I was also intrigued, because I just bought my first iPhone 4 in 2010. He lent me some books on iOS game development. It was my childhood and youth all over again. Playing around with Objective-C and the whole iOS ecosystem was pure fun. I’m forever grateful for his influence on me.
Well, back to my studies: I did all the courses in the standard period of study and it was time for my bachelor’s thesis. Even though I was fully aware that I was studying BIS, I thought I could do something practical with computer science focus. This is when my short-sightedness backfired, which I’ve mentioned earlier. The examination office wasn’t happy with my idea and they wanted to stuff some economics in my thesis. I hated that and didn’t know how to deal with it. I comfortably worked at Accenture, developed iOS apps and games in my free time, and didn’t make any progress on my thesis for a whole year. Damn you, path of least resistance.
After the release of Spectrum Run, I knew I had to change something. What’s the next path of least resistance? Just the idea of forcing boring content into my thesis paralyzed me. My potential supervisor of my thesis eventually asked me: “Why do you study BIS at all? Can’t you switch to computer science?” He actually wasn’t serious about it, but I thought to myself that this was a brilliant idea. I was trapped in the irrational loss aversion and the sunk cost fallacy. I didn’t consider switching to computer science as an option before. So that’s what I did in 2012 and chose visual computing as my focus. I didn’t have to start from scratch, I was able to transfer half of my credits to the new study program.
In winter semester, I took courses of semesters 1, 3, and 5 at the same time. In summer semester, the courses of semesters 2, 4, and 6. My goal was to get through this as efficient as possible and finish after two years instead of three. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a quick reference to the academic terms in Germany. The switch definitely paid off for my personal development. I could finally attend the interesting courses, such as Computer Graphics, Game Development, Interactive Environments, and even Information Security. Without any complications this time, I received my bachelor’s degree in 2014.
A few months later in 2015, I started developing Cryptomator for iOS…
I could go on and on about my projects and my decisions, especially the last five years have been dense. I worked on 15 “bigger” projects between 2012 and 2016. Only a handful of them survived and made it on my projects list. Projects fail for different reasons and that’s okay.
My decisions should definitely be taken with a grain of salt. You have your own passion and the resistances you face in your life are certainly different than mine. The challenge is to keep your fire burning. There is no shortcut other than pursuing your passion every (other) day, little by little.
I’m so excited for 2017. I wish you all the very best!