Engine SevenFour’s Derek Martin
A certain Mexican beer has a spokesman who is described as “the most interesting man in the world.” We at Engine SevenFour beg to differ. Because we have Derek Martin. Currently Engine SevenFour’s VP Operations, Derek gets our vote for Most Interesting Man in the World (MIMitW).
Here are some selected snippets from his About Me page:
i have hiked in the rockies and the andes, been to macchu picchu [sic], stonehenge & the vatican, slept in a hand-made bed on a tiny island on lake titicaca, grew up in a haunted house, and watched nearby UFOs on military-grade night vision in the high desert of colorado.
i’ve been escorted off a train in the middle of macedonia by guards with machine guns.
i’ve gone cliff diving twice (broken wrist), white water rafting twice (lost glasses), skydiving once (threw out my back), and bungee jumping twice (fixed my back).
i learned boxing from olympic medalist egerton marcus.
We have no corroborating documentation, except for his Certified Paranormal Investigator credentials from Flamel College; however, we’ve found Mr. Martin to be scrupulously honest, so we believe him. Although we’re a tiny bit skeptical about this one:
my mother’s father was a gangster, and my father’s father protected the Queen.
So how did this MIMitW end up at Engine SevenFour? The story is nearly as interesting as he is...
Derek grew up on a hobby farm just outside of Petrolia, in southwestern Ontario. (Petrolia itself has an interesting history. An oil town—hence its name—Petrolia was incorporated on December 25, 1866. The first few versions of the town were built of wood, which was not unusual in those days; however, wood, oil, nitroglycerine and fire are a terrible combination, and the town burnt down a few times in its early days.) Derek’s unique nature began to reveal itself in high school, where he was a defensive and offensive tackle on the football team… and was also on the chess team. And won awards in art, machine shop and accounting… while working as the head light and sound technician at Petrolia’s Victoria Playhouse theatre.
Then he was off to Trent University. Derek started out majoring in psychology. Until he discovered a course called “cyberspace, which in 1997 was a cool-sounding course. And the prof just kind of blew my mind.” Derek took all of the professor’s courses, and ended up with an unusual double major (you see a trend yet?) in psychology and computer studies.
Derek explains that the computer studies part of his degree was more of the “systems analysis, workflows and ‘architect-y’ type stuff,” rather than the coding side of computers—he says he didn’t really like the coding part that much. However, much of his frustration with coding was the compiling time required in the compiled programming languages he was using.
University ended. One day, Derek got a call from his friend Mark, who pointed out that they both spent all day online, and asked, “Why don’t we go learn how to build the Internet?” Which was how Derek (and Mark) ended up at Humber College, taking a 12-month post-graduate diploma in Internet Management. The program was a “full 360° study of websites,” covering servers, programming, graphic design and copywriting. Derek describes the program as hands-on, pure application, with no theory, which was fine with him because he’d already learned a lot of theory at Trent. He notes that web programming doesn’t have the compile step that he’d found so frustrating: “Write some code, hit the refresh button in the browser, and that’s it—instant feedback.”
While Derek was at Humber, he helped start TakingITGlobal, a not-for-profit online community that helps young people around the world take action in their local communities. (The organization currently has over 500,000 members globally.) According to Derek, TakingITGlobal benefited greatly from some fortuitous seating arrangements in its early days: a co-worker seated next to the president of the Royal Bank at one event led to organizational funding from the bank; sitting next to the VP of Hewlett-Packard led to the donation of an entire lab full of computers and servers. (Coming up later in Derek’s story: another serendipitous meeting…)
Derek finished at Humber College on a Friday; two days later, he was offered a job teaching HTML at the school. (The original teacher had unexpectedly dropped out; one would expect that Humber doesn’t usually hire this way.) For the next three years, our MIMitW taught web development to Internet, journalism, fashion and Chinese exchange students.
During that time, Derek says he was “applying for jobs, waiting for the right one to come along… and it didn’t.” But what did happen was an e-mail from Industry Canada. The message was in response to a job that Derek no longer recalled applying for. It was followed up with a phone call: “Are you interested in going to Croatia for six months?”
This is where most people would say, “No, but thank you for asking.” Or “Are you crazy?” Or simply “NO!” But not Derek, who responded, “Yes, I am. What will I be doing there?”
Which is how Engine SevenFour’s MIMitW ended up working for NetCorps, a sort of “Programmers Without Borders,” in Zagreb.
Derek adds, “I always try to say ‘yes’ when presented with a chance for adventure.”
