As a child in Syracuse, New York, Brian had little interest in technology. He prefered to spend his days playing guitar or baseball with friends. As he grew up and started thinking about college and the future, he fostered vague notions of being an Engineer; he had an aptitude and appreciation for math and science, but didn’t have a strong sense for what type of work would scratch his engineering itch.
“I liked playing guitar. I played a little baseball. I’d like to say I was interested in tech, but I wasn’t.”
By the time he reached Syracuse University in 2004, he had settled on Civil Engineering as a major. Brian didn’t feel terribly passionate about the material, but the course of study gave him invaluable experience: exposure to dense and difficult concepts in his textbook afforded him the opportunity to refine his problem-solving skills and practice patience, slowly and methodically working his way through complex problems, breaking them down into simpler sub-problems and exploring the relationships between various problem shapes. He learned to embrace the struggle.
“When I went to college I had some vague idea that I wanted to be an Engineer but I didn’t really know what that would involve.”
“I wasn’t crazy into it, but it was good in that it was really hard . . . going through the experience of staring at an engineering textbook and thinking, ‘what on earth am I looking at right now?’ and then slowly banging my head against the wall and learning it.”
When he graduated, he took a construction management job only tangentially related to his collegiate body of work. He found it to be an interesting field but was turned off by the emphasis on management of human capital rather than the discrete nature of the more technical engineering fields. It was good work but it simply wasn’t for him. In 2008 when the Great Recession hit, he fell victim to widespread layoffs in the industry.
Not one to be defeated by circumstances outside his control, Brian took the hit as an opportunity and pivoted. He attended law school at the University of Minnesota from 2010 through 2013. When he graduated, he leveraged his previous experience and moved back to New York to work as in-house counsel to a construction management firm in the area.
After a few years in this role, Brian reached a point where he found the work repetitive and not challenging enough to keep him interested and engaged. He faced a choice: either move up the legal ladder to work at a law firm, or reconsider his career choice. The high-stress culture of advanced legal work didn’t appeal to him, so he began considering other options. Around this time he read Deep Work by Cal Newport, a book about reducing distraction in the digital era, and was moved by a story about a finance worker who decided to become a Software Engineer.
Brian loved Hack Reactor’s Remote program. The commute -- a short walk from his bedroom to his living room in Minneapolis -- suited him well, and during breaks he could relax on his couch or take a nap on his own bed. That’s not to say it was easy. He credits his fiancé for her instrumental role in his successful completion of the program; she worked and took care of household responsibilities while he studied. Forging connections via the latest online tools like Slack and Zoom Brian was able to build a strong network of fellow Remote students. One such student, Michael Chiang, spoke with us about his experience working with Brian:
“I learned a lot from Hack Reactor but working with Brian made me realize how important it is - especially in a real-world working environment - to be a great team player and to be mindful and compassionate of the obstacles others may be facing as you make your own independent accomplishments.”
Brian was overwhelmed at first, particularly since he started with less technical experience than the average person in his class. But after the first few sprints, everything started to click. In some ways, it reminded him of his experience with engineering in college, the slow and methodical process of grinding away at a problem until it made sense. It was an extremely challenging and exhilarating experience.
The thesis project Brian worked on was an app called Neighborly -- think “Yelp for neighborhoods” -- which was inspired by the fact that he’d moved nearly ten times in as many years and wanted to be able to figure out what neighborhood to move to.
After graduating, Brian started his job search. He considered moving from Minneapolis to Seattle on the assumption that it would be easier to find a job in the northwestern tech hub but found that not to be the case. While there were more opportunities, the market was flooded with candidates. Doing the job hunt remotely wasn’t yielding the results he was hoping for. After two months he shifted to a more localized approach and had far more success.
The very first day he changed his LinkedIn profile location, a recruiter reached out to him and helped him land the role he’s still in: a full-stack engineering position working with React and Node for Best Buy at their headquarters in Minnesota. He loves that he’s part of a small team at a large company; he gets to contribute in a meaningful way and ship code that he wrote, while also enjoying the many benefits of working for a large, stable, international company.
Brian is amazed at what he’s accomplished, and how far he’s come since he first started entertaining the idea of changing careers. Being the extreme skeptic that he is, he didn’t really believe that Hack Reactor could be as good as everyone said -- that he would be a mid-to-senior level software engineer when he graduated. But sure enough, less than a year later, it’s true. He’s living proof.