My Journey

Sometimes you just have to go where life takes you. What you originally set out as your goals, or what others may have told you they were, should not be taken as the script for you life. Doors close and doors open, and as you try to define your journey between them sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

When I was younger and in high school, I was imprinted with a singular drive to follow a simple path:

  1. Get good grades
  2. Get into a good college
  3. Get a good job

All these “good” things were so abstract and not concrete to me at the time, but felt like necessities that drove me – there was no alternative. So I kept my head down and dragged myself through 4 years of honors and AP courses conflicted by misery and determination. Lo and behold I was accepted to the engineering school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – 2/3 down, one to go!

But things didn’t go so smoothly from there. My major, Nuclear Engineering, was really not something that I was passionate about or that I saw myself doing for another 20-30 years. Its only saving grace for me was that it made people’s eyes open when I told them what I was doing. I dropped out.

I spent a year toying with different ideas of what I wanted to do, and eventually decided to follow one of my earliest geek passions and get involved in the video game industry. I applied and was accepted to the Game Design program at Columbia College Chicago, and there I began my first steps to learn how to program. Over time I became very close with one of my teachers, Bill Guschwan, who drove me to push myself beyond the expectations of the College. In the middle of the summer of 2009, I ran into Bill randomly at a coffee shop just off a far north Red Line (elevated train) station. By then I had a basic grasp of application programming and had been looking for a place to work and get my hands dirty outside of school/peer projects. Like it was right out of a movie, Bill offered me an internship to work at his new Video Game development startup, and I jumped at it.

I would find myself at that company for the next 2.5 years, through many pivots, ups and downs, and some coursework at DePaul University where I was trying, but never getting around, to finishing my college degree. What began as a job of QA, then bug fixes, then tool generation, eventually lead to becoming the Lead Android Engineer for the company. Through all of this, I poured hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into learning what I had not gotten from a standard Computer Science education and could never get from a book or classroom – the core programming skills needed to compete with those in my industry. What skills I lack in hard computer science theory and concepts I picked up in higher-level application development, mobile development and team-building.

Recently I had the opportunity to re-enter the University of Illinois as a Computer Science major in the School of Engineering. To me that was it, I was finally going to finish #2. But something still didn’t feel quite right. After being in the entrepreneurial world for about 3 years, I just wanted to keep growing and learning in a way I know I couldn’t have in a University learning environment. Yes, I knew I could work in teams of students and create great projects and research. However there was so much opportunity here in Chicago and I wouldn’t have to uproot myself to find what I was looking for – a strong team and an amazing product. That’s when I learned Belly was looking for an Android Engineer. My friends who already worked there introduced me to the team, and I could not have been happier, and joined almost immediately (oh yeah, we’re recruiting).

Had I gone back to school, who knows, I might have gotten a similar job, or an even better one (doubt it!), but I accomplished #3 without #2. That worked for me – but it shouldn’t stop someone else from pursuing their degree if that’s what they feel is right for them. I know that one day I’ll end up getting #2, but for now I’m pretty damn proud of how far I have come without it. Just make sure to keep those doors open even a crack, you never know how you’ll feel one week to the next, or what will happen when you walk through that door.

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