On this page
- Why did you leave NWA?
- Why did you come back?
- How did your career in software development get started?
- How have you benefited from building your career here in Northwest Arkansas?
- What has surprised you most about the tech community in NWA?
- As a leader of developers, how do you promote continuous learning and career growth?
- There’s a nationwide shortage of senior developers. How do you attract and retain talent on your team?
- What are some of the ways you contribute to your local tech community?
- What are some of the highlights of your career?
- What advice would you give to other tech professionals thinking about moving back to NWA?
I was interviewed by FindingNWA! Check out the original interview posting here.
The transcript from the interview is below:
I left about a month after graduating high school to join the army, I had signed up at the end of my junior year in high school.
To be honest, I did not plan to come back. After getting out of the army I was going to do software development for a company that built big data analytics platforms for the department of defense and intelligence community. I had planned to work outside of DC but the contract my job depended on didn’t come through, so I came back to NWA to be near my family, attend the University of Arkansas and figure out my next move.
I began coding and using Linux in middle school. I never really pushed it to a professional effort and worked at my local Walmart pushing carts in high school. I had the skills but I thought it was too easy for me to choose as a career and wouldn’t challenge me so I studied languages and planned on going into linguistics.
I joined the army to be a Korean translator and intelligence analyst and I ended up working for the NSA. I was surprised to find the technical tools available for my team and mission were shockingly antiquated. I actually received my daily work printed out on a large sheet of dot matrix paper and had to hand write analysis into case files kept in filing cabinets.
I knew we were not being very efficient, so I started building web applications and tools to augment my team’s work. Eventually, I was put on a software development team tasked with building web applications to support many missions within the NSA. Despite my initial attempt to avoid software development, I ended up finding myself building web applications for critical national security missions.
Before leaving the NSA, I was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by the Secretary of Defense for my work. Looking back, the path to where I am now seems almost unreal.
There has always been more than enough job opportunities here. Enough that you don’t have to settle; you can actually choose the company and type of work you prefer. There’s always a place in a growing startup or company for you to prove yourself and have a massive impact.
That gap in available talent won’t always exist, but while it does, it allows you to find many positions where you can make a huge impact on the future of a company. It doesn’t come for free and I’ve definitely put in a lot of hard work, but working in this area for the past 7 years has brought me from Software Engineer, to multiple senior and lead positions, to now being the VP of Technology for a large startup.
It takes commitment, but there are an abundance of opportunities here.
Despite being a much less populated area than a larger city/metro area, there is still a significant hunger for technological innovation due to Walmart’s Home Office. Because of this, the tech community has quite a bit of support, passion, and drive for growth.
Learning and career growth always get pushed to the side when we are busy, but we are always busy and there will always be more work. If you only learn new things when you have free time, you will never get around to it. So I make sure my team has scheduled time every week to learn something new or experiment with their side projects. We give them a pretty large annual education budget so they can buy books or training courses whenever they’d like.
We also have a weekly meeting called “Today I Learned” where someone gives a short class to the rest of the team on something they are learning. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to take advantage of the resources and push themselves, but I make sure that if they choose, they have all the resources they need.
There’s a nationwide shortage of senior developers. How do you attract and retain talent on your team?
A fun and laid back environment is an important start. Benefits like flexible office hours, unlimited vacation days, beer in the office, arcade machines, or ping pong tables are usually expected as a baseline for happiness at startups. That will help get some people in the door but not everyone, and for those it does, it won’t keep them.
After you’ve established the baseline, the most important thing you can do to attract and retain developers is to create an environment where they can grow their engineering skills and build interesting projects. There are more than enough opportunities for developers to make money, the good developers are looking for an opportunity that will stretch the limits of their knowledge and push them to learn more.
For my team, I am constantly fostering an environment that promotes a culture of hacking, side projects, and continuous learning.
In the past I have organized hackathons. Sometimes there is a good turnout and sometime there isn’t. I think the 12 hour format instead of the 24 hour format works better for this area.
I also help organize the local Ruby Meetup group and have spoken at other meetup groups in the area. These things are really important for building our local developer culture, but I think the most important way I contribute to our local community is by building a team and culture that raises the bar for how development teams should operate in the area.
As a region, we have struggled to move past our corporate work environment policies and adopt a more modern and flexible work environment that promotes employee happiness and productivity.
Hiring people on my team, of course, gives my teammates a better environment than they could expect at a startup in the valley, but it also raises the bar for what local developers can expect and ask for when going to other positions in the area. Over the last 5 years, with the help of a handful of other leaders in the area, I’ve been a part of helping modernize the work culture in Northwest Arkansas and I think that will have a long-lasting effect on the image of working as a software developer in the area.
My favorite moments have been giving others opportunities or benefits that enrich their lives and career.
Small things like giving someone a shot at an entry-level developer position when they’ve been stuck in manual labor jobs since high school. Or after a hard push on a project, giving a teammate a gift card to take his partner out for dinner to say thanks and acknowledge his sacrifice and effort.
Those moments where I can do the unexpected and give someone joy and recognition are the highlights of my career that I really live for.
Go to the local startup and developer meetups and find out what kind of work is being done in the area and find a niche that you would really enjoy working in.
After you find it, do some research on what the culture of that company is. It’s still a relatively small and personable area and people tend to hire from personal connections with people they’ve met.
Talking to a leader at a local meetup will be much more effective for getting a position than just submitting a resume online.