Coding romance: Tales of love and startups

Profiles of Oregon software executives and employees who are partners in love as well as business.

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Tiny coverWorkplace relationships are nothing new. Nearly two out of five U.S. workers have had an office romance, according to a 2014 survey from CareerBuilder. But it’s “advantage ladies” in Oregon’s tech sector, where employees skew young, white and male (when entirely viewed through a heteronormative lens, of course.)

What does it take to blend the professional and personal in tech? We asked techies to share their meet-cute stories, along with tips on how to stay sane and crazy in love, all while growing the bottom line.

Hire My Wife … Please!
Cale & Lisa Bruckner

Cale Bruckner, president of Eugene-based Concentric Sky, was no suave lady charmer in 1992. Two weeks into the school year, the University of Oregon freshman took one look at his classmate/future spouse and blurted out, “Hey, you’re cute. You could be my wife.” L isa wasn’t interested — no surprise there. But the two eventually got together. They married in 1997 and have three children.

Cale joined Concentric Sky in 2009, while Lisa pursued a variety of tech-based opportunities elsewhere. When the position of COO opened up in 2012, Cale knew Lisa would be the perfect fit. He also knew that hiring her could be “tricky. I recommended her to Wayne” — [that’s company founder Wayne Skipper] — “and then recused myself from the process.”

The Bruckners worked together at Concentric Sky, a software development firm, for almost three years. Both remember the time fondly. “There was effortless trust between us,” Lisa remembers. “We both knew when to chime in and offer help and when to back off.” Cale also points to the couple’s natural communication style and its benefit to business. “It was efficient. We could cut through the noise and communicate almost without talking.”

Of course, office relationships aren’t all roses and successful funding rounds. Lisa recognizes the inherent hazard of a couple both working for the same employer — “If a big client files for bankruptcy we could both be out of a job.” And then there’s the risk of work seeping into all corners of life. “I remember the kids rolling their eyes and yelling, ‘Stop talking about Concentric Sky!’” she says.

Today Lisa is COO at Digital BlueMoon. The two look back fondly at their years spent working together and would jump at the chance to do it again. “We’re both so busy,” Cale explains. “This gave us the opportunity to spend lots of time together.”

Samson and Delightful
Cassidy Cushing & Travis Myrick

How does a solid friendship turn into something more? Cassidy Cushing, project manager II at Bend-based G5, has an idea. For three years she and co-worker Travis Myrick were constant companions, hanging out after hours as part of a core group of G5-ers. Despite all that closeness, there was never any romantic spark on Cushing’s part. “He’s six years younger than me,” she says of the junior support engineer.

That changed the day Myrick traded his long, unruly hair for a “big-boy haircut. All of a sudden he was boyfriend material,” she remembers. Cushing insists that there were no fireworks or swelling violin music when Myrick left the Friend Zone. Instead the pair, along with Cushing’s daughter, has been happily living together for three years. Apparently it’s not an uncommon event at the Bend-based digital marketing company. “There are other couples here too,” she says.

Perhaps it’s G5’s relaxed and casual atmosphere that keeps employees happy and willing to take on the risks that come with dating a co-worker. Breaking up, it seems, is not a huge issue. “In the six years I’ve been here I’ve seen people meet, date and move on without any problem,” says Cassidy.

Of course that doesn’t keep things from getting hairy for Cassidy and Travis. She reports how frustrating it is to have an argument with your boyfriend in the morning only to see him five minutes later at the office. “But we work together well. Even if we’re arguing,” she insists.

In fact, the relationship has helped advance both of their careers. “He sees the technical side of things while I oversee implementation,” she says. “We complement each other.”


The Fight Club
Ashley Campbell

As a female software coder, Ashley Campbell is used to being the only woman in the room. She’s also used to fighting hard for her ideas. “I have to be aggressive at work,” says the game developer, noting that it’s not uncommon for programmers, no matter their sex, to bump heads in such a high-stress, high-stakes environment.

Before coming to Portland to work for San Francisco-based Rave Social, Campbell lived in Eugene, working for a game company that she would rather not name. There the 28-year-old met and dated a fellow programmer. The pair tried to enforce rules about keeping work and romance separate. It didn’t go well. “We were both so passionate about the product,” she remembers. “You have to have a lot of confidence and ego to be a developer. Not that I’m not a great person to have a relationship with, but having two Type As like that is hard.” Work arguments always came home. “How could they not?”

