In Memory of Erik Cassel
by David Baszucki
Yesterday morning, Erik Cassel, my co-founder at ROBLOX, passed away. Erik had been battling cancer for the past three years and his passing is a deep loss. I have worked with Erik for over 20 years, first at a company called Knowledge Revolution, then since the start of ROBLOX. I would like to tell you about Erik, and how his incredible talents continue to shine through in ROBLOX.
I first met Erik right after he had graduated from Cornell University. At the time I had just founded a company called Knowledge Revolution. We were developing educational software for teaching physics. Erik read about our product in MacUser magazine, and flew out to interview. During the interview Erik showed me an awesome piece of software he wrote for the physics department of Cornell. It was elegant, fast, and hinted at Erik’s incredible talents.
Knowledge Revolution went on to win many, many awards for our products — Interactive Physics and Working Model. Erik was our VP of Engineering. His style was completely open and honest, and he always made decisions based on what was best for the team. Erik was referred to as “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get) by a famous VC. He was also extremely nice to everyone he met, even people he didn’t quite get along with. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who ever met Erik who didn’t think of him as warm, kind and welcoming.
Interactive Physics was used by millions of students around the world, and was an early version of many 2D physics sandbox games you see today (20 years ago!). Knowledge Revolution was eventually purchased by MSC.Software, at that time the leading provider of engineering simulation software. Erik and I both took senior roles in the company, but after a few years, we both left.
Erik and I kept in touch. We reminisced about how users of Interactive Physics software used it for fun rather than school! Kids would build all kinds of funny contraptions with the product. We talked about what would be our ultimate idea for an online toy – a 3D world that was completely physically simulated, where users could build, share and play.
Erik and I worked on the original ROBLOX product for two years in an office in Menlo Park, CA. We spent every day designing, talking, and coding. Erik was so incredibly talented.
Erik took many of my hokey, short-sighted design ideas and made them elegant and extensible. It was Erik who first thought ROBLOX needed an API and scripting engine rather than the more hard-wired approach that I had suggested.
When Erik built something, he always built it right. There was never a question of a hack or a band-aid or a bolt-on with Erik when it came to software engineering. In certain cases, knowing that something was going to be short lived or replaced, Erik would suggest a “quick and dirty” solution, but it was always a very deliberate and conscious decision. After learning of his cancer, Erik worked selflessly to make sure his knowledge and insights were transferred to members of the ROBLOX engineering team.
All of us at ROBLOX will miss Erik deeply. He will always be a role model to me and to all who worked with him. We celebrate the time we have been able to spend with him. Erik was incredibly talented, but I will always think of him as the “nicest guy I’ve ever met.”
Many members of the ROBLOX team have spent many years as friends and colleagues of Erik. Here are some of their reflections.
I first met Erik in January, 1997 when I applied to be a part-time customer service engineer for Knowledge Revolution. A few friends kept telling me about this cool little company that made physics simulation software for Boeing, Lockheed, & Ford. Erik was VP of Engineering, and David Baszucki was CEO. In a short time, I learned the secret of Knowledge Revolution’s success — Dave’s Audacity of Vision coupled with Erik’s Capacity to Deliver. They were optimistic and fast, and no other company I looked at could compete. I was thrilled to receive a full time offer to work on Erik’s team.
Erik taught me to be an engineer. I had just finished my 10th or so year of engineering school, but I hadn’t learned to be an engineer until I met Erik. Engineering is about iterating. It’s getting something working and making it better. It’s making something better by watching it work. My education taught me to think, understand and plan. Erik taught me to do and learn.
Erik’s unique talent was being able to instantly shift from rapid prototyping to delivering the highest quality production code. Erik built much of ROBLOX’s original web infrastructure, and we marvel today at how much it has scaled, and, especially, at how one person built so much, so well, in so little time. It is beyond unique. Over the years, Erik continuously inspired me to iterate, to deliver fast, and to know when to demand quality. His spirit is the basis of our engineering culture, and his conduct inspired the ROBLOX core values.
