Cool Skin: Ink and Multi-Threaded Coding

Since 1997, Pepper Mint — and yes that’s his real name — has specialized in high performance multi-threaded coding, particularly in data translation and transmission layers for Art Technology Group, now part of Oracle. He loves his work, he loves having tattoos, and he’s more than happy to talk about them.

How many tattoos do you have?

I’ve got four and they’re on my arms and shoulders.

What the story behind your first one?

Pepper Mint TattoosIn 1998, when I was 23, I got a vine around my bicep.  It was at Mardi Gras and it was a bit of a whim. That said, I was feeling the urge to put beautiful things on my skin, to adorn. That’s the motivation that has brought me to the rest of my tattoos, as well.

My girlfriend and I both decided to get one after seeing a woman on the bus with a nice tattoo. We stopped by a random tattoo shop and picked patterns out of the books. I liked the vine because it was pretty and I already had an inkling that I would be going for plant tattoos.

After the tattooist was done with mine, he went to put ink on my girlfriend. He had been drinking milk out of a bottle the entire time. After my tattoo, he shared some with me and I realized the milk was full of booze, probably Kahlua. That convinced me that I should really do the work to find high-quality tattooists. That first vine kind of looks like it was done by a drunk dude.

What is your favorite piece?

With each tattoo I get, I become more persnickety about the quality. So, my most recent tattoo is the best and my favorite. It’s an arm tattoo with two different sorts of flowers: passion flowers and blue water lilies. I picked the passion flowers because we had them growing in my front yard, and the lilies because they’re the suspected to be the flower from the Greek story of the lotus eaters. I go for life-like flower tattoos, and so I brought in pictures of both types of flowers and took the passion flower pictures myself. While the tattoo is only a partial sleeve, it’s painstakingly intricate and the work took about 10 hours to complete over a number of sessions. The tattoo was done without edge lines, or rather the edge lines were done initially in a very light grey, which faded quickly. This gives the tattoo a painted-on look, and the work gets a lot of admiring comments.

Who created your favorite body art?

My two most recent tattoos were done by Philip Milic of Old Crow Tattoo in Oakland. I’ve always really liked his style and manner with flowers. He’s an amazing artist as well as a tattooist, so the art he draws for the work is incredible, resulting in really gorgeous ink.

Are you planning to get any more?

Eventually I want to get a full back tattoo. Again, this would be a bunch of flowers. I’ve held off both because I don’t feel like I’ve finalized the design and because of the time and money commitment. If I do it the way I want, it would probably cost $3,000 or more and take a lot of visits.

Do you have any other art on your body? Like piercings?

I don’t have any piercings. My body seems to not like them very much. However, I do have shoulder-length hair which is always blue or purple.

Have you ever gotten any flack for the tattoos at work?

Pepper MintI’ve never had a problem at this job. When I joined I didn’t actually have any tattoos, and given the startup environment it wouldn’t have mattered if I did. By the time the company got big enough where someone might have actually cared, I was so well-respected that it never came up. That said, I definitely lost a summer job in college over my alternative appearance, which was only the hair at that point.

I’m not too worried about my appearance for any hypothetical future job eeking. I live in California and eccentric-looking programmers are common around here. I figure that while it might have an effect, it’s just one more minor thing in a list of job considerations on both sides of the equation.

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