INTERESTS: I enjoy rock climbing, snowboarding, parkour, archery, and backpacking
Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. My mom kept us sheltered from what was going on in our neighborhood because I came from an at-risk community. I had a glimpse of tech when I was 14 when Myspace was a thing. I would try to rework the HTML to do a cool color scheme and animations. At the time I thought it was cool, it was my first exposure to it. I liked puzzles and solving problems, so math always interested me. I majored in percussion in high school and went to college briefly to study theater. When it comes to the arts, you learn to approach things from a different perspective.
What did you do before 42?
At the time I wanted to open a photography studio. I wasn’t the greatest photographer in Buffalo but I thought if I went to school for business I would attract more clients. So I went to school for business, but my scholarship was running out in a semester or two. I was trying to pursue education still, so after I heard about 42 I thought it was worth the shot. Worst case scenario was that I would get to see California, which I always wanted to do. So I decided to do the piscine. I got the email that said I was accepted to the 42 program and decided to move to California.
Did you have any programming experience before 42?
I think honestly that was my only exposure, doing the HTML when I was 14. There were no computer science courses at the arts high school that I attended. I didn’t take any programming classes while in college either.
What did you like best about your 42 experience?
What I liked best is just the kind of rigor that comes with just being thrown in and being told, “ok, it is up to you now to figure it out.” Life had always been like that up to that point. So I was used to that kind of methodology. There was some kind of comfort being in the unknown. I was in my element being able to find whatever project I wanted and approach it in whatever way to accomplish the task. A group of us wanted to build a hydroponics system. We pitched the idea and we built it and monitored the plants growing in there. You would have to jump through so many hoops to do that at a traditional school. I like the freedom to pursue what you want. The amount of unknown in that challenge was cool and something to feed off of.
Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?
So right now I am working on replacing the backend of a portion of our website. There wasn’t really a blueprint for this, with the current backed system it takes 3 days plus to deploy changes to it and we want to make it so it takes 20 minutes top. They had a rough outline on how to get started but quickly that part ended. So I was like, “how do I finish to see this part through?” But this is similar to 42, where we are told what is expected at the end, but there is no plan on how to do it. Without 42, I would probably cry a lot and need plenty of guidance through the process.
At 42 you see if you are capable, and it is like, “show us what you’ve got” so that is what I am doing at work. If it wasn’t for 42 I wouldn’t feel totally capable of doing this. All our teams at Twilio have to do their own on-call rotations and I went on the on-call cycle very early in my career. I attribute that to 42 being able to help students take a problem, dissect it, and figure it out with ease. I can apply the same principles of troubleshooting and problem solving, no matter what language it is in.
How did you get your foot in the door where you work?
I did the Hatch apprenticeship at Twilio, which takes people who are from nontraditional backgrounds, such as boot camps or self-taught, and onboards them through what it is like to work at a company at scale. So I applied through that program. My friend passed me the application and it was atypical to what I was used to. Instead of a standard resume and portfolio, they want to know about your life and why you wanted to go into software engineering. They wanted to get a sense of who I am alongside my technical background. So that caught my eye. I got the phone call for an onsite and that is how I got my foot in the door.
Describe what you do at Twilio:
I am currently a software engineer in the billing pipeline team. There are a bunch of products at Twilio, and when customers use them, we convert those events into transactions for downstreams to leverage. We are the gateway for the billing platform, we need to be highly scalable because all of the products come through us.
We make sure we are available all the time, and build tools so product teams can integrate with our systems easily and downstream teams like payments or revenue can accomplish their goals. I am currently working on the backend migration for the companies billing pages on twilio.com. With this migration, our system becomes more scalable and flexible and certain workflows will go from 3+ days to 5-10 minutes.
What does your typical workday look like?
I usually start my day around 9 or 10 am and in the morning there is usually a stand-up. I like to make a checklist of what I want to accomplish in the day and keep my focus on that. Usually, I will have a meeting or two to go over things, but mostly I’m just jamming to music, coding away, or deploying code. I tend to get out of work around 6 or 7 pm.
Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?
Depending on the person, I would recommend it. I don’t think it is for everyone. I think you need to know what you want to get out of any program, have a plan before you get in there. With 42 you gain such a depth of knowledge. With the fundamentals, you create a very solid foundation for the things you learn later in your coding career. So doing all the projects we do in C, I feel comfortable picking up a new language in a week or 2 such as PHP, Python, Scala.
The foundational stuff at 42 is seen in the projects we do. All of the logic needed to pick up any language is already instilled in me. I also like the flexibility. You can go into 42 wanting to be a web developer and become someone who is a machine learning enthusiast. The world is your oyster and that is true at 42. You can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.
Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?
I usually recommend a very defined approach with that stuff, you need three solid projects in your portfolio that you can point to. Once you have those you can apply to these places and get your foot in the door. Having strong interviewing skills are important, you can practice coding problems through online resources like HackerRank. Once you are in an interview you need to show you can do it. Also, a lot of what we do where we work is communication, I have to talk about design and implementation a lot before I touch code. So being able to communicate your ideas clearly is huge. And being a general team player and being able to contribute your ideas.
Connect with Michael on LinkedIn
First photo by 42’s in-house photographer. Second photo provided by Michael Morel.