From World Travels to Video Automation (Startup Stories 18.07)

Samantha Stewart, Waymark, 2018 Hacker Fellow

Samantha Stewart, Waymark, 2018 Hacker Fellow

I’ve never been a particularly ambitious person, which is an admission that I think makes people a little uncomfortable. The world admires people with ambition. I admire people with ambition. But I’ve never dreamed of being a CEO, or a millionaire, or really anything other than a marine biologist when I was kid. Up until two years ago when I was 26, I had never had a typical full-time job. After college, there was no way I was ready to start a career and abandon my youth, so I spent the majority of my early to mid-twenties traveling. It was amazing. I wouldn’t trade a single one of those experiences for any amount of financial stability.

Even though I value those experiences and they eventually helped shape my goals (more on that later), I did start to crave stability. I lived in Chicago transiently for three years in crappy apartments or stayed with my parents in Michigan when I got back from a trip. I walked dogs, was a bike messenger, waitressed, was a virtual personal assistant – anything and everything to break up the monotony of a typical nine to five and the system I felt compelled to buck against. I was also lucky enough to find a job at a pediatric therapy clinic with a flexible schedule and a boss that was kind enough to hire me back between my travels. Plus it utilized my undergraduate psychology degree which felt like a pretty big win. But one day I woke up and I was just tired. Tired of packing, tired of moving, of living out of a suitcase, of building my bank account up just to obliterate it again, or not knowing what I was doing with my life. My regular job at the pediatric therapy clinic was amazing, but offered no room for growth. I loved certain aspects of my life, but desperately needed a change.

Rather abruptly, I decided to go to a coding bootcamp. An amazing woman I know became a software developer after doing a coding bootcamp, and just got back from a year-long trip around the world while working remotely the entire time. Needless to say, I was inspired. She spent a little time introducing me to coding and software development principles. I got hooked.

Less than a year later, I completed my bootcamp, moved to downtown Detroit, and am now employed full time as a software developer. I’ve done a lot of exhilarating things in my life – I’ve bathed an elephant in Thailand, been bungee jumping in Ecuador, snorkeled between the tectonic plates in Iceland – but I think this was the scariest thing yet. This is the first time in my adult life that I put everything I had into achieving a goal. I took a leap, and I’m so happy that I did. I love being a software developer. I get to go to work every day and learn a hundred new things and help create programs that people use with a few (thousand) keystrokes. I love coming into work every day and solving problems, and that most days the problem is completely new and novel to me. Honestly, most of the time I feel like a wizard.


This led me to Hacker Fellows. I originally applied for Hacker Fellows in 2017 right after I graduated from my coding bootcamp before I moved back to Detroit. It seemed like the perfect fit - I loved working on small teams that I would likely find in a startup environment, and I wanted to move back to Michigan because it’s my home. I grew up not far from Detroit and spent my childhood going to Eastern Market for flower day, having picnics on Belle Isle, and cheering on the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. I was passionate about being a part of Detroit’s renaissance and Hacker Fellows would have allowed me to do that.

Unfortunately in 2017, Hacker Fellows was one of many rejections I suffered during the search for my first development job, but it was definitely one of the biggest disappointments. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the 2018 Hacker Fellows cohort even though I had already had a job at a Detroit startup. I was able to participate in the Hacker Fellows bootcamp with an altered schedule that allowed me to still work in my current position and get connected to the rest of the Hacker Fellows community. Although I did not participate in the 2018 Hacker Fellows interview process I still had access to all of the benefits Hacker Fellows provides. I’ve been able to broaden my skill set, expand my network, and meet a group of truly lovely people. It has also helped me start to think about what’s next.

I love my job, and I work really hard. Earlier when I said that I’m not particularly ambitious, that is not to be confused with being lazy. I have always had a lot of pride in my work, whatever that was, I’ve just never had a clear goal before. Since I’ve gotten into software development I’ve set and achieved (and failed at) many goals. I graduated from a coding bootcamp, I landed a job at a startup, I became a Hacker Fellow, and have learned countless things during all of those experiences.

So what comes next? Do I want to start my own business? Do I want to code forever? Do I want to teach or manage projects? Do I want to work remotely full time and explore foreign corners of the world? At this point, I can honestly see myself doing any of those things. The only thing I know for certain is that I have more opportunity, skills, and freedom now with a nine to five job than I ever had working jobs with flexible schedules and traveling for extended periods of time. I feel more fulfilled than ever before.

Samantha Stewart is a 2018 Hacker Fellow and software developer at Waymark. She studied Psychology at the University of Michigan as well as completing a Full-Stack Web Development bootcamp at Dev Bootcamp in Chicago.