Shawn’s Home Run: Blending Computer Science and His Love for the Sox

clockwise: NU Commencement 2008, me holding the 2013 World Series Trophy, me in the Duckboat on parade day

clockwise: NU Commencement 2008, me holding the 2013 World Series Trophy, me in the Duckboat on parade day

This guest post was written by 2008 alum (I know, 6 years later not 5, but his advice is too good!), Shawn O’Rourke, for the 5 Alums, 5 Years Later series. Shawn graduated with a BS in computer science and is now the Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the Boston Red Sox. 

November 2nd, 2013:  Thousands gather in celebration around the city of Boston. On Boylston Street specifically, where just six and a half months earlier, one of the most tragic events of the city’s history took place. The Championship Trophy stood proudly on the Boston Marathon Finish line, draped with the numbers “617” and words “Boston Strong” around it.  I will always remember exactly where I was at that moment: riding in a Duckboat, hand over my heart, singing “God Bless America” in unison with the thousands in attendance.  Remembering the victims and their families and the courageous efforts by the first responders, I couldn’t help but get emotional.  It was one of those moments when you realize how truly fortunate you are. A moment that makes you recognize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. Part of the healing process. One of Boston’s Strong.  My name is Shawn O’Rourke.  I’m a 2008 graduate of Northeastern University and Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

You may be wondering how a NU Alum with a Computer Science degree finds himself riding in a World Series parade with the likes of David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. The answer is simple – networking, patience, passion and hard work. As an undergrad in 2007 I was fortunate enough to be in a class where the then Red Sox Director of IT (also a Northeastern Alum) happened to be a guest speaker. After class, I introduced myself, handed him my resume, and a few weeks later had myself a co-op in the IT department. Throughout my six months running around Fenway Park fixing computers, printers, phones, and a/v equipment I was able to meet people from all different company departments.  These connections would ultimately help me land my dream job after graduation. But it did not happen right away.

I remember driving back home to my parents house the day after my graduation ceremony in May 2008.  College was officially over.  No more classes, no more homework, no more finals.  It felt great, however, I also didn’t have a job and didn’t have any money (aside from graduation gifts).  It was a very scary feeling.  So what do you do as a broke graduate with no job?  You join your friends on a month-long backpacking trip around Western Europe, obviously!  Turned out to be the first great decision of my post-college life.  Remember – you have six months before you have to begin to start paying off those college loans and the rest of your life to work on building your career.  So first piece of advice is, if you have the time and the money to travel – DO IT NOW! Just remember Liam Neeson won’t be there to save you (sorry bad Taken reference).

Two days after returning from my trip, I received a phone call from a connection with the Red Sox with an offer to work as a consultant doing software development.  It wasn’t a full-time position, and it wasn’t exactly my dream job, but I took a leap of faith knowing that, over time, I could network my way to where I wanted to be.  Remember – just because you don’t get your dream job right away does not mean you won’t ever get there.  Patience is truly a virtue.  At the company Christmas party in 2008 I had a conversation with the Director of Baseball Information Services in Baseball Operations – the department that I desperately wanted to work in.  Two months later, I was hired full-time by baseball operations to work exclusively on baseball systems – my dream job! I’ve been there ever since.  My patience, networking, and hard-work had paid off!

Now, maybe you don’t quite know what your dream job is right now – totally fine.  My advice for those who are unsure is to start by finding a place to work that does something you are passionate about – even if your degree or major doesn’t directly apply to it.  My degree was in Computer Science – but my lifelong passion was baseball.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that have degrees in subjects that have almost no relevance to what their jobs are today.  The truth, at least in my experience, is if a company can tell that you are a hard-worker who is passionate about what the company does, they can and will teach you the necessary skills as long as you’re willing to learn.

So congratulations, my fellow huskies, on completing this chapter of your lives.  As you prepare to start your next one, just remember that above all else, it is yours to write.

Shawn O’Rourke is the Coordinator of Baseball Systems Development for the Boston Red Sox and proud NU Alum.  Feel free to contact him at sorourke@redsox.com or tweet him at @Shawn_ORourke

Happier after working at Happier.com

source: happier.com

source: happier.com

It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview stand-out student, Andrew Barba. A 3rd year computer science major set to graduate in 2016, he recently finished his co-op at Happier.com, an extremely successful tech start-up in the Boston area.  He gave me great insight into what a co-op at Happier.com is like, how to navigate the interview process, and what it is like to work for a start-up.  All of you entrepreneurs out there or people interested in start-ups, listen up!

Ashley LoBue (AL): Can you tell me a little bit about Happier.com?

Andrew Barba (AB):  Nataly Kogan, one of the founders, had worked for well-known companies like Microsoft and was extremely successful. She thought that she would be happy when she hit a certain level of success and made a lot of money, but Nataly found that it wasn’t the case.  So, she and her co-founder, Colin Plamondon, got the idea to create something that can make people happier in other ways—they did some research and found that if you write down three happy thoughts a day, then you were scientifically proven to be happier. Happier.com started out as an iPhone app but then got extended to the web since it was cost effective.

(AL): What did you do day-to-day as a co-op for Happier?

(AB): I actually got to work on the iPhone app for three months, and then they said “here, build a website”, so I was really excited about the amount of responsibility I had. Yoav, the CTO of Happier, was my mentor, and I did it all as far as coding—all of the other stuff was on him.  It was a lot of fun! Yoav actually designed the system we work with, which is called Agile Software Development.  The idea is that you release products and features quickly so you learn quickly—the key to this system is that you don’t release it when it’s perfect, you release it when it’s ready, so that you can get user feedback and adjust things according to that feedback.  We are able to do this through “Sprints”.  Every Monday we have a big planning day where the whole team gets into different groups (like design, product engineering etc.) and we try to brainstorm on what we can get done. Natalie leads the meeting and talks about the direction she wants to go in, and then we triage from there—the design team says we can do this, and then product engineering says that they can do that etc. We release in two week chunks.  On the web, we release as soon as the app is done.

(AL): What are the challenges?

(AB): One of the challenges working for a start-up is that you have to start projects that you don’t really know how to design. You might think something will work, but in actuality it won’t.  One time I literally deleted everything that I worked on for a long time because it wasn’t functional and I made a mistake. For every mistake you do though, I think you always learn two or three things, so that you always are a better programmer today than yesterday.  As a student, you are taught to do things in a certain way, but you need to learn to think outside of the box if you want to solve a problem or do something that hasn’t been done before.   

(AL): What do you like most about it?

(AB): Freedom is what I like most about this position—they don’t call me an intern because I will build a product for them like the other engineers, so they treat me like another member of the team. They give me a huge amount of responsibility, which I don’t feel like I would’ve gotten at an internship at say, Facebook.

Tech Startups Image Source: entrepreneur.com

Tech Startups
Image Source: entrepreneur.com

(AL): How did you get your co-op with Happier?

(AB): I met happier at the Co-op expo.  They really liked that I had already made two apple apps—I started learning how to make apps by signing up for 12 one-hour classes on how to do it. It was time consuming, but I loved it.  I gave them my resume but actually showed the apps I made. I believe this side project helped differentiate me from the other candidates and say more about me than my resume could.

(AL): What about post graduation?

(AB): I would love to start something on my own one day—the startup space is fun, a lot of work, and moves very quickly, but I just love that environment.

(AL): What is the best piece of advice you can give other students to be successful in co-op?

(AB): I would say to definitely speak up to your supervisors.  Don’t be quiet in a meeting and voice your opinions. Your team really wants to hear what you have to say.