Author Archives: Sean Tierney

Three talks

This is an unsolicited guest post from Dave Tierney’s son, Sean Tierney. 

I’m eleven months into a year-long trip around the world working abroad across Europe, Africa and Latin America. I flew home the other week from Lima, Peru to attend an awards ceremony for my Dad. He recently received the Valley Leadership Man of the Year award for his service to a number of organizations and his work on various civil rights issues. He talked about some important stuff and I’ve now had the privilege of seeing him receive a handful of these awards (previously the Hon Kachina Volunteer Award the Judge Learned Hand Award).

My Dad works tirelessly behind the scenes via a number of volunteer organizations. He has some incredible stories and wisdom I’m hoping he’ll share here. He rarely speaks publicly but when he does it’s always on an important topic confronting society. His talks are direct but not preachy and he’s always good about giving actionable and realistic suggestions for what the average person can do to help the cause.

Below are three of his talks I’ve captured on video (2 acceptance speeches and one talk for the Harvard Club).

If you enjoy hearing what my Dad has to say, take a sec and chime in via a comment below and encourage him to get back on his blogging horse 😉

Valley Leadership Man of the Year Award acceptance speech on 3/20/17
Discussion of prison reform in Arizona

Justice Learned Hand Award acceptance speech on 3/8/11
Discussion of immigration issues in Arizona

Talk on civil rights issues for the Phoenix Ivy Club 11/15/13
Stories from his work in Mississippi back in the 60’s around voter education efforts

Happy Birthday Dad

This is an unsolicited guest post from son #1, Sean Tierney. Dad, sorry to hijack your blog like this but having created it I still have the login credentials. I figured given the circumstances of it being your birthday this is a valid birthday surprise. I’m writing this from London, UK on the morning of 8/19/16 but technically it’s still your bday in Phoenix, AZ…  

I wanted to share a quick story of a formative moment from my younger years that shows what makes my Dad, my Dad. The motivation here is partly that I forgot to send a b-day present this year and this is the only thing I could think of that would arrive in time from across the pond. But also I’m hoping this may motivate the big guy to resume his blogging effort again after more than a year’s hiatus.

Lego trauma and learning to color outside the lines

When you’re a five-year-old aspiring engineer obsessed with building space legos, it’s important that you get it right. Millions of lives depend on your legos having flawless structural integrity, built to spec and that they match the model shown in the instructions precisely… or at least that’s the way it feels 😉 Growing up I had no less than 16sqft of my room devoted to lego bases. That was my thing. I’d get a new kit from the toy store at Colonnade Mall, go home and spend the entire afternoon assembling it to perfection and then proudly add it to my space empire colonizing the corner of my room.

One day I came home with a set called “The Galaxy Explorer” – it was the biggest and most complex lego set I had worked with at that point and it was to be the linchpin of my space colony for the obvious reason that it had to get me around the galaxy.

galaxy-explorer

When I arrived home from the toy store I set about the most important mission of my life up to that point assembling this thing. As you might imagine the instructions for putting this together were intense. There was this 3×5″ glossy color pamphlet that unfolded into a sprawling blueprint that was too big for the dining room table and looked like one of those language-less instruction sheets for Danish furniture- just a huge set of pictures with arrows and numbers. I dutifully began my mission.

Some four hours later nearing completion of this beast I came to an impasse. The plastic lego pieces that were left simply did not match up with the ones in the pictures. Occasionally you make errors as a 5yr-old engineer so I checked and rechecked my work thus far but it became gradually clear that this was an unsolvable engineering project given the materials at hand.  3-D printers were still 30 years in the future and they didn’t sell the pieces I needed a la carte at Kay-Be Toys. Was it just pieces in this box that were missing or were the blueprints for the entire design of the Galaxy Explorer just fundamentally broken? If the latter, how many other space travelers were impacted by this omission??  I wrestled with the biggest crisis of my life to date. This was the first time I had followed instructions to a T only to hit an insurmountable wall and fail at something. All my honed lego-building skills were useless in the face of missing the key pieces necessary to complete the ship.

At some point my Dad walked in to find me at the dining room table sobbing over the nearly completed model. I was emotionally knotted and wrapped around the axle with my first experience of failure and the impossibility of making something work.  LEGO was teasing me with a picture of what it should be but an impossible task of actuating it.

