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Discovering Success: From GC to Twitter

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Discovering Success: From GC to Twitter

Discovering Success: From GC to Twitter

Few people shape products that millions of others use every day, and still fewer sit down with celebrities like Tom Hanks, Miley Cyrus and Commander Chris Hadfield to learn how they use those products. Jason Kozemczak ’07, however, is among the few. An engineering manager at Twitter, Jason leads a team that supports mobile products for Android and iOS.

Twitter’s frequent updates set a quick pace for Jason’s team each day. He keeps his corner of the social networking and micro-blogging service humming with quick “stand up” staff meetings and frequent one-on-one conversations with each member of his team. Right now they are working to improve Twitter’s launch time on older and slower devices. He shares their progress on Wednesdays with other engineering managers, senior VPs and top executives. Sometimes CEO Dick Costolo listens in.

Celebrity guests occasionally stop by to talk about new movies or albums in the works. “We use it as opportunity to learn how they use Twitter to interact with fans and promote their projects,” explains Jason. He eagerly learns from others and counts “self-teaching” among his strengths.

“I didn't have this skill or understand why it was important until my time at Greenville College,” he reflects. Still, once he learned how to learn independently – to “self-teach” as he calls it – he made a series of discoveries that ultimately led Twitter to his door. Here are five:  

Discovery #1 – Great opportunities may not satisfy

Discovering work experiences that are satisfying sometimes means engaging in experiences that are less than satisfying. During Jason’s junior and senior years in college, he embraced a wonderful and unique opportunity to assist Dr. Arlene Larabee with research at Argonne National Laboratory. Though he loved engaging in science and technology, he realized that pure research in nuclear physics neither sparked his imagination nor satisfied his desire to solve life’s practical problems. Still, the discovery was valuable; it helped narrow his search for work that would make his heart sing.

Discovery #2 – Inspiration just down the hall

In the meantime, Jason found inspiration in his everyday classes. Today, he points back to specific math and religion classes and COR 401. “My COR 401 project revolved around exploring business models similar to TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker,” he recalls. “It reinforced this idea that a business can do good and still make money, a quality that Twitter, more than any other company I have worked for, demonstrates.” Jason considers Dr. Darrell Iler's chemistry labs as some of the finest teaching he has ever experienced, specifically their integration of theory, history, computation and real-world execution. “I teach courses as a part of Twitter University, Twitter's in-house training organization and try to mimic those aspects in my own courses today.”

Discovery #3 – Effective self-teaching expedites learning on the job

In the end, a computer science class Jason took as a senior inspired him to use technology to solve tangible problems. It also defined the path he would follow after graduation. With very little programming background, he set out to learn more about software development. “I started out at an entry-level job writing in-house software for Sears Portrait Studio's parent company, CPI Corporation. From there, I moved to Asynchrony Solutions in St. Louis, where I really learned how to hone my craft and write good software.”

Discovery #4 – Finding an appreciative audience

Jason learned that an audience for his work already existed in the form of online developer communities. He dedicated his free time to writing open-source software that he shared online. “Software is somewhat unique in that contributors produce valuable tools and ask for nothing in return other than thanks or a mention,” he explains. “I knew that by getting my code in front of people, I could build a rapport in the global developer communities.” When he wrote a piece of software that resembled Twitter's iPad application and posted it to technology news site Hacker News, it drew significant attention. Twitter called Jason the following week.

Jason Kozemczak

Discovery #5 – Lean toward passion

One clue to identifying a passion is observing the activities you make time for. Some nights, Jason stays up late recording episodes of iOhYes, the software development podcast he co-hosts. “I still find myself coming home and writing code because it's something I love doing,” he says. “Being able to express a problem and its solution in a way that a machine understands really forces you to think about the problem you're solving and what factors contribute to it.”  

To students crippled by uncertainty or in the throes of indecision, he recommends they observe even small interests they find engaging and pursue them more fully. “With services available online such as Twitter, it is increasingly easy to become an ‘expert,’” he says, “and with that, there's plenty of opportunity to try new things.”

Jason effortlessly names GC professors, staff and administrators that enriched his college experience. He urges today’s students to follow suit and take full advantage of the Greenville College community. He would love to hear the thoughts of faculty, alumni, and current students on any of these subjects. Jason’s Twitter handle is @jak.

Photos courtesy of www.alexwasilewski.com

This story was published on April 07, 2014




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