Over Labor Day weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Rye, Colorado. Rye is located in the beautiful foothills of the San Isabel National Forest where the Aspen flourish and the Sangre De Cristo peaks tower over you. While the view would be enough for any traveler to choose this area as a destination, it would not be our destination that day. There was another site nearby that has an inexplicable allure that only those who have built something extraordinary from nothing can truly appreciate. Every year we take the trip into the San Isabel Forest to see the progress of Jim Bishop’s Castle (a.k.a. Bishop’s Castle).
Bishop’s family, when Jim was 15 years old, bought the land for $450 in 1969 and intended it to be used as a family project to build a cottage. As the cottage grew, the neighbors commented that the structure looked something like a castle; Jim decided that was the direction he would take. One stone at a time and 47 years later, he crafted an elaborate, complex, and magnificent castle. It remains “one man’s massive-obsessive labor of medieval fantasy construction.” Through the years, his anti-government, non-conformist temperament landed him in the middle of various disputes with the government. Also, Jim is not known for being quiet about his beliefs and occasionally has outbursts with more than one expletive and/or political rant.
While we have heard these rants before, this last trip Jim decided to take a break from his labor and walk us through some of his strategy for the front gate of the castle. He is passionate about the work that he continues to do and has a vision for what it is ultimately going to look like. He uses resources he has obtained from all over the United States; from friends, family and donors. He brings all his knowledge of welding, machinery, architecture and geology to his magnificent creation. Finally, he has a resiliency and resolve that is unparalleled. This past year, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and was told he did not have much time to live. A year later, after licking the cancer, he was back to building. In fact, Jim said to me that he now has to quadruple his building efforts on account of the “year of cancer he had to sit on his ass”. Whatever you may think of Jim Bishop personally, one thing is true…he is a passionate architect that has accomplished a feat that borders on miraculous that people will enjoy for generations to come.
As we left the castle, less than a mile down the road we saw a sign that read, “12 miles to Beulah”. To anyone else this sign may be insignificant; but to me it has great personal significance. You see, a few miles from Jim Bishop lives another great architect, Michael Baker. An equally brilliant architect that has spent nearly 40 years of his life building his own “castle”. You may not measure its expanse by the number of stones he has laid, but you can measure it by the number of people whose lives have been changed by his creation. Mick Baker’s creation? Visual RAMS-Pro (VRP). It is no trivial thing to build a comprehensive software application for any developer. But to build an application of the magnitude of VRP would take a lifetime for any experienced developer. What is so different about VRP that makes it stand out far and above any other software applications like it in the Waste Industry? If you knew the architect, you would better understand the answer to this question.
- Michael (Mick) Baker is a first of all a studied listener and learner. Having a brief conversation with Mick is impossible because he first seeks to fully understand you before he will offer an opinion. He started off in the aviation industry, designing navigation systems for aircraft. The migration from aviation to waste management software was triggered when a friend of his in 1979, Doug John, who owned a waste hauling company in Roseburg, Oregon, needed a software solution to manage his routes and business. Alpine Technology and the predecessor to VRP was born. Mick still listens to that friend to this day to learn of better ways technology can be leveraged to help his business. VRP is an outgrowth of hundreds of thousands of opinions from those people who matter most…the ones that will use the software.
- Mick is a visionary architect. Like Jim Bishop, Mick realizes that each little piece of code created potentially impacts the whole. If this is not considered, short term modifications could impact long-term stability or functionality. Mick always begins with the end in mind. When speaking with Mick about almost anything I am astounded how carefully he listens and can follow through any process to its logical conclusion. Even greater than that skill is his patience with those of us that might take a few minutes to “catch up.”
- He is resourceful. Jim Bishop gathers critical resources from around him, particularly from those who share his vision. Likewise, Mick reaches out to a community of business operators in the Waste Industry for operational insight. He reaches out to a community of technologist spanning all disciplines for future trends. He reaches out to a vast village of developers speaking different “languages” for ways to do things more efficiently. Finally, Mick reaches out to the people who are closest to him for wisdom and feedback.
- He is sensible. Mick is not impressed with elaborate, complex, and “cool” features that no one will use but the marketing department. His main concern is usability. If the people who currently use VRP do not find a feature valuable and easy to assimilate into their work, then they will not use VRP…period. That is “bad business” says Mick “our users are our greatest sales people”.
- He is a legacy builder. Typically when one places “legacy” with “software” in the same sentence it means old or outdated. This is not the definition I am referring to here. Mick understands that in order for Alpine and VRP to survive there must first be a firm software foundation (infrastructure) created that future generations of applications can build on. Then, he believes there must be good people in place that will own and carry that vision to the next generation of business users. Who will take over Bishop’s Castle when Jim passes on? Tragically, his vision will die with him. This is not the case with VRP; a community of people who have caught Mick’s vision will carry the torch.
Do you now understand how insights into the architect of VRP can give you deeper insight into not only how VRP was created but its usefulness to any company that uses it?
This has truly been a tale of two architects. I have spent time with both these brilliant men and feel privileged simply to have been in their presence. Though Alpine Technology will not make the list of Top 10 places to visit in Colorado like Bishop’s Castle, its flagship software, VRP, will continue to be heralded as one of the great software applications to serve the global Waste Industry.
On a personal note, there have been few men in my life that have impacted me as Mick Baker has. His quiet wisdom rooted in a love for Jesus Christ, his business acumen, his passion for practical software development, and his friendship have fueled in me a greater passion for God, life and for what I do. A humble servant in the eyes of many, but a great warrior in the eyes of God. Thank you, Mick, for the privilege of working side-by-side with you as you serve others.