Why I Am A Programmer (Startup Stories 18.03)

Rahul Rhoades, Skillo, 2018 Hacker Fellow

Rahul Rhoades, Skillo, 2018 Hacker Fellow

Ever since I was a kid, I was convinced that I would be a doctor. I remember watching shows like House and even Scrubs and thinking that what they did was the coolest thing. It wasn't until high school that I realized that this difficult and intimidating career goal wasn't what I wanted to go for. It really came down to a lack of interest in the materials to get me towards that goal. Chemistry and biology never really grabbed me the way I thought they would, and oftentimes left me more frustrated than anything else. It was in that timeframe that I had taken a computer science class out of pure curiosity and wound up falling in love with programming. Fast forward 5 years and I can honestly say that I have no regrets with the path that I've taken both from a career and a personal standpoint.

If there was one thing that my time at college taught me about the computer science world, it's that I would meet some of the most interesting, intelligent, and caring people I've ever met while spending my time in the field. I already had a few friends from high school going into the same major as me at the University of Michigan, but it was over these four years that I would make some of the best friends I'd ever made in my life. It makes sense that in college I would make some very close friends, but many of these friendships were either started or deepened because of a shared interest in programming.

One of the biggest reasons why I've stuck with computer science for so long is that it always keeps me challenged. A lot of the time, computer science problems are puzzles waiting to be solved, and for me it's incredibly rewarding to fix problems or write new programs. Even when I hit a wall on an issue, it's just as rewarding to get help from others in my field, as gaining a new perspective on the solution to a problem is almost as satisfying as solving it yourself. These aspects are why, in my eyes, computer science can keep evolving and motivate its community to keep pushing themselves and the industry forward.

To compound that realization, I think the most miserable I’ve ever been in my life is when I made the decision to work IT at a paint manufacturing plant for a summer because it lacked the mental stimulation I got from programming. There were a lot of small annoyances like a long commute and an early start time. But I think the thing that got to me the worst during my time there was the fact that I was bored out of my mind. I love fixing computers and teach people how to use them, but two of my nine hours at work a day doing that. The rest of the time I was usually emailing people to return computers with no response, or move tons of boxes that no one had bothered cleaning up. I didn’t feel challenged and had no way of occupying my time there, and while I liked the people I worked with I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them on a daily basis. For a while I thought it came solely down to a dislike of corporate infrastructures, but it went beyond that. That job taught me that I could like the people I'm around and even like what I'm doing at work, but if I wasn't consistently challenging myself and being motivated to challenge myself that I wouldn't be happy with my career.

Hacker Fellows & Skillo

I remember when my best friend at school, Daniel, had told me he had just interviewed with Hacker Fellows. The way he explained it, was a fellowship for coders in the Detroit tech scene and helped get programmers set up with startups in the Michigan area. He was graduating a year ahead of me. As I was coming closer to graduation, I got to see and hear Daniel’s experiences directly. He was paired with a company called Trove, and afterwards started telling me about the really interesting stuff he was doing as a quality engineer there. It was after hearing all of these stories on his recommendation that I apply, and only after a few months of interviews I found out I had gotten in.

It was after going through Hacker Fellows that I had been introduced to the startup that I work at now, Skillo. My first interaction with the engineering team there had been through a rapid fire interview day hosted by Hacker Fellows, where companies that were interested in fellows would get the chance to do a short form interview. I think the thing that had stuck out to me the most when the team first sat down with me was how comfortable the whole interview was. It was during the Q&A section of the interview that we had talked about old video games and comic books, and even just random things about computer hardware. It was only until after the interview that I found out that the real reason they had hired me was that they liked me so much. That really touched me as a young college grad with no real experience.

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Going into the first day of work, I was so nervous. It was my first real developer job, and above all else the one thing I didn’t want them to think was that I don’t know what I’m doing. Accordingly, I sat down to set up my work computer and it took an entire day’s worth of trial and error. They had even given me a detailed Github wiki page on how to do it, and I still ran into problems. Internally, I felt really embarrassed but it took a week later for me to realize that no one really cared. I even joked about the whole process of setting up a new system with another engineer down the line.

Five months after starting at Skillo, I can say that the same kinds of nerves are completely eroded. If I had to pick a reason why, it really came down to the team. Every day from the first day I started, everyone was so welcoming to me. My boss, Andrew, is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, but I just enjoy talking and working with him. He and the rest of engineering have created a new home for me, and I go into work every day happy as a result.

My Life Outside of Work

Something that I really value about my job is the fact that it does give me enough breathing room to have a life outside of work. Although I’m always on call if something comes up, a refreshing aspect of being in the workforce and not in school is the sense of separation. In college I never really felt that I was justified in spending time pursuing my interests outside of computer science, as I felt guilty not using that time for my studies. Coming home from work makes the time I spend on what I want to do feel earned, and I’m thankful for that everyday.

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Cooking has always been something I loved learning about. There’s such a breadth in the variety of what can be learned, and there’s always something that you can experiment with or improve in your technique. Shows like The Great British Baking Show, or even YouTube channels like Binging with Babish are what sharpened and facilitated that interest during my time off, and as a result I spend a lot of my free time trying to bake or cook things that I never thought I could. It’s been so rewarding bringing in a dish to my coworkers and getting feedback on what I can improve. It motivates me to elevate it even further.

The other half of my free time is devoted to learning how to make video games. I’ve always been a big fan of video games, and now that I have the free time I’ve been spending a lot of it trying to make my own projects. I had taken a class on it in college but going into the workforce, I decided that I could spend my time elsewhere. Randomly one night I decided to boot up some videos and get back into the swing of things. My current roommate is a 3D design major and between the two of us, it’s been a blast making our own projects.


Rahul Rhoades is a 2018 Hacker Fellow who studied Computer Science at University of Michigan. He is currently working with Skillo in Detroit.