Interview: Alex Payne, Programmer

Avatar photo

Alex Payne

Alex Payne is a programmer, writer, and angel investor based in Portland, OR. Most recently, he’s working with early-stage companies, and in the past has served as one of Twitter’s first engineers as well as CTO at Simple, an online banking service. He took some time to share his EDC with us and to shed some light on what it’s like working in the tech industry.

What’s in your EDC?

{embed=”post:4816″ list=”true”}

Besides being a programmer, writer, and investor, you balance many different projects and you’re constantly on-the-go. What’s it like trying to manage your work in all those different fields every day?

My work these days is a mix of investing, advising, consulting, and volunteering. So a given week might see me on the phone most of Monday, writing code on Tuesday, checking out potential restaurant locations on Wednesday, talking to founders on Thursday, and walking a non-profit through some technology decisions on Friday. I love the variety of tasks, people, industries, and goals that I get to support.

What motivates you to support those projects, and what inspires your work overall?

Politics sometimes puts people off, but for me it’s motivational. Everything is political. You can either embrace that fact and be energized by it, or try to ignore it and be demoralized when politics inevitably rears its ugly head. I choose the former.

I’m motivated primarily by issues of social justice, a lens that I apply that to both commercial and non-commercial endeavors. I try to help out businesses that are going to provide clear social benefit without being economically extractive or otherwise exploitative. When working with non-profits, I try to find organizations with well-defined missions and measurable impact.

Otherwise, music is a huge source of inspiration for me. I almost always have music on when I’m working. I travel quite a bit, and while sometimes the places I’m in provide inspiration, often I need to use music to create my own consistent work-friendly environment wherever I might be. That said, I love quiet places, and find a lot of inspiration in undisturbed nature.

Business aside, what other hobbies and interests keep you going?

I wasn’t particularly healthy in my twenties, but in the past several years I’ve turned that around, so health has become a passion for me. I’ve ended up really enjoying yoga, which I rolled my eyes at for years before actually trying it. I learned to enjoy running, too. I’m now a devout vegan after being a carnivore for most of my life. Those changes in diet and activity has transformed my life to an extent I really didn’t expect.

Seeking out the local vegan and yoga communities has become an important and enjoyable part of how I travel, connecting me to amazing people and places I never would have found otherwise. I’ve always been an animal person, and I finally feel like I can look the animals I encounter in the eye without guilt. Spreading a cruelty-free way of life is definitely a passion, as corny as it might sound.

My love of music has definitely inspired some of what I carry: the headphones, the portable DAC/preamp, and the multiple ways of making sure that I can connect my phone to a rental car. I often plan travel around getting to see particular artists, as well as museums, theater, that kind of thing.

Why do you EDC?

I’m on the road a ton, usually for a combination of work and exploration. I was completely nomadic for the second half of 2012, and since then I don’t think I’ve been in one place for more than a month. What I carry is definitely informed by constantly being on the move. I know that if I have my backpack and pocket essentials, I’ve got everything I need and nothing that’ll slow me down.

I guess I’ve been hauling around an EDC since I was a teenager. I’ve moved around a lot over the years, and there’s something comforting about having your own particular setup no matter where you are. If I’ve got my EDC, I know that I can work, edify myself, or just relax.

Your daily kit is focused, organized, and looks highly functional for what you do. Do you feel there’s anything else you’d want to add to it to make it perfect?

I’ve thought about carrying a small first aid kit with me. My GORUCK bag is crazy roomy, so why not be a little more prepared?

Could you tell us a little more about some of your recent projects?

I’m helping a notable contemporary artist with a software-based artwork, which is a first for me. It’s actually going to be a pretty robust system under the hood, but it needs a simple and approachable face. I’ve just started working on it and it’s a really fun challenge so far!

Looking at where you’ve traveled, what you’ve worked on, and what drives you these days, I think it’s safe to say you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt. What piece of wisdom would you leave for our readers?

You hear all the time these days that you should find your passion and make it your job. I don’t think that’s bad advice, but it’s incomplete. It’s good to know what you’re passionate about, but it’s equally important to know what your values are. The thing is, the more you learn about how complicated and varied the world is, the harder it is to come up with simple rules or judgments for yourself and others. Let your experience inform your ethics, and give yourself permission to evolve those ethics as you learn and explore.

You don’t need a personal brand, but you should stand for something. Make it something worthwhile.

To read Alex’s writing, check out his blog:, or follow him on Twitter at @al3x for up to the minute updates.

Photos courtesy of Alex Payne

Previous Post

Review: TGT 2.0 Wallets

Next Post

Olight S30R Baton Rechargeable Flashlight

Related Posts