Remembering Joel Brauer

“The world just got a LOT less awesome”

A couple of weeks ago, Return Path was struck with an unexpected and unimaginable tragedy. One of our Software Engineers, Joel Brauer, died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 34 years old. Those of us who worked with Joel every day in our Broomfield, Colorado office were shocked, saddened and asking the question "how could this happen?" Since that difficult day, in true Return Path fashion, we pulled together to support one another, grieve, and remember Joel and the impact he's had on Return Path. On Sunday, April 28, a truly impressive number of RP'ers attended Joel's memorial service to pay their respects and remember Joel, and to support Joel's wife, Crystal and his family and friends.

Joel Brauer started at Return Path in 2011, and almost immediately starting making an impact on the company. He was the lead engineer on our Web Platform engineering team, helping to improve our web applications and organize and optimize how we do web development at Return Path. Joel was a leader in the Engineering team, and would mentor and teach others around him whenever he could, including managing our engineering interns last summer. He was one of the most talented engineers I've ever worked with – smart, clever, incredibly productive, endlessly curious and a true technophile.

But Joel's technical talents, while impressive, were no match for his big, bold, gregarious personality. Joel was not your run-of-the-mill engineer. He was extremely outgoing, loud and funny. He never missed an opportunity to make a joke, usually at his own expense. He loved music and loved to sing. Many of our development teams work collaboratively in what we call "labs" – rooms with white board walls and communal team space. From time to time, a neighboring team would stop by Joel's lab and ask him to turn down the music during a planning session. For those of us who worked on Joel's team or worked closely with him loved that freedom and fun energy that Joel brought to work. Working with Joel, you couldn't help but become his friend. He was the heart and soul of our team.

One of the things that Joel felt strongly about was finding ways to connect people. During one of our quarterly Hackathons, Joel created a web app called "RP Faces" which was a way for Return Path employees to get to know one another. He wanted to help people avoid the awkward moment of not knowing someone's name, even if you recognize their face. Joel worked on this project over the past couple of years. We have a Hackathon coming up next week, and a number of us are pulling together to help continue Joel's RP Faces app and hopefully make it as full-featured and successful as Joel imagined it could be. We'll work hard to realize Joel's vision of making Return Path an even more well-connected, friendly and people-focused place to work.

Probably the most impressive thing about Joel was his authenticity. He knew who he was and what he believed, and wasn't afraid to be himself. At his memorial service, many of us learned for the first time that Joel had written down a mission statement for his life and his core values. Joel had figured out how he wanted to live his life, and he did it consistently. I wanted to share Joel's mission and values, as they are beautiful, thoughtful, and a great description of a great man.

My Mission: to seek after wisdom and leave a wake of blessing

My Values:

  • Wisdom – to learn from the struggles of life, and see them as opportunities for growth
  • Respect – to treat others as though I can learn things from them instead of needing to teach, and only teaching when it is wanted
  • Integrity – to do what I say I will do, and resist duality
  • Liberty – to promote liberty in allowing everyone to have the freedom to be who they are
  • Savor – to enjoy every moment, and look for the silver lining in everything
  • Beauty – to appreciate the beauty of life around me
  • Ingenuity – to use the intelligence in myself and those around me toward the greater good
  • Synergy – to appreciate the differences in people and work with them
  • Abundance – to view the world as having an abundance of everything, therefore sharing not hoarding

I think I speak for all Return Path employees who got the chance to know Joel Brauer, that we are better people because we knew him, and thankful for the gifts that he brought to us and to our company. We will miss you, Joel. Thank you for the spark of awesomeness that you brought to our lives. May you rest in peace.

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