Member Spotlight: Jed Verity

Studio IX:              Hey, J

Jed Verity:            Good morning.

Studio IX: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me.

Jed Verity: Of course.

Studio IX:              So let’s start at the top. Tell us who you are and what it is that you do?

Jed Verity:             My name is Jed Verity, and I am currently in my last two days at DigitalGlobe, which is a satellite company.

Studio IX: Two days. So there’s something new on the horizon. Say more.

Jed Verity: Well, I didn't ever intend to get it involved with satellites. When we first landed here at Studio IX, we were a Charlottesville-based startup, looking for a space to work. We were acquired by DigitalGlobe in 2016 at which time the rest of the team moved to Colorado, but I stayed here. I was excited for that whole trajectory of starting something up and being acquired. But now it's not a great role for me, so I'm moving on and I'll have a couple of weeks off before I start a new job at GitHub, which is a relatively well-known open source software hosting company, and then some, which has recently been acquired by Microsoft.

Studio IX:              That’s great.

Jed Verity:             Yeah.

Studio IX:              So let’s dive in to something a little more personal. What are you passionate about?

Jed Verity: Generally?

Studio IX: Yeah.

Jed Verity:             Well, I'm very passionate about open-source software, which I think has, for better or worse, and I hope for better, greatly changed the world. I think the Internet, as we know it, would not have been possible without it - and so GitHub's a recently exciting development for me because I feel like it’s enabled a lot of what we see out there in the world today.

Jed Verity:             I'm also passionate about Buddhism, which is a subject that I have been studying formally since my undergrad days, and then through a master's and PhD. & which, my mom will tell you, was kind of weirdly interesting to me from a very young age. In fact, all things Pan-Asian were interesting to me. I traveled there a lot as a kid, and the summer after eighth grade I lived with my family in Japan. That kind of put things into overdrive for me. My passion for the subject led to an interest in exploring how I could apply lessons from Buddhist philosophy and practice, and even, to an extent, history and culture, to what I do. Professionally, but also personally, there's a lot of useful practices one can apply when you're raising kids, trying to have empathy and compassion, to empower people, and to have a good perspective on things.

Jed Verity:             I'm also quite passionate about horror movies and heavy metal.

Studio IX:              Really? Wow! That’s surprising to me. Coupled with the Buddhism.

Jed Verity:            I discovered both as a teenager, horror movies and heavy metal that is. Kind of at the same time. They were both socially acceptable ways to sublimate transgressive energy, anger, frustration, aggression, things like that.

Studio IX:              Makes perfect sense.

Jed Verity:             Are you a fan?

Studio IX:              Metal? I know little about it.

Jed Verity:             Really?

Studio IX:              I mean, whatever was on MTV growing up, you know? Metallica, off-shoots, etc. But nothing much beyond.

Jed Verity:            Yes.

Studio IX:              But I'm fascinated by it. By all the things that are happening in the genre currently.

Jed Verity:             Yeah.

Jed Verity:             I think part of what draws me to metal is it's, in a way, sublingual. I've never enjoyed music for the lyrics. I appreciate that there are amazing lyrical, poetic writers out there. I just never understood, until later in life, the appeal of somebody like Bob Dylan. Where it's about the story, the songwriting itself, et cetera, because, for me the value of music and of finding my way into music was totally sublingual, emotional, biorhythm kind of stuff.

To the extent that metal does have lyrics, it's trying to connect to that primeval embodied experience, more than it's trying to weave some sort of narrative.

So bringing it all back, for me, I think what has enabled me to be a generally normal person in polite society has been these particular channels for transforming subversive transgressive energy. That includes things like horror movies and heavy metal, but also tantric Buddhism, which at its core is about recognizing the power inherent in so-called taboo subjects and practices and thinking, and transgression and aggression, all of that. Figuring out how to transform them into these things that are really elevated, like compassion and perspective on larger humanity and relating to people and connecting, and participating in productive ways in society.

