This has been a very difficult year.
This year I lost my best friend and business partner. Rob and I had been friends for fifteen years, my entire adult life. We concieved and ran several failed, and one successful business together. Apart from my wife, Rob is the person who knew me best in the world. We did great deal of growing up together. I miss him terribly, and even now months on from his death, I think about him many times every day.
I don’t want to dwell on how I feel about this. I’m sure over time these feelings will lift. But I have a few stories about Rob which I want to tell.
Very soon after Rob and I first met at university, I transferred to the same computer science course as him. We were living down the hall from one another, taking the same modules and following the same schedule. After a few weeks, when our first ‘real’ assignment was due, we decided the share the burden. I don’t remember anything about the work we were asked to do, it was probably implementing some simple algorithm in Java. We did very little work that night. We sat at Rob’s desk, in the glow of our laptops, and talked; first feeling each other out, then sharing jokes, then testing each other’s boundaries, and finally talking about the things we were passionate about. I was 18 years old, and my passions were very nerdy; I probably talked about Linux and Free Software, and I remember Rob talking about the music which he loved. Most importantly I remember the feeling of ‘clicking’ with someone else. Rob gave me space and time to explain what I loved, and joined me in my enthusiasm for technology and the potential of the connected world which was about to become Web 2.0. I remember talking about IRC, about startups, about hacking, robotics, drugs, and the politics which defined us at that age. We laid down some important foundations that night.
Some years later, Rob and I were working on our second business. We had a nice idea, but very little idea of how to execute on the vision. To demonstrate our inexperience, we were focusing on completely the wrong thing, and we prioritised our website rather than any working technology. By this time we were both web developers; I had been part of a couple of digital agencies, and Rob had run a small agency for a few years at the time. We dragged each other to the very peak of Mt. Dunning-Kruger and built a hopelessly over-engineered website. We were using CSS 2.0, AJAX (back when we just called it XMLHttpRequest). We were operating in a hostile environment of IE4/5, and tensions were high. Optimistic, I’d pre-announced our website launch later that day, to our vanishingly small audience on the IRC channels we both frequented, and a nascent social network at the time called twttr. Rob, less optimistic, was worried that making a promise to launch without leaving enough time for testing the site might cause us embarassment, and Rob picked up the phone and told me this in no uncertain terms. Somehow this argument about our deadline devolved into personal attacks and insults. We screamed at each other, and a lot of very unpleasant things were said. Fifteen minutes later, as we simultaneously called each other to make up, we both left long, heartfelt apologies on each other’s voicemail systems. I know I kept a copy of that voicemail for quite a few years, and I Rob did the same. We used to play them to each other when one of us was being unreasonable.
Further years later, and we are on a roof-top in Manchester, having our photo taken. This is no longer just a story about Rob and I. This is a professional photo-shoot, with us both, but also our staff and business partners, the company we had all built together. There is about twenty of us, and we line up and smile. I remember how incredibly proud Rob and I both felt that day. We were proud that so many people believed in us, enough to join us and work with us as we tried to make a mark.
I remember a few weeks before Rob died, he called me for the last time. A few months before, Rob had left the company, and a lot of anger had been spent, a lot of lines had been crossed. Rob called me because he heard that my grandfather was dying, and Rob knew how much this would be upsetting me. It was a nice gesture, and it started the conversation between us again. We spoke that night for three or four hours, on speakerphone. We spoke about a lot of things, not least our failings which had led us to this unhappy point. We remembered and shared old jokes. We talked about our old friends. As the conversation continued, we both opened up to each other, much like that first evening we spent at university solving stupid homework problems. As the conversation drew to a close, Rob became upset, incoherent. It was rare for Rob to become flustered like this, he was usually good at expressing himself. He told me I had always been kind. Kind to my family, and the people who we worked with. He finished with “you were always too kind to me”, which I still don’t entirely understand.
I wish he was still around and I could ask him what he meant by that, but I suppose that’s just how it ends. Our last conversation was rather like Rob himself; fun, sensitive, chaotic, and a little bit engimatic.
Rob Edwards. 1984-2018.