Five Questions For … Jeff Reichman, Of Civic Tech Skunkworks Sketch City

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston—For Sketch City founder Jeff Reichman, a guiding philosophy is love to learn.

“If you follow that, you’re going to learn all sorts of cool stuff,” he says. “You can get a unique mix of skills and position yourself for really interesting stuff in your career.”

The Philadelphia native came to Houston in 2009 to follow a former partner and her new job, and ended up staying. “I’ve been on a journey on following what I’m interested in and moving my work in that direction,” he says. “It’s fulfilling and I get to meet all these awesome people.”

Reichman has an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in creative writing from Temple University but has seen his professional interests evolve toward innovation efforts in Houston, particularly civic tech projects. (“I taught myself to code, but I would say I’m not the best coder in the world,” he says.) During Hurricane Harvey, Reichman helped to lead the development of various websites that sought to connect evacuees to rescue crews as well as resources like shelter and donated household items.

This week, we have “Five Questions For” Reichman, who speaks about the important art of diplomacy, making friends like when you were a kid, and man’s best friend. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: Who do you admire and why?

Jeff Reichman: I really admire … there’s so many safe answers, there’s so many not-safe answers. I guess the worldview of Kurt Vonnegut. He has such a balance of humor and sadness and optimism in the face of adversity that there’s something about how that comes together that’s really inspiring to me.

X: What did your 25-year-old self know that you have forgotten?

JR: I try not to forget what I was like at 25 or even 5-years-old. I remember vividly as a young toddler to just meet new people and make friends with other kids. Before school gets complicated and life gets complicated. I try to keep that in mind. It’s really easy to go out there and see the best in people. That’s what I try to do.

X: What career advice do you give to new college graduates?

JR: Start working on projects, side projects, and just hustle. Build skills and learn what you like to do. If you can work on projects that make a difference to the community, then even better.

… You find out what you’re interested in and go work on projects in that world.

X: If you got stranded on a desert island, what’s the one thing you would have to have with you?

JR: Aside from all my friends and family and stuff? … I would really want my dog, Vinny, to be there with me. He’s a survival buddy. He’s always got his eyes and ears open.

X: What leadership lessons did you get from your parents?

JR: I think I learned a lot of diplomatic lessons from my parents, the way to have hard conversations but do it in gentle ways. I think that my parents set a really good example for being intellectually engaged and reading the newspaper every day and knowing what’s going on in the world. Every time I’m thinking about something, I can always talk to them and they can give me good advice.