His Chicago Commute Takes Seconds
WCC Grad Helps Shape the Technology He Uses
Working from home is fairly common these days. And WCC graduate Javan Makhmali demonstrates daily how successful that arrangement can be.
Makhmali has been employed steadily in the web development field for about eight years. He moved back to Ann Arbor a couple of years ago after working in Los Angeles for a small, three-man company called Inkling.
Today Makhmali works for 37signals, a growing Chicago-based software company. He started working there as a programmer just over a year ago. He chose to remain in Ann Arbor, instead of moving to Chicago, because his family and good friends from Community High School are here.
“At 37signals we make tools for collaboration,” said Makhmali. “All of us (employees) are fairly well distributed. There are 10 in Chicago and 20 scattered around the world. All of the tools that we use and sell were developed to make our lives easier. They make it possible for us to work together well without being in the same place.”
At Inkling he was using a language called Ruby, which they also use extensively at 37signals. One of the partners, David Heinemeier Hansson, created the web development framework Ruby on Rails years ago while building Basecamp, their project management tool.
“Ruby on Rails has become a wildly popular open source program,” Makhmali said. “It’s a huge help for web developers and has spawned a whole ecosystem around it. It’s really neat to work with David and some of the other original Rails programmers. It’s something that I have admired for a long time.”
How Did He Get His Start?
Before enrolling at WCC in the Internet professional program, Makhmali attended Western Michigan University for a year. “It was a big school and some of my classes had upwards of 300 people,” he said. “I took some computer science classes, but I wasn’t really interested in a lot of the other required courses.
“I’d heard about the program at Washtenaw and decided to try it out. I liked it immediately because it was all practical stuff I felt I was really going to use. Eventually, I got to the point where I was working and going to school at the same time. I was learning stuff in school and using it literally the same week at work. It felt really good.”
In a recent blog post, Hansson took issue with the importance that employers place on hiring applicants from high-profile schools. “We don’t need the indirection of pedigree to guess at their skills, we can look at their code and know it,” he wrote.
On a list of the top-tier schools that he said helped shape “the fine band of programmers we employ at 37signals,” he included WCC.
What Got Him Noticed?
College graduates often outnumber the jobs in coveted professions like web programming and design. When he applied to 37signals, Makhmali let his work speak for him.
“I think most of us were hired because of the actual work that we’ve done, our portfolio,” said Makhmali. “One thing that helped me is my open source work. It's freely available online, and anyone can read the code. Contributing to open source projects is a great way to demonstrate your code and to get a leg up against the competition.”
Makhmali recommends building a strong portfolio to get a good job. “That doesn’t mean that you need prior work experience,” he said. “It can be personal projects or even homework assignments—little fun things like a poster you designed or something for a fictitious company, anything really. Make sure it’s stuff that you’re proud of and remember to make your portfolio itself look great. Your portfolio is part of your portfolio.
“People want to work with designers and programmers whose work they like. It’s pretty straightforward—there’s no mystery. Your actual work is so much more impressive than where you’ve worked or where you went to school, especially in this Internet age. It’s not true for all careers, but here it totally applies.”
What’s Next for Makhmali?
Right now the big push at 37signals is a new version of Basecamp. “As a programmer, I'm often working with a designer to take what they've created and turn it into something that functions. It's fun to see it come to life,” said Makhmali.
“In addition to working on Basecamp Next, I spend time supporting our existing applications and customers. That might be fixing a bug in Highrise (another 37signals product) or tracking down ‘who did what’ from a log file. All of the programmers take turns doing this, and it’s a great way to learn the applications inside and out and get a sense of what our customers want.
“We’re all really thrilled about Basecamp Next, which launches soon. It’s an exciting time for the company, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”