What started it all: 8 Chicago engineers share stories of how they discovered their passion

Written by Alton Zenon III
Published on May. 30, 2019
What started it all: 8 Chicago engineers share stories of how they discovered their passion
Brand Studio Logo

Every great adventure has modest beginnings; after all, a road trip begins with the determination to leave home. 

Similarly, professional journeys begin at points that are often unassuming but can lead to incredibly rewarding places in the end. We spoke to engineers with a wide variety of experiences from nine Chicago tech companies to learn more about what catalyzed their quest to code and what they appreciate most about having reached their current destination. 

 

Discover Financial Services team chatting

Discover Financial Services is a Chicago-based financial services provider that offers its international customer base banking and payment solutions. Senior Principal Software Engineer Andrew Duckett said his passion for tech was sparked by an iconic film and stoked by incidental coding experiences through another path.

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

It started the first time I saw “Toy Story.” I wasn’t sure where it would lead me, but I was inspired to pursue a career that used both technology and creativity to build amazing things. I started my journey in graphic design, working with a number of small companies to design web and mobile experiences. That felt like the logical path until I started spending more time developing interfaces than designing.

At first, I just wanted to find the quickest solution and get back to designing. Over time, I realized how much I enjoyed approaching these problems in new and creative ways. Gradually I was spending all of my time in code, which led me to full-time software engineering. Most people don’t consider software engineers artists by any stretch; for me, it’s the perfect blend of creativity and problem-solving. 

 

I was inspired to pursue a career that used both technology and creativity to build amazing things.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position? 

I enjoy spending the day around people who are genuinely as passionate about what they do as I am. At Discover, a typical day for our team includes researching engineering concepts and ideas, working through designs and pairing implementations. Our commitment to collaboration and the willingness to be a little uncomfortable so we can engage in the unknown are what keep me excited about the new capabilities we are delivering for our customers.

 

Productive Edge team in group photo

Productive Edge is a consultancy company that provides tech, strategy and customer experience solutions to businesses in any industry. Lead Developer and Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Specialist Matt Insley said making marketable products out of untested tech is an exciting part of what he does.  

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

I've always liked figuring out how systems work — taking them apart, putting them back together and recombining them to make something totally different. I also had a lot of exposure to that work growing up because my dad was a software engineer too. But I didn’t find a love for it until around high school when I started experimenting with small web and robotics projects. Even then, I ended up earning my degree in bioengineering and computer science. 

I eventually came around to software because it’s a better fit for how I like to think and work. The time and material barriers between idea and execution are so much lower in software that learning a new tool or framework becomes much more powerful. This is a field that values constant learning, experimentation and self-motivation, and that’s where I like to be. 

 

The time and material barriers between idea and execution are so much lower in software.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

I really enjoy having the opportunity to explore and use new technologies. We work with some relatively cutting-edge experiential tech: VR, AR, holographic displays, haptic feedback and more. Turning what are often experimental, undocumented and unproven systems into consumer-facing products makes for incredibly interesting work. Often, the solutions you’re looking for don’t exist yet, but the pieces are there and you have to be comfortable digging deep into the tech to chart a path to the end product.

 

Civis Analytics team in costumes taking group photo

Civis Analytics provides companies with cloud-based data science solutions that allow them to tackle difficult business challenges grounded from their own data. Software Engineer Leanne Miller said her interest in computer science started in college, and afterward, she made a career leap following a great internship experience.

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

Before college, I had little knowledge of how computers worked. This ignorance bothered me, so I decided to take an intro to programming class my first semester, and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Afterward, both my professor and upperclassmen in the major encouraged me to continue taking computer science classes. I appreciated the community that existed in our CS lab and decided to make it a second major.

This interest was not enough to convince me that I wanted to work in the field, but, again, friends in the major persuaded me to try an internship at a small startup in Chicago for a summer. I was pleased to find a congenial, respectful atmosphere and coworkers who were happy to mentor an inexperienced college intern. Learning about the kinds of problems experienced by larger and longer-lived codebases was intriguing. Those new challenges, coupled with the smart, helpful people I met and the pleasant atmosphere of the team, convinced me that I could work in this field long term.

 

Learning about the kinds of problems experienced by larger and longer-lived codebases was intriguing.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

The same aspects that drew me into this field in the first place — the opportunity to collaborate with awesome people to solve interesting, challenging problems. I have found engineers here to be smart, helpful people who are always willing to explain new concepts or talk through problems together. Since we have a complex, distributed system running on cutting-edge architecture, there are frequent new technical challenges to be met. Solving hard problems with great people is the best part of working at Civis.

 

Fooda tech team members working in a conference room

Fooda partners with restaurants in each of the nationwide markets it serves to deliver lunch to workplaces. Software Engineer Mikee Pourhadi said tinkering with tech with his brother as a child helped him discover a passion for engineering. 

