I met my friend James a year ago, and we’ve been catching up regularly ever since. James was born in Australia, and has worked on both hemispheres. An expat in Budapest with a great sense of humour and just the proper amount of geekiness. A special someone who, just like me, can quote lines from Miranda by heart. He loves a good latte but is quick to destroy the art pattern with sugar. I’m meeting him at our regular coffee shop at Ferenciek tere in Budapest. We’re chatting about roots, work, software, Apple and we’ll learn which Harry Potter house he’s in.
How old were you when you moved to a considerable distance from your family?
When I was 20-21, I kind of moved out of home [Tasmania, Australia] to the major town for the last semester of university. Even though it was half an hour, travelling was a pain, so that was a test just to see how it goes. And then, after I finished university, I went to Melbourne. My sister lives there and I had that support, like finding an apartment and that sort. It was quite easy, it didn’t feel like in the movies where you come up from the subway, you have your bags in your hand, the camera’s low, looking at you being bright-eyed, “Welcome to New York!”. It was never like that, it was a gradual thing.
So that’s when you moved to Mainland Australia.
And I lived there for quite a long time. I still catch up with my sister, usually, weekly.
What was the first “station” overseas?
In September 2007 I moved to Dubai. Which is good because it was after the summer. Ah, the summer of 2007! I don’t really remember the process of physically moving, it was more the build up to it and whether I should go or not. I wanted to get a good deal, so it was worth my while. But it didn’t feel well organised, so I got there but didn’t get much organised work. The first few weeks at work, we were at this police academy building with desks and cables were everywhere, and nobody really knew what to do, so everyone was making do what they had. It just feels like something from the 80’s. When you’re working in Australia, you expect an office, and everything to be well organised. So I ended up doing a little bit of IT and trying to do research.
Did you make much contact with the locals or you were more secluded?
Maybe a couple of locals, like one local girl, an assistant. I hang around with people in our office who were expats. We had people from all over the world.
What have you taken with you from that experience in Dubai?
Maybe more mundane things, like how cities don’t function like regular cities there. The things are just scattered. There is no sense of cohesion. Maybe I was intimated before moving there because ‘oh, Middle East’, like the extreme heat, working on Sunday… You can’t get the right answers and that get very frustrating. But a good takeaway was that the people aren’t so different despite the different cultures.
How did you live through those years being gay?
All dating sites are blocked and you could use a VPN to circumvent, so there are ways around that. There were a couple of clubs to which I didn’t go to, as I don’t really go out and party that hard. Pretty much all the gay community knew those, but obviously it’s illegal, but they somewhat turned a blind eye to it. It was a bit more underground. But occasionally you hear stories about raids but I never had first hand experience. I read once that there was a bust on a gay wedding. I made gay friends there and that wasn’t so hard. I do the same things like I do here [Budapest, Hungary]: coffee and dinner and hang out. Dubai is a bit more open. I felt quite comfortable, but I’m not a person who’s very out and proud.
Do you still keep in touch with friends you met there?
Unfortunately not that much. Most of my friends don’t live there anymore. This is a problem generally. It’s hard to keep chatting like “how was your day?”
So there’s a software that you’ve been in love with and you had the chance to work with that company.
It’s love-hate relationship, really. [Laughs.] Yeah, funny. So I was first introduced to it back in university second year, late 90’s. Basically, I’ve been using it ever since. And as working for the company, I moved here.
When was that? 2011? Or was it 2012?
It was five years ago, so it was 2011. Well done, 1 point to Rob.
1 point to Gryffindor. I’m a Hufflepuff.
It’s funny how people can get so emotional about another company. I consider myself an Apple fanboy, waking up at 4 am on a school day just to watch a live stream. But I’m much less so. I met a lot of friends through the IRC community, but I don’t participate in those forums anymore. I think it has something to do with age: when you’re younger, you’re more inquisitive. I’m glad that I had that experience. I really miss that, I recall those days fondly.
What do you find special about that age? I remember it was a nightmare to get a connection, and it took ages to download a song.
In hindsight, it was a turning point of internet and technology. Being at university, having a dial-up modem, had to plug in the phone line… I love reflecting on that or playing games on an old computer, which was new at the time. We kind of had the experience between ‘when there wasn’t’ and ‘when there is’. That transition point was an exciting time, because it was changing so [snapping fingers] rapidly.
The iPhone is 10 years old in 2017.
Looking around at this coffee shop, people with their phones and their laptops. I think we became complacent with it, which means it became integral. So I love having been young at that time to experience the evolution. And about the software, I’ve seen it change quite significantly over 20 years. And if you’ve been using something so long, then you become attached to it. I don’t know if it’s true for everything. One uses Microsoft Word but not everyone falls in love with it. Most people probably don’t.
You have a relationship with Apple software: you love it but you also have this urge to improve it.
Yeah. I think if you feel like you’re getting something from the software, then maybe you start getting this connection. It’s like when you’re having conversation with someone and you laugh, you start having this bond, this connection. Maybe it’s similar with software: if it makes you feel something, it starts to build this connection, an understanding. Maybe this is why nobody cares about Microsoft Word or Excel.
