Introducing Trifecta, the first iPhone game to come out of the App Academy

10 months ago I found out my wife was pregnant.  I was horrified.  Don’t get me wrong - I wasn’t disappointed.  In addition to being horrified, I was ecstatic.  I’ve always wanted to be a dad.  But I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my own child.  We were currently burning more cash than we were bringing in.  A lot more.  I was struggling to get my second startup, Avalaunch, off the ground.  For months I’d been stuck in the customer development cycle, creating mockups and interviewing potential customers but unable to find a product that really resonated with them.  With Avalaunch, I had burned through our savings and we were staying afloat due to the generosity of my parents.

With the news of a baby on the way, my priorities changed.  I knew immediately that my son would always come first.  I can risk my own future but never his.  So while I haven’t completely given up on Avalaunch, I was ready to put it aside and find a more immediate way to provide for my family.  

The challenge was building a career from scratch when previously I had spent 8 years as a professional poker player.  While I was fairly sure that a lot of the skills would cross over to other professions, convincing others of the same would be a hard sell.  And while I’ll always be willing to do whatever is necessary to put food on the table, I really didn’t want to give up on the dream of doing meaningful work that I’m passionate about.  In addition to protecting my own sanity and happiness, I want to be able to show my son a reality where life doesn’t have to be a grind, not even for 40 hours a week.

During the two years that I tried to launch Skilltree and Avalaunch, I learned a lot about myself.  One thing I learned was that I love to program.  Good code is beautiful.  It’s a combination of logic and creativity that’s hard not to appreciate.  And in a lot of ways, the skills needed to be a good programmer correlate to the skills needed to be a good poker player.  In both you need to be able to hold a lot of information in your head at once, you need to apply a deep level of reasoning, and you need to be creative in your solutions.  The big difference is that good code can literally change the world.  It can provide a meaningful service for millions.  And it can generate wealth.  Poker, on the other hand, is a zero sum game.  You help nobody but yourself and you do so at the cost of another.

Despite my new found love of programming, I wasn’t at all convinced that I could find a job as a programmer.  I was self taught, only had 2 years of experience, and Ohio isn’t exactly brimming with developer opportunities in the same way that San Francisco is.  So when my brother forwarded me an email about the App Academy, I was ready to sign up.  Of course, it wasn’t that easy.  First I had to have a long discussion with my wife.  Taking the App Academy course would require borrowing even more money from my parents.  If everything went as planned, it would mean relocating to San Francisco shortly after the App Academy was over.  And perhaps most importantly, it would mean being away from my wife and our unborn child for 3 months near the end of her pregnancy.  It would mean I wouldn’t be able to be there for her when she might need me most.  And if she delivered early, it would mean missing the birth of my son.

Once we were in agreement that I should attend, there was still the matter of actually getting accepted.  Since the end of App Academy, I’ve been asked a number of times what advice I can give on how to improve one’s chances during the application process.  My answer is to show them what they’re looking for.  Show them that you are capable of thinking like a programmer and that you’re willing to work hard at it.  Show them that you understand the amazing opportunity that the App Academy presents and that you’re willing to treat it as such.

During class we always worked in pairs.  We’d switch every day or two.  And each time we switched, we’d start a new project.  Each app we created taught us a new design principle or framework.  They were barebones apps, of course, but would often show real promise.  One of the apps that showed promise was a game called Trifecta.  The project was to create a game similar to tetris or bejeweled.  With any game assignment, there was lots of room for creativity.  For Trifecta, Ran Tao and I built a game where you’re presented a board full of different colored blocks and the objective is to find 3 or more blocks of the same color adjacent to one another.  It’s a race against the clock, but one in which you don’t want to rush.  You do best by strategically removing blocks so as to maximize the number of blocks in future “combos”.

After class ended I moved back home to Ohio, found work as a developer, helped to bring my beautiful baby boy into the world, and continued to work on Trifecta.  The initial intention of relocating to San Francisco didn’t pan out.  No school would accept my wife as a transfer student because of how close she is to getting her bachelor’s.  So while relocating is a possibility for the future, for now I’m happy to be working remotely from Ohio on contract work for a couple of companies in California.  

Ran and I worked on Trifecta for a week or two after class to get it to the point where it was something we could be proud of.  We added a lot of polish as well as another game type - unlimited - where the timer is replaced with the goal of preventing the blocks from rising to the top of the game board.  While we were ready to submit Trifecta at the beginning of November, we ran into issues due to how hard Apple makes it for a pair of developers to release an app together.  To do so and have both of us credited we had to form a company (R&K Labs) and obtain a D.U.N.s number which took us a month.  We also had to change the name of the app from Trifecta to Trifecta Blocks Challenge as there’s already an app with the name Trifecta.

