Howard Dierking

I lost a friend today

I have a million and one things that I should be doing right now. There’s code that needs to be reviewed, more code that needs to be written, customer calls to prepare for, expense reports to approve (and submit).

I’m not doing any of those things right now. None of that feels all that important.

I learned today that my friend and former colleague, Thomas Remkus, just lost his fight with cancer. Thomas was one of the brightest developers that I’ve ever worked with and I can say without hesitation that a very large part of my career is due to my time working with him. I realize that must sound like a pretty bold and potentially trite thing to say, so let me give you some specifics. Working with Thomas, everything came down to one very simple statement.

“Show me.”

A little more background. I came out of university with a head full of computer science ideas and the ego to match. Thomas came into software development through the self-taught route and IMO had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about us college types. You would think that pairing us up would have been a recipe for fireworks - you would have been right. There were times where our disagreements escalated into full blown shouting matches. Those on our team probably remember the infamous Thomas/Howard breakup where I moved my stuff out of our shared office and into a cube. However, none of the arguing was ever permanent, and we always ended up back together as the 2 crazy developers who were [equally] likely to either do something amazing in software or set the building on fire. Through it all, whenever discussing a new concept or idea, Thomas was exceptional at cutting through all of the rhetoric and getting right to the core of the matter with 2 simple words.

“Show me.”

I think it was this attitude of constant experimentation that enabled Thomas to move from where he started (Microsoft Office automation with VB Script) to VB6 and ASP to .NET to C++ and eventually into programmable hardware and large scale Unix systems. No concept was ever too daunting - nothing was ever beyond hard work and further experimentation.

Eventually, both Thomas and I moved on and took different career paths. The last time I spoke with him, he was building and managing controller software for satellite networks. When I made the move out of Microsoft and into the Unix world, he was the first person I sought advice from, and he had lots of it to give. But one piece of advice he no longer needed to repeat, because it has been forever etched in my brain.

“Show me.”

Beyond the office, Thomas and I developed a great friendship - to the point where his wife once asked if he should consult with me before planning a family vacation. There are so many fun memories with Thomas that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget accidentally eating congealed blood at a local Chinese restaraunt because I couldn’t understand what Jimmy was saying. I’ll never forget riding around in his blue Jetta singing the blues until I couldn’t talk. I’ll never forget going to a movie in the middle of the work day (sorry, Karl). I’ll never forget the fact that holding his son Gabriel was the first time in my life that I had ever held a baby. Reflecting now, there are just so many memories.

So my friend Thomas - thank you for showing me an example professionally and friendship personally. I hope that I can make even a fraction of the impact on someone else’s life that you made on mine.