Spotlight Interview: Alan Matthews | Development

We’ve been traveling around our departments helping you get to know the people behind the product at CallRail in our series of spotlight interviews. Today, we’re talking with Alan Matthews, a software engineer on our development team who taught himself to code after obtaining degrees in both health science and audio engineering. After making the switch to tech, he’s never looked back.

How long have you worked at CallRail? How would you describe the culture here?

I started in March of 2016, so about a year and three months. The culture is very open and relaxed. We have some of the quintessential tech startup things like ping-pong and video games, but it’s not a playhouse atmosphere. When I did my interview I felt like CallRail had attractive cultural qualities. I came from about five years in the restaurant industry, so that was a big shift.

What made you want to pursue a career in software engineering?

I’ve been through college twice, plus a bootcamp for coding. I earned a bachelor’s in health science, but I decided to change directions and do audio engineering instead. I had friends in bands and who were DJs that got me interested in working in music in college, so I went to a school in Orlando and learned sound engineering. After graduating I worked in recording and post-production studios for three and a half years, while working part-time at Six Feet Under in Atlanta. Getting a full-time job in the music industry isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Getting into tech as a career happened kind of by accident, although I’ve always been into tech and computers since I was a little kid. I was fortunate to go to an elementary school that had a computer lab so that helped me pick up skills in tech easily. I’m 34 now, so at the time a school having Mac/PC computers with internet access was cutting edge. People I worked with in music ended up doing some wiring and setting up servers for video content at local production studios, and they told me if I had basic coding skills they could get me a job in that area to help automate some routine tasks. So I started looking into how to code. I looked at the stuff they have online teaching it, and after reading more about how in demand coding was, I started taking coding classes at The Iron Yard. When I finished that program, I had a hard time finding a job for about a year and a half, but did an internship at a startup that taught me how to work on a team.

During my job search, I was venting on Reddit and asking for advice on my resume. I got the usual “go network and talk to people”, but one person actually sent me the link to the tech support job that initially brought me to CallRail. Michelle McCurdy, our Director of Customer Support, called me back and said they had a new role in mind for a Support Engineer, a job which offered customer support to people working with our API. I was their pilot in that role. In January of this year, I moved to the the development team and started writing code full-time. It’s very satisfying to set a goal of working as a full-time software engineer and actually accomplishing it. Starting in support was great because it allowed me to meet everyone, and gave me the knowledge to understand the product and learn the code base.

What’s your favorite part of your job here at CallRail?

My favorite thing about working here is being a part of a company that allows me the time to learn and develop my skill level. They know where my ability is compared to the other people on my team, who are fairly advanced. I appreciate the atmosphere of learning and the patience of people on my team to answer questions and teach me what I don’t know.

What’s the most important thing you’re currently working on?

Since January I’ve really been focusing on growing myself. I’ve been taking more time to finish projects and been very intentional so I have a better understanding of what’s going on. I look at it as overall personal growth more than just getting a feature done.

Do you have a philosophy of work that informs your day-to-day process or how you complete projects?

I’m someone who values practicing what I learn a lot to solidify the knowledge. Being able to do something over and over again to where you don’t have to think about it frees you up to have a bigger understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. I learn by mimicking others, and I like to take visual cues. When I was teaching myself how to code, I learned more by doing video courses and seeing the actual process. I have a good sense of my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to do in order to succeed.

If you were a TV show character who would you be and why?

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. He doesn’t necessarily not want to be a part of things, but he’s not interested in hogging the spotlight. I identify with him. I’m OK with having the behind the scenes power.

What’s the greatest thing you’ve accomplished so far in life, and what is something you hope to accomplish in the future?

The past seven years have been what I’m most proud of. Spending a bunch of money to go to audio engineering school probably wasn’t the most financially sound thing to do, but the lessons I’ve learned along the way made me feel so much more confident and capable. I was able to break away from emulating people and doing what someone told me to do and focus on where I wanted to go. As far as what I hope to do one day, anything car related where I could be one of the drivers. There’s a guy that invented the web framework CallRail uses, and he competes in the GT sports cars category driving cars like highly modified Porsches. I would like to compete like that in a sports car race someday.

What’s something interesting about you that not many people know?

I was accepted to nursing school at Jacksonville University. I ended up going to Orlando for audio engineering school instead.

What do you spend the most time doing outside of work?

I hang out with friends on the weekends, go to shows, and check out new bars and restaurants. I like to workout, mostly weight training.  I recently got a bike so I’ve been riding that more often too. I also enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction. I’m a big soccer fan, and Liverpool is my all time favorite team.

Do you have anyone who has mentored you or helped you find direction in your career?

I’ve always been very internally driven and I actually gain confidence from failing a lot. I read the book “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss, which is a compilation of interviews with very powerful people in a wide array of industries ranging from tech to sports, who have reached the top level of their profession. There is an interview with Jamie Foxx, and he says, “What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.” I interpret that as if you fail or embarrass yourself, as long as you don’t do something harmful, it doesn’t actually matter. If you do something everyone shies away from and fail, most likely people will come up to you later and say how brave you were for trying it. I think of it like when I screw up, if everyone’s ok and the world didn’t end, I can try again.

What TV show do you like to binge watch?

Game of Thrones. Rick and Morty. Bob’s Burgers. Westworld. Mr. Robot.

What song would you pick as the official soundtrack to your life?

The Black Keys is my favorite band. I would choose their song “Little Black Submarines”. The last minute and a half jumps up from an acoustic start. You should listen to it if you haven’t.

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