I do love a bit of Excel, to be honest.
I love when I get a formula and it works. That’s like a math problem, a puzzle, and then you solved it. As using the software, I don’t feel anything, there’s no joy. That is why I like working on that part: they joy. Maybe it’s engineering vs architecture. Constructing something a certain way brings something to the people using it. Whereas engineering is much more pragmatic, more formulas etc. If it doesn’t have that soul…
As another Apple fanboy myself, I can tell you, there’s something special about not having had to install third party software to make things work, or to install drivers or whatnot when you plug in a new device, compared to a PC.
I always feel like I’m fighting ‘against’ when I’m using a PC. I do use Windows 10 a little bit, I like what they’ve done, they’re going in the right direction. I remember ads from the past. Microsoft is more show-y, but Apple ads seem more humanistic. So whether you’re trying to sell the software with “look how good it is” [Microsoft], or putting a person there just using the software getting through their day [Apple]. I think it’s more profound than “Bam! Features!”.
Speaking of features… How do you feel when you’re releasing a version that has features you’ve worked on?
It’s funny, once it’s out, I’d already forgotten about it because of the release cycle. It has to go through a testing process, by the time people start using it, we’re already working quite advanced on the next version. I worked on a project just to fix user interface things, because I created a list over the years of the problems and I was making mockups and proposals. When I came over here on holiday before I moved here, I visited the office for a day and went through some of my ideas. But of course, I realised it doesn’t work like that. That’s not how software works: like a user saying here’s an idea, and then they do it. It has to happen in sequence. Users think they’re the centre of the world and theirs are the only requirements. It feels frustrating when I read people complain about a release because it doesn’t address their use case. A forum is not a good medium – they should talk to their resellers.
“People have lots and lots of ‘stuff’. It’s like clutter.”
Budapest. How do you feel about it?
Generally, I like living here, it’s a beautiful city, but I do miss Australia. I like its architecture, I like the people. But I don’t feel like home.
To me it’s interesting how you’ve been here for 5 years yet don’t feel like home.
It’s maybe because I’ve been moving around. Even in Melbourne, although I lived there for years, I kept moving houses every year. I think the first time I did it very homely, but as I kept moving, things became less homely. First time I took with me lots of books, which I never read. People have lots and lots of ‘stuff’. It’s like clutter.
How do you keep in touch?
I taught dad how to FaceTime, or rather re-introduced him to that feature, which was quite good. My sister usually chats with me via iMessage.
If there was one thing you could change in the world, what would that be?
As a kid, I loved playing SimCity but not just planning the city but also the landscape. In the movie, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur was asked what he would like to change in Earth 2. When I was thinking of that, the things that I would do is to make more canyons, more landscape-y bits. Like Budapest having more mountains. Obviously, that would change history, but putting that aside, I would be changing the landscape to be cooler. I could say, like, ‘peace’ or something, but I couldn’t just stop wars because there’s still this animosity, there’s conflict in between certain groups. You can’t stop the thing, there’s a much bigger picture.
[People are pouring through the door, the coffee shop is full, we’re both feeling overcrowded.]
About the crowds situation. If I’m observing from a safe distance, it’s fine, when I’m in, it feels like I’m different to them and I don’t behave or act like them. Even though I think everyone’s a bit awkward and don’t really know how things work. But when I see them as a collective, then I sort of see unity or a sort of understanding. I kind of overanalyse situations, which I partly do for my own bemusement.
Is that why you love observational humour like Miranda Hart’s Miranda?
Yes, exactly. I have these thoughts that I’m different to everybody else, but in the show they’re saying things out loud that you think inside, and it’s really good to hear this. You can relate to it, but it makes you feel less unique, just more like: everyone’s a little bit weird. As a child, if you think you’re different because of your sexuality, I think it continued in other way. But I don’t like when she falls over boxes because I feel it’s a tad cheap. I think she overdoes it. But I like how they make fun of it in the episode where they’re at the psychiatrist’s.
Being gay, does it feel like it’s a separate world?
Hm, a little bit, yes.
What do you think about gay marriage?
The morals and the ideas, they feel a bit antiquated. As a society, I feel like we’re moving away from those a bit more in the last years. When I was a kid, I felt like, that’s normal because that’s what everybody does. But as I got older, I see everyone’s just doing their own thing. I realised, I can just do my own things.
If you could go back in time what would you say to yourself?
I’d like to put things in a bit of perspective. I kind of like to describe some of the moments in life, or to say ‘this is where I am now, and the bad moment you’re having now, it is very insignificant’.
If there was a message you could get across to all LGBTQ+ youth, what would that be?
I wouldn’t, because that would feel preachy and I don’t think they’d want to hear that. I have met people who’ve confided in me when going through issues in their lives but I tried to be there asking questions, not pushing through my issues.
What is the next step?
No idea, but I don’t have to have the next step. As long as I can enjoy the moment… oh my god, that sounds like a Christina Aguilera song. So I don’t know. Partly that worries me. I’m happy to go anywhere as long as it’s worthwhile.