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A holiday lights display was better than a résumé for this Silicon Valley exec


On a cold December night, 54-year-old engineer Mark Robins opened a laptop computer inside his son’s room to show the software program he makes use of to manage the ten,000 lights that adorn his home and yard. They illuminate an assortment of sweet canes, gift-wrapped containers and animals, together with a flamingo, an owl, a reindeer and a small canine that resembles his aged mutt, Oscar. A button on the entrance of the yard invitations passersby to synchronize the lights to considered one of 25 Christmas, pop and rock tunes.

Robins pulled up the Earth, Wind & Fireplace music “September,” which is related to 16 “channels” tied to strings of lights round his home and yard. For each minute of music, it takes an hour to program precisely how he needs the lights to flash.

“All these little symbols on listed here are telling that mild to go on at the moment within the music,” Robins stated. “I like constructing issues, after which in the event you can construct one thing that different folks can admire and revel in and get some happiness out of, that’s even higher.”

Impressed by a Christmas lights show he noticed at Walt Disney World years in the past, Robins thought he would sprinkle just a little pixie mud on his Silicon Valley neighborhood. And the reward was extra than simply vacation cheer — it helped land him a senior job at a high-profile streaming firm.

“I wasn’t attempting to get a job once I did this,” Robins stated. “However, you recognize, serendipitous issues occur on a regular basis. In a means, it’s kind of like making your personal luck, proper?”

Householders nationwide have spent massive cash on vacation shows through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A man looks at a computer next to a picture window out to his decorated yard.

Children press the play button on the pink desk to start out the musical mild present as Mark Robins, left, checks on the pc program in Palo Alto.

(Paul Kuroda / For The Occasions)

This 12 months, customers are anticipated to spend $67.10 per particular person on vacation decorations, up about $4 from 2021, in accordance with the Nationwide Retail Federation commerce group. A search on YouTube exhibits a bunch of houses with elaborate synchronization, together with one in Riverside the place music is piped by way of a radio frequency that viewers can tune into on their automobiles.

Robins spent about $3,000 on his mild present, which did greater than impress his neighbors.

In 2020, Robins — then head of Intel’s company A.I. technique — wrote in his household’s Christmas letter that he was automating his residence in Palo Alto with a sensible irrigation system, thermostat and grill. On the similar time, his mild present was gaining popularity — that 12 months it gained town’s folks’s alternative award, beating former Yahoo Chief Government Marissa Mayer, Robins stated.

The sunshine present and letter caught the eye of Anthony Wooden, chief government of Roku, who lives within the neighborhood.

The San Jose-based firm is thought for its gadgets and working software program that join TVs to many streaming companies. Wooden despatched an e-mail to Robins, complimenting him on his mild present and talked about that Roku had an formidable good residence undertaking underway and that the corporate was searching for anyone to run it. Was Robins ?

Charlie Brown Christmas lights.

Musically synced vacation lights at Mark Robins residence in Palo Alto, Calif.

(Paul Kuroda / For The Occasions)

“He type of put these two issues collectively and noticed my type of ardour for that area,” Robins stated.

Robins, who was already a Roku consumer, was recreation to fulfill for espresso. The job could be main the corporate’s new good residence division, launching a complete new class of things that Roku had not offered earlier than, together with good mild bulbs, safety cameras and doorbells.

A dangerous wager for some, however not for Robins, who beforehand had co-founded and led a startup that was later offered.

Lighted red and yellow candy canes and a Christmas tree in a front yard.

Musically synced vacation lights at Mark Robins’ residence in Palo Alto.

(Paul Kuroda / For The Occasions)

“Constructing firms, constructing companies, creating one thing from nothing or little or no is absolutely thrilling for me,” Robins stated.

After a rigorous job interview course of, he joined Roku in Might 2021, overseeing a workforce of a whole bunch of workers worldwide. Roku launched its new good residence merchandise in October at Walmart.

“It was clear the dedication, ardour and creativity Mark displayed together with his mild present, alongside together with his spectacular profession résumé, could be an incredible addition to Roku’s management workforce,” stated Mustafa Ozgen, the corporate’s president of gadgets, who’s Robins’ boss.

Robins says his inspiration for the sunshine present got here after a memorable go to to Walt Disney World in 2013, when he, his spouse, Kim, and their three youngsters watched the Osborne Household Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

The present, which synced to music and hundreds of thousands of lights throughout a number of buildings, got here to Disney World after the corporate made a cope with Jennings Osborne, whose mild show in Little Rock, Ark., drew a lot site visitors that he was sued by his neighbors.

Robins requested his youngsters in the event that they want to see a light-weight present like that at their home. They screamed, “Sure!”

It took him a number of years, however in 2017, Robins introduced his first mild present to Palo Alto.

His eldest daughter, Gillian, turned to him and stated, “Wow, you stated you had been going to do it and you probably did it” — a second Robins cherishes.

“So I suppose there may be some type of life lesson in there,” he stated.

Establishing the present is an elaborate course of.

Three weeks earlier than Thanksgiving, Robins will get to work, unraveling strings of lights out of six plastic containers and spending 12 hours over a number of weekends setting all the things up. His spouse holds a ladder for Robins as he climbs the roof to mount the ice skating Charlie Brown and different Peanuts characters. He additionally will get help from his daughter Krista, who wraps strings of lights round one of many massive bushes within the yard.

Deer figures with Christmas lights.

Musically synced vacation lights at Mark Robins’ residence in Palo Alto.

(Paul Kuroda / For The Occasions)

The system is so complicated that he wants a Google doc to map plugs and
extension cords that hyperlink 16 strands of lights and decorations to a most important controller field outdoors his home. An ethernet cable hyperlinks the controller to a chosen laptop computer inside the home that runs the sunshine present.

A brief cable from the laptop computer’s headphone jack runs to a close-by amplifier, and cables from the amp are related to 2 audio system hanging outdoors below the eaves. Energy is fed to the amp by a Roku Out of doors Good Plug that sits by the sidewalk, the place a lighted-up signal invitations passersby to push a button on the plug to start out the present in as much as 15-minute increments.

On a latest weeknight, neighbor Lisbeth Winarsky strolled by Robins’ home together with her husband and canine Stella, and stated, “Oh, let’s push the button.” Purple, white and inexperienced lights flashed as Mariah Carey sang, “I don’t need lots of Christmas, there is only one factor I would like…”

As Winarsky listened to the music, a person walked by the sunshine present. Winarsky launched herself, and the 2 remarked how the person’s title was much like her father’s title.

“I feel that’s some of the useful issues you are able to do along with your civic life is to deliver folks collectively and create a way of neighborhood, so I’m all the time very grateful to them for doing this,” 70-year-old Winarsky stated.

The enjoyment of seeing folks push the button extends contained in the Robins’ residence too. Generally, when relations are watching a film on their TV, Robins’ mother visiting from New Jersey will exclaim, “We received a pusher!”

Over time, he’s added extra songs to the combination. When he hears a Christmas music on the radio, he imagines how he’d program it to the dancing lights in his head. Generally after a late-night programming session, he’ll excitedly sprint outdoors at 1 a.m. and run a demo (with the music quantity low) to test on his work.

Generally he marvels at how his passion became a job.

“I might encourage individuals who have a passion that probably others can admire to make an effort to get it in entrance of as many individuals as you’ll be able to,” he stated. “And who is aware of what’s going to occur?”


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