By Brian Burridge, Tampa Bay Rails Instructor
This past July, I reached my 20th anniversary for working professionally in software development, and all of it done here in the Tampa Bay community. I actually started coding over 35 years ago, at age seven, as I learned to program alongside my father.
It’s been quite a journey. There have been ups and downs for sure, but overall I count myself blessed to have had the career I’ve had and to have had the opportunities to work on some amazing projects with some amazing teams.
I grew up a teacher’s kid. As a child that’s not an easy label to carry. If a student has a problem in school, and your dad is their teacher, somehow they like to take that out on you. But, now that I’m grown up and can look back at the big picture, I can see many benefits of growing up with a teacher as my father.
My dad wasn’t just any teacher. He was an incredible one. To this day, students from 35 years ago still talk about the impact he had on them. Though I had him as my teacher for a few school classes, I really had him as a teacher every singe day. He was my first mentor on many topics beyond computers. He taught me how to problem solve, how to think analytically, how to try and fail like a scientist, and how to share what you’ve learned with others.
It was those basic characteristics that created a strong foundation for me to be successful in my software development career. As I applied for my first ever full time position, I found I had much to learn. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to even submit my resume without taking a five question quiz, which I had to hand back to the receptionist…blank.
That’s when all I had been taught about being real and honest, working hard, loving your craft, and being dedicated to it, kicked in. I drove straight to Barnes and Noble and researched the answers to the quiz. I then typed them up, printed it out and returned, handing in the answers with my resume. I also included a short note that said, “I may not have all the answers, but I know how to find them.”
I got an interview. In fact, I was the only one interviewed without previous on the job experience. That got me in the door. My programming skills got me the job, when I successfully wrote code, on paper, without being able to run it before submitting it to see if I had it all right. That launched my career and I’ve never stopped learning since.
Over the years I’ve worked for the first ever Web agency, at least in Florida, and was a developer on one of the first ever online shopping carts. I worked for Valpak, IBM, Brighthouse, Intercontinental Hotels, and then for Miley Cyrus for five years. I served as CTO for a local startup, and worked freelance for a few other startup as both a CTO and Creative Director.
While working for Intercontinental Hotels I was the lead J2EE Architect for the hub that processed all their reservations and availability transactions from their 4,000 hotels around the world. It integrated with Priceline and all the other online outlets as well. It had to handle more than a billion transactions a year and process each one in milliseconds. It was another awesome challenge, with a great team. We rose to that challenge and were hugely successful.
In 2009 and 2010 I led two teams in a Rails Rumble, 48 hour hackathon, finishing in the top eight both times, out of hundreds of teams world wide.
The main project I worked on for Miley Cyrus was her private fan club. We had more than 250,000 customers paying $30 a year to be members. At one point, we had 11 million visitors per minute. It was a chance to learn a lot about Ruby on Rails, and to prove it can indeed scale.
I also had the privilege of creating an inspiring online support program for those running in the New York and LA Marathons. It allowed friends and family to post videos of themselves encouraging the runners. The runners then had RFID chips on them, and as they ran past large digital billboards during the race, these videos would automatically play, inspiring them to press on and reminding them of those that loved them.
I also worked for GitHub for about a year, serving as the developer to the training team. It was there that I became so fascinated with the idea of training people full time. It’s what peaked my interest in becoming a teacher and led me to The Iron Yard.
Over these 20 years, few of these applications I’ve created are still online today, but one thing that still remains are the junior developers I had the pleasure to mentor and teach. Many of them had no previous computer programming experience when they came to me, yet they still work in the field today. That is so much more exhilarating than the software itself.
This is the reason I am so excited to begin our first class in September, in our new Downtown St. Petersburg campus. I hope to create the same atmosphere in my class that my dad created for me more than 35 years ago. Should you choose to change your life and enter this field through my class, you’ll learn to think, to analyze, to problem solve, and to try and fail, without fear, in order to grow as a person and to create incredible software solutions that will help make our world the best it can be. And, like me, I hope you’ll fall in love with the thrill of programming.