After the inevitable breakup, Campbell continued to argue with her ex, but this time it was just business. It was then that she came to her epiphany: no more dating guys in tech! While she admits she sometimes gets interested in another engineer, she will switch to “business brain so I don’t get those feels.”

Today Campbell is dating a construction worker who lives in Eugene. Their long-distance, weekends-only thing has played out well for over a year. She does admit missing the back and forth that comes from two opinionated developers fighting over deeply held philosophies, favorite languages or specific coding quirks that look like minutiae to the uninitiated. “You want your partner to see every part of your brain,” she says.

Lunar Cycles
Celeste & Todd Edman

Celeste Edman, CEO of Eugene-based Lunar Logic, doesn’t pull punches when she talks about what it’s like to work with her husband Todd Edman, Lunar’s former CEO. “It’s good and challenging and horrible and awesome,” she says. “All of the emotions that come with being in a relationshiand running a growing company are there.”

The two, who’ve known each other since 2001, bought the digital marketing and web development company in 2008. Celeste became CEO in 2015, replacing Todd, who left to form startup Although the word “left” may give the wrong impression. “The startup is located here, in this office,” says Celeste. “And Todd still owns Lunar Logic with me.”

Celeste and Todd knew their No. 1 challenge would be defining the barrier between work and personal life. Instead of drawing a hard line, the two took it down entirely, agreeing to let their worlds bleed into each other. “It’s too much to compartmentalize,” says Celeste. “It’s not real to expect us, or anyone, to leave their personal life at the office door.”

Three’s Company?
David Shear & Marci Hansen

David Shear and Marci Hansen worked together in another company, but love didn’t blossom until they left to form SheerID. Long days crunching numbers in Hansen’s ‘70s-era duplex living room turned into long nights discussing strategies at a local Eugene bar. The casualness and intimacy snuck up on the pair, turning their working relationship into a romantic one, and leaving third founder Jake Weatherly, who was also part of those long days and nights, in an uncomfortable position. “Jake was rightfully worried about what would happen to the company if the relationship went sideways,” recalls Shear.

That never happened. The pair has been a couple for five and a half years, living together for four and a half, and their relationship, while not a secret, really isn’t a factor at work. “People are often surprised to find out that we’re partners,” says Hansen. “Even Jake recently said that he forgot that we’re a couple.”

The harmony got easier as SheerID grew bigger. With 36 employees and a new office in Portland, the couple find themselves pulled in opposite directions as they manage different teams and schedules. “It’s for the better,” insists Hansen. “Sitting next to each other 24-hours a day and maintaining that level of intimacy feels unsustainable.”

Like other Silicon Shire companies, SheerID’s culture is family-focused. People work hard but no one is expected to be at their desk day and night. Marci recalls a different atmosphere when she worked as a tab manager for Amazon in 2000. “It felt like a big college campus. Everyone was under 30 and putting in long hours,” she recalls. As a result, “there was a lot of dating.” That scene is blissfully absent at SheerID. Company events are less hookup, more family friendly; think movie nights with popcorn and jujubes or U of O tailgates. It fits the older, more experienced employee profile. “We’re still a young group but not a bunch of 23-year-olds,” says Shear.

Work/Life Balance Takes a Powder
Sabrina & Noah Parsons

People are always asking Sabrina and Noah Parsons how they do it. A couple since their sophomore year at Princeton, the pair came of age during tech’s nascent years. He was employee number 101 at Yahoo, she founded a web consulting firm, they both worked at Epinions. In 2001 they started a U.K. software distribution company that was acquired by Palo Alto Software one year later. The Parsons have lived and worked together ever since.

“People always wonder how we don’t go nuts,” says Sabrina with a laugh.

Their secret is a complementary set of skills that firmly defines roles at work. “Noah (the company’s COO) is all about the product’s internal development, the details and technology,” says Sabrina, Palo Alto’s CEO, who in turn does all the traveling and speaking at conferences. “I don’t want to do what he does and he isn’t interested in what I do.”

Of course, with two people at the helm of a growing company, work undoubtedly takes up a huge chunk of their time and attention. The Parsons have developed a system that keeps them connected to work, each other and their family. “We ski every weekend on Mt. Bachelor,” Sabrina explains. The adults debrief the week from the front seat during the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Eugene to Sun River, while their three sons, ages 6, 10 and 12 decompress in the back with screen time and burritos.

That call for balance permeates Palo Alto Software’s culture.There is no beer on tap, no game room and no expectation to put in 18-hour days. “People we hire from Google or Yahoo are surprised that we want employees to go home at six,” says Sabrina.