Recently, the first graduating class of Depot/U left the confines of Innovation Depot to return to their previous employers, start new careers or search for their next opportunities. TechBirmingham decided to catch up with a few of these graduates and see what they are doing after Depot/U.
I grew up in Bagley, AL, which is where I attended a very small junior high school until ninth grade. I graduated from Corner High School in 2010, and I’ve been in and around Birmingham ever since.
Where did you work before Depot/U?
Primarily, I worked for Motus Motorcycles, a motorcycle manufacturer based here in Birmingham that was actually started in the Innovation Depot. I also worked as a research assistant in a physics lab at UAB.
Where are you working now or are you looking for a job?
I will start working as a software developer at BBVA Compass at the end of December, and I’m also using my newfound front-end engineering skills to freelance and kickstart my own projects in my spare time.
What’s your new job title?
Do you have a college degree? What school did you attend?
Yes, I graduated in April from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physics.
How did you find out about Depot/U?
I was reading through the headlines in the Birmingham Business Journal when I ran across an article about Depot/U. It quickly caught my attention and appealed to my interests in software development and entrepreneurship.
Tell us how you came about the decision to attend Depot/U?
I have always been interested in learning various programming languages and skill-sets, and I knew that I wanted to self-teach myself as many languages as I possibly could as soon as I graduated from college. In order to do that, I wanted to create my own personal projects that I could tackle – each one testing various coding concepts. I started with web development, specifically front-end engineering, because it seemed to be where analytical, algorithmic thinking intersected with the more abstract and aesthetic nature of design. That really appealed to me.
I wanted my first project to have meaning, and I also wanted it to be something I was passionate about. Motus was an obvious choice, so I asked the leaders of the company if they cared if I made a mock up website for them just as a personal project of mine. In my mind, I envisioned a mock website that I would create and then present to Motus. That would be the end of it. The response I received was, “Well, we don’t need a website, but we do need one for mobile.” At that moment, I was saying to myself, “I have no idea what I’m doing. What am I about to get myself into?” but what I actually said: “Alright, let’s do it. Let me see what I can do.” And we were off to the races.
I dove head-first into the project, learning as I went. I had worked for about a solid week on the project before I realized I had never once felt tired because of the work; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I was spending countless hours on this project, and I was loving every minute of it. I couldn’t get enough. That’s when it dawned on me that I had discovered something that could really be great. Coincidentally, at about the same time, I ran across the BBJ article about Depot/U.
I was then at a crossroads where I had to make a decision (one that I believe I will remember as one of the many formative moments in my life): I was slated to start my PhD in Physics at UAB in the Fall, but I knew I wanted to do the bootcamp despite the fact that I had no idea how Depot/U was going to pan out. After all, it was the first course they had ever done, I had no previous association with Platypi (or the Innovation Depot, for that matter), and there were no metrics or results they could show me that would convince me they had any merit. Would it be worth the investment? It’s 10 full weeks of my life and over $5000! I went through all the scenarios and analyzed it (and over-analyzed it) until my head was spinning. Despite all of this – despite the risks and the uncertainties – my gut was telling me it was the right decision. Something was telling me to jump.
So I did. I discussed it with Motus, and they were very supportive of this endeavor, especially if it was something I really wanted to do. As an Innovation Depot graduate themselves, they understand what it means to take risks and follow your gut in order to pursue your dreams. I couldn’t be more thankful for their support. So I deferred enrollment in the PhD program in order to attend the bootcamp, and I gave it 110 percent. It was the right decision for me, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Wow, that’s amazing, Jackson! What was your favorite part about the program?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Personally, I really enjoyed the program as a whole, and it’s very difficult to pinpoint one thing that stood out as my favorite. With that being said, I think the one thing that edges out everything else as my favorite part of Depot/U was the fact that it was at the Innovation Depot. It is truly an amazing place, and I believe it is at the heart of Birmingham’s current renaissance. I walked through the front doors every day eager to make the most of myself and my work, and part of that was certainly due to the environment and atmosphere the Depot provides. It’s infectious, and I want to be a part of it as long as I possibly can.
Would you recommend others going through the program? Tell us why.
I would certainly recommend going through the program. If you can stomach the financial commitment, the time commitment (it’s a full-time job, if not more), and truly dedicate yourself to doing everything you possibly can to make the most of this program, then yes, by all means do it. You won’t regret it.
However, I know that everyone’s situation is different, and it’s a huge decision that you need to weigh very heavily with yourself, your friends, and your family. If it’s a commitment that you feel you can make, you should. This course can provide the opportunity to change your life. Just make sure you make the decision wisely and for the right reasons.
If someone asked you why they should attend Depot/U, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that I can’t answer that question for them. They have to come to that decision on their own after carefully considering their own personal situation in life and what goals they have for themselves and their family.
I could offer some perspective, though. I would reiterate the fact that this course has the potential to completely change your life. It’s not easy. You’re not going to be spoon-fed. You’re going to have to put in a ton of effort, but if you want a career in software development, Depot/U can provide the skills and knowledge necessary to get you started on that path. By being hosted in the Innovation Depot (and with major companies signing on as hiring partners), it will also allow you to connect with professionals in the Birmingham area – and those connections pay dividends well beyond the actual knowledge of the course itself.
Now that you’ve graduated, what’s next for you?
I am very happy and excited to say that I will be starting my first full-time software development position as a Front-End Engineer with BBVA Compass. Meanwhile, in my spare time, I will continue to work on projects that interest me and satiate my entrepreneurial inclinations. I’m really looking forward to being a part of (and contributing to) the tech scene in Birmingham.
Tell us something interesting about yourself unrelated to Depot/U and your career.
At the risk of exposing how much of a geek I truly am, I suppose the most interesting thing I could tell you is that I have been the coach for a middle school First Lego League (FLL) robotics team (“The Variables”) for the past two years. We are an independent “family and friends” team that consists of three middle school students that wanted to compete but did not have a team to join through their school systems.
The FLL competition requires students to assemble a robot out of Legos and with said robot autonomously complete various missions that are assigned by FLL. The team must also identify a problem related to the current year’s theme, propose a solution, and then share it with others. Throughout the competition, the team must demonstrate core values that FLL identifies as exemplary teamwork, camaraderie, and professionalism.
The Variables placed first at their regional qualifier both years they competed, which allowed them to compete at the state level. This year they competed in Huntsville with 35 other teams across the state, and they received the first place Champion’s Award. This will allow our team to represent the state of Alabama at the World Festival competition in April of 2016! If you want to know more about FLL, please visit http://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fll.
Anything else about you or your experience in Depot/U you’d like to share?
I think I’ve said about all I can about myself, haha! I do want to thank everyone at Platypi, the hiring sponsors, class partners, and the Innovation Depot for all of their hard work and support that providing this course to the Birmingham community. It’s changed my life for the better, and I’ve made some lifelong friends throughout the entire process. So, thank you!
Thank you, Jackson. Best of luck with your career!
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