Abdullah

You always had the donuts. You supplied maybe 75% of the donuts I ate at IBM.

We first met in person at the studio’s chili cookoff. We both loved to cook for other people. This would be the topic of most of our conversations for the next few years. You always talked about the latest gadgets, while I was always the stubborn one defending the essentials, the foundations, the craft. We were comfortable with our mortality. Might as well make the meals count, we’d say.

Abdullah, your beans were shit in that chili. They weren’t even cooked through and you knew it. But it didn’t matter, because it was never going to be about the chili at this century-old behemoth of an enterprise tech company. You made space for your team of designers fresh out of their fancy design schools to feel like they had accomplished something, because they were about to realize that this job is much different. With their lab coats, goggles, and who knows what else–of course people would notice Chili Lab, and remember the Chili Lab experience.

You nodded, sure, my chili was better, I had done much more with much less. And you left it at that, so that I could learn. Because honestly, I would never remember what it even tasted like. Selling design and leading designers is a nuanced, calm thing, that starts with saving the new girl a donut and making sure your team knows that their work is valued.

Even though I wasn’t on your team, thank you for the lessons. Thank you for the friendship I needed so much at that time, for always DM’ing me to remind me to take a break from work [and come get the last one]. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to get back to my desk. To the chili. It took me a few years, but now I’m wise enough to understand that all of this is definitely not a cookoff. Maybe I’ll figure out how you did the rest in time, too.