James Gobert: iOS Engineer and U.S. Air Force Veteran

His Story in His Words: My name is James Gobert Jr. I was born in South Central Los Angeles, California, in 1980 during the beginning of the crack era. My mom and dad separated when I was 2 years old. My childhood was tumultuous while my mom battled addiction and abusive boyfriends. I eventually moved in with my father at 13. In the four years that followed, I lost many friends and relatives to notorious gang and street violence.

I decided to join the U.S. Air Force after high school to try to get away in hopes of a better life. I served six years in the Air Force while attending college full-time. I came home with my bachelor’s in marketing hoping to work in the music industry. I signed up for sound engineering school because I thought it was a way for me to get into the music industry.

I landed an internship at Geffen/Interscope’s A&R department while also managing an R&B singer/songwriter. Her music got to the ear of Chris Brown which serendipitously landed me a job working with Jamie Foxx as an executive assistant/publishing A&R. Unfortunately, the music industry had started to suffer during this time, so I decided to move into my other hobby, technology, via the video game industry.

I got a chance to work on some of the biggest game franchises in the world like Guitar Hero and Call of Duty. After being laid off in the fall of 2015 and turning 35, I was at the lowest point in my life and didn’t know what to do. I decided to take my future into my hands and took the six months I had to collect unemployment to teach myself how to program. For six days a week, I religiously studied and practiced for 10-12 hours a day like it was my job to learn how to code. I got my first job offer the same day my last $350 bi-weekly unemployment check came in the mail. In my first job as a junior programmer, I made triple the salary I earned in my position six months prior. My life hasn’t been the same since.

What’s your favorite app you’ve created?

It would have to be the last startup I co-created. It allowed people to turn their Shopify websites into customizable iPhone apps. It was effortless for the user to create a beautiful modern app, but it was complicated to design and build. I didn’t even believe it was possible before we started making it. There is still nothing comparable available. I’m currently working on a new startup that I’m excited about but can’t talk about yet.

What’s an app you wish you created?

I can’t say there are any. There are many apps I admire for their designs or utility, but nothing that sticks out as something I wish I’d built.

What are your favorite apps/tools that help you do what you do?

Being an iOS developer, I have to use Xcode (free for Mac owners) to build apps. I use the Mac apps Skitch and Pixelmator/Photoshop for designing, photo editing, prototyping.

When you make sacrifices for your work, do you tell people or keep it to yourself?

Does Twitter count? Haha. There are always sacrifices that have to be made to get anything done. Some greater than others. I don’t like people that always complain. Do the work or don’t. Sometimes it’s nice when those sacrifices are acknowledged, but that’s not why you make them. Hopefully, you’re sacrificing now to create something great later.

How do you keep track of what you’ve done?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve had some pretty interesting jobs in my life: electronic mechanic in the U.S. Air Force; A&R intern at Geffen/Interscope; publishing A&R for Jamie Foxx; artist manager; QA for Guitar Hero and build manager for the Call of Duty series, and now a software engineer. It’s been a crazy ride, and sometimes I have to remind myself. So, I guess the answer is I don’t. I have a personal website that I’ve neglected for a while.

What’s the least favorite job you’ve had?

I’d have to say despite the memories and learning a lot, working in quality assurance for video games is a pretty crappy job. People think getting paid to play video games seems like a dream job; it’s not how it sounds: repeatedly playing the same part of a (usually broken) game all day. You get some of the perks of working for a game studio, but they often treat you worse than everyone else, and you’re the first to be let go. During “crunch time,” which is usually the last six months before a game is released, the hours can be extreme. It was not abnormal for me to work 80-100 hours for multiple weeks, if not months, at a time. It affects your health, and the pay is about $10-$12 per hour without health insurance.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

That’s an interesting question. I’d have to say my wife just for the fact that I have the most personal contact with her more than any other human being.

How did you meet your wife?

Myspace (showing my age)! We were both in the music industry and connected online. We started talking, then eventually met in person. The rest is history.

What does it mean to allow another person to truly love you?

Being honest and loving myself first for others to truly love me.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired all the time: art, children, acts of selflessness, people accomplishing their goals even with the odds stacked against them.

For what are you most grateful?

Hmm, I’d have to say my mind. It’s what enables everything else like love, compassion, understanding, intellect, creativity. While being so powerful, it’s also incredibly fragile and easily damaged. Not only physically but by your experiences.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I grew up with a nearly debilitating speech impediment. I had and still have a stuttering problem when I speak. It’s not nearly as bad as it was when I was a kid, but it rears its head when I get excited. Haha. But as a kid, I couldn’t complete a sentence without stuttering and twitching my body (that’s how I helped get the words out). It was pretty traumatizing as a kid; I was picked on in elementary school. There was nothing worse than being called on to read out loud in school when you stutter.

What advice would you give to others (children or adults) who have a speech impediment?

I would tell them not to be shy about asking for help. There are a lot of places you can go for speech therapy to help you deal with it. I wasn’t aware of this growing up, and I dealt with it alone. I started writing more as I got older because that was easier for me to get my thoughts out than speaking. For some reason, in college, I threw myself into situations that forced me to overcome my insecurities and fears. I took speech classes and leadership classes where I would have to speak publicly in front of people. I guess that worked for me, but there are easier paths. Haha.

