Nerd and Family Man: An Interview with Nate Boateng


I'll be completely honest here: I can't exactly remember how I met Nate Boateng (FYI, it's not BOH-tang, but more like BWAH-ten). As with other friends I've made on the internet, we very likely interacted randomly on Twitter one day, appreciated each other's sense of humor, and the rest is history.

Nate was one of the first people I thought of interviewing for this series, and I'm glad I did, because it turns out he has quite an interesting family history I hadn't known about. Read on and enjoy!

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Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what are you most known for?

Well, let's start with the basics. I'm 32, married with two kids and living in Allentown, Pennsylvania which is about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia.

I married my high school sweetheart almost 11 years ago, which I have to say has been one hell of an awesome ride. I know it's silly and cliché to say that, but it's 100% accurate. I found a gem – probably one of the smartest people I've ever met – who luckily deals with my inappropriate jokes and compulsive gadget habit.

“Family is awesome.”

As for my kids, they're the most entertaining part of my life – I mean, they're absolutely hysterical – but I had them really young. It was a pretty rough go for a while, but overwhelmingly positive. Having your first child at 17 (my wife was 15) makes you grow up fast. In a lot of ways, you're growing up with your kids.

After some pretty huge speed bumps and growing pains, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I hit our stride. Gone was that stupid argumentative crap a lot of 20-somethings struggle with. We know each other so well that we honestly click in almost every way. Now that my kids are 10 and 14, it's great to see them growing into men, but at the same time, so very surreal. This is long-winded, but it's what happily takes up a majority of my time. Family is awesome.

So that's home life. As for work, I'm a Data & Communications Coordinator for a large area hospital and health network — specifically in the Community Health Department. We essentially run a number of community-based social and research initiatives locally that attempt to keep our community healthy, both mentally and physically. I could go into detail, but that's for another day. My job is essentially internal and public communication, and maintaining various data stores. You may be thinking "that sounds awesome" but I work on Windows XP so...

And then there's Internet me. I'm an admitted Twitter junkie, which is where I met almost all of my online friends. Along with having quite the addiction to technology and apps, I'm kind of a design nerd too. Naturally I gravitated toward that crowd on Twitter. Fast-forward a few years and I've made some lasting friendships with people I never thought I'd ever even speak to.

Wow, that is quite a story. I'm not sure 17-year-old me could have handled having a kid, so kudos to you for that. Let's talk about Internet Nate for a moment. Aside from the Twitter addiction (something I also suffer from), you run a blog and co-host a podcast, correct?

I do indeed. A couple of blogs, actually.

The first one is Culture Milk, something my friend Shawn Wilkins and I started kind of on a whim. One day we were iMessaging back-and-forth and decided to get some friends on board and build a site where we'd write infrequent but interesting posts on things that interested us. Could be tech, could be skydiving. Admittedly, we don't post as much as we'd like, but we're working some things out to get more content up there.

“I like having my own little corner to talk about whatever I want.”

We've got a pretty awesome team behind it now; people that aren't only friends, but have cool stuff to say about different topics. For instance, Tyler Anderson of The Iconfactory is our comics guy. He really loves comics – in fact, he's why I'm back into them – so we let him talk about whatever it is that's piquing his interest at the moment. That's Culture Milk in a nutshell. It's just things we like. It may lack quantity right now, but that's sort of the point.

My other site is Rants & Rambles. This is my personal site where I post links and medium-sized articles, usually software reviews. It's one of the Daring Fireball-type sites that we see everywhere, which some complain there are too many of, but I like having my own little corner to talk about whatever I want.

R&R has also served as a total learning experience for me from a site-building perspective. I recently moved to a static blogging platform, so I was forced to teach myself some handy tricks. That, coupled with what I learned from Culture Milk in terms of meaningful content, has made R&R something I really enjoy working on. The readership is big enough now that I also feel some responsibility to keep plugging away at it.

As for The Impromptu podcast, that's something I never intended to do myself. I have a long podcast subscription list, mostly filled with 5by5 shows with some comedy shows sprinkled in, but I had listened to The Impromptu since the beginning and quickly became a fan.

Being the twitter addict I am, I followed the guys on the show. Just before The Dark Knight Rises came out, I said to Adam – one of the "regulars" on the show – that they should do a special episode discussing the movie. I was shocked when he asked me to come on and co-host with them. I scrambled to get a mic from my college, and went on. I was nervous as hell, but my part came out alright (my voice was super stupid, but whatever).

