My Early Years & Getting Started in Software
I grew up in Norway, MI, which is in the oft-overlooked Upper Peninsula of Michigan (home of “Yoopers”) roughly 100 miles north of nowhere. I grew up in a working class family (my dad worked at a paper mill and my mom at an iron foundry) and spent a good chunk of my summers “weeding” in the “garden” where we grew a lot of the food that my family ate in the fall & winter. I had a paper route starting at 9 years old (the reason most people who knew me in school still insist on calling me by my childhood nickname, “Papes”) and have had some sort of job ever since.
I’m the youngest of three boys, and I spent my childhood looking up to both of my brothers. They were both into role-playing games, video games, trading card games, and computers, so I was into role-playing games, video games, trading card games, and computers. I spent many, many, many hours listening to Soundgarden on repeat while playing MUD (multi-user dungeon) games over a dial-up modem on the Tandy computer our parents got for us when I was 10 or 11.
I didn’t become exposed to computer programming until a Visual Basic 6 class during my senior year of high school, and I actually started as an Electrical Engineering major when I went to college. I quickly realized I had zero interest in dealing with the physical engineering world and found a knack for building web applications in this hot new technology known as Java 2 Enterprise Edition during school. I switched to a Computer Engineering and Business Administration dual-major and worked for a small student-run software consultancy where I got my first professional software development exposure, then moved on to full-time software development roles after school.
My Current Focus
A large portion of my professional focus now is on growing our University engineering team (which I manage) as a remote-first team that allows Handshake to hire engineering talent from anywhere, no matter their background, family situation, desire for true work-life balance, or geographic mobility. I personally believe that building a better remote culture at Handshake is integral to following through on our promise of truly democratizing opportunity.
Interesting Technical Challenges I Face at Handshake
As an engineering manager, I don’t always get to do as much coding as I would like, but I’m still heavily involved in early-stage projects, technical architecture, and scoping. One recent area we’ve begun exploring at Handshake is the potential of taking our products & services outside of the United States, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching all of the various legal frameworks that govern SaaS companies in the higher education space. Expanding outside of the U.S. has many implications on our long-term technical architecture, data storage strategies, and engineering practices, so it’s been a very interesting problem space to explore.
Top Three Career Goals
- Be the kind of person who current and former coworkers think of with fondness.
- Work within an authentic environment where everyone gets to be themselves, has their personal goals fostered, and is able to live a full life outside of work.
- Achieve financial freedom. I can give you many theories as to why I think this way (involving my childhood, education, rural roots, fatherhood, etc.), but I’m not excited about working as a “salary man” until I’m 70.
Learn. Grow. Repeat.
One of my consistent struggles is a need for constant validation. Do I matter? Is the work I’m doing impactful? Am I improving the lives of those around me in some way? Most folks have some amount of “imposter syndrome,” and I’m no exception. It’s a struggle and I’m working on ways in which I can feel validated internally without so much of a reliance on validation from others.
I’m also trying to be a better parent. My two children (Katie, 8 and Isaac, 5) are amazing, great, funny, smart kids, but I sometimes feel like an absentee parent. I’m physically present (especially since I work remotely), and I spend time with my children to do all of the things that are expected of me, but I want to be better. I want to be the father who plans amazing trips for their kids months in advance and is thoughtful about the things they learn and experience. Right now, it feels like I allow our family life to come at us spontaneously rather than really being thoughtful about how we spend our time.
Another personal goal of mine is qualifying for the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour (which got rebranded to “Mythic Championships”). I play in small, local qualifying tournaments every couple of weeks and have had some success, but I haven’t been able to do well enough at the larger, more competitive tournaments that reward winners with Pro invites. There isn’t a lot of urgency to this goal, but I still play online, practice regularly in-person, and play in tournaments as much as I can.