What’s the last thing that made you get excited?

The last thing that got me excited? Haha. Beyoncé and Jay-Z randomly dropping an album a few days ago.

What scares you most?

Fear itself. It’s a trick. Your mind naturally wants to minimize risk, so it creates these solutions in your head to stop you from getting out of your comfort zone. On top of that, society is also continually telling you to stay within the lines; play it safe; fit in. It takes effort and awareness to know when this is happening and have the willpower to convince yourself to make those leaps anyway.

What do you feel your impact is on those around you? What would you like it to be?

I’m honestly not sure. I hope and try to make sure it’s positive, at least. At best, I’d like to think I helped others feel more comfortable challenging the status-quo. Embrace the weird. I also know there was a point in my life where I was a “know-it-all,” and that may have rubbed some people the wrong way. In the end, I hope to inspire people through my actions and how I lived my life.

When were you a know-it-all and how did you stop being one?

I’d say during college is where I started appreciating my intelligence and started to get a bit of an ego. But in college, you’re surrounded by brilliant people, so it didn’t manifest itself until I came back home. I think a lot of it came from my insecurities about being new in the music industry and being immature. As I matured, I learned that intelligence comes in many forms. Some excel in some aspects and struggle with others.

When is the last time you cried and why?

Hahaha….I cry all the time! Not like boo-hoo crying but like single tear “manly” cries. Haha. It’s usually while reading some touching story on my Twitter feed. I’m a sensitive guy, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I lived and was raised by my mom for most of my pre-teen life. My dad is the opposite. I’ve only seen him cry maybe once or twice.

Do you recall the most recent touching story?

I think the most recent one was a young girl who had an older co-worker who rode his bike two miles every day to work. She wanted to help him buy a car, so she started a GoFundMe campaign to raise a little money and posted it on social media. Within hours she raised like $4000 and, I think, she hit $11K. Those small, kind gestures that change people’s lives give me some hope in humanity.

What piece of literature has influenced you the most?

Probably The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

What are you currently reading or is the last book you read?

I’m slacking on my book reading, and I’m ashamed. I buy or am gifted books and never get to them because I’m always writing code these days. I lie to myself and say that because I read a lot of articles, blogs, etc. that I’m getting my daily allowances, but I know that’s not true. Writing a book can take much more effort, thoughtfulness and rigorous work to put together than a Medium post someone farts out in a day. So the information you get from it can be that much more impactful, as well. Books can also be complete trash, so choose wisely. To answer your question, the last book I started reading was Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve read online recently?

This entrepreneur/investor named Naval wrote a Twitter thread on how to attain/think of wealth in the 21st century that I enjoyed.

In conversation do you tend to talk or listen more?

It all depends on the conversation. I prefer to listen. But don’t get me going, or I’ll never shut up. As a child, my mom’s friends would think I was mute because of how quiet I was, probably because of my stutter. I think it helped me a lot growing up. I learned a lot of lessons from people older than me by just watching and listening.

Any lessons you want to share?

A lot of lessons were learning what NOT to do. I saw a lot of drug use as a kid, physical abuse. I saw, personally, the effects it had on people and families. Made me stay away from a lot of stuff coming up. Growing up in and around extreme poverty, I daydreamed a lot and lived vicariously through families I saw on TV. People always told me I was special as a kid. Whether that was true or not, it made me believe there was another plan for me than my current situation. I guess that made me think bigger than the situation into which I happened to be born.

What are you looking for when you have a conversation with someone? What topics do you want to discuss?

I like discussing ideas or things that have complicated answers. I believe what consumes your mind in idle times tells a lot about who you are and what you consider important. Recently that’s been race, American history and what that entails. Other times I love discussing even larger existential issues like the existence of intelligent life in the Universe, religion, etc. But you can’t discuss these types of issues with just anyone. I can usually quickly tell when these conversations will be productive or devolve into defensive arguments.

Who is your favorite person to follow on social media?

This might be the hardest question yet. It changes all the time, depending on my mood. @DragonflyJonez is great. His sports and hip-hop commentary is always on point. Social media amplifies the best and the worst of human beings. It’s also very addicting, so I try to monitor the time I spend on it these days.

There’s an app for that; do you use one or have a different method?

It’s funny; I probably would never use a separate app for this, but Apple just announced features for the next iOS update that will show you how much time you spend in each app and allow you to set time limits on a per-app basis. Going to be interesting (and scary) to be able to see how much time I waste on specific apps visually.

What do you do to recharge yourself?

I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s easy to pick up bad habits to cope with stress. Working out is an excellent way to maintain, but when you feel depleted, you have to take a break if at all possible. Give yourself some time alone to be with your thoughts. Pray, meditate, whatever works for you that allows you to be still, focus on your breathing and your thoughts. Information/stimuli continuously bombard us, and we all need to take breaks. I’m working on being better myself.

If you were guaranteed honest answers to two questions, what would you ask and to whom?

