Justworks’ Henry Dotson on Becoming a Software Engineer

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We had a chat with Henry about his career path that led to him working as a professional software engineer after spending some time in IT, environmental science, and finally an engineering bootcamp.

What drew you to the field?

After taking on software engineering projects in a few different jobs, I realized that I should be doing engineering in a more formal way. That’s when I enrolled in App Academy in order to learn software engineering in a more structured way.

How was the app academy experience for you?

It was great! They were very good at motivating us to focus intently on learning the subject matter. This was a direct result of the way the program is structured, where students put up a deposit and as long as they pass the program App Academy takes the tuition from the salary of their first job after graduating. It incentivizes App Academy to get students into a job, and students to focus 100% on staying in the program. It made a huge difference in terms of my becoming a professional software engineer, whereas before I was entirely self-taught.

How was the transition from IT to software engineering?

I transitioned out of IT after I left Tri-State Biodiesel, where I was the primary IT person as well as writing their CRM application, which was my first software engineering experience.

In successive jobs, I tended not to take on an IT role as aggressively as I had in previous jobs. I had learned my lesson that it’s something of a thankless task, and I was more interested in building my engineering skills, so I would readily take on engineering projects. I could do this because in the jobs I had, I was hired for other roles and the tech tasks were things that I volunteered for.

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What are the things you had to come up to speed on to be successful in landing the job?

In my current job, because it’s an engineering company with a technical product, I’m really having to focus on the quality of my work. One of my main reasons for moving to this job was that it is primarily an engineering company. At JustWorks, because the product is the software, we have a much more intense focus on quality under the hood. Things that no one but us will ever see. The code I write is under much more scrutiny, which I think will make me a better engineer in the long run.

What are some of the things you enjoy about the work culture at Justworks?

The culture of engineering as a craft is really nice. As well as the focus on the overall improvement of each employee in terms of their career. We have weekly 1 on 1s to talk about our career development goals. I’ve always worked in small companies and that kind of stuff usually falls by the wayside. It’s been an interesting experience to be part of a larger company that is actively focusing on this.

I see that you have diverse educational and work experience. Did it help you in any unexpected ways?

Yes, I have often found that my past experience has turned out to be applicable in ways I did not expect. For example when I worked at Tri-State Biodiesel, I was Operations Manager and was responsible for HR, compliance and payroll. Years later at Justworks I found that I had a good understanding of the problems that the platform is solving for small businesses, because I have been there and been faced with those problems myself.

Do you have any hobbies, or other interests? What do you do when you’re not coding?

I play a lot of tabletop RPGs and I help organize a Game Makers meetup. Also rock climbing.

What was the biggest personal or professional obstacle you had to overcome to get where you are?

My lack of formal CS background. When I was teaching myself to write software I did a lot of things wrong. I had a lot of bad habits to unlearn. App Academy was really helpful for that. I don’t think I would have been able to do that studying on my own.

What wisdom did you gain from overcoming those obstacles that you can impart to others?

Identify your blind spots or gaps and find ways to fill them in. For any self-taught engineers, that’s particularly relevant. Seek out people who can tell you what your gaps are and take advantage of whatever resources you can get to fill them in.

Apply to App Academy: http://bit.ly/AppAcademyOnline

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Written by Eric Chung

Eric Chung is a Clutch Talent Tech Associate. Clutch Talent's experienced team specializes in recruiting engineers for tech companies.

We match top tech talent with highly competitive career opportunities through targeted and efficient recruitment and candidate representation services. We help leading and emerging tech companies address hiring challenges and recruitment brand marketing, with innovative and collaborative strategic consulting.

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