Be your own Juke Box Hero

Donald Raab
7 min readJul 6, 2024


Today is the day. You only get one shot. Just do it.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

What are you looking, waiting, hoping for?

You make your own moments. You can be your own “Juke Box Hero.” You just have to find your medium, choose your “song” and get to it.

Hardly anyone wants to be that person that gets up on stage, unrehearsed, with a live band to sing the lead vocals of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. Then there is that one person who does.

My coworkers were egging me on. No one else wanted to go up and sing with a live band. So I went up and looked at the song list. They were all songs from rock bands. Guns and Roses, Metallica, etc. I chose the song I thought my friend Vlad would like the most. This was his night. We were celebrating his move to a new team, and I wanted to thank him for all the amazing lessons and memories. I knew Vlad liked Metallica. There it was in front of me. Enter Sandman. Right. I told the band manager my song choice and thought, I’m doomed!

He heard one guitar, just blew him away
-”Juke Box Hero”, Foreigner (1981)

No one expected what happened when a soft-spoken, mild mannered, shy software developer stepped on stage that night. Yes, this was thirty-something year old me with the microphone, business casual dress style, head banging, and air guitar. I summoned my inner death metal voice, and let it go!

He’s a juke box hero, got stars in his eyes
-“Juke Box Hero”, Foreigner (1981)

No one was more surprised than me at what transpired that night in 2006 at my friend Vlad’s celebratory drinks. I love karaoke, and have sung way more bad renditions of songs than I care to remember. My voice cracks regularly, I sing off tune, but I always have an amazing time with friends, family and co-workers. I sing for the entertainment value, not the quality. Usually after a few stellar failures, I find my voice and can deliver a memorable song or two.

You don’t know what you have in you until you are pressed to deliver.

Failures are forgotten

In sixth grade, I was one of two high sopranos in the Vermont All State choir. I used to be able to sing high notes that very few folks, including my older self, could ever hope to sing. I haven’t been a high soprano since then. When I sing at karaoke, I like to tell folks I know where the notes are, I just can’t get to them any more. Sometimes I’ll use a falsetto to sing unexpectedly high notes. This has made my rendition of C&C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat one of my regularly requested songs by my family and friends at karaoke outings. I sing the male and female vocals in the song. I don’t know if my falsetto works very well any more, but I always give it my best effort.

I discovered a love for karaoke while celebrating my thirtieth birthday in Turks and Caicos. My first ever karaoke song was Piano Man by Billy Joel. I’m sure it sounded terrible, but I was hooked.

I’ve sung terrible renditions of songs at karaoke outings for the past two decades. I’ve sung a few surprisingly good ones along the way. I have zero fear of failing at karaoke. I was well known for travelling around the world with my portable karaoke machine in my luggage. I believed I could get any karaoke naysayers to change their tune in one evening. I was often right.

My portable Karaoke Machine has made it to England, Japan, and India

I’ve done karaoke outings in Tokyo, London and Bangalore. I even kicked off an acapellaoke evening in India one night, where I started the night off singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight without any music. Try to imagine an evening of music created solely by folks who work together without any actual background music to assist. We looked up lyrics on the internet with our BlackBerrys. Everyone had an amazing time. This is teamwork at its finest.

I gave my first public talk in 2010. In August 2017, I finally started blogging publicly on Medium. I’ve written 195 blogs since then. It took the guy who wasn’t afraid to sing Metallica on stage with a live band all these years to find the confidence to share his voice publicly through speaking and writing.

What the hell was I waiting for?

Your kids and family are watching

We showed our kids this video when they were very young. For a long time, I think my kids thought I was a rock star. I sang karaoke songs with them since they were very young. There are worse things than this.

I’m not a rock star, except on those rare occasions when I surprise myself and some “friend” of mine is recording video. I don’t have the best voice, except for one or two songs which match my vocal range perfectly. I don’t sing the best at karaoke, but usually 5 out of the 50 songs I sing will be entertaining and memorable. I don’t hold back, and I can sometimes turn an otherwise boring gathering of people into a rock and roll party.

I want my kids to see that they will get as much out of life as they put into it. We can go through the hundred or so years of life trying to avoid dying, or we can go through the years we have living life to our best ability. Find that happy medium between longevity and foreverity. There you will find the you who you are meant to be. There you will find happiness.

When asked what I used to regret in my career and life, I would say that I wish I could go back and start blogging, speaking publicly and contributing to open source when I was in my thirties. I can’t get back the decade I didn’t talk, blog or contribute to open source. I have this video to remind me of my one night of not holding back and being a rock star. I’ve blogged, spoken, and contributed to open source so much in the past decade, that it doesn’t matter so much any more. I have no regrets any more.

What’s in this for you?

You get to decide. That thing that you have been saying for years you want to do but have putting off doing because you’re terrified of something or you “have more important things to do.” Everybody is watching you NOT do it. Your family is watching you NOT do it. You’re watching you NOT do it. Nobody is motivated or inspired by you NOT doing it.

Just do it.

If whatever you finally do is a complete flop, you’ll still get to die one day and no one will remember that you flopped. If you make a splash, you will remember the splash, and your family will remember the splash and you both can enjoy remembering it whenever you want. Very few of us will change the world in any monumental way, but we all get to change the world with our own butterfly effects.

You have to choose to be a butterfly and not stay in caterpillar or larvae form your entire life.

What’s in this for me? (Shameless plug)

I am not planning any karaoke outings soon, but I am happy to report that my friend Vlad and I are doing a talk together at a technical conference this year. I don’t think we have done a talk together since the first public talk I ever did with Vlad as my co-speaker in 2010. This is the only talk I am doing this year. I have been spending most of my time this year writing my first book (spoiler alert!).

Vlad and I are speaking together at the dev2Next conference. We will be talking about Dataframes in Java. Vlad and I have known and worked with each other for almost thirty years. We’ve worked at three different companies together. Vlad created an open source Dataframe library in Java, which is built using the open source Collections framework in Java that I created 20 years ago.

Vlad will not sing at karaoke, but he enjoys watching others do karaoke. Vlad is one of my favorite co-speakers, so I am very much looking forward to giving this talk with him. Who knows, if someone in the audience requests, maybe I will sing something spontaneously. I can almost guarantee it will sound awful. And it’s not 2006, and everyone has a high definition recording device… ruh-roh… 😂

I hope you enjoyed reading this and find some inspiration for your own world changing, memory making activities. I wish you the best in finding out what you want to do and going out there and doing it.

Good luck!

I am the creator of and committer for the Eclipse Collections OSS project, which is managed at the Eclipse Foundation. Eclipse Collections is open for contributions.



Donald Raab

Java Champion. Creator of the Eclipse Collections OSS Java library ( Inspired by Smalltalk. Opinions are my own.