I’d like to ask any other intelligent life form that may exist in the Universe not from Earth two questions:

  1. Did you ever think there were other intelligent beings out in the Universe thinking the same things as you?
  2. Does your kind believe or have proof a higher power created you?

What was your childhood dream?

I wanted to be a comic book artist or an astronaut.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I just read an excellent tweet that is perfect for younger James:

What has been your biggest disappointment in life, and how did you handle it?

My mother battled drug addiction for most of my childhood. There was a period of my life when I didn’t speak to her for years. She didn’t get to see me graduate high school or college. We’re in a great space now. She’s been clean for over a decade, and we have a great relationship. But, at that time, it hurt, and I didn’t speak about it to anyone; just sucked it up and kept moving.

What’s the best decision you ever made?
Maybe leaving home and joining the Air Force; it changed the trajectory of my life.

What is happiness to you?

Happiness, to me, doesn’t mean you have no problems. But that you’re OK with the ones you do have because you know they are temporary and don’t define you and won’t break you. Happiness is calmness, tranquility, peace.

What is your most significant accomplishment? Is there anything you hope to do even greater?

Right now, I think teaching myself how to program may be my single most significant personal achievement. It completely changed my life and gave me the type of freedom I only imagined up to this point. Took me from worker to creator which is a powerful shift not just financially but even more importantly mentally.

How long did it take to teach yourself to code, and what advice do you have for others you want to learn?

It took me six months of learning/practicing to know enough to land my first software job. I was laid off from my job, 34, and I knew if I wanted something to change in my life, now was my chance. I spent the six months I had to collect unemployment and treated learning how to make iOS apps like it was my full-time job. I dedicated 10-12 hours a day, six days a week to learning.

I started with an online introductory course and built on my knowledge from there. YouTube was a great resource once I had the basics. I decided to make a weather app and release it on the App Store that I could use in my portfolio. Having a specific goal makes it easier to learn and focus on a particular task. You’re never going to know everything, and that’s OK. That was the biggest lesson I took away from that experience that helped me not feel so inadequate all of the time.

My advice to anyone thinking of getting into software development is finding out what you want to do/build. The industry is very diverse, and depending on what you want to do, specific languages/tools are best for a particular task. Try to find someone either in person or online that you can go to when you’re stuck. When I was learning, I didn’t know other programmers, so that did make it much more difficult, and there were a lot of times I wanted just to quit. Thankfully, I found an online forum with others trying to learn, and we helped each other out and encouraged one another.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a while? If so, what is it and why haven’t you?

I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano. I still plan on learning one day. I taught myself how to code, so the piano should be a piece of cake! Haha. But, seriously, I need to find the time to learn and take lessons.

Do you have a favorite restaurant? If so, what is it?

Not really. I’m more loyal to foods than restaurants themselves. I’m a pretty simple guy when it comes to food.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Probably macaroni and cheese.

What is your favorite food to prepare?

Probably steak. It’s simple to make good, but can be challenging to make great. I like a good medium cooked steak. So not too rare but not overcooked either.

Any tips on making the perfect steak?

For me, a great cut of meat, seasoned and grilled for a few minutes on each side (medium rare) in garlic butter. Pro Tip: Only turn the meat over once, or you’ll start to dry it out.

What is a song, album or playlist that everyone should hear?

Liberation” by Outkast featuring CeeLo Green and Erykah Badu.

Where is your favorite place?

Besides in my head, I went on my first international trip last year to South Africa and fell in love. I didn’t want to leave. In fact, we just booked another trip back to Cape Town in a few months. I may buy a home there before I buy one in Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful place.

If you could take a one-month trip anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?

Well, I just mentioned how much I love Cape Town. But I would probably go somewhere I’ve never been. Maybe Tokyo, Japan. I’ve always been fascinated with modern Japanese culture. From anime to their love of technology and robots and just their overall seemingly quirky sensibilities. I feel like they’re my kind of people.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” — Socrates

This keeps me humble in my thinking and my assumptions. We like to think we have it all figured out, but in the grand scheme of things, we only have some pieces of the puzzle. The rest we fill in with our experiences and baggage until our collective knowledge fills in the missing pieces over time. It wasn’t too long ago we thought thunder and lightning were God angry at humans.

Do you have a mantra or quote that guides your life?

I think Will Smith said, “Fear isn’t real. Danger is real, but fear is a choice.”

Are you more worried about doing things right or doing the right things?

I am more worried about doing things right. Doing the right thing tends to come naturally. Making sure it’s done well is much more challenging.

How would you like to be remembered?

I think about this a lot. I’ve seen a lot of death growing up, and a lot of young boys I knew had their lives cut short for nothing. They get their face put on a T-shirt, the temporary shrines where they met their demise, but after a few years, only the families remember them that were alive at that time.

I want to have an impact beyond my small circle of family and friends. I want to help others and have them remember me as someone who gave a damn. I want to be remembered for creating something that affected other people’s lives positively and inspires folks to know their circumstances they were born into don’t have to define the person they ultimately become.

Who would you like to answer these questions?

Andre 3000.

Connect with James Gobert

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