Going back to Internet friends, Adam also asked Jamelle Bouie, someone I have huge admiration for, to come on. I've been buddies with him ever since. A couple of episodes and guest appearances later, and the guys were kind enough to ask me to come on permanently. I don't have to do any of the heavy lifting as far as editing goes (thank god for Michael Norton), and I've really enjoyed doing the show. It's low pressure and we just talk about tech news and drop in some strong opinion.

Shameless plug: Abdel Ibrahim of The Tech Block and Alex Knight of Zero Distraction have joined us as regulars!

I just so happen to know about the static blogging platform you're referring to, but could you elaborate on it a bit for my readers? And more specifically, what sorts of things did you learn from that move?

My new site is powered by Statamic, and I'd describe it as a flexible-but-static system, powered by live tiles. I like it because it acts like a dynamic blog e.g. Wordpress, but doesn't require a database.

Basically, sites that run on services like Wordpress have a database in the backend. Static pages are just that, static. So essentially my site only serves HTML, CSS and Javascript. The way database-based-sites work is that all your posts, among other things, are all stored in a database, so that has to be served every time someone visits your page.

With a static blog there are a couple of advantages; speed and control. R&R loads in just under 2 seconds. Most people wouldn't care, but I do! I also have 100% control over every last bit of the site. If I want to tweak something, I open up Coda and do it.

As you know, I was on Squarespace until I moved to Statamic. Don't get me wrong; Squarespace is a pretty great tool. It's perfect for getting a site up quickly and then tweaking the design on the fly. Unfortunately, as I learned more and more – thanks in part to Squarespace – I also wanted more. I also wanted accurate RSS stats. So I finally decided to move off the platform and build a site from scratch.

I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. It looks the same for the most part, but it's all my work. Well, with the help of some good friends.

I'm happy with Squarespace for the most part, but agree that it could definitely use some work. I'm glad the move to Statamic has been working out well for you.

Now, you've already talked about the path that has led you to where you are today, so let me ask this: who or what has inspired you along the way? Any mentors or heroes?

Man, this could get long, but I'll try and keep it reasonable. I'd have to say my granddad, Bill Meek.

“I remember saying one time that I wished we could go visit our family in New York — within the hour, we were on a train. That's just how he rolled.”

As a teenager, my dad wasn't around. In the last 2 years we've gotten back in touch, but from the time I was about 16 – a year before I had my son – until I was 30, we didn't speak. That's another long story, but suffice it to say that my granddad filled his role during my childhood. Even though my dad was present when I was young, he wasn't really "present" if that makes sense.

For weeks on end in the summers, I would go and stay in Philadelphia with my granddad. It was the time I looked forward to most. He would spoil me, take me to his job – which I later found out was actually full-time volunteering – and basically whatever we decided to do, he made happen on a whim. I remember saying one time that I wished we could go visit our family in New York — within the hour, we were on a train. That's just how he rolled.

During those times, he focused completely on me, which is exactly what a young boy with ADD needed. While that is one of the things made me love him dearly, it wasn't until after his death in 1995 when I really learned what really made him so amazing. I remember being confused when several hundred people came out in a blizzard to attend his memorial service. Who were these people? Why is the former mayor of Philadelphia here?

Details would come in waves during the few hours of his memorial. One by one, people spoke about what they remembered about him. About how in the early 1900's in his hometown of Springfield Illinois when a race riot led to his family being an instrumental part in helping form the NAACP. How he brought Dr. Martin Luther King to Philly to speak, and worked with him on a number of projects in the 60's.

“If he taught me one thing, it's to love your family unconditionally, regardless of anything else externally.”

People went on about how he gave his last 10 years of life to a full-time volunteer job at the American Friends Service Committee fighting the injustice of the MOVE house bombing which was spearheaded by Mayor Wilson Goode who was at the funeral. I mean, that's crazy. Your arch-nemises shows up to pay his respects? My mom joked that he just wanted to make sure granddad was dead (LOL)!

I don't invoke these examples to brag about him, but instead to show how amazing he is in retrospect. He was just my granddad. Despite his seemingly insane schedule and rich life, he had what seemed like unlimited time for his family. If he taught me one thing, it's to love your family unconditionally, regardless of anything else externally. Most of how I parent is mirrored after what I learned from him in 14 short years.

In the 18 years since his death, I've learned much about him, but still not everything I'd like. Luckily my mom is working on her PhD dissertation around his work in the civil rights movement, so I'll get the whole story soon enough.

I would absolutely love to see a write-up on his story, it sounds incredible. So, did these outings to his volunteering job somehow have an influence on your decision to work at a hospital?

