Every time I see a burrito — IRL or on TV — Alex comes to mind. And I hope he always will. His passion for burritos was eclipsed only by WordPress.
Alex has battled cancer for about three years — very bravely — and yesterday his family announced that he passed away peacefully, at home.
Some of you will disagree with me that burritos came second in his priority list after WordPress. “What about the cars?” you’ll say. Well, after spending an entire evening wandering around Portland in search of food he would be happy with I am personally convinced that, given the choice between a car and a burrito, he would have chosen the latter.
I first met Alex in Italy when I was working for Automattic and responsible for the Jetpack division while the big boss was out. That is to say, I was in Italy, he was in his Portland home, and we were talking on Zoom. However, one of my associations with Alex (apart from burritos), is irrevocably the golden light of the Italian sun on the Tuscan hills.
We were talking because I had just pitched Matt on having Alex join my team and this was our first face-to-face conversation. I was a little bit nervous — Alex has an amazing reputation inside Automattic having worked there for years and pretty much touched every part of the company.
It turned out to be one of the most memorable conversations at Automattic for me. At the time he’d been working in the VaultPress team and was struggling to be productive. He was delighted that I wanted him on board and I was surprised, and delighted in turn, that he considered my offer to join the growth team an exciting one.
He jumped into marketing work with an enthusiasm I’ve rarely seen from an engineer, keen to make an impact on Jetpack’s growth. And he did because within a few short weeks he had delivered on a few tricky projects for me.
Sadly this was short lived as just a few weeks later, perhaps a couple of months at most, he got sick with what turned out to be leukaemia.
His courage throughout the process was evident. Not just because he fought long and hard and transparently with his disease. But because, with a tenaciousness that I envy, he kept coming back to Slack to try and work, contribute, and be part of the team. In most cases these were short-lived spurts of work because he would tire easily or have to undergo another exhausting round of chemo which was debilitating.
Yet in spite of this very, very mitigating reason for not working, his work ethic was as strong as ever.
The last time I spoke to Alex face-to-face was about a year ago. I was in London for the Affiliate Summit in early February and at the time Alex was back at work.
Because of his West Coast timezone and my UK timezone (and eight hour time difference) it was often hard to find good times to sync up on a video call. He was not much of an early riser and I have a young daughter so our overlap times were not great.
So, whenever I was travelling, having no evening family commitments, I would try to make up with an extra long catch-up call.
That time, wandering around Islington in London scouring the place for a good spot to have a call, I chanced upon the perfect spot. A small cafe with large windows right opposite a burrito joint! Sitting back to the window the Mexican take-away was my backdrop for our call which Alex found hilarious.
That was the last time we spoke properly, apart from Facebook messaging, because a few short weeks later the team was re-organised and a few weeks after that I left Automattic.
My thoughts and love go to Alex’s family and close friends. I know that he always felt hugely supported by everyone around him.