Monday, December 30, 2013

Josh: Dropbox Product Designer

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

I’d be willing to bet that many of you have never met Josh Puckett, but I’m equally certain that most of you have benefitted from his work the last couple of years.  

Josh spent most of his elementary years living in Wales, where his father was relocated for his job. While there, he excelled in school and enjoyed his school’s up-to-date computer lab. He was raised in a family of engineers, so it was completely normal for him to tear things apart to see how it was put together. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he picked up a book on computer programming and was hooked -- at the age of 9!

I’ve also always been artistic, I loved drawing and coloring and painting, etc., and I realized I could create things on the computer. So from a young age I really took to the mixture of engineering (writing code to make a computer do something) and the arts (how things look, how they feel). From that point on, I spent a lot of time on computers, continuing to learn more about programming and design.

The Puckett Family moved back to the States just in time for Josh to be in my sixth grade class, and I’ll leave my thoughts about our time together till later in the post. Josh spent the rest of his pre-college days in our school.  I loved some of his memories surrounding our computer lab. He said, “perhaps my best memory was sending pop up system chat alerts to every computer in the computer lab and freaking people out.”  He credited his computer teacher his senior year, Mr. Schmid, for recognizing his gifts and giving him time to learn independently on his laptop in class.

Josh tells me that his parents pushed him to learn on his own and spent a lot of time reading and working on computers.  He spent his free time in middle and high school doing freelance computer and graphic design making websites for companies locally and across the globe.

I’m totally self taught, and spent way too much time (or maybe not!) in high school reading and learning about programming and design. A lot of it is just trying to do something, and if you can’t figure it out, trying a different approach until you accomplish your goal.

Upon graduation, Josh went to Moody Bible Institute to study Linguistics and Theology, but he continued his freelance work while there. He contracted work to a number of companies helping them create websites and iPhone apps.

Here is a great time to mention Kayleigh.  Josh is recently married (July 2012) and he couldn’t stop gushing about his bride all through his questionnaire.  It was while he was at Moody that Josh and Kayleigh met. It was love at first sight for him, but it took him two years to wear her down and agree to a date. In case I forget to mention this later in the post, Kayleigh volunteers near their home in the San Francisco area, sings in their church’s praise band, and has a start-up bakery business.  He’s stricken and madly in he should be. I bumped into Josh’s parents not long ago, and his dad was telling me how wonderful Kayleigh is.

Josh made the difficult decision to drop out of college to pursue computer programming fulltime.  His first gig was with Groupon.  While he was there, they went from a couple hundred to over 10,000 employees with billions of dollars in annual revenue. He started as a product designer and eventually headed up all the mobile designing at the company.  If you use the Groupon iPhone app, you can thank Josh for his hard work.  He designed it. Oh, Apple named it one of the top 25 apps of all time.

Josh had turned down at least one job offer from Facebook while living in Chicago, because he didn’t want to move away from Kayleigh.  However, shortly before the wedding, Groupon moved him to the San Francisco area anyhow.  He found a running buddy named Soleio Cuervo, who is perhaps best known for inventing the Like button.  Soleio never stopped prompting Josh to switch to Facebook, till he himself left Facebook to work with Dropbox. At that point, he started to recruit Josh to work at Dropbox with him.

In January 2013, Josh took the plunge and interviewed at Dropbox, where he is now a product designer. He works alongside people who have helped to build some of the incredible sites that we all use and take for granted today.  

I’ve since worked on a lot of Dropbox’s mobile products, and am currently leading the design efforts for a new product in the memories space, but I can’t say much beyond that. Dropbox has been incredibly thus far, and I’ve gotten to work with and learn from many incredible designers and engineers. We have people who helped build Google, Spotify, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and other truly great companies, so the shared experiences and wisdom I’m able to learn from is tremendous.

Josh tells me that he loves working for a company that provides a needed service to its customers.  He also thrives on learning from those around him as opposed to constantly being in the mentor role.

So, next time you share a file with a colleague using Dropbox or pay for a meal using a Groupon coupon, think of Josh and the amazing people that he gets to work with every single day.


Here are some fun facts about Josh that I couldn’t easily weave into the narrative.
  • One of his life goals is to visit every continent -- only two to go -- and space. Yes, you read that last part correctly.
  • Josh came to us with a British accent and vocabulary. One day he asked to go to the “toilet” and received some snickers from his classmates. I pulled him aside and gave him the American words to use in the future.
  • If he could have dinner with any person in the world -- alive or dead -- he would pick Nikola Tesla.  Bonus points if you can tell me who on earth that is.
  • I’m dying to tell you the habit he had when I had him in 6th grade… but I won’t.  He’ll probably do something nasty my Dropbox account.
  • Josh currently leads a men’s Bible study at his church.
  • He single-handedly destroyed the research phase of our annual Country Report. While living in Europe, his family took advantage of their location and traveled extensively.  This means that Josh had visited many of the countries his classmates were studying.  He immediately became the resident expert for everyone.


This post is long already, but I wanted to accurately document Josh’s incredible story of self-learning and journey into the tech world.  However, it’s about to get longer, because I’ve yet to tell you about our rocky relationship and what I think of it years later looking back on things.

Here is how Josh summed up our time together.

I was definitely not the easiest student to teach :) In fact, I might have set a record in terms of most tallies (our discipline system) earned by a student in a single year in your class. BUT! I am thankful that you persistently tried to help me understand the need to not distract, to pay attention, finish what I start, etc. It would have been easy to just give up and be annoyed, but continued efforts by you, my parents, and many others have definitely not gone unanswered in terms of me growing in ways which I am weak or have opportunities for improvement.

Sadly, it’s true that Josh and I didn’t always see eye to eye on a lot of things -- behavior being one of them. I won’t go into detail or tell stories, because I don’t think that’s appropriate.  I will say -- and Josh will agree -- that he had some growing up to do as a student. But that doesn’t excuse me from missing the boat on how best to educate him.

I think you’ll notice in the story above that Josh is very intelligent, well-read, and has a working knowledge of many subjects -- computer programming, aesthetics, linguistics, travel, and theology, just to name a few.  For a student who can teach himself programming at a young age and was at least a year ahead of his peers in math, I’m sure he was quite bored in school.  No wonder, he schemed ways to amuse himself while I droned on and on.

Had I known then what I know now, I would love to have that year back.  I wish I knew what kind of mind Josh had. I can only imagine what kind of Innovation Project he would have turned out.  

For most of my career I have prided myself in thinking outside the box and being more progressive than my colleagues.  While that has gained me a measure of popularity among my students, I’ve come to realize that all it means is that my box is bigger than most others.
Looking back on my year with Josh, I expected him to fit into my mold when in reality he had already begun to shape his future well before he knew I existed. Instead of learning about his gifts and talents and how to groom them, I just kept trying to shove him into the box I wanted him to fit into.

So, let me challenge teachers out there to take stock of who is really in the room with you.  Maybe you, like me, have a Silicon Valley developer under your tutelage… or someone else who thrives outside of the verbal-linguistic intelligence that dominates our schools. Explore how best to reach these kids so you can help them succeed.

I’m so glad that Josh and I were finally able to connect. I’ve been able to reconcile a relationship that got off on the wrong foot and never quite found common ground. In writing this post, Josh and I have conversed on a number of different topics (one reason this post is so long is because of the vast expanse of comments back and forth, and most of the content didn’t make it here) and it’s been a blessing to reconnect with him and learn from him.  

And, yes, I’m proud to say that I know Josh Puckett and was once his teacher.

Josh couldn't find pictures from sixth grade, but he dug up an old high school picture and an engagement picture. Enjoy! 

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