Early, early life
When I first put together this blog not too long ago, I sort of scrapped together an introduction that sort of explained who I was in a generic way. I don’t regret the way I wrote that, because I wanted to get started on relevant content rather than blab away about myself, but I’ve got downtime and I’ve got posts queued up for quite a while, I figured I could do some more personal posts on the weekends or off days. I figured I would throw together a post on basically how I went from being a complete nobody with no future ahead of me and wasted potential, to a halfway decent software developer at a promising startup.
As I’ve mentioned before, and as you almost certainly know by now, my names Trevor Hart, and I’m a software developer out of Springfield Missouri. My story with computers (I’ll make this quick) started at 5 years old playing Pajama Sam on a, if I remember correctly, Compaq Win 98 desktop, I was always fascinated with how a simple disk (or maybe it was a floppy…?) could run a game the way it did, I would theorize about how maybe they just recorded lots of versions of the game and then as you played it picked what parts of the recordings to play, etc. (which…at 5 years old…I’m gonna have to say that was pretty freaking close.). Anyway, from there I learned about the internet because my dad asked me one night what I wanted to tell my grandma about how my day went, I told him and he typed up what I said and sent it as an email, and he explained she was basically getting mail on the computer, and that just blew me away, because at this time the internet was a totally new thing (well…as far as the public was concerned). I attribute my career to those early days of curiosity with computers.
Growing up, I lived in St. Louis, Missouri. For those of you that know the area, I lived in east side…and yes, I mean the ghetto east side. I remember vividly nights where we would hear gunshots, and my parents would come into the room and make me and my little brother lay on the floor to sleep because the lower half of our house was made of brick, which was more likely to stop stray bullets. That said, I only remember St. Louis as being great, I had friends, a house to live in, we went to the market every weekend, our neighbors were great, life was pretty good as far as my 4-5 year old self could tell.
I went to Meremac Elementary School for kindergarten, and I was quite literally the only white kid in the entire school. Fortunately for me, this made me stand out in a positive way…to teachers. You’ve got to understand that most of these kids had dead beat parents who were dealers, prostitutes, the works. Half of the time the parents weren’t even there, and so when a kid walks into a school that has these kinds of students, who has a stable home life, and potential, these teachers really, really invested in those students…I happened to be one of those students.
By midway through kindergarten, I was reading at a fourth grade level, doing multiplication tables, and correcting students when they got things wrong, and this was possible because these teachers just took me under their wing and pumped everything they had to offer into me. Of course this made me a not so likable person (I may have had my head bashed into a brick wall because I humiliated a kids little brother in my class), but I was 5, how many manners can you expect a kid to have?
So fast forward to the end of kindergarten and my grandma was dying of breast cancer, they estimated she had a year tops, so we moved back to Springfield Missouri, and have been here ever since. I started school here and was doing terribly, my mom asked me one day in the car if I had already done all of the stuff they were teaching and I said yes, and from that point on I remember just being bored and not working hard…of course after a while this meant I was falling behind in school which killed my confidence, and then I felt like I wasn’t smart enough to do anything, this would go on until my junior year of high school.
The turning point
I was kind of dead set on just doing something hands on, my grandpa ran a janitorial company, my dad did maintenance for an apartment complex, my whole family did odd jobs with hvac, electrical, etc. so I figured I’d just work with them, I didn’t think I was cut out for scientific jobs, and business type jobs like accounting, sales, etc. bored me to tears (still does), so I figured that would be my best bet. To be clear, I love woodworking and think people who have those hands on skills are very impressive, but I began thinking that maybe there was a better path for me personally.
Since 6th grade my family told me I would do something with computers, and to be fair I was good at using them, and had done some stuff to try to make a private server for RuneScape back in the day, but it failed, and my parents didn’t much care for the idea of me stealing assets to a copyrighted game and then hosting a server on their internet. They took me to the library and said I should learn to make games, and I read that Visual Basic was good for games (oh the lies) and found a book on it. I read the first chapter, which was an intro to the history of programming, and learned about C/++, and the next chapter talked about the command line. The problem was it also had an install CD for visual basic, and I installed it and tried running the commands the book was talking about in the IDE (I think it was an IDE…I don’t really remember well enough to say), and nothing worked, obviously I look at this now and think duh, I was entering command line commands and arguments into an IDE and expecting something to happen, but at the time I didn’t know what any of that even meant.. I grew bored of reading a book that wasn’t really teaching me anything, and gave up on the idea of learning programming.
