Noah Stokes

Noah is the co-founder and partner at Bold, a design and development studio. He began his career as an engineer at Apple and then after a brief (and horrible) stint at Palm decided to make a shift from engineering to web design and development–that was over 10 years ago. Noah is passionate about clean, creative code and design as well as exceptional customer service.

Noah lives in San Luis Obispo, a small town on the Central Coast of California with his wife Danika and their three sons, Owen, Jude and Beck. He loves to listen to music and play guitar but most of the time you can find him outside mountain biking, running or surfing. He’s also got a thing for gin.

Follow Noah on Twitter @motherfuton.

Published Thoughts

You have an opinion about everything. I know you do. I've seen you sharing it on Twitter, and I'm sure you're sharing it on Facebook too. After all that's why you have a Facebook account, right? I'm kidding. No I'm not.

Here is the deal with opinions, specifically how you should share yours and how you should receive others.

If you are sharing an opinion, be sure to back it up. What do I mean by that? I mean be sure to tell me why you think what you think. If you can't do that, then your opinion holds no weight. It doesn't mean that your opinion is wrong, it just means that you're not smart enough to know why you think that way.

If you are on the receiving end of an opinion (read: if you have a social network account), and you hear an opinion that offends you, consider the paragraph above. If the person can't back up their opinion with their own thoughts then feel free to not be offended. A person who can't justify why they think the way they do doesn't deserve your time or concern.

On Being Intentional

I think it's fair to say that the majority of us want someone to "do life" with. Yes, we may have a spouse or a partner, but beyond that, we still seek relationships with others that have meaning and depth. Far to often however our relationships barely penetrate the surface. Not for a lack of want, but simply because we aren't willing to put in the effort. We're to self-centered, focused on our own goals, or perhaps stuck in our own routines.

It's easy to look inward and realize that you spend too much time watching TV, or that you spend too much time surfing the web when instead you could be spending that time investing in others. It's the areas that are not so obvious however that require the greater sacrifice if you really want to be intentional. Your kids nap time, your athletics/exercise, your weekend house maintenance. While none of those things are bad in nature, quite the opposite, they are easy to overlook when you're trying to find time to be intentional with others.

Quality relationships were easy when we were younger when we had more time and less responsibility. As we progress in our years our responsibilities grow, our time shrinks and as a result our relationships suffer. The sacrifice is great, and one person who is willing to make it is one thing, but finding a second who is willing to do it with you is exponentially harder.

Very few people are intentional anymore. The reasons are many and varied, but finding someone to be intentional with is actually really hard work; it's hard work because it requires sacrifice and sacrifice, self-sacrifice at that, is a muscle that no one wants to work out.

Note: Not 4 hours after I wrote this post (but hadn't yet published it), I received two phone calls from good friends being intentional. Friendships like this are rare, sweet and far more valuable than you can imagine.

Who doesn’t want to follow their passion? Do what they love? It’s on posters and t-shirts. It’s nearly half of all Medium articles. You can turn your passion into a full-time job. Your passion can free you from the daily grind. Your passion is what you were meant to do! Follow your passion they say. I say, follow your passion... on the weekends.

See, the thing is, when we get caught up in only doing what we’re passionate about, we end up resenting and rejecting any type of work that we have to do that isn’t directly related to our passion. This type of mindset is a cancer to you; not to mention the person you work for. It’s a cancer because following your passion is more than simply “doing your thing”. If you’re going to follow your passion into a full time gig then your passion now includes accounting, business development, client management, sales, taxes, insurance, and so much more. Does that sound like your passion?

Perhaps it does, perhaps you look forward to spending 40-50% of your time “doing business”... if so, awesome! If not, it’s cool. Do your thing, do your 9-5 and rock it. Rock it so that you can get home and follow your passion on the weekends.

On Being a Good Employee

It’s so hard to find good employees. Ask any business owner and they will nod in agreement. It’s staggering, really. I’m not even talking about job knowledge or specific skill sets. What I’m talking about are the intangibles–things that I think most business owners assume come with any job, and are (maybe not so much anymore) surprised when their employees lack these things.

If you want to be a good employee, you need ALL four of these traits:

Show up, on time

Is it really that hard? Yes, apparently it is.

Complete your work

If you need more time, ask for it. Otherwise we assume that you’ll finish it on time and/or on budget.

Don’t complain about your work

If you don’t like your job, you’re welcome to find a new one.

Take initiative

If you see something that needs to be done, don’t wait to be prompted, just do it.