While the real reward of attending the App Academy is being able to provide for my family by getting paid to do something I love, the icing on the cake is finally getting to see an app I’ve built in the app store.  So without further ado, R&K Labs is happy to introduce to the world Trifecta Blocks Challenge, available for free from the Apple App Store now!

image

If you read my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve switched gears this weekend.  Instead of writing I’ve been sharing some awesome TED videos.  By doing so I’ve given myself a few extra hours to spend with my family and friends on this my first weekend back in Cincinnati after 3 months of living in San Francisco.  

This particular video is one you’ve likely seen if you are, like me, a fan of TED.  Nonetheless, it’s a great one to re-watch.  The intro, especially, is absolutely inspiring.

Goodbye San Francisco

Goodbye San Francisco.  You were wonderful and amazing and I hope to see you again soon.

This morning before my flight I met with another company. I was exhausted but speaking with one of the founders was very energizing. I really liked the guy. He knew his stuff, he had a great attitude, and really brought the idea they were implementing to life. I could easily see working for them. I’d learn a lot and hopefully I’d be able to contribute a lot too.

The flight was good. I didn’t die. That’s usually the bar I hold flights to. Thankfully every flight I’ve ever been on so far has surpassed that bar.

And finally, after 3 months, I’m back in Cincinnati. And that means I saw my wife today for the first time in 12 weeks!  At 8 months pregnant, she’s huge! And beautiful!  In 1 month we’ll be mom and dad.  That’s a very surreal thought still. I’m nervous and I’m excited.  

Last Day in San Francisco

Today was a good day. I began by making a trip to Oakland where I met the owner of a dev shop. They go beyond client work and are also developing a product line of their own. That went really well. I was offered a trial run with them.

I spent my evening at Eddie’s where he was hosting a pot luck. Many of my classmates as well as Jonathan and Kush were there. It was good food and good fun - a great chance to catch up with everyone and see how their post app academy adventures have gone thus far.

My flight leaves San Francisco at 1 pm tomorrow. I still have to pack and I’m chatting with another 500 Startups company in the morning before I leave. The most important thing for me to do now is sleep.

One more day

Today went a lot like yesterday. I spoke with a couple of companies from the 500 Startups accelerator (current and alumni) that are looking for a software engineer and discussed the possibility of my joining their team.

Overall I’ve been very impressed with the quality of companies that are either going through or have emerged from the 500 Startups program.  Of those I’ve talked to, there are certainly a lot of differences between them, but there seems to be a common thread of determination and passion.

One of the alumni companies I chatted with today would be especially great to work with. They have an amazing product, great partnerships, and an awesome team. I could learn a lot working with them and I believe I could contribute a lot as well.

I spent the evening the same way I spent last night.  I worked on Trifecta with Ran.  We made a lot of little changes.  The images are updated.  The mute button and the pause button are a tad bigger.  The background and the timer blink when you’re almost out of time.  And so on.  

Tomorrow is my last day in San Francisco. I have one interview in the afternoon and then tomorrow evening the app academy alumnus will be getting together for a potluck dinner. It should be a fitting “end” to this 3 month adventure.

Trifecta

Today I met with the founder of one of the companies in the current batch of 500 Startups. We had lunch, talked about his company, where it was going, what was needed, and so forth. It’s an awesome idea and I think he’s the right guy to bring it to market. Whether or not there’s a place for me at the table is still to be determined. At this point, it’s still a possibility though. If I were offered the position, which wouldn’t happen until I first successfully went through a technical interview, and if I then accepted the position, which wouldn’t happen until first talked to my wife, I would need to tighten the belt for about 6 months until after their demo day when the next round could be raised. I would be getting a pay check, but it would be small.

Later in the afternoon I met with Ran again and we spent a few hours debugging and adding features to Trifecta. We added sound effects and adjusted things a bit so that it can now be played on the iPad as well as the iPhone. It’s definitely shaping up to be a fun little addictive game. One of these days we should probably submit it to the app store and share it with the world.  Maybe tomorrow.

My first time

Today I had my first technical interview.  I was asked to solve a problem while the interviewer shared my screen remotely.  Prior to today, the closest I’d come to a technical interview was being asked a couple technical questions by Apple.  

I won’t go into details about the problem I was asked to solve other than to say that it wasn’t hard and that I was asked to use test driven development.  Despite the simplicity of the problem, I was amazed at some of the simple things that didn’t come to me right away.  I was definitely nervous and it showed.  A problem that would normally take me 15 minutes took closer to an hour.  Still, I did well enough that they want to continue the conversation on Tuesday.  Of that I am quite happy.

I’m going to keep this short and go to bed early tonight so that I may be well rested for tomorrow.  I’m talking with another 500 Startups company and I’d like to make a good first impression. 

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union