Joel Penney isn’t much of a talker. “We hired Joel in October, 2012, and he got to work right away,” Isaac Grauke reminisces. “I still remember the first time anyone here heard him say anything. Must’ve been late March, 2013.” Toby Robinson wasn’t there when it happened, but he trusts “the guys who said he said something.” Joseph Schoolland was laughing at a cat .gif at that moment, and thinks that must have drowned out the sound of Joel’s voice. “Still haven’t heard him talking, but I’ve seen his mouth moving around lunchtime,” he comments.
In one sense, Joel doesn’t have time to talk. He is utterly given over to his work as a developer. Since first taking his seat here, Joel has re-worked substantial chunks of Populi. His biggest project thus far was the stem-to-stern overhaul of Admissions; he’s also responsible for graded discussions, an ongoing rewrite of Academics, and a bunch of other things. James Hill says that Joel “naturally takes ownership of things and works them over until they’re perfect.” However self-deprecating he is when asked to describe his own work, Joel nonetheless produces really stinkin’ excellent code.
We can’t do what we do without him.
Born and raised in Eastport, Long Island, Joel lived out where the boundless subdivisions occasionally give way to pine barrens and potato fields. Tinkering came naturally to him. “As a child I liked building models. Planes, trains, automobiles. If I wasn’t doing that I was probably taking something apart and putting it back together. Toys. VCRs. Power tools. That progressed to computers, printers, cars. Few of these things had any hope of ever functioning again.”
Eventually, Joel found himself working for a small printing company, using Photoshop to tinker with wedding photos, pet portraits, and graduation pics. At that company, he was more or less the IT guy. He wrote computer scripts to automate rote tasks and was on call to fix the stupid printer when the thing inevitably broke. In 2003, he married Grace, and they soon had two children.
The interesting thing about Eastport is that it’s preposterously expensive to live there, what with the proximity to Martha Stewart and that Barefoot Contessa lady. His job being rather portable, the Penneys stuffed a U-Haul full of their things and motored it out to Moscow, Idaho. One of those things was a 550-pound laminator. It took six guys to schlep it fifty feet from the U-Haul to his back door. None of them would ever so much as touch a laminated ID card ever again.
The printing business dried up and blew away in late 2012, just about the time Populi was really, really needing a new programmer. Despite not saying anything, Joel made all the right impressions during the interview. His signing bonus was some company stock and a laying hen from Isaac’s home flock.
The Penneys now have five splendid children and occupy every last square inch of an old house with high ceilings, drafty windows, and a super-weird chimney. Joel’s tinkering now involves lumber, sheetrock, and windows; unlike the days of yore, his handiwork now results in considerable improvement. Meanwhile, Grace’s kitchen features various items in states of guided fermentation—home-cured bacon, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles—and her daughters goof off gilded in her elegant needlework. Sprawled on the living room floor, Joel’s sons build things out of Legos with a meticulousness one can only assume has been inherited.
It’s a humble, modest life, perfect down to the details.