The next thing my Dad did fundamentally changed my worldview not just with lego-building but everything. It was one of those epiphany cross-roads moments that evolves you as a human and opens your head to a new way of thinking. He said, “My man, these instructions aren’t the only way to build this. It’s just one suggestion for how THEY think it should be put together but you’re a smart guy. You can build an even better version of your own.” In that moment he installed a license to “color outside the lines” in my 5yr-old operating system.  But not just that- he installed also the encouragement to question and challenge instructions when they were clearly flawed along with the confidence that indeed I had it in me to come up with a better approach.

The notion that I might be able to invent a better version than LEGO and that “the authoritative instructions” were merely a suggestion for one potential way to do it blew my mind.  I immediately began cannibalizing my other space legos, pooling pieces and building out my own designs. In place of a sometimes-unworkable spec to follow, I saw ways to improve and freedom to create. Probably to the dismay of many subsequent grade school teachers I challenged instructions when they didn’t make sense. And years later this seed of thinking would eventually lead to me co-founding JumpBox, a company that fundamentally rethought the way in which software could be distributed as a virtual machine and not an installer. We used that to democratize a whole class of software known as “open source” and make it accessible to non-techies. The now-ingrained personality trait of questioning instructions and recognizing true vs. false boundaries has taken me places I would have never gone otherwise.


This is what makes my Dad, my Dad. He’s the guy who risked his life in the 60’s smuggling voter training materials to would-be black voters in Mississippi to help them gain voting status- working, not just talking, to fix a system when he recognized the instructions were simply wrong. And by his actions, showing others that it could and should be done.

Dad, happiest of birthdays to you. Thanks for this and other lessons you and mom gave Connor and I growing up.  Now please get back to blogging again so we can all hear what happened after the Peace Corps 😉

dad-and-sean

Convincing the big guy to write publicly

This is Sean Tierney, David Tierney’s son. Unbeknownst to my Dad I’ve set up this blog as a Christmas gift for him this year. I’ve been encouraging him to write publicly for awhile now and I’m hoping that by presenting this as a gift he’ll be more obligated to accept the challenge and start writing.

I won’t write a huge intro here but I wanted to say a few things:  my Dad has read more books than you have probably seen on shelves in your lifetime. When you read as much as he does (primarily historical nonfiction) you form an incredible breadth of knowledge spanning a variety of topics. My Dad can begin talking to you about the battle strategies employed in the Crimean War and transition in the same breath into a discussion on how those strategies are applicable today in the context of a trial defense in a construction litigation. Beyond book knowledge though my Dad is a “do’er” involved in somewhere on the order of twenty pro-bono volunteer efforts around Phoenix, AZ. He works daily behind the scenes in all kinds of capacities to make the City of Phoenix a better place for everyone.

I know I’m inherently biased here because I’m his son but he has hands-down some of the most fascinating stories to share. He’ll tell you about getting shot at while smuggling books to minority voters in Mississippi back in the 60’s, developing the vehicular traffic infrastructure for small towns in Venezuela while in the Peace Corps, BS’ing his way into becoming a salad chef as a summer job to pay his way through Harvard, defending underdog clients against well-funded bullies… and winning.  Anyways, he’s got stories.

I’ve seen him speak at his Hon Kachina award acceptance, the Justice Learned Hand award acceptance and at the Harvard Club in Phoenix.  The bottom line here is he has a wealth of experience and ideas to share but is humble to a fault and therefore needs to be coaxed into writing publicly.  I’ve been fortunate to glean some of his wisdom over the years through dinner conversations and hot tub sessions and I’m hoping with a little chiding here he’ll see this blog as a unique way to both share stories, OpEd and insight on the causes he works with from the Irish Cultural Center to the ACT Health Fair to the Tool Bank project, RJRC and numerous other endeavors.

So here’s what I ask you to do: if you know my Dad (or even if you don’t yet) leave a message below on this post so when he gets this on Christmas morning he’ll see that he already has a few readers. You can tell him what you want to hear about, just say hi or anything really. He’s been winding down his caseload with Sacks Tierney the past year, shifting emphasis more to the pro-bono endeavors and therefore finally has some time available to write. My goal is to “prime the pump” with a few readers so he gets excited about posting here regularly. The stories I’ve grown up hearing over fishing trips and dinner conversations will blow your mind. Let’s convince him to share them here with everyone else.

-Sean

Sean and Dave