My Journey to Startup Institute Boston


Dan (third from the left) presenting with his group during the hackathon

I was one of the lucky ones (or so they told me). After the Great Recession ravaged the United States in 2008, I was one of the seemingly few left standing. While many of my friends were either laid off or faced an uncertain financial future, I was left unscathed. Thankfully, the health care industry was a bit more insulated from the economic mess, and the company I worked for had a very good reputation for being financially conservative and weathering the hard times.

"We’ve never once laid off any employees due to economic hardships," they told me. "Stick with the company long enough and they’ll take care of you." These assurances of job security—along with generous benefits, a 40 hour workweek, and 5 cent sodas from the vending machines—should have been enough to mitigate any feelings of wanderlust.

So what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just count my blessings, thank my lucky stars, and just enjoy my largely stress-free days and work-free nights?

The guilt grew over the next few years. I switched jobs internally a few times, and while things did get better, my job satisfaction was short-lived.

"What do you do?" Inevitably, this question is asked when striking up conversation with strangers. I hated this question more than anything. I didn’t want to be defined by what I happen to do between 9 and 5 to pay the bills. I wasn’t embarrassed by what I did, but I wasn’t particularly excited about it either. "I’m a level two tech support at a medical software company," I’d say, and quickly try to change the subject to something more interesting.

But I wanted to be excited. I wanted to get out of bed and look forward to the day ahead. I wanted to stop watching the clock for the last hour of the day. I wanted to start making things instead of fixing them all day long.

I realized I needed to make a change. The question was: what do I do? After a bit of soul searching, I decided to go back to school part-time to pursue a Master’s degree in computer science. It seemed like the logical step; I’ve always had a passion for technology ever since my dad brought home an Apple Macintosh SE in 1988. (I became known as the family “computer guy”—a blessing and a curse.)

One of the courses I took during this period was Web Application Development. In this class we explored HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, AJAX, PHP and MySQL. About 2 weeks in, it hit me. This… this was it. This is what I had missed. Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

I wrote scripts in HyperCard (look it up) when I was 10. I started writing HTML in 7th grade. I enjoyed programming in C++ in high school. I was the webmaster for my alma mater’s campus activities website. I created a Google Chrome extension for my peers at my day job to make issue resolution easier. Coding was something I truly enjoyed. I decided that whatever I decided to do next, coding would be a part of it.

I left the Master’s program to strictly focus on web development. I started reading everything I could on the subject and attended the Boston Front End Developer Meetup group. It was during one of these events that I noticed an attendee wearing a “Startup School” T-shirt. I was intrigued about it and did some research when I got home.

I was blown away. It was as if someone designed this program just for me. I would be learning not only the technical skills needed to be an in-demand web developer, but the emotional intelligence required to connect with all the different personalities I’d encounter in my career.

One application and a few Skype interviews later, I was accepted into the program. I’m now three weeks into the program, and my expectations have been surpassed in every way. From the inspirational founder talks, to the top-class instructors, to the incredibly valuable network connections, Startup Institute has already provided so much value!

I’m confident that just six weeks from now, I will have the skills needed to make an impact in the Boston startup community and finally build products I believe in. And when you ask me what I do, I’ll be more than happy to tell you.