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Tré Ammatuna was one of those tinkering kids, always building and tearing apart. From playing on computers in preschool to disassembling the family VCR, he has always been captivated by technology.
In middle school, he was the kid in the back of the classroom that wanted to be near the computer, eager to steal away to play a few games on it.
His fascination with computers cemented itself in high school. Just a few years prior, Tre transitioned from middle school to high school, and from Georgia, where his family moved after being displaced due to Hurricane Opal, back to Florida.
Trying to find something for Tré to cling onto entering high school, his mom found a program for him to participate in, the Okaloosa County Career Academy for Electronics and Applied Technology through Fort Walton Beach High School:
“Okaloosa County Career Academy for Electronics and Applied Technology is a nice big mouthful of something just to say we were given some electronics classes, some business classes, and keyboarding to see how we liked it. My mom thought, with my tinkering, I’d be really good at it.”
During Tré’s freshman year, in one particular keyboarding class, he made an amazing discovery:
“A few friends and myself found the internet connection for the school. They didn’t even know they had one at the time. It was hooked up through the county, and my classmates and I surfed the internet a whopping 5mb a second in 1996. The next year, the school took the 5 of us that had the aptitude for it and appointed us to help them run network lines and fix computers throughout the school.”
A budding passion for video games, Tré advanced from playing Oregon Trail to playing Doom with friends over 28k modems. With the help of a 700-page book spelling out how to modify Doom, he turned the space marines and demonic forces of Doom into Simpsons characters, complete with Homer Simpson throwing donuts at bad guys.
After high school, he landed in the entertainment industry. From dancer to dj to audio engineer for live music, he ultimately moved to Orlando where he enrolled in Full Sail University for Audio Engineering and Music Business.
After graduating from Full Sail, his next move brought him to Los Angeles to work at WestLake Recording Studios, a famous studio which was the home of iconic recordings artists such as Michael Jackson. Over the next two years he worked with some of the biggest names in music today before deciding to circle back to live music.
He then moved to Lake Tahoe, CA where, for the next few years, he joined bands on tours and stop dates as an audio engineer, met his current fiancé, and had his first child. After their second child, he realized holding down an income in audio engineering, for him, would mean going away on tours, away from his family. So Tré, in his words, “had to figure something else out.”
In addition to working as an Audio Engineer, he worked in the service industry and in graphic design, developing logos, flyers and WordPress websites for artists and venues. In fact, his graphic design experience played a definitive factor in his organic transition from audio engineering to web development. And, because of his experience in the service industry and expertise in UX, he was frequently hired by restaurants, prior to grand openings, to work on dining POS systems, incorporating new menus into the interface.
“I didn’t do the programming but I did the layouts of the screens and how buttons interacted with each other and the modules that popped up. Before I knew what UX was, I was doing this UX work there.”
Tré’s mother, a pediatrician, asked him if he might consider returning to college. But, with a family to feed now, Tré didn’t see dedicating another 2-4 years of college to get a CS degree as a viable option. So he looked into alternatives. And that’s where he discovered the concept of coding bootcamps:
“That accelerated process really clicked with me. My first school (Full Sail University) was 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I was kind of already used to that style of learning so I felt confident I could handle Hack Reactor’s intensity.”
Tré originally looked at several bootcamps of varying price and competency. Then he found Hack Reactor:
“I don’t know what it was — maybe all of the good reviews in Course Report — that really gave me a strong feeling about it.”
Ultimately, Tré passed his interview and was accepted to Hack Reactor.
Before he truly recognized his new direction, Week 1 Day 1 was here. His initial feelings:
“Holy shit, I’m actually in here with all these people. There were 32 students from around the world in the original cohort. We went through the information, actually seeing what the program is and how the whole thing worked. Luckily, through having gone through the prep class, and talking to HIRs about the course, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Of course, going into Hack Reactor, you think you have a good idea, but you have no idea, no matter how many people you’ve talked to.”
Then living in Athens, Georgia with 3 children and his fiancé, taking classes remotely from home was not an option. In order to focus concentration on the immersive program, Tré drove 2 hours to his mom’s house in Augusta on Mondays, spent 4 days there each week to concentrate undivided, and returned to Athens on Thursday evenings to see his family. He repeated the process each week for the length of the course. He, like his family, was committed to his success:
“I’ve got my fiancé betting on me. I’ve got my mom betting on me. I’ve convinced them this is going to work. I’ve got to make it work."
Tré had experience taking remote programs in college, but failed every single one. So, he initially came into Hack Reactor’s remote program somewhat hesitant:
“But it’s also one of the things I harp on with Hack Reactor. It’s one of the only remote programs that does it right. You never feel alone in it. If I’m going to do it, I need a community behind it. That’s what makes the remote program successful. Even when our cohort was across the US to Europe to Australia and Japan, it was a community. We’re across the entire globe but we’re a community for 12 hours a day and 6 days a week, we were there for each other in every aspect. You’d have the HIRs jumping in to help out. You never were alone in doing what you were trying to accomplish. That was huge."
"The staff is also one of the best things about Hack Reactor and one of the reasons that this program works. They are so supportive and give every ounce of themselves into helping every single student through not only the curriculum, but any other issues (both school related and personal) that come up while in an immersive program such as this. I don't think I could have gotten through this without them and really want to give a shout out to them. Thank you Cara, Cody, Ife-Chudeni, Hailey, Robin, Liz, and Rebecca!"
After graduating, Tré spent the next 3 months as an Hacker in Residence (HIR), supporting an incoming remote class and instilling a sense of community he enjoyed as a student. But approaching the end of his HIR term, he anticipated the encroaching job hunt.
