Joe From Work

Published by Joe Drotos on Nov 15, 2018 • #devstory

This is a part of a series of #DevStory posts that chronicle the personal and professional development of Trellists. The premise is simple: As a form of peer mentoring, dev stories are a showcase of the diverse paths Trello employees have taken to becoming colleagues, and lessons they’ve learned along the way. We hope that these posts provide hope, support, encouragement, and advice to others through the sharing of our own experiences.

Sometime in the early 90s, my Dad bought a computer on the cheap from some college kid. It ran DOS Shell in a dark theme and the heading said “Welcome to hell.” As an an elementary school kid, I thought this was very cool.

Fast forward to middle school. My StarCraft guild website got hacked by a rival guild. I didn’t know how somebody did hacking, but I was impressed and a little scared.

Fast forward to high school. Fred wasn’t the only one with a metal band that needed a web presence. I had seen The Matrix at this point, and nothing said “metal” like a neon green on black homestead.com website. The band didn’t work out, but the webmaster skills carried me through the ~2 weeks of html lessons that my high school offered. You better believe we learned about html tables!

I took a gap year, and then I enrolled at the University of Manitoba. They crushed my dreams of becoming some kind of academic in the humanities, but they gave me an A+ in their intro to computer science class. I dropped out after a year.

I came back home looking for a job. I applied to work for the City of Red Wing as summer help. Specifically, I had inside information that they needed someone to work at the waste water treatment facility. Boy was I excited. Waste water treatment. Excitement. Luckily, somebody at the city heard I had some kind of technology skills and they ended up hiring me in the IT department. I got to be an IT guy, and I worked on a website for their broadband initiative. It was a good gig.

Sitting in the AC, eating snacks, and small talking all day seemed unreal. It was the first time I considered that I could get some kind of desk job. If you grow up without any exposure to white collar work, it’s sort of a lot to wrap your head around.

By the time that summer ended, I had met my future wife and moved into her one room apartment in Minneapolis where we paid $350/month. I got a job working at a call center doing tech support for sales people on nights and weekends. $14/hour.

Mission accomplished.

But, with lots of downtime at work, I enrolled in some online courses at my hometown technical college. I earned a certificate in C++ and Windows programming. I ended up writing some data entry and knowledge base software for the call center. It wasn’t really part of my job description, but you’ve gotta keep those C++ skills sharp or you’ll start leaking memory all over the place.

I got laid off. They gave me six weeks severance pay. For a twenty-one year old this is basically winning the lottery. I lived large. I applied to the University of Minnesota. I was admitted. I pursued a BS in Computer Science.

I was broke, so I got a student job working IT at the Saint Anthony Falls Lab. This was the best thing that could have possibly happened to my career.

The whole IT department worked out of a tiny room. My mentors sat inches from me. They’d look over my shoulder and shout bash commands at me. It was awesome. The whole lab was awesome.

I got to help order and configure giant supercomputers. We got to work on balloon tracking software for teams studying the antarctic. We were on the internet two backbone. Sometimes you’d open up an old computer and a bunch of shells would fall out from one of the many lab-wide floods. We had no budget, apart from the occasional giant grant to buy supercomputers. Everything operated on “Intern! Here’s 20 dollars and a ball of wire. We need a camera on the roof. Get at it.” I ended up doing a bunch of cool network admin stuff, and a bunch of Drupal development. Basically, I got to learn by doing; for me, that’s the only way to go.

I graduated. I got a job working at a company that wrote energy trading software. Sure, they didn’t use source control and all code had to be submitted to a mysterious person called “the integrator.” Sure, they used a proprietary programming language. Sure, whenever I finished one stage of a project my manager would just shout “More threads!” at me. Sure, the dude at the local sandwich shop had my sandwich preferences memorized. It was a dark time. After a year, I got right out of there (citing Joel on Software more than once). I still yell “booo” whenever I drive by their headquarters.

To work through my rage, I did what any rational software developer in 2011 would do: I started a social networking company. It was called Grouchr, and it was for complaining about things in a location-aware way. FEEL THE GROUCHES:

When I ran out of money, I started a job hunt with my newly minted mobile development skills. I went to my local subreddit and posted something like “Uhh, does anybody know any like, hip, companies a young, very cool, mobile developer could work at for money, please?”

Luckily for me, our very own Dan Lew saw the post, and told me about this very hip company he worked for at the time called “Expedia.” I got to see what a co-working space was. I got to try out the remote working thing. I met lots of nice smart people (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). I learned how to do Android gooderer.

I joined a little startup with a former colleague of mine. It wasn’t the friendliest place to work, but I stuck it out because I genuinely liked and admired the guy that got me the job. He announced he was leaving, and then so too was I!

I started publishing a bunch of little apps, and putting out feelers for places to work. After one million Trello interviews, I got hired. I immediately went on parental leave, but then I came back and did some work. I’m still doing some work to this very day. Thanks Trello!


Joe’s story is part of a series from Trello developers about how they got their start. You can read the rest of the dev stories here.