Though Erik had a profound impact on my career, I will always remember him first and foremost as a friend. We watched a ton of movies together, mostly really bad ones, but that was good. He helped my wife and I move into our first house. He shared in my daughter’s arrival, and we celebrated birthdays together. We shared many a beer, and lots of good food. We shared laughter most of all, and I am comforted to know that I put more than a few smiles on his already smiling face.
I liked Erik immediately and immensely. He was an incredible guy; a genuine, fundamentally decent human being. It has been a pleasure over the years to come to know him both as a colleague and as a friend, and it saddens me deeply to realize that the journey together only goes this far.
To anybody who spent much time in Erik’s company, it quickly became apparent that he was gifted in many ways. He possessed a formidable intellect, a generous spirit, uncanny engineering instincts, a joyful sense of humor and an industrious work ethic, just to name a few. But I think Erik’s greatest gift was one that is less conspicuous, in that you couldn’t see it by looking at him. Rather, you had to look to yourself and those around you to appreciate Erik’s wonderful ability to inspire. Working alongside him, I routinely found myself wanting to accomplish more audacious things, to undertake them with a higher standard of excellence, to worry less about why some people say they can’t be done and find out simply by doing. That was Erik’s way, of course, and it was contagious.
I’m proud to have worked together with Erik at ROBLOX and honored to have been his friend. The grief over losing him is great, but the inspiration that comes from having known him is greater still. Thank you, Erik. I miss you already.
I met Erik when I joined his and Dave’s pre-ROBLOX company, Knowledge Revolution. This was my first “real” job after grad school and, needless to say, I was a little intimidated with the change of scenery and my new responsibilities. These concerns were soon assuaged working with Erik, as I was instantly struck by what a kind, helpful, brilliant and humble person he was. With Erik there was no ego, no arrogance, no impatience — just unmitigated sweetness and willingness to help, to teach and to solve whatever problem was in front of him, effectively and elegantly.
Of course, it was immediately clear to me Erik could work magic as a programmer. Yet as I grew to know him better, I was able to see what an amazing person he was in so many other ways. Everything Erik did, he approached with passion, creativity and respect — and he treated all of his many successes with quick deflection of praise to others. Some years later, Erik and I carpooled from San Francisco to San Mateo; during the commute we discussed projects and technical problems from work. Bay Area traffic being what it is, we also had time to discuss many other topics, from our favorite bands to San Francisco restaurants to epic mountain biking trails to politics, and throughout all these times I was constantly reminded of the same sweet, passionate and brilliant person who helped me years earlier. It is rare when you meet someone who so genuinely and completely possesses all of these qualities. I feel grateful to have known Erik.
Very vividly I recall the first time that I met Dave and Erik in June of 2006. I was about to graduate from Stanford with a degree in Computer Science, and I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I had job offers from Google and Microsoft (to be a project manager on Halo!) in-hand. But I went to interview at ROBLOX, a small startup company that I had been told about by a professor who used to work with Dave at Knowledge Revolution. In the end, I felt like the three of us, Erik, Dave, and I, just clicked. I was sold on an audacious vision that we could build something insanely great.
In that old office, I used to sit directly across from Erik. Poor guy. I think I asked him a programming question every hour for my first six months on the job. He never once seemed bothered by this. He was very generous with both his time and knowledge. Before coming to work at ROBLOX, I thought I was a hotshot developer – but really I was just a stone mason. Erik was an architect. He could think about deep problems with a mental discipline that most people will never possess. Finally, he was as kind, tolerant, and passionate a person as I have ever known. He will be sorely missed.
Erik Cassel Memorial Place
Erik Cassel was passionate about ROBLOX, and he shared that passion with his sons. The Erik Cassel Memory Place was made by Erik’s boys to celebrate his memory. We at ROBLOX are proud to share their creation with you. If you’d like to show your support for Erik, his family and what he brought to ROBLOX, don’t hesitate to pay the memorial a visit.