He arrived in Croatia about eight years after the end of the Croatian War of Independence, but the country still looked like a war zone. He says the bombed and broken landscape was almost unfathomable for someone from Canada.
i’ve been to anarchist parties in squats in croatia, and had coffee cooked in a tank shell made by a turkish man in the house his family had lived in for the past 800 years, in sarajevo.
Derek finished his six-month contract in Croatia, spent a week in Sarajevo, then backpacked around Europe for a month: from Belgrade, through Macedonia to Athens, Rome, Barcelona, Paris and finally, to Amsterdam.
i accidentally walked across part of an unmarked minefield in bosnia and lived to tell the story.
i’ve been chased through the streets of Paris by a large bouncer, demanding 1200 euro for spending time in an exclusive club that i didn’t realize you had to pay to be in.
“And then I was flat broke, so I went back to Croatia to say goodbye to my friends, then went back to Canada.”
So what did Engine SevenFour’s MIMitW do next, after working in Croatia? “Naturally, I got a job at a dating site.” Derek says this was a good introduction to working at a big company—there were 75 programmers, with the attendant numbers of QA, support and customer service people. Unfortunately, this job was not a love match. “There was a lot of structure and rigidity. I thought, ‘There’s so much structure and process here, I can’t get anything done.’”
His next job was with a small start-up, ILoveRewards.com (now rebranded as Achievers.com, which has so far secured more than $45M in funding). Derek describes it as the complete opposite of the dating site job, except for the commute: his new job was in the building next door to his old job. One night he attended a work party at the CEO’s condo, and met the only person there who wasn’t from Toronto. She was from London, Ontario. You know what happens next, right? After a year of dating her, Derek realized, “I love the job, but I love her more.” (Cue the audience: “Awww.”)
in separate incidents, i’ve broken most of my fingers, my left wrist, both ankles, shattered my right knee, broke both bones in my right leg twice (not doing anything dangerous), cracked my head open playing frisbee too close to a concrete aqueduct, been hit by a car in front of a funeral home, and dislocated my shoulder when run over by a horse while i was on a bicycle, and smashed my face on a rock while kneeboarding.
Derek then found a telecommuting job with another start-up in Toronto so he could move to London and work remotely. Fast forward four years, and our MIMitW found himself getting stir crazy, so he started reaching out.
Derek says that when he first arrived in London in 2008, he was searching for companies that had “a social responsibility aspect, and community involvement,” and he found one. It was a company called… rtraction. He applied, and had two good interviews, then a third one that apparently did not go so well. He notes that at the time he was a PHP programmer, and rtraction wasn’t using PHP.
So he says it was interesting in 2012 when Shawn Adamsson, Ellipsis Digital’s VP Strategy, connected with him via Twitter and told Derek to let him know if he found himself looking for a job, because he was the kind of person they wanted on their team. Derek laughs when he recalls his reaction: “Oh, this is sweet. Sweet payback. He doesn’t know that he’s turned me down before.”
However, Derek proved himself a generous-spirited man, and met for coffee with Shawn, who said they didn’t have a spot for him, but wishes they did. And the gods smile. Two days later, rtraction landed a big contract with Disney, and rtraction offered Derek a job. Before his official start date, Derek met with the client contacts who were visiting from California. Then he met his co-workers at the office Christmas party. Which is a pajama party. Derek went online and bought a “three-wolf-moon onesie,” which is what he wore to meet his new teammates for the first time.
Derek officially started at rtraction on January 5, 2013. His role has evolved since then: starting as a senior programmer, he became a lead programmer, then a business analyst; after the recent company restructuring that saw rtraction become Ellipsis Digital and Engine SevenFour, Derek became Engine SevenFour’s VP Operations.
i’m very interested in paranormal stuff, spirituality, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, & hidden-knowledge, but by day, i do php/mysql web development.
To our Derek Martin, we say, “Stay interesting, my friend.”
You now want to meet him, don’t you? And if you’re a developer, you wanna work with him, right? You can reach Derek at firstname.lastname@example.org or meet him at London’s monthly PHP meetups, which he leads; the Engine SevenFour job listings are right here. (And as Derek’s story illustrates, if you’re a talented programmer and the kind of person we want on our team, we will find a place for you.)
Laurie Bursch is Ellipsis Digital's copywriter. She’s pretty interesting—a former “mathlete” with a geology degree, a non-driver by choice, and a one-time London Fire Department practice rescue participant who also once won her weight in popcorn at a CBA conference—but does not hold a candle to Derek Martin.