Not everyone takes the summer off, and the ambitious programmers enrolled in SIE Utah are no exception. These high school students use the summer months to hone their coding skills, and to hear from leaders of local software companies.
Matt Peterson, Jive’s Chief Marketing Officer, stopped by to share his thoughts about programming, how it impacted his life, and how young programmers could prepare for the future. He started by outlining the difference between his generation and the students’ generation when it came to coding.
“I’m a software guy with a software company,” he said. “But programming isn’t organic for me. You guys are the ones who woke up with an iPad in your hands. There’s no transition for you. Information I had to struggle to get my hands on, you have access to any time you want. Your generation will be the ones to realize the vision of what we’re just barely glimpsing right now.”
Matt went on to quote Marc Andressen’s Wall Street Journal essay on how software will “eat the world.” The essay came out in 2011, and Matt insisted that we’re seeing this idea in action today. “Software is changing everything about everything. It’s going to eat the world, and what comes out on the other side is going to be totally different than what had at the start.”
But with the world in such a state of flux, Matt argued that it was impossible to guess where technology will take us next, or even what language coders will use in the future. He told the students that the best way to prepare for the unpredictable was to invest in yourself and to seize opportunities as they come.
“You’re already investing in yourself,” Matt explained. “I mean look at you. I feel like you’re my people, giving up your summer to sit in a windowless room. That’s insane. Embrace that about yourself. The skills you learn here will help you in whatever you choose to do.”
He warned against being passive and relying on others. “You have to follow your own wiring and be aggressive,” he said. “Don’t worry about the money. In college, we had a venture capitalist out of New York come and talk to the people in my program. He recommended that you don’t worry about making money until you’re forty. This is the time to invest in yourselves, to work late hours—to work for free, even—so you can grab the skills that’re out there.”
He added that investing in yourself also involved networking. “Talk to people. Email them. Call them. Get to know the ones who are interested in the same things you are. They’re the ones who will help you get out there and make it happen.”
Life is unpredictable, Matt explained—technology even more so.“You never know what’s going to happen. Something always comes along that changes everything.”
But, according to him, programmers have an inherent advantage. “One of the skills I learned as a programmer was to be opportunistic. There are ways to solve a problem. As a programmer, you train your mind to look at a problem, see the gaps, and search for a solution. That’s how you should look at the world. Look for the gaps and figure out how to fill them with the things you’ll create.”
Matt cautioned against parents and teachers who frequently asked kids what they want to be when they grow up. “I think it’s a terrible question,” Matt said. “You’re supposed to somehow know what the future will be? If I answered that when I was 15, I would’ve been way off. The best things in my life came my way because I didn’t have this concrete idea of how my life would go. I was open to change, to being different.”
At the end of his presentation, Matt fielded questions from the students. Most questions dealt with what Matt, as a prospective employer, looked for in a recent graduate. Matt related that he used to ask all the typical questions—school, degrees, etc.—during interviews. But then he began taking a different tact with applicants.
“On the spot, I’d write a problem on the board and ask the candidate to go and write out a solution. We all have a fear of being put on the spot, but the people I wanted with me were the ones who took a breath, got up, and wrote out something. Even if they got it wrong, it showed me that they were creative and willing to take a risk to solve a problem.”
Matt also asked applicants about what they did in their spare time. “I didn’t want people who worked a few hours a day and then went home and did something entirely different. I wanted people who were building an app or learning some random computer language. That’s how I knew you loved creating and programming, and that you were someone who would move the company forward.”