I used to be an employer. I have friends that still are employers. When we found a person who exhibited these traits, we did everything we could to hang on to them. Skills can be taught, but the traits I listed above are unteachable. You either have them or you don’t.

On Learning and Doing

I am a self made man. What I’ve learned, I’ve learned by doing.

While learning something new, you often find yourself problem solving. You try to implement what you’ve learned, but something goes wrong. The practice of problem solving at it’s core is very simple: isolate your issue, determine what the problem is, provide a solution and try again. Learning in it’s very nature is fundamentally tied to problem solving.

Of course, having to solve a problem implicitly implies failure at some level. We have our fail early and fail often mantra, but outside of the startup world, failure is seen as a negative. No one wants to be a failure, of course. But when you’re learning something, failure is almost a prerequisite. When you fail, you solidify that memory in your mind and use it to guide your future steps.

Perhaps the most important result of problem solving, due to failure, is confidence. Confidence that you can learn anything you want. That you can be anything you want. I didn’t go to school to be a web designer. I didn’t take a single course on programming. I didn’t have a piece of paper telling me that I could do this. But I did have one thing, I had the confidence that I could do it. And so I did.

We need validation. Followers, likes, pins, favs–we look to all of these mechanisms to tell us that we’re doing it right, our work is valued, we are valued. But all of these things are fleeting. There is no real value in having the most followers/likes/pins/favs. If you’re shaking your head in agreement, do you really believe it? Do I really believe it as I’m typing it? 

I think the only real validation comes from within. Do you feel proud about your work? Do you see yourself growing and learning and contributing in ways that you know you can? Your work may not be revolutionary to others, but is it revolutionary to you? 

Find the things about yourself and your work that make you proud and focus on those. That is the real validation that matters.

I missed the web by about a year.

In 1995 I was living in the dorms as a freshman at Cal Poly, SLO. Back then the web was barely starting to emerge. Sites like Yahoo! were just getting started–but you’d be browsing them on a browser called Lynx–that ran in your terminal. If you wanted to get online you’d dial into the Cal Poly modem pool. I was using a 14.4k modem while some of my friends splurged on the 28.8k versions. Those guys were living on the edge. If you were lucky enough to not get a busy signal, you could connect and then point your browser at a site you wanted to go to... then you would go make yourself a sandwich and maybe watch a TV show before you came back to see if the site had finished loading. Thrilling, I know.

A year later I moved off campus and continued to use the same method for connecting to the web, the Cal Poly modem pool. That same year the dorms (I had just left) got T1 lines put as high speed internet arrived on campus. Shortly after that sites like Napster and Kazaa arrived and the potential power of the web really started to show itself. (Not the stealing, but the connecting with others) But of course, by this time, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t have a high speed connection off campus, and I had made so many sandwiches while waiting for sites to load that I simply wasn’t interested anymore. As a result, I never spent any time on-line.

I graduated in 2000 with a degree in Industrial Engineering and I went to work for a software in Silicon Valley. Within 9 months the crash of 2000 happened and I had shifted over to a few other jobs, eventually landing at Apple and after that at Palm. I hated my job at Palm, so I spent a lot of time surfing the web. That was my first real exploration of the web, and what I found, I fell in love with.

“That was my first real exploration of the web, and what I found, I fell in love with.”

CSS was just peaking. Table-less layouts were all the rage. Faux columns, Sliding Doors, Wicked Worn... everyday was full of discovery and it was exciting. I knew at that point that I wanted to become a web designer. I threw myself head-first into learning web design and development and started building websites. Late nights turned into long weekends, months and then years of learning. My clients got larger and larger until I was doing work for clients like Yahoo.

I had discovered something in this work that I hadn’t found anywhere else in my job path since graduation. I found something that I was passionate about. I was passionate about it because I was completely free to create what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. The web was my playground and I could do anything if I put my mind to it.

The web is still that way today. But the web is unique. Let me show you what I mean.

My father-in-law is a general contractor by trade. Often times our conversations lead to stories of projects he’s worked on–the challenges he faced and the clever way he resolved them. I’ve never swung a hammer professionally (I’m not saying that I couldn’t, I mean I’d like to thing that I would be a good hammer-er), but I find many similarities in the stories that my father-in-law tells and the stories I’m creating as I build websites and apps at my web studio, Bold.

