I remember the day I noticed a post notification from a group of developers on Facebook. It was this guy named Byron Sommardahl inviting us to solve a code challenge and offering a price to the first one to finish it. It was like a game, a test of my strengths, a race against the clock. But it was already late and it had been a long day. I decided I would give it a shot the next morning. Before turning in for the night, I checked Facebook one more time, and, to my surprise, someone had already finished the code challenge. Only two hours had passed. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I would be competitive by finishing it in one or two days. That night I realized I was not playing in the same ballfield as the developers at Acklen Avenue, which motivated me to dig deeper
Even though the winner had already been named (and hired, by the way), I set a personal goal to solve this code challenge so I could prove to myself that I could do it. I started working on it that day and powered through the challenge until I solved it. It took me more time than I expected. In the process, I realized how far ahead of me other developers had run. It motivated me to prepare myself for the future and improve my programming skills. So, I started to research and study new technologies. I read books, took online courses and even restarted the challenge one last time from scratch. But this time, I improved the code, the performance and added a user interface. I went far beyond what was required to win the challenge. I felt like I owed it to myself and my family to test my limits and show my growth. (You can see my submission for the code challenge here ). I remember feeling proud of my accomplishment and saying to myself, “If this is what they do at Acklen Avenue everyday, I would like to work in a place like that.”
Then, one day I noticed another post in Facebook. Acklen Avenue was looking for a software developer. I could feel my blood pressure and heart rate rise as I responded. Have I learned enough? Am I ready to be counted amongst the best developers in Honduras? Somehow I felt sure the answers were, “yes!” I sent my resume… and they accepted me!
From my first day at Acklen Avenue, I began to notice the variety of cool projects. Acklen’s teams were working on life-or-death medical apps all the way to light-up wristbands for boy band concerts. I felt like I been accepted into the major leagues of software development.
Acklen Avenue is completely different from any software development shop I’ve ever been a part of. While other development teams are discouraged from maintaining high-quality code, Acklen Avenue requires it. I was worried about how I would possibly learn so many practices and techniques so quickly to become a productive member of this team!. But, to my surprise, I discovered that the team picked me up and brought me with them along their journey. Thanks to practices like “pair programming” (two devs, one keyboard), I had an expert developer working with me, teaching me all the tech knowledge, and working with me in every feature. As a result, my knowledge grew up and out and I felt like I could do anything with this amazing team who was so willing to teach and help.
At Acklen Avenue, all devs are expected to be “full-stack”. That means we must be able to contribute productively to all areas of the software development life-cycle. I was more a backend developer at the beginning, but when I started building features, I learned more of the other areas, and now I’m able to develop frontend (either web or mobile), backend, standalone services, setup devops tasks, etc. on a highly productive level.
Another one of Acklen Avenue’s agile practices is known as “Test-Driven Development” or “TDD”. This practice leads the developers to start with tests and then move on to implementation. It’s a lot like the scientific method I learned in high school. You start with a hypothesis and some expectations (the test) and then you write the code to make the test pass. It felt weird at the beginning when I wrote tests for no existing code. But then it started to make sense. As you write tests, you start to think about all the possible scenarios for a given function or area of code. You start with the simplest scenario, make the test fail (intentionally), make it pass with working code, and finally clean the code up for the next developer. This process, called “red-green-refactor”, happens countless times per day until the feature we are working on is finished and bullet-proof.
I love solving the world’s problems with great code. But one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a part of Acklen Avenue is that we have the chance to make other people’s lives better through social projects. One such project is at a girls’ home called “Our Little Roses” in my town. Acklen Avenue sponsors their computer lab and I along with several others from Acklen go weekly to teach. Our students are orphans between twelve and seventeen years old who desperately need computer skills to help them break out of the cycle of poverty. Our lessons to these girls range from keyboarding to graphic design to productivity apps like Word and Excel. My personal reward was to see how much they can achieve, starting as girls who can barely use a mouse or keyboard to young women who could use a computer for research and school work. It has been AWESOME.
There are other perks of being an “Acklener” of course. For example, my commute to work has gone from 2 hours to 2 minutes (I work remotely from home). I use that extra time to spend with my family and to achieve my personal goals. Since I’m not tied to one particular city or zone, my family will soon fulfill a dream of moving to another city to be closer to our extended family. At the time of writing this article, construction is already underway and my wonderful job at Acklen Avenue has made it possible.
Acklen Avenue is a unique place to work. It has changed the way I think about many things and has expanded my expectations of what a job SHOULD be. I’m proud to be a part of this team for so many reasons. Whether it’s a new technology to explore or a tough business problem to solve, each day comes with a new challenge. Whether we are deploying mission critical systems to production or showcasing our newest feature to one of our deserving clients, each day brings a new adventure. With every challenge come a fresh opportunity to shine! That’s what it’s like to be an “Acklener”.