During my senior year of college, I had a random idea about creating a web platform for students to interact with other students in the same classes. This startup idea introduced me to the concept of entrepreneurship. I began talking to more professors and going to a variety of events around entrepreneurship. Ever since, I have been chasing entrepreneurship. The chase led me to learning web/software development and getting involved in technology. I now run MakerSquare, a 22 person company in Austin and San Francisco that trains adults to be full-time software developers through in-person training. This journey from college to MakerSquare has allowed me to recognize that the technology and startup culture is very unique. I consistently attempt to persuade some of my close friends (Zahid Lodhia, Nikki Desai, Priti Patel, and Parag Dadhaniya) who work in Corporate America to give this culture a shot. I believe it’s like nothing else. Below I have listed all the reasons why I think this culture or scene is amazing.
1. People are very helpful. In 2012, I paid $8,000 to take a program in Chicago to learn how to build web applications. The program provided me with a mentor. This mentor was a senior developer who volunteered his time every week to help me with my code. I paid $8,000 a semester to attend the University of Illinois as an accounting and finance major. No professor in accounting or finance was openly volunteering 1 hour a week to give me 1 on 1 attention. After I graduated from the coding program and eventually started working full-time as a developer, my mentor continued to volunteer his time to help me. I had a brief stint at Ernst & Young and I can’t imagine trying to find someone from another accounting firm (i.e. a senior accountant from Deloitte) to help me become a better accountant for an hour a week. Developers and entrepreneurs legitimately want to help other prospective developers and entrepreneurs reach their goals. Our company MakerSquare continues to thrive, because our students get help from mentors and we get help from advisors.
2. People are chasing dreams, not money. At MakerSquare, our curriculum is project-based. In an effort to make our students projects more meaningful, I started a program that we eventually titled Coding for a Cause. The program is designed to take interesting web application ideas that support a good cause and have our students work on them for free as projects. In running this program and MakerSquare in general, I have had the chance to interact with hundreds of developers and entrepreneurs. I can say with confidence that most of these people are chasing their dreams and not money. One aspiring entrepreneur shared that his dream was to give more low income students access to SAT preparatory classes. He was blessed to be born into a wealthy family, so he had the opportunity to prepare for the SATs and be admitted to a recognizable University. His goal was to build a web application that provided free interactive lessons to prepare for the SATs. He wanted this application to be free for all low income students, so they can have the same opportunity he did. I had the pleasure of allowing him to join our Coding for a Cause program and now Prepify is providing free SAT prep for low income students around the country. I have numerous stories that are similar, but I don’t want to go on and on (for example, Connect2Good provides non-profits an easier way to receive donations from people and corporations giving away extra resources like desks, computers, chairs, etc.)
3. The environment encourages you to reach your potential. When I was in college, I was surrounded by people that were aspiring to work at the top consulting firms and investment banks. Most students would be proud that they could drop a lot of jargon like 5x EBITDA, cash is king, and market cap. At times, I did not have a complete understanding of these concepts. However, I did not feel comfortable asking, “why is cash king in a business?” The question seemed too ‘simple’ that I was scared I would feel stupid or inferior. When I am learning how to code or when anyone in the tech community is helping someone to learn how to code, everyone constantly encourages the learner to ask as many questions as possible. Learning to code has taught me, along with so many others, to continue to ask questions until everything makes sense. This concept of never settling until you have a full understanding has translated to everything I want to learn. I always ask questions until it completely makes sense. And now, I believe I have such a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship, technology, and startups. I might even have the opportunity to be a keynote speaker for a 350 person event at the University of Texas. I thank this community I have been referencing for allowing me to aspire for such exciting goals.
For all the people who have seen me along this journey of becoming a computer guy (as my brother used to call me) and an entrepreneur or anyone that may have randomly ended up reading this post, I encourage you to give the tech and startup scene a shot. I swear you will think it’s amazing as well.