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

I started off as a human resources representative after college and stayed in that role for a few years, but it eventually dawned on me that my passions rested elsewhere. My brother and I spent our childhoods messing with and breaking computers all the time. His push is what ultimately led me here, and I feel much more fulfilled for it. Engineering work is challenging, but after around four years, I’d say that is ultimately what keeps me interested and excited every day.

 

My brother and I spent our childhoods messing with and breaking computers all the time.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

The best part of my day is working with the other developers on my team. They’re curious, smart, capable and hilarious people who are hungry to do great work. Thankfully, we have a fair amount of complex challenges to address, which makes our brainstorming sessions exciting and productive for everyone. Product, design and quality assurance are typically involved in problem solving as well, which brings an interesting cross-section of opinions to each discussion. I would say it’s that melting pot of ideas that I really enjoy being part of.

 

PerkSpot team chatting in the kitchen

Through its partnerships with companies like Target, Spotify and many more, companies can use PerkSpot to reward staff with performance-based discounts and perks at participating stores. Senior Software Engineer David Rubin believes influential software lies in the intersection of code and creativity, and he enjoys working in that space. 

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

I’ve been interested in science and math since early childhood and technology, specifically, since the second grade. I have vivid memories of playing a maze game on my best friend’s family computer and recall being completely taken by the plastic and metal box that seemed to work like magic. I decided that, when I grew up, I wanted to "play with computers" for my job.

 

I believe that software development is as much art as science.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

I most enjoy the creative aspects of building software. I believe that software development is as much art as science, and that great software depends, to a large degree, on the creative aesthetic and good taste of its builders. Working collaboratively with the other talented people across all the departments at PerkSpot, we make tactical and strategic choices every day that are rooted in solid engineering principles as well as creative elegance.

 

Pricefx team at company outing

Pricefx offers configure, price and quote software to companies across a number of industries so they can best set their prices and boost their margins. Solution Architect Akash Duseja said he appreciates running into challenges he can’t immediately solve because they advance his skills. 

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

From a young age, I was always curious about how everyday things worked. I liked opening TV remotes, cameras or anything interesting that I could get my hands on, just to see what was inside. During high school, I continued this hobby and started building electrical circuits and electronic instruments. A few years later, I decided to turn my passion for engineering into a career.

 

I liked opening TV remotes, cameras or anything interesting that I could get my hands on, just to see what was inside.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position? 

Problem solving is certainly my favorite part of my role. Every so often I’ll come across a problem that requires extended thinking and research, but being able to design a great solution while picking up new knowledge on the way makes it all worth it.

 

 

Jiobit engineener Ben Becker

Jiobit develops wearable tracking devices monitorable through an app, used to keep tabs on children, pets, seniors or anything worth keeping an eye on. Firmware Engineer Ben Becker said he loves the diversity in his daily work and being backed by a team culture that supports new ideas. 

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

I became interested in becoming an engineer through a childhood of playing with LEGOs and unscrewing every screw that wouldn’t get me in trouble. I started to get more focused on electrical and computer engineering by looking through online projects. The ones that seemed the most interesting to me were electronics-based.

When I started college, I knew I wanted to study something where I could create things that would be worthwhile — something that had a tangible, positive benefit in someone’s life. Computer engineering seemed like it would provide a path to that kind of interesting, fulfilling work.

 

I knew I wanted to study something where I could create things that would be worthwhile.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

My favorite part of my position is working with a small group of determined individuals. The small size of the team means that I can make contributions that have a real impact on the progress of the company, even as a younger engineer. The need to fill in wherever necessary leads to a varied workload where I can be doing anything from troubleshooting customer service issues to designing automated test systems and evaluating hardware for future projects.

Everyone in the group is dedicated to producing the best possible product, and that leads to a "what do you see that I don’t" mentality, which allows me to confidently share ideas.

 

Cisco Meraki team chatting on outdoor patio

Cisco Meraki is a cloud-based IT service provider for small and large businesses. Software Engineering Manager Hart Thomson said he has always enjoyed making things — and his profession gives him plenty of chances to do just that. 

 

What got you interested in an engineering career? 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved building things. The prospect of a career in software engineering provided me the opportunity to build things at a massive scale.

 

The prospect of a career in software engineering provided me the opportunity to build things at a massive scale.”

What are some of your favorite day-to-day aspects of your position?

By far, my favorite aspect of my position is seeing concepts and ideas from our team come to life on millions of devices worldwide. It is both terrifying and empowering.

 

Photos via featured companies unless otherwise stated. All responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Hiring Now
Discover
Cloud • Fintech • Machine Learning • Analytics • Financial Services