HomePostsJan 21, 2024

Goodbye Vittorio Bertocci

I wasn't sure if I wanted to write about this publicly, or at all. When you write a blog, there's a part of you that knows each post is performative and makes you self-conscious about certain topics. You have to ask yourself, is it important to say this out loud to the world or should you process this on your own? In this case, I would like as many people as possible to know what kind of person this world is now missing.

I don't need or want to spell out the details of Vittorio's life here. If you aren't familiar with him already, you can find some of his professional accomplishments on the Auth0 post about his passing. I want to just say a few words out loud about what Vittorio meant to me and what kind of impact he had on my life.

Vittorio Bertocci

In 2019, after just over a year at Auth0, I was asked if I wanted to come to the office every month and assist with the engineering onboarding class. I was hesitant to accept as the commute was quite long and I wasn't sure exactly what my role would be. After some consideration, I said yes and started down a career path of which I would become quite proud.

The class was lead by Vittorio, a rock star in the identity industry. I was not familiar with his name at the time but his presence was enough to tell me that he was someone special (well, that and students asking him to autograph his book). As soon as he started teaching, though, I realized that he had more than just presence, he truly had a gift. I watched him give the same presentations several times in a row and never lost interest. He had a singular way with words and metaphors that kept you totally plugged into what he has saying.

After attending several sessions as a teacher's assistant, I was asked if I would take over teaching the class. It felt like an incredible opportunity but these were enormous shoes to fill. How would I ever be able to get in front of a class full of engineers, architects, and other technical folks and do what Vittorio does? With a dry mouth and a flaring inferiority complex, I said "yes" and began studying in earnest. I watched his Learn Identity series of videos over and over, his accent and figures of speech lodging themselves deep in my brain. I read about token exchange and DPOP and mTLS, concepts he talked about for less than a minute in class, wanting to be prepared for when questions inevitably came up.

Vittorio Bertocci

During this time, Vittorio would meet with me, answer questions, and give feedback on the class. He was an incredibly busy guy, flying all over the world to give talks and perpetually involved with internal consultations, complex customer solutions, and any number of triple-digit message Slack threads. But when you had his attention, you had it. I wouldn't call Vittorio a perfectionist, someone as productive as him couldn't afford to be. But if he was involved in it then it needed to be done correctly. From the Learn Identity videos to the onboarding classes to SDK design, Vittorio had a strong opinion and he would take the time to get you to where his head was at.

Vittorio was very direct with his feedback, sometimes to the point where you hoped that the next comment would come with some sugar-coating. If you said something incorrectly or he disagreed with your point, he was going to make it clear. I never felt like he crossed a line with me but I did leave a few conversations considering whether I should continue taking over the class or not.

His directness, however, pushed me harder to understand the material and eventually run the entire class for close to a year (up until COVID had its way with us). His input on software design and user experience and security and business impact influenced so many things that I was involved in. If Vittorio was part of something, he made it his mission to make it better. He gave me his time, attention, and guidance and left me with a deep understanding of digital identity that has helped me make connections and contributions that I would not have been able to otherwise.

Something Vittorio and I shared was a love of understanding broad problem spaces and sharing that understanding with other people in creative ways. I was always impressed by his ability to break down complicated concepts and explain things in a way that was clear and engaging. He showed me that digital identity as a concept, something that easily could be dry and opaque to most people, can be fun and interesting. I was able to see that in the students I taught during engineering onboarding and it was such a great feeling. One engineer looked up at me after parsing through her OAuth-like Gmail login request, big smile on her face, and said, "wow, this stuff is really interesting!" These are my people.

I was given a unique and valuable gift being mentored by Vittorio, in both obvious and not obvious ways. I hope to pass at least a bit of that along to others in the remainder of my career.

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