Shift3 Spotlight: Ryeker Herndon, Software Developer

Every so often, we like to focus on the people behind the scenes at Shift3 Technologies. Our software developers are the silent scientists of our company and make what we do here possible. They’re not always front and center, but they are our foundation. The fun part about our developers and engineers, is that they all come from vastly different backgrounds, cultures, educations and industries. Case in point, Ryeker Herndon.

Ryeker Herndon began as a creative writer with a degree in English Literature. Now he’s a seasoned software developer and educator. Here’s his story in his words.

From Writing Prose to Writing Code

By: Ryeker Herndon

When I was twelve years old I decided I was going to be an author. I was going to write science fiction (because I was twelve and it was the 90s) and move to Los Angeles and meet all my favorite authors. From my desk in Friant, California I was charting a course to being the next Michael A. Stackpole. I continued to write in my free time and took classes on creative writing and eventually graduated from CSU Fresno. My degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing (please note the capitalization of my emphasis) would surely land my short stories and specs for novels on the desks of several editors and publishers.

I graduated in 2011 with two prospects: substitute teacher or food service industry worker. In Fresno, California there were very few entry-level jobs for a college graduate with a degree in English Literature (emphasis omitted) and even fewer that had anything to do with the written language. So I did what most creative twenty-somethings do; I got a job at Starbucks. I was convinced that it would only be temporary and that since I had managed a pizza place for several years already I would work my way into management quickly. Somewhere between learning to make the perfect cross-hatch on a caramel macchiato and how to concoct the fluffiest whipped cream in a canister, I traded writing prose for writing cleanliness inspections.

The next few years I focused on working hard and proving myself in the retail/food service world, I welcomed my first child into the world, and my wonderful wife continued to encourage me to utilize that college degree that I had placed so much hope in. Life was good at home, but the retail grind had slowly worked me down. In the retail management world, your time is not yours, it belongs to the location(s) you manage. Family time is often traded for time at work, overtime is a foregone conclusion, and vacations are filled with phone calls and text messages about work. There are many people who are uniquely equipped to take on that challenge, but as I learned over the four years that I strove to work my way up the management ladder, I am not one of those people.

My unfitness for the job came to a head when my second child was born. The first week of her life, all I could think about was how much product my store needed, whether or not the store would be alright, and a hundred other mundane, work-related details. Meanwhile the most beautiful baby girl in the world had joined my family. It didn’t take me long to realize that my priorities had become tragically misaligned. It was around that time that I heard an interview with an Intellectual Property attorney on the radio about a place called Bitwise. I remembered that I had heard that name before, something about technology in Fresno, blah blah blah. For some reason this time I heard it, that name wouldn’t get out of my head. What’s a Bitwise? Are they saying they are a little bit wise, or is it some kind of colloquialism about someone with a wry sense of humor? That English degree was begging me to figure out the story behind Bitwise.

As it turned out, Bitwise meant a lot of things, but the piece of the company that caught my attention was affordable technology education. While I knew the difference between a Romantic era writer and a Romance author, I didn’t have faintest idea how technology was created. After discovering that this slightly sage business in downtown Fresno offered very affordable classes (no computer knowledge necessary) I signed up for the introductory course. I figured at the very least learning to code would be a challenge that would distract me from the stress I had found myself living in. The class was held at night in a building that determined to stand out among the 1970s-era architecture around it. The building was peppered with small murals of geek culture, there was an open-air garden in the middle of the offices, and everyone within one hundred feet of the building had at least one visible tattoo. I walked through the front door to find industrial-style pipe-and-plywood furniture and a bustle of activity that decidedly did not fit in this small downtown office space. Everyone I met had an energy, an excitement about what was happening in the building and how they were contributing to it. It made me wish I knew what the heck this place was! More than that, I knew I wanted to be connected to it somehow.

The first night of class included a tour of the building and a crash-course in what exactly we were there to learn. Apparently I had signed up for an introductory web development course, which meant that I was going to learn to make websites. I wrote my first line of HTML code that night, and while it was nothing like writing a short story, it made something in my brain click. I could write these strange (grammatically incorrect) words and characters on the screen and immediately see what I wrote on a website– and it looked pretty good!

I was hooked. I spent every spare minute I had from that day on feverishly learning everything I could about the technologies we were going over in class. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Angular, Node, the list stretched on for miles, but I loved that there was always something new to learn. I signed up for the next three classes and started spending what little free time I had downtown in the Bitwise office. Luckily no one asked me to leave, and a few people even offered encouraging words. I had no idea some of those people would end up employing me in the coming years, but I thought it was pretty awesome that they were willing to stop and look at code that a beginner was writing. I continued to learn and eventually was offered a position working for Bitwise as a programmer. Every day I get to write code that translates into technology that improves people’s lives.

My passion for writing fiction (that emphasis of Creative Writing again) never died, but where once I filled my spare thoughts with plots for short stories or rough drafts of novels I wanted to write, now I think about how I can make technology that solves problems. I have tried to work out why I am so driven toward two fields that are so vastly dissimilar, and I think the closest I can get is to say that in either case, I am using my imagination to write something that helps people in some way. I still dream of writing the Great American Novel, but for now, I am happy writing the Pretty Cool Fresno Application.

Ryeker is currently a full-time software developer at Shift3 Technologies and a part-time instructor at Geekwise Academy in Fresno, California. He can also still make a killer caramel macchiato. Questions for Ryeker? Email rherndon@shift3tech.com.

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