When I was 13, my friend David, who was a few years older, had an early MG Midget that he and his father worked on all the time. I got involved with their projects — soon, everyone in my friend group had also gravitated to old cars in some way. We had a small posse (myself, David, Jack, and Lee) who all helped each other with our cars. It was the mid-1970s, so the car culture was still very strong. We alternated from racing sailboats to rebuilding cars. It was a magical time. When I was 14, I bought my own car, a 1960 Peugeot. As a teenager, I wanted to grow up and feel in control of my life. I wanted to prove that I could solve adult problems — cars provided me with that outlet. I could take a broken piece of machinery and bring it back to life and prove that by driving it on the roads. Other kids had cars, but I could build a car. That felt rewarding and powerful to me.
My name is Scott Lehman but my friends call me “Opie”. I was given that nickname on my third day as an undergraduate at SMU due to my uncanny resemblance to Ron Howard’s character in The Andy Griffith Show (despite my protestations, the name stuck). I am in my 36th year of the software business, and I am fortunate to be the CTO of an interesting consulting company in Boulder, Colorado named Techtonic. I lead a growing team of technologists in the pursuit of solving customers’ needs through software development. We are a full service consulting company focusing on web and cloud-based solutions for customers large and small. Our software apprenticeship program allows otherwise talented technologists an on-ramp to a career in technology without requiring a computer science degree. I am blessed with the opportunity to use my 36 years of experience to guide our apprentices into becoming passionate technologists and hopefully true software craftsmen.
Outside of my job, I especially enjoy designing and fabricating specialized parts for my cars. My first car was a 1960 Peugeot 403 sedan. It was the 4 door version of the car Columbo drove in the 1970s eponymous TV show. That car offered my first experience with almost everything related to cars: dealing with hydraulics, rusted fuel systems, rebuilding carburetors, learning how to lift and support a car, and working stripped bolts. My toolkit consisted of a single ratchet, nine sockets, two screwdrivers and three hammers. My mother let me use the back of our grass driveway as my workshop, which offered no cover. But I didn’t care. I was in heaven. It took me 4 years to get that car back on the roads just in time for me to take it to college my freshman year. It was totalled a year later when I was rear-ended on an entrance ramp to the freeway.
As an adult, I follow a traditional approach to car restoration. First, I disassemble the entire car down to the last nut and bolt. I modify the cars I restore quite heavily, so I dispose of any of the parts that I will not use. I then make whatever modifications to the body that are required to fit my vision, source body parts as necessary, and get the whole thing off to the body shop for the pros to do the bodywork. This can take as much as a year, so I generally want to get that started early. I then begin restoring individual component pieces which usually involves quite a bit of sandblasting and cadmium plating. There are always loads of repairs, engineering, and fabricating to do to solve problems of wear and broken bits. I then assemble the subcomponents (like the differential, engine, front suspension, steering, braking, dash, and electrical system), which will then be installed when the body is ready. I also make my own wiring harnesses and electrical control systems, so my living room floor has wiring looms taped to it for months at a time. Once the body is back from the body shop, I begin assembly, sorting and adjusting. Eventually, from all of the parts and ideas in my head, a car emerges in my garage.
When it comes to car restoration, I only work on Austin Healey Sprites and MG Midgets from 1958-1964. They are known as Bugeye Sprites (Frogeye Sprites in the UK) and straight body Sprites and Midgets. They have no door handles and side curtains instead of windows. My friend David, who got me started messing around with cars, had an early Midget. And another one of the friends in my childhood posse had a Bugeye. I fell in love with that car, so I bought one when I had the chance. Right now, I still own the 1964 Austin Healey Sprite I bought when I was 18. I also own a 1960 Bugeye Sprite that is nearing the end of its restoration.
When I rebuilt the red Sprite the last time, it was my opportunity to build it exactly as I wanted without regard to money. Not that it was exorbitantly expensive, but the only design and build constraints were my imagination and desire. At the time, I was watching the movie Le Mans with Steve McQueen almost every day. That movie (the cars in it and the spirit of Le Mans) really speaks to my soul. I thought if I could reproduce my own Le Mans experience, that would be perfect. I designed the Sprite so it was as much like a Le Mans car from the 1960 era as I could. I could then come home from a stressful day, get in my Sprite, and within a few minutes be barreling down the country roads and my imagination takes me back to that magical time in history. It is my stress reliever. When I get my blue Bugeye Sprite finished, I can enlist a friend to chase each other around the country roads east of Boulder for that true Le Mans experience.
I think my proudest moment with car restoration was when I restored my Sprite as a street legal race car and drove it from Texas to California in 1986. It was the culmination of a great deal of hard work and a real vision come true. I proved that I could design and build my own car and drive it long distances. It filled me with pride of accomplishment and was a springboard to the other accomplishments in my life. I was also very proud when I successfully restored the same car some 25 years later in time to chauffeur my daughter to her 5th-grade prom. She was very proud of me, and that is as good as it gets for a Dad.
Right now, I am satisfied with my involvement with car restoration as it is. I am able to make my cars exactly the way I want them without having to compromise or reach consensus with anyone. It is the perfect outlet for expressing my artistic and engineering vision that I cannot get working on software with teams of developers. I may make a few more of these cars, but for the most part, it is just keeping them going and making improvements as I see fit. I have toyed with the idea of selling kits that contain the 20 or so specialized parts that I have designed for these cars. So maybe that is in my future.
I absolutely think that car restoration has been a benefit to my technological career – all of the lessons I learned turning wrenches prepared me to be able to understand and be successful with software development. When I decided to rebuild the Sprite again to make it a street legal race car, I made friends with some race car builders. They introduced me to their philosophy. They acted like surgeons. They measured everything carefully and took the time to make cardboard templates, they cleaned each part meticulously and kept their work areas spotless. They were craftsmen. I began to emulate their passion for simplicity, quality, planning, risk assessment, and durability. I allowed that sense of craftsmanship to inform my journey into software. It took me many years to become a true software craftsman, but it was driven in part by my adoption of the same principles when designing and building my cars. Each informed the other.
My advice to car enthusiasts is to find a car that you love and jump into it. And unless you are rich, find a car that is affordable. It’s hard to do all of the jobs in a restoration well. So decide what you are able to do and what gives you joy and leave the rest to others. I do not have a passion for bodywork, so I hire that out. But don’t be afraid to tackle something that seems hard. I was afraid of transmissions, but they are fun once you get into them. If you have children, try to get them involved. Let them noodle over a complex problem and coach them when they get stuck. Show your passion for the underlying lessons being learned: self-reliance, system design, accomplishments that you can see and touch, artistic expression, problem-solving, and focused self-directed learning. Too much of our lives are driven by computers. Working on technology that predates computers is refreshing and reminds us of the satisfaction that comes from problem-solving with our hands.
Finally, I’d like to say how important it is to share the passion of technologists. I love software technology in the same way that I love cars. The current name for that passion is being a “Maker”. Being driven to create something novel from whole cloth is a predictor of success in the technology business. None of us in the technology space would be where we are without our other passions. I believe software development is fundamentally a creative mashup of engineering and art. Because software is entirely virtual, it requires imagination and the ability to think in an abstract way. Most of the people that I know who are successful in software have some mix of passions that match that pattern. I am pleased as punch that Otia.io is exposing these connections.