I think that’s the common thread around a lot of my passions. They do not try to suppress so-called negative or problematic parts of us, but instead recognize the power of those things, and turn them in to cultural products and positive forces in our relationships.

Studio IX:              Well said.

Studio IX: Could you share a memorable story? Something in the course of your work, in your life. A turning point?

Jed Verity:           Yeah. There was a guy in my life who was very influential and still is. I worked with him in San Francisco, and he was the first person I'd met to describe a life project of trying to connect people to meaningful work, as opposed to just giving them a job. He attended UC Santa Cruz, majored in utopian thinking, or something like that. Clearly, he was bringing that out into the world.

Every person in the world, when given really meaningful, fulfilling work, if you could get to that state, then a lot of these other conflicts would just naturally fall away. He created an organization that was about finding people who are specially challenged in that way. Were either unclear about their own direction or just people who had trouble holding a job, who were challenging personalities. He was trying to give them a place to work & providing opportunities for transforming their lives into a new experience.

It was amazing.

And it was amazing to see. One of the great success stories was this total punk rock, fuck-all-of-you kind of character who he had been friends with growing up. Super-tattooed, gauge earrings, pierced everywhere. A total dismissive attitude. But he needed to do something to make some money. Julian hired him to just more or less help with some basic administrative stuff, part time, to give him something to do, and then to help out with the business side of things. In short order, the guy swiftly became the heart of the whole organization. He is now essentially the COO. To bring somebody like that in, and try to give them meaningful work and to take care of them, and for that to be the core of the mission of the company, was just mind-blowing. I think it changed the course of my life to see that.

I had a friend who went to prison a number of years ago, and he was a business owner at the time, so he had to give up his business. He had family, and he was going to be in prison for many years. I told Julian about this and about how sad it was that his family was sort of desperate and didn't know what to do. Julian's first thought was, "What kind of work can we give him to do that he could do from jail, that we could then pay his family for. His first thought was “here's somebody in hardship”, immediately just trying to put together a meaningful work plan that could then also support his family. So he's that rare kind of person who's just so committed to that.

Studio IX:              Amazing.

Studio IX: Let’s look forward a moment. Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?

Jed Verity:           Let me answer that by not answering it and instead sharing this. There was a Nobel prize winner who was asked ... I think it was actually Mother Teresa who was asked, "The scope of your efforts is so massive, you have helped so many people. How do you do it? It's one thing to help a person here and there. It's another thing to have helped now, thousands, tens of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands of people."

And her answer was, "Try not to think about numbers. Start by helping one person at a time. Start with the person nearest to you." For me, my story, and my resume, is a little weird and I've had to create lots of different frameworks to help it be coherent, cohesive for me and for potential employers and at cocktail parties. I've decided I'm going to stop doing that.

I've gotten to a point in my career, 20 years into this field, this industry, I know enough to understand things from a broader perspective, and most important thing I can do right now is help people who are starting out, help organizations that are trying to establish positive and empowering cultures. And try to keep people connected to the joy of building things and building them together. I have no idea what that might look like five years from now, but I know that those values will be the same. And the next way I'm going to do that is to go to GitHub, which already has an amazing culture, and try to contribute to that, the best way I can.

Studio IX:              That’s great.

Studio IX: Ok, last question. What do you love about being here at Studio IX?

Jed Verity:             So, I think there are a few different aspects to that. One is that it's really nice to be with people, even if you're not going to work with them. And so, there's some social contact that I really like, that I don't have working at home. It also makes me a healthier person. I gotta shower before coming here (laughter), as opposed to working from home. I don't eat everything in the pantry. Chocolate chips right into the peanut butter with whip cream on top.

Thanks to you and James, there's a real soul here that is absent from the more sterile co-working places that I've been. I think thats partly the design & the work you've done to curate really compelling pieces in the gallery. I think it's also an attitude and vibe that comes from your personality that kind of just trickles down into the space.

It all contributes to a really productive, comfortable, fulfilling, empowering environment. It's the most successful co- working setup I've seen.