"Hack Reactor has a program for graduates called Hacker in Residence where they hire students to help with the following cohort. My own trajectory was so positively impacted by these people during the time throughout my journey I knew I wanted to become one. However, I had no idea the impact that this would also have on myself. My position was called a Shepherd which is basically a teacher, counselor, and community leader. I worked with a class of 38 people (one of the biggest in Hack Reactor Remote history) and during my time with those students I grew just as much as I did through the main program itself. I can attribute a lot of my empathy and ability to work with other engineers at my current job to helping those 38 students achieve their own dreams."
Tré looked for work in Athens but figured his family wasn’t going to stay there permanently:
“The tech wages are 30% under national average there. I got one job offer in Athens and it was very much under average for the nation, and not enough to take care of my family. We started looking outside of Athens but knew we couldn’t move anywhere until I had a position. We had a few requirements. We wanted to be near water and we didn’t want to be in California.”
Tré began his search in St. Petersburg, Florida and moved up the East Coast to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he had family and friends. But, upon further research in the tech industry, his navigational compass changed direction:
“When you look at all the metrics, Seattle comes out on top of having the best wages compared to cost of living. It’s not cheap, but the wages make up for it. So I started looking in Seattle. A friend got me connected to a recruiter in Seattle that has been in tech for 20 years.”
The recruiter provided Tré with tips on how to conduct a job search in Seattle without actually being present in Seattle. According to Tré:
“Companies are getting hundreds of resumes for these positions and are first trying to filter through that pile. So, on initial glance they are looking for reasons NOT to hire you. When you live in a city that’s thousands of miles away, that’s a big reason, in their eyes, not to hire you. So they don’t have to deal with relocation. By keeping my current location off my resume, I didn’t give them that reason."
“Be prepared to buy an airline ticket immediately for an interview, to not make them pay for it. Also, have a plan together to move there. If an employer needed me to be there to work next week, how would I move up there next week?”
Eventually, Tré interviewed with and received an offer for a contract position at Microsoft.
“It was a perfect example of what the recruiter told me. I wouldn't have gotten that job if they knew I wasn't already in Seattle, and I was only able to do it because I had an entire plan of how to get there already in place. As a result, I got to put Microsoft on my resume! It was a good offer, so we made it happen.”
Tré initially lived in a Seattle AirBnB at the beginning of his new employment. Alone. He found an apartment a month later, and his family joined him in Seattle soon after.
He worked for Microsoft’s risk detection team, which conducted fuzz testing, a quality assurance technique, as a service. They used AI-backed fuzzing to test everything back from Windows 7 and Microsoft Office. Tré came in as a Contract Web UI Developer.
Microsoft, at the time, used an Angular JS application. Their plan, according to Tré, was to get products suitable for release, then migrate things into React. Soon after release, though, the company’s objectives changed, and Tré’s contract position was eliminated after just 3 months of employment.
Back in the job search, but now living in Seattle, he quickly embedded himself in a robust community of coding meetups. One group in particular, called Seattle JS, was hosted by Avvo, a Seattle startup which operates an online legal marketplace. One of Avvo’s Front-End Developers emcee’d the event. Their Lead Recruiter was also in attendance. Tre spoke with them at length that night, getting to know the Avvo culture, which included diversity, growth mindset, pair programming; things fundamental to Hack Reactor’s culture and teachings:
“My entire Hack Reactor mindset on programming went ‘this sounds amazing’.”
Two days after the event, Tre had a phone interview with the Front-End Developer from the event; a week later, an interview, including 5 individual 1-hour conversations with Engineers, UX Manager, Development Manager and Project Managers.
Before leaving the interview, Tré had a job offer.
Avvo's tech stack is a combination of front end technologies around the different services including Rails, AngularJS, Vue, and React with Ruby mainly on the backend. However, as Tré joined in, Avvo was in the process of moving the front end primarily to React, and using Elixir on many back end services. According to Tré:
“React is where we’re going. I’ve been lucky enough coming into this turning point where I’m helping to lead the charge in ‘Reactifying’ the things, as I like to say. Right now, I’m creating our newest service in React, and GraphQL with Apollo, which has been the testing ground for new technologies and services. I've also been working on a reusable component library to help get consistency around the the different React applications. When it comes to React, people have started to look towards me here. I’m definitely not the most senior engineer, but I've kind of been the ‘React Guy’.”
Avvo was recently acquired by Internet Brands, which also owns WebMD and Cars Direct. In total, the holding company owns 170 different properties. Tré is hopeful his template work will get noticed by Internet Brands for consideration across their properties.
Tré’s path to software engineering was difficult:
“I came out in the end, but not unscathed. You don’t want to come out unscathed. You want those battle scars. I came out resilient and adaptable. For example, if Microsoft hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have found Avvo and the position I’m at right now. In the end, it really all worked out and I'm now in one of the best working environments I've ever been, with amazingly smart people I am excited to work with every single day, and most importantly, I'm able to take care of and spend more time with my family. They have been the biggest supporters in all of this. I can't thank my mom enough for her support, and my fiancé has been the most amazing person in the world for supporting and helping me through this journey.”
It’s Tré’s growth mindset, the idea that one’s abilities can be shaped and developed by determination, hard work, and experiences, both positive and negative, that he attributes to Hack Reactor:
“My attitude came directly from what Hack Reactor teaches. Find that struggle, but use that struggle to build yourself. See everything as a growth opportunity. When you get a denial, don’t simply take it as a denial. Everything is a learning experience. Those denials forced me to talk to people and get into the community. I started my job search in the sunniest place in the US and ended up in Seattle. Life leads you in unexpected ways.”
You can keep up with what Tré is doing or ask him about Hack Reactor through his Twitter at https://twitter.com/TreTuna.