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At Home on the Ranch: My Path to Becoming a Nerd

Zachary Waldowski

Big Nerd Ranch attracts people with winding, interesting, and occasionally confusing paths through life. Our Nerds are not merely byproducts of their qualifications, nicely packaged with a bow and a sticker that says, “Hire Me!” Rather, we find bright, passionate people who never stop learning. Experience is valued expressly, like in any business, but so is diversity and adaptability. We have coders who are only just learning to program, and others who are paragons of the community. Chemistry doctorates, reformed marketers, ex-police: you name it, we have it.

Personally, I’m a child and student of the Big Nerd way. The first edition of our iOS Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide (née “iPhone Programming”) was my lifeline as I first taught myself to code at 2010, laid up in bed from a wisdom tooth extraction. (Cocoa, as it turns out, is even stranger on Vicodin.)

Just over two years later, the path of life landed me at Georgia Tech, not 10 miles from our Galactic Headquarters in Atlanta. My existing proclivity for mobile attracted me to the Mobile Application Development club (GiT MAD for short). As the fall and spring semesters trudged on, I fell off the wagon when it came to making it to meetings—until February of this year, when I happened to attend a Tech Talk hosted by none other than Aaron Hillegass. We struck up a conversation after the event, and one thing led to another.

Getting started at big nerd ranch

I began my internship at Big Nerd Ranch this past May. The experience of the past few months has been nothing short of magical. This is a place where I am totally in my element. This became exponentially more clear as I moved from working on an internal app up to one of our consulting teams. I fell immediately into the rhythm of working with a team, bringing whatever I had learned to the table, learning absolutely everything my colleagues had to share with me and (so I’ve been told) teaching them a thing or two as well.

As June dissolved into July and the humid summer wore on, I came to realize a few things about my work:

  • I don’t want to stop working at Big Nerd Ranch.

  • I don’t think I can stop working.

Turns out, like timidly revealing your infatuation to your crush, Big Nerd Ranch felt the same way about me, and I recently shifted my work from part-time intern to full-time coder. Basically nothing has changed. I still put my jeans on one leg at a time and my code still gets picked at for having conflicting tabs vs. spaces.

This was a decision I didn’t make lightly. College has been a dream—and, moreover, an impending reality—of mine and my family’s since I was in middle school. Why, then, would I give up a great time at a fantastic school? It’s only insert number more years until I graduate, surely I could get a job like this then, right?

Well, I suppose that’s true, in a sense. But like being at Georgia Tech was a realization of a dream, being at Big Nerd Ranch is the realization of something I’ve known since the first time I touched the flimsy glass screen of the original iPod touch: I want to build unbelievably great things with unbelievably great people. I’m taking advantage of that opportunity now, and plan to return to school part-time next fall.

what the future holds

Big Nerd Ranch has the most unique and refreshing approach of any place I’ve ever seen. In the typical hand-wringing way of an obsessively forward-thinking teenager, I’ve long worried about how that actual “getting a job” part would work. Would I sell my soul to write Perl for some faceless megacorporation? Or would I work 29-hour days for some startup and have a part for myself in an Aaron Sorkin film? As with most things in life, this isn’t just black and white, but I’m young; I think in absolutes.

But instead, I landed right in the middle of this spectrum by starting a career at a sustainable, strong company in an exciting industry that is constantly changing and expanding. (Con: there are no West Wing walk-and-talk sequences and I don’t get to find out which comedy actor would play me.)

Since the moment I got a green-and-goldrenrod letter in my inbox in April, I’ve been in a constant state of joy, and I’m not sugarcoating that. Our wonderful Blithe Rocher (also an intern-turned-employee) describes it best. Big Nerd Ranch is my home, I just happen to sleep somewhere else. I get to wake up, come into work, and do what I love, day in, day out.

Big Nerd Ranch is no fly-by-night VC cashout. We are not ninjas. We are not rock stars. We are not chained to our desks for nine hours a day, five days a week. We are Nerds, and the best kind: regular, humble people who obsess about making fantastic things. We think about animation curves over lunch, we draft pull requests in the shower, and we rap about language features. We learn absolutely everything we can about what we do, and then we have the audacity to share that knowledge with others.

We are changing the game one bit, byte, book, block, tap, and app at a time. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of it.

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