Erik Williamson


Erik Williamson

AGE: 30
INTERESTS: Mountain biking / urban cycling, computers, yoga, skateboarding, going to shows, supper w/ friends & family.

Where are you from?

I grew up on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. I moved to the Bay Area around 10 years ago, and now I’m back up in Seattle.

What did you do before 42?

I spent around 5 years in IT before I took the leap to get into software development. IT and programming are like being in the automotive industry. IT is like being a mechanic; I got my hands dirty, figured out how things work, and solved puzzles. Software development is like being the guy at Ford or Toyota who is designing the car, and I find it more creative and less stressful.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I automated small tasks but never wrote standalone applications. Computers have always been a hobby, but never anything that I’d studied formally – my focus in community college was softer sciences like sociology & economics. I ended up in the Bay Area during winter break and never went back to complete a degree. One thing I would like to do more in the future is study mathematics. I’ve discovered that not having a background in linear algebra, calculus, and statistics is going to be a real blocker in my career. I saw this clearly in the graphics branch of my studies at 42. The way I solve matrix problems is through brute force, but people with math backgrounds have an easier time and a better framework for approaching many classes of problems.

How did you hear about 42?

I heard about it through the local BeerJS meetup in Truckee, when I lived near Tahoe. I found networking in Tahoe & Reno a lot easier than in larger cities because the tech scenes are more intimate and diverse from a tech stack perspective. I even was able to land a JS dev position but found that my skillset was too low to take on so much learning at once. It was like going to college in Latin America will all coursework in Spanish, without enough of a base language background (something that I’ve also done, and evidently wasn’t dissuaded from trying again!).

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

I guess my #1 takeaway was re-learning how to learn, specifically not being afraid to just jump into something and fail, flail, and ask for help until I solved it. That is something that continues to serve me and is broadly applicable to life. At 42 I learned to skateboard, rock climb and got deeper into my yoga practice. I was able to excel in these activities because I got comfortable in the piscine with failure and asking for help from my peers. 42 has a strong skateboard culture so I started to ask people how to improve and went from not being able to stand on a skateboard to jetting around campus. The skate from the dorms to the lab is the ideal commute! The friends I made in clubs while hiking, climbing, skating and doing yoga are super close to my heart.

How did 42 prepare you for the workplace?

The 1st way was learning not to fear uncertainty and my own capacity for learning, and the 2nd was reading a lot of code because that is something I do every day now. I read my own code, read code that other people have written, and I collaborate a lot with other developers. Reading code used to be something really intimidating, even after doing dozens of corrections at 42. A really rewarding experience in my professional life was reading code to understand it after a few months on the job, and suddenly realizing that I was just reading and understanding- not struggling.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

Through lots and lots of networking. My take on networking is that it is as simple as telling people what I want and what I am looking for. I was up in Seattle visiting friends and at a party, I was casually telling folks I was looking for a software engineering position, and that I wanted to work at an agency. I ended up telling my story to someone I didn’t even know was a developer, and that eventually led to interviews and the position I have now. Before that, I sent out hundreds of resumes and only got one offer.

Describe what you do:

I do full stack web development, with most of my focus on frontend React. UpTop is a digital design and development agency, which means we work with different client projects. Typically design and project management will work with the client to figure out what to build. The designers do the big picture thinking, working toward solving what the client needs, which isn’t always what the client thinks they are looking for. By the time I get a spec, it’s usually pixel perfect and ironed out to the last detail. Sometimes tasks are as simple as HTML & styles, sometimes they require creating an API on the backend (application programming interface), and sometimes there is more back-and-forth to clarify things. This is another great habit I picked up at 42 – asking questions to make sure I fully understand requirements, and not being fearful of judgment. I am still learning where the balance is between making something quickly and making something maintainable.

What does your typical workday look like?

I work at an agency so everything I do relates to billable hours. I have a pretty flexible schedule, as long as I am able to accomplish what is promised. I like to get in early and leave early. I commute on my bike and by ferry. At the beginning of the day, I look at my tasks, prioritize, and write code for the rest of the day. One thing that surprises me about UpTop is the work/life balance. The project managers are really good at pushing back on the client if there is something we cannot deliver. If something is more difficult than we thought it would be, a project manager lets the client know, which I imagine can be pretty stressful. It’s important for me to let the PMs know my estimated level of effort for everything I do, and this is still very difficult for me. I often fall into the trap of grossly over- or underestimating how long something will take.

What have other interns/co-workers at your work or in your program found difficult that you found easy?

I guess I would come back to not being afraid to fail, and just jumping into things. I feel like I got that fearlessness from 42, just jumping in and banging my head against a problem until it is solved. That is not a skill that I had before 42, and it is an important skill to have when you are a developer. Just handling the stress, there is always stress of deadlines and understanding things. One way that I handle that stress is through yoga, which is something I did when I was at 42.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

Yes, I recommend 42 to a lot of people, usually people who are already interested in technology but don’t have a background in it. I think 42 is valuable even for people who don’t go into development. When I was in the program I didn’t think I could be a developer, I thought I was going to go into product management. The program gave me the gumption to keep digging into problems when I feel like giving up. For me the most important part was getting over the fear of failure, that was so valuable to me, no matter if I went on to become a developer or pm, it was hugely valuable. And also the camaraderie, making so many amazing friends at 42, going through the piscine was such an amazing experience. And my 42 homies are going to be such a valuable network in the future, especially when we are all situated with employers.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

Yeah, you gotta be out there networking, you have to tell people what you want. That isn’t advice just for jobs but goes for life in general as well. What you broadcast to the universe and what you are trying to do, it will align, it just takes time. Something that made me feel more confident was Starfleet Academy. Getting into the CS interview questions, even just interviewing with cadets that I knew, I felt nervous and scared. I am so lucky my first whiteboard interview was with a friend; if there’d been a potential job on the line with a company, I’d have been so stressed!

Fabulous photos of Erik by UpTop’s Digital Marketing Specialist, Rochelle Murray:


Interview by: Stacey Faucett

published by Stacey Faucett – May 24, 2018