In many cases we’re both job shops. We’re asked to build something–a commercial center, a website, a job. In some cases we have to hire outside specialists–an electrician, a Joomla developer. (Don’t ever use Joomla for anything. Promise me that right now.) Most every time we have to pull in some raw materials–lumber, concrete, javascript libraries, stock photography. In order to keep our projects and specialists and materials in order we always need a project manager to build a schedule and keep accountability amongst all the players. Our deliverables could not be more different, but the process is the nearly identical save one thing... I don't have to get permission to build a website.

I don’t have to get permission to build a website.

Short relevant detour: true story, I once had to pull a permit to replace the wax seal on my toilet. Let me type that again because I’m not sure you read it correctly.

I once had to pull a permit with the city to lift the toilet in my house off the ground to replace the wax seal. No joke. I had to ask permission. I may not be the handiest of men, but I’m pretty sure the danger level and general overall safety of the house occupants is quite low, if existent at all, when replacing the wax ring on a toilet. But then again, I only have a 4 year degree in engineering, so what do I know. If ripping a toilet off the ground for a five minute wax ring swap required a permit, can you imagine what is required for constructing a 4 story commercial center?

Here’s the thing: no one is going to die if you build a crappy website. No one is going to trip over your footer and sue you.

No one is going to die if you build a crappy website. No one is going to trip over your footer and sue you.

Do you remember when healthcare.gov launched? You probably spent half the day trying to figure out how you’d write an estimate for $834 million dollars. Is $50 million too much for responsive? Should I charge more? The site launched and it failed miserably. People couldn’t create accounts, the site could stay up. (insert inappropriate joke here) It was a mess. There were senate hearings regarding the website. Politicians were having meetings about server load times and how to optimize asset deliver. Ok, they’re weren’t, but what if they were? What if there was a congress person that had to approve your code. What if your design had to be approved by a senate oversight committee? Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

No one is watching over our shoulder–that’s why I love the web. If you want to make a web app that has a unicorn dancing over a rainbow with skittles flying out of it’s ass–you can, and maybe you should! The beauty of the web is that we can publish anything we want. Good, bad, right or wrong we can put it on a server and point a domain at it. Inspectors aren’t to make sure that HTML is right. Senators aren’t looking to make sure that color palette is complimentary. No one is checking anything.

I missed the web by about a year. Had I been in the dorms when those high speed T1 lines were installed, I may have stumbled upon the web sooner and not spent a half a decade at various jobs that weren’t for me. But I found the web, and I found what I was meant to do.

​This is my first post on The Pastry Box. To say I’m a little intimidated would be an understatement. So many well respected and excellent writers have shared thoughts on this domain. Goodness gracious, have you read some of these thoughts that have been shared throughout the years? These people here know how to write. They know how to shape a thought into something so much more. What an incredible talent. Unfortunately for you, I am not one of those people.

I used to think that I was a pretty good writer. Then I read some of the essays that are shared in the circles I travel in and in places like this very site and I quickly realized, I am not a ‘pretty good’ writer. Don’t get me wrong, I do have thoughts I’d like to share, and I do have opinions I’d like to argue for but I struggle to craft my words in a way that is just so. Remember when Kevin Spacey’s limp slowly faded away as he walked out of that police station and you ran up to your VCR and rewound the tape to watch it again because you couldn’t believe what you just saw? That’s the kind of reaction I’d like my writing to have on it’s readers. Dream big, right? Thing is, I know why I’m not a great writer. I know why I’m not even close to being a great writer. 

I don’t spend a lot of time writing.

Like any good skill, writing takes work. Work in this case is a lot of writing. I don’t spend a lot of time writing because time is something that I have very little of. There’s also words and grammar and sometimes I like to use a lot of commas and people are all like you don’t need all those commas but look at this sentence no commas how you like me now. And then there is fear. The sad thing is that I’m likely not the only ‘not that great’ writer out there. And when I let my fear get in the way, we all suffer. It’s one less voice, whether it’s mine or yours, to speak out, to share a point of view that might make you reconsider yours or to give you clarity on that confusing subject matter. 

Truth is, I want to be a good writer. I want to be able to share my thoughts in a way that is articulate, clever and well thought out–basically the opposite of LOST Season 3-6. So this year I’m going to share ten or so thoughts with you on The Pastry Box. They likely won’t contain that Keyser Söze revelation where you go back and re-read what you just read while simultaneously shaking your head in agreement while you’re munching on a carrot and you don’t realize it but your co-workers are starting to get annoyed at the loud crunching the carrot is making but you don’t care because my writing is that good (should that have had commas?). Who knows, you may enjoy it, or you may skip right over it. Either way, I’m going to write. And while I likely won’t become great over this year, I will get better and I’m ok with that.