How ancient infrastructure reminds me of my purpose and place on the journey01 October, 2021 | Joel Worrall | No comments

Most people who get to know me well find out that I’ve got an interest in ancient technology and infrastructure - particularly ancient roads. I’m fascinated by their construction but moreso by their impact on people. The roads built to allow invading armies to enact terrible violence and injustice were the same highways that empowered economic and cultural exchange, influenced art, enabled world-changing ideas to spread, and drove innovation in communication technology.

Roads are influential infrastructure, and building one is a consequential act.

In many ways, I’ve seen my career as being in the road-building business, but where my highways have been digital products and software platforms.

Roman road subways

Image credit to Sasha Trubetskoy for the inspired artwork

Roads as reminders

As a reminder that my work has purpose, for the last several years, I’ve used this photo as my desktop background. It’s a depection of the 1st century Roman road system as a modern subway map. For me, the ancient/future feel of the image connects the information superhighway of 2000 years ago to what the Internet and the solutions we build on it are for our world today.

It reminds me:

  • That infrastructure is not morally neutral; it affects people both for good and evil,
  • and therefore, what we’re optimizing for when we build roads matters.
  • And yet, building a road doesn’t mean you control the journey.

A season at Stripe

In 2021, that focus on infrastructure has taken shape in leading frontend platform at Stripe, building UI infra (people, processes, and tech) in one of larger payment infra companies of the Internet (very meta :)). It’s been good work with good people, making a trajectory-changing impact in an organization and building a winning culture. I've been gratified to discover (and I really mean discover) what it takes to make a difference in a company like Stripe.

But the season has also reminded me that I don’t control the journey. Joining Stripe wasn’t on my 2020 plan, nor was the decision to leave less than a year later; but that’s the road I’m on today... and in ways unforeseen to me at the time, the journey started in 2004.

Meeting Dave

2004 was a consequential year for me, full of some good and bad choices, one of which changed the trajectory of my life for the better (notably, as a future father and person of faith). At age 26, I enrolled part-time in a small seminary in Central Pennsylvania called Evangelical and met a man named Dave Dorsey who knew a thing or two about ancient roads.

Dave and his motorcycle

20-something Dave and his motorcycle, street-level in Israel and sporting a bold where's-waldo-themed look :)

Dave spent his twenties riding around on a motorcycle in Palestine/Israel charting the Iron Age road system of ancient Israel; and though I doubt he’d ever have claimed expertise in any subject, he literally wrote the book on this one. Dave was my Hebrew Bible professor, my mentor, and one of the people who had the biggest influences on my life - not just because of what he taught but how he taught it. I learned how to study the Bible in its historical and literary context under Dave, and I discovered that it was one of the things about which I was most passionate.

Eventually, seminary ended (it took 11 years of part-time study to graduate, and I often quipped that I was a tenure-track student). I never had a plan for why I was in seminary, and I certainly never imagined that my passion for building digital products and platforms would ever intersect with my interest in reading, studying, and teaching the Bible; but, again, I’m slowly (so very slowly) learning that I don’t call the shots on the journey - only how I respond to the road in front of me.

An unexpected invitation

Fast forward to this Summer and a day when I received a job description (forwarded by a dear friend from CURE days) from an organization my family supports for a role that read like a big piece of my life story.

(Paraphrased) Wanted: someone who knows at-scale technology products, open source, online learning systems, go-to-market, nonprofit, growing organizations, etc.; who values creativity, technology, and people; who has a passion for helping people read, study, and teach the Bible in its historical and literary context. Come join one of the most prevalent platforms to do this work. Remote friendly. Apply within.

(Unsolicited advice: if you ever read your life in a job description, just apply. It’s better than wondering what if.)

I didn’t know anyone at the organization, and so I didn’t have any expectation that someone would reply; but if only to get the thought out of my head, I sent a resume... and then settled back into my work at Stripe. But then someone did reply; and throughout the next six weeks, I met so many good people and received confirmation after confirmation that this path - though unexpected - was good.

Before I knew it, I'd been offered a job that months before I had never imagined could exist; and though the decision involved a lot of family conversation and counsel from wise friends, the choice was obvious (first to Cre and then to Eliana and Adalie, with me as the last one to "get it").

Learning from Lady Wisdom

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised that “not my plan” was the road to take. Our experience tracks with what God’s direction for living life well, personified in Proverbs as a character called Lady Wisdom, has to say about finding the good road and living a good life:

My child, never forget the things I have taught you.
Store my commands in your heart.
If you do this, you will live many years,
and your life will be satisfying.

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which [road] to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
Then you will have healing for your body
and strength for your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
and your vats will overflow with good wine.

Proverbs 3:1-10, NLT

Joining BibleProject

And so today, I’m nervously excited to share that we've joined BibleProject!

I'll be serving as the Chief Product Officer.

If you're unfamiliar, BibleProject is a nonprofit, ed-tech organization and animation studio that produces videos, podcasts, blogs, classes, and educational resources (with more coming in 2022 :)) to help make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere.

It's all 100% free thanks to a global community of generous supporters.


To all the friends who've offered support, thank you for walking with me (with a special shout out to Cre for her confidence and counsel and Mel for his encouragement). Thanks also to my (now) former team in the frontend platform org at Stripe and especially my former boss Leslie and partner peers, Aitor, Bowen, and Yuliya who were all so supportive. And finally, thank you to the team at BibleProject who have already welcomed me. I'm grateful to all of you.

I didn't expect this turn in the journey and don't know where the road leads; but I believe its consequential and ultimately good, and so, I'm thankful to be right here, right now.