So back to junior year, I started trying a little harder in school (tried not getting F’s is what that translates to), and by senior year I decided I wanted to do more than just handy man work. First, I tried learning law, I had been watching Suits on USA and admittedly the glamorized view of being a lawyer interested me, and to be fair I still find law interesting, but it’s not for me. I read a few law books, and started working harder and harder in school, and was actually getting all C’s and above, mostly B’s and A’s. I was trying really hard to get the A+ program, a scholarship program which basically gave you an associates degree for free, minus books. My GPA was at 1.8 when I started, and by the end of the year I brought it up to a 2.456…unfortunately, you needed a 2.5 to qualify.
Halfway through senior year, I decided to try to learn programming. I liked the idea of game development and knew that RuneScape’s engine was written in Java, so I went to YouTube and searched for a Java tutorial and came across a series by Wibit.Net. They said in lesson 1 that you needed to watch their C++ series first, okay so I go to the C++ couse, “You gotta watch the object oriented programming course first”, okay, “You gotta watch the C course first”, …..okay….. “You gotta watch the intro to programming concepts course first.”…finally, I reached the baseline, an 11 hour (I think?) course on programming concepts…I made it through about 5 hours (after a while it was going in one ear out the other), and still have the notes I took on day 1 of watching those courses. From there I watched to the C course, bought a C book (which sucked), learned C++….and the rest is history.
I attribute a lot of my success to those lower level programming courses, and am a strong believer in starting from the bottom and working your way up because of it, and I would not have gone that route unless the guys from Wibit.net had said to go learn C first, and I am extremely grateful they did. Fast forward to my first year in college, I had been programming about a year at this point, learning how computers really work at a core level. The first year some stuff happened and I was only able to do 15 credit hours, 12 the first semester, 3 the second due to money issues. In the meantime, I was picking up math and computer science like crazy, and by the end of my first year of college, I went from barely able to multiply fractions or program console programs, to being able to understand basic calculus and making my first snake clone in C++.
Needless to say, I was miles ahead of where they were at in school because I spent 8-10 hours a day programming during that semester I had nothing going on, and before that I would spend 4-6 hours a day, basically what I lacked in raw talent, I made up for with sheer amounts of time put into it. I cut off everyone in my life basically, I stopped hanging out with friends, I didn’t go out (except to study at a coffee shop or whatever), and honestly I probably lost friends/weakened friendships I had…but that was okay, because I knew those first years were absolutely what was going to make or break me, and they really did.
After 3 grueling years of being bored to tears in all my classes (except SQL…SQL was actually challenging because I had never done anything with databases), I graduated with my associates in computer information science.
More important than any other thing I had done to this day, was something so insignificant you never would have guessed this chain of events would land me the job I have today as the most senior employee at a promising startup.
There was a company in town, the only game studio in the city, Black Lantern game studios. They’re no longer in business, but at the time they were doing pretty well, so I thought maybe I could get a job there some day. I decided to simply email them and be totally honest, I said something to the effect of “Hi, I’m a complete noob and definitely wouldn’t qualify for an internship, but could you give me some pointers so I could teach myself to be good enough for a job with you guys?”, this single email would effectively dictate the direction of my career. The lady who answered was the secretary and she was so nice, she got some of the developers to write up some tips, and she consolidated all of the tips into an email and replied back.
They gave some great feedback, but the most important thing they said was that I should check out the .NET user group here in town, so I decided I’d go to the next meeting they had. In the meantime, they had a google group that I joined, and I posted basically saying “Total noob wanting someone to learn game dev with”. So I get this reply from some random person who says he wants to make games with unity, I replied I hadn’t ever considered Unity but maybe, he asked if I’d like to go to his place after the meeting and discuss whether we could make something happen, and I agreed.
