Finding the Way and Leaning In (Startup Stories 18.05)

Sam Coffey, Coetic, 2018 Hacker Fellow

Sam Coffey, Coetic, 2018 Hacker Fellow

Eight months ago I graduated with a degree in Computer Science, but that was never the plan. In fact, when I started college I had next to no knowledge of programming and honestly never intended for that to change. I started out as a Kinesiology major - I wanted to be a Physical Therapist. I played sports my whole life, dealt with numerous injuries, and thought a career helping people recover from injuries was the right path for me.

After my freshman year I realized that I wanted something more technical and decided to change my major to Biosystems Engineering. It wasn’t long before this too left me feeling like there was something else that would be a better fit. Granted, a short time studying this material left me with little insight into what a career in the field would turn out to mean for me, however, it didn’t motivate me like I felt it should. It did however force me to take a programming class as part of my engineering requirement. And I hated it… at first. However, my inability at first to grasp the concepts required to be an effective programmer provoked a motivation in me that I hadn’t felt before. This was a real challenge for me and I soon became obsessed with learning how to solve problems with code. At this point changing majors once again to computer science would mean an extra year in school but I felt convinced so I made the switch and I’m glad I did.

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So my college path didn’t exactly follow a straight line but I was able to pick up some other perspectives along the way. At this point I stopped trying to figure out exactly where I wanted to be and started just having fun building things and trying to find interesting challenges along the way. I honestly didn’t know where it would take me but I knew that solving problems in this new way was addicting and I wanted to keep doing it. Of course, there was a pretty logical path to where I am now, but I didn’t plan for it.

I enrolled in as many online mobile development courses as I could and spent a vast portion of my free time outside of school learning how to build my own. Most of them sucked. But they were essential in exploring how to build software and I had fun solving the problems that came with them. Once I was able to make things that were actually usable and practical it was extremely rewarding to write a program to solve a problem I had. It’s a great feeling to design and build something that accomplishes what you intended for it to do.

In the beginning of my junior year I applied for a small startup near campus called Coetic for a part-time programming job. The role was for web development and to this point I hadn’t learned any web technologies but I was eager to get real-life experience so I plead my case and was given a sample project to prove I could contribute. I learned as much as I could to complete the project and luckily was able to land the job. I still felt under qualified, but the team was very small so I was able to learn quickly from the other developers and was soon making contributions. Since there were so few of us, we had to keep up in every area of the stack and that constant nudge has allowed me to encounter all new kinds of problems which I wouldn’t have otherwise.

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Landing a Job With Coetic

Coetic’s mission is to help organizations work better together through years of research built up by the company’s founders, both of whom are PhDs in Organizational Psychology. We provide human resources consulting services to organizations on multiple specialties such as people strategy and change engagement. Our tools are aimed at using people science to bring meaning and engagement to the workplace. The sense that our tools improve the lives of those that use them is a strong motivating factor. Meaningful work is something that being at Coetic has really driven home the importance of for me. As much as I love working on software, having the common goal to make a positive impact is what brings everyone together and allows us to push for better work every day.

Post-Grad & Hacker Fellows

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When I was nearing graduation I was faced with a decision on where I would go next. I had a few opportunities to work for a much larger company, all the benefits that come with it, and probably an easier workload. After much consideration I chose to stay on full time at Coetic. Looking back on it, it was a pretty easy decision. Working for a big company has its perks, but the opportunity to make an impact and learn how to face technical and organizational challenges from the ground up was something that I didn’t want to miss out on. Starting from square one has required me to learn much faster than if I had a pre-built infrastructure at my disposal.

We’ve more than doubled in size since I started and I’ve been able to see first hand the changes that come with growth. Things get more complicated with more people in the mix and we’ve had to make lots of adaptations to get everyone aligned. Luckily, we’re backed by the same values and mission that we bring to others and I’m excited to keep moving forward and leaning into new and exciting challenges as they come.

Around the same time I was looking for opportunities prior to graduation I was introduced to Hacker Fellows. I already had a company but it seemed like a great opportunity to be around other people who, like me, enjoy building things and embracing the challenges in their own endeavors. I found out that I was accepted around the same time I decided to stay at Coetic and was very excited to be a part of the program. It’s been awesome to get a glimpse into the other fellows’ startups from different perspectives both within and outside of software.


Sam Coffey is a 2018 Hacker Fellow who is working for Coetic in Lansing. He studied Computer Science and Engineering from Michigan State University.