Luke Melia


October 12, 2007

Looking Back on Oxygen

On Tuesday morning at the office, we interrupted our pair programming sessions to walk up to the 8th Floor for announcement. The night before, the papers were signed that will lead to the purchase of the company (for $925 million by NBC Universal) where I’ve worked the last 7.5 years.

Oxygen is a company started to entertain, inform and empower women. So it is ironic that it is while working at Oxygen that I became a man.

I moved back to New York during the height of the Internet boom in late 1999 at 23 years old and my phone rang off the hook with recruiters. (My first call was from my high-school football team’s linebacker turned tech recruiter.) Oxygen happened to be the very first place I interviewed and the job I ultimately accepted.

Within my first two weeks on the job, I was celebrating the cable network’s launch with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Candice Bergen. I danced on stage with Luscious Jackson that night. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or that the woman at the podium that night, Gerry Laybourne, would one day be a friend and personal inspiration to me.

It was a chaotic, fast-growing company back then, but it seemed tame to me coming off owning my own software startup and living in India, where chaos is taken to a whole new level in the streets of the major cities.

I was hired based on my largely self-taught skills with Perl CGI and HTML/Javascript. My foundation was a weekend in the Sacramento garage of a guy who was around when the first graphical web browser, Mosaic, was being built in Chicago. That and the cheap technical books I devoured living in India the 6 months before. Back then, I was proud of my abilities to produce nice-looking web layouts using table tags.

My first week on the job, a project manager showed me how to use ftp on the command line (thanks, Carrie!). Unix was a vast trove of magic, revealing more power and amazement every day. Oxygen sent me to training at Sun when the company was getting serious about focusing development efforts on Java. Object Oriented Programming was a huge revelation to me. I dreamed of objects sending messages to other objects.

I moved into Manhattan after a few months on the job. Commuting is not for me. It is not easy to get a foothold in the Manhattan real estate scene, and I’m glad I started when I did. I love living in the city and love walking to work. The Chelsea Market building, Oxygen’s home for most of the last 8 years, is a living, ever-changing thing that has energized me every day that I walked through it.

I broke up with a long-time girlfriend while at Oxygen. I dated a co-worker and had crushes on many others. I traveled northern Laos with an Oxygen colleague. Later, I married an ex-Oxygenite and after that, Jeanhee gave birth to Chiara, the ninety-something-ish Oxygen baby.

A couple years into my time at Oxygen, the company shut down a Seattle-based software company it had purchased, and relocated a bunch of people to New York. Looking back now, my life would be so different absent that cross-continental migration.

These outdoorsy Northwesterners eagerly accepted my pitch to start an Oxygen volleyball team. We had so many good times competing, playing in the park, and relaxing afterwards. I was honored to be described as “more Seattle-ish” than many of their friends in Seattle. Some have returned to Seattle by now, and a shocking number have married/cohabitated each other. Seattle my favorite place to visit now.

Kris, Ken, and Steve lasted the longest of the Seattlites at Oxygen. We still work together every day and enjoy strong, effective professional relationships solidified in the lean years after the Bust. Kris and I pair-programmed for a year, just the two of us. We nearly killed each other but ultimately figured out how work together very well. Kris is the most brilliant developer I’ve ever worked with and what I learned from him over that year and since has been my single most significant educational program in software development.

Freshest in my head, and dearest to me, has been the opportunity to build a stellar agile team over the last year and a half. I can barely express in words how fulfilling it has been to collaborate with this amazing group of people building the coolest product of my career so far.

I’ve been looking back, because it is to look forward right now is to look into a fog. The work of integrating these two companies starts soon, and the evaluations and explorations of what may or may not be our team’s role at NBCU will happen over the next several weeks.

Regardless of what happens next, it’s the end of an era… and what an amazing ride it has been.

4 Responses to “Looking Back on Oxygen”

  1. hammett chimed in:

    Thanks for sharing this, very interesting story. I’m sure NBC won’t disregard such a creative and competent team that you lead.

  2. Looking Back on Oxygen « turnings chimed in:

    […] Back on Oxygen Posted on October 12, 2007 by Daniel Looking Back on Oxygen: I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or that the woman at the podium that night, Gerry […]

  3. My own Oxygen story « turnings chimed in:

    […] own Oxygen story Posted on October 12, 2007 by Daniel I met Luke as I searched for work. I had just been offshored at a previous company, and was looking to […]

  4. rykyard chimed in:

    mv /nyc/melia* /seattle/

    awesome retrospective luke.

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