You know, oddly it didn't. In fact, I sort of had hospital-phobia (not at all a real term), stemming from visiting my granddad before he died. A hospital was literally the last place I thought I would work. I ended up there completely by happenstance.

I had an awful (like really awful) job at a warehouse. At 19 years old, it paid half-decent, but it was horrid work, with generally horrid people. I started looking at the classifieds, but we know how those are. One day we happened to be visiting my wife's Aunt/Uncle's house for a cookout and some other family friends were there. Out of nowhere, one of them said "Know anyone that needs a job" and I jumped all over it. About a week later she set me up with an interview. They were desperate for someone. It was basically a driver/pharmacy technician.

I got the job, and I've been in the network ever since. After 8 years and working my way up as far as I could go without a pharmacy or nursing degree, I decided to move on to my current job which is much more in line with my degree in Media and Communication (which I'll finally have after a few more classes).

I can understand the hospital-phobia thing, those places are so depressing to me.

I'd like to shift gears into some geekier territory. I understand you're a fan of stuff like TextExpander, Drafts and Launch Center Pro, correct? Can you share some of the actions and workflows you use to make your life easier?

I do enjoy the geeky stuff, although to be honest, everyone should have TextExpander. It's an app that anybody could benefit from. My setup is relatively simple. I have snippets for blog posts (as Statamic uses YAML front-matter in posts), Markdown stuff, lipsum placeholder text, and most importantly, emotes.

Drafts is another staple on any of my iOS devices. Much like TextExpander, I can't really function without it. I try to use it for just about everything that involves text. In work meetings, I love using just a pen and notebook, but once back at my desk I typically then type those notes into Drafts and append it to a Dropbox text file. That way I've got it on paper, but also in one long txt file that's easily searchable.

I wrote a post with an example of this type of use. Drafts is ridiculously good if for nothing else than the fact that you can get as crazy as you want, or just use it to type notes. It can do anything.

Without making this too long, here's a list of utility-like-apps that I cannot get on without. Those that I use dozens of times a day.

  • Alfred
  • Drafts
  • TextExpander
  • 1Password
  • Droplr
  • Fantastical
  • Hazel

Great stuff, some of those are also my favorites (like Drafts, TextExpander, and 1Password). Do you ever find yourself wishing for an app that doesn't exist yet? What would your dream app be like?

To be honest, I consider myself creative, but not that creative. I leave that stuff up to developers. I try and provide as much constructive feedback as possible when either testing an app or using something I bought, but my original ideas are relatively lame compared to what we see in the App Store. Professional developers are a savvy bunch.

“I just like things that make life easier.”

Think about Drafts again for just a minute. The idea is incredibly simple, but the app is crafted with care and deep thought. These are the types of apps I really dig; simple, useful and well-designed. So to answer, I'd say that I don't really have dream app. I just like things that make life easier, and there are a ton of great things available to suit that need.

I'm still kind of reeling at how Drafts has transformed from a quick and simple scratchpad to the advanced automation hub it has become today. It's probably the most exciting app in the iOS App Store right now.

Moving on, I'd like to know where you see yourself being in the next 5 to 10 years. Still working at the hospital, you think, or making a move into professional blogging/podcasting, or something else entirely?

To be honest, I'm not really sure where I'll end up. I'd love to stay with my company as long as possible, but that's really dictated by what jobs are available when I (finally) finish my degree.

I don't think I'll ever run a website for my main income. I totally admire those who choose that route, but it's just not something I'm interested in, mainly because right now it's fun and I don't want that to change.

My formal training is in Media & Communication, but in the realm of social justice and documentary work. I'd love to get into that field, but that would definitely require moving to another city, and I'm not ready for that. At least not until my kids are out of high school, and that won't be for a while.

That's perfectly commendable. Here's an even bigger question: What would you most like to be remembered for after you die?

That's a tough one. I think it would simply be to be remembered as a good person, dad, and husband. Honestly, those are the most important aspects of my life, and I'd like to think I'm doing a good job. Other than that, I guess it would be to not be considered a dick. That sounds weird, I know. But in this Internet age, we define people by what they say and do in public, and while that's not really fair, it happens.

I just want to be known as a guy who was funny and kind. Sounds cheesy and lame, but I don't want some huge legacy.

Awesome. Well, I think we've covered just about everything. Thanks a bunch for chatting with me, this was fun.

My pleasure! Thanks so much for some good discussion.

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You can find Nate on Twitter as @nateboateng and on as @nkb.