Now to be clear, I obviously looked this random dude up on Facebook to make sure he wasn’t some kind of rapist or whatever, and saw he was a CTO of a very successful company here in town. Holy. Crap. This literally blew me away, I never knew anyone in the business or technology world, let alone a CTO, so I did more digging, this guy had been in the field 40+ years, written books, consulted for several big companies, basically he was quite a well known developer here in town, and I was meeting with him at his house in a few days.
Fast forward after the .Net meeting and we go to his house and just talk dev. I come in, his wife offers us food, and he brings out all these crazy old but really good books on game dev, DirectX, C programming, calculus, and let’s me borrow a massive pile and says I can read them for as long as I want (I still have them…oops). I had a Unity book I let him borrow in return which was a terrible book, but hey, I tried. He drives me home a little later (I had no car), and that was my first connection in the field…best of all, I didn’t get murdered.
A month passed since that meeting and I randomly get a call from him, and he says “Hey man, wanna do some web stuff with C#? I’ll pay you.” At this point I’m sitting here thinking is that really a question?
“Definitely, but I don’t really know much about C# or web”
“Ehh, that’s okay, I’ll teach you, come in to -place of business- and I’ll teach you”.
Holy crap. I just got my first developer gig completely out of the blue…I was absolutely ecstatic. I showed up on day one and he hooked me up with Visual Studio Ultimate, SQL Server, showed me how to do basic HTML, showed me Asp.Net and MVC, and paid me 10 bucks an hour…granted it was like 20 hours a month for 2 or 3 months so it didn’t equate to that many hours, but hey, it was money writing code, I wasn’t complaining. All this was during the beginning of my second of three years at college, the project was a crowdfunding platform that was really well built and really cool, but it just couldn’t compete with Kickstarter and GoFundMe, so after some time it was shut down.
Later on, after the internship ended, I looked for a college job and landed a job as an accounting assistance for ANPAC here in town. I literally only got that job because the lady in charge of HR knew my boss and told my boss at that job that if I was good enough to work under him, I was good enough to work for them, so even my jobs after this internship, I got because of this guy.
My first (and only) developer gig
So I graduate college, and I kind of need a job…so I go to a .NET meeting and the guy who gave me that internship is there with another guy I had never met. He stands up at the beginning during announcements and says the other guy is his partner and they’re looking for a developer. I talked to him after and said “Hey…you know I am looking for a job by the way, if you need a developer I’d be happy to come work for you.”, he said he’d talk to his partner and get back with me. A few days later I got a call with a job offer and started work immediately. The job was a consulting gig where I’d be using lots of different technologies to do lots of different projects for lots of different companies, and I thought to myself that for a beginner this couldn’t be more perfect, yes the work was hard and the learning curve was steep, but to get such a solid baseline early on and be able to grow with a company from day one with two extremely talented and well respected developers heading the company…how was I possibly going to do any better than that?
I’ve been with that company ever since, and I love it. I’ve used Asp.Net, TypeScript, Angular, C#, Xamarin (Android and iOS), native Android and iOS, Database stuff with SQL, setup servers, had meeting with clients of ours, helped manage new employees, do code reviews, manage projects, worked with WPF, Wep services, basically everything in the .NET ecosystem minus Basic and F#, I’ve done it. It’s really been just an incredibly experience, and I to have many more years of it (right at 2 right now)
I’m sharing all of this not to show off where I’m at, because honestly, I am doing well, but I’m not killing it or anything like that, but I share this to say how the tiniest little things can change your entire life. I’m married, have a gorgeous historic house in a prominent neighbor hood in the heart of the city, two cars, a dog, a degree, all at the age of 23, and literally all of it is thanks to the fact that I decided to work hard, and because I sent a stupid email to a random company years ago, every single noteworthy thing in my career stems from an email from a noob basically begging for help from some developers. Had I not decided to reach out to that game company, my life could be in a completely different place right now, most likely for the worst. Hopefully this was at the very least entertaining to read, and at best I hope it inspires you to just go for it if you have a goal, and don’t worry about if you’re ready for it or not.