I took an introductory computer science course during my freshman year and barely passed. The class wasn’t too hard. I just had no interest in writing linked lists by hand. Little would my professor know that three years later I’d build and publish an iOS application on the App Store and would be interning as a Front End Engineer at Modus Create.
My College Experience
I’m currently a senior double majoring in Finance and Operations and Information Management (OPIM) in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Math was my strongest subject in high school. I also consider myself an extrovert and enjoy talking to people. Naturally, I decided to study business in college.
Growing up in rural Maryland and being the only child to two Asian immigrants meant that I had no idea what finance entailed. I always assumed it had something to do with the stock market and was slightly more fun than accounting. I also thought that accounting was limited to filing your taxes growing up.
When I came to Georgetown, I learned what doing business meant. Georgetown is generally considered a target school for investment banking, which means that most students have an interest in working on Wall Street, and Wall Street wants them. Apparently, working 100 hours a week creating discounted cash flows, formatting slide decks, and turning comments from your managing director pays extremely well.
The culture of the McDonough School of Business breeds talented, critical thinkers that make Georgetown a target school for investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. I even have friends who will start working at private equity firms like Blackstone next year.
During most of my college, I thought I would find myself on Wall Street after graduation. Not because I wanted to work there, but because everyone else around me did. At least that seemed to be the case.
I should have known that would never be my career path, because I always end up doing my own thing, regardless of the status quo. I traveled to Morocco and got stuck there after my study abroad program in Copenhagen got canceled last spring. I also planned a cross-country road trip with my roommate because I thought it would be cool. Two days later we were on the road. The list goes on and on.
Becoming an outright investment banker never truly caught my attention, but I learned there were other opportunities on Wall Street. After interning at a wealth management firm, I began recruiting for sales and trading positions, which seemed like a happy medium. The pay was still excellent, my workday would be restricted to market hours, and I could apply some of the theory that I learned in school.
The combination of the pandemic and some deep reflection helped me realize that sales and trading would still not satisfy whatever deeper existential need I have. Finance is a wonderful field, and I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to study it at Georgetown, but I believe market movers create value from value creators.
The Value of Innovation
I started reading Atlas Shrugged, the magnum opus of Ayn Rand, during my two months studying abroad. The biggest takeaway from the novel is that creating value from nothing is a wonderful contribution to society and quite frankly the greatest one. This might seem deeply philosophical, but I believe this notion boils down to innovation.
Innovation and entrepreneurship drive the world and have enhanced the overall quality of life. Entrepreneurs cyclically identify problems within an existing paradigm and create solutions that fulfill the needs of relevant stakeholders. Whether markets deem such solutions as profitable is a separate discussion (considering the emergence of shared value and ESG principles), but innovation is fairly admirable and generally seen as cool.
I believe people resonate with little kids running lemonade stands because they learn a lot of important lessons. If someone is hot or thirsty, another person can provide them with a cold drink. One party has a problem and is willing to exchange money for a solution. The money accordingly reflects the time it took the kid to make the lemonade, source the ingredients, and set up the stand.
I never sold lemonade. Not quite sure if Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk did either. I do know that Elon Musk and I both threw parties in college to make an extra dime. Now Elon Musk is trying to create a greener Earth and take civilization to Mars, while I’m writing this blog post in my college living room listening to the Beatles.
The Beatles changed the music industry and became the first real pop icons the world has seen. They were admired for their innovative sound and personal style. Regardless of the scale, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, the Beatles, and the little kid selling lemonade are a lot alike. They took a chance to create something that people wanted. They all saw an opportunity and seized the moment.
My friends working in finance have argued with me on this subject, but I would rather be the kid selling lemonade than the bank account holding the earnings. A better analogy for my friends would be the parent providing the money to operate the lemonade stand. The financing side of the business is not mutually exclusive from the operating side. They both contribute to creating value, I just enjoy the ownership that comes with making the lemonade, telling people about it, and seeing the face of happy customers.
Running a lemonade stand is inherently synonymous with running a business. A business provides value to customers through a product or service that solves a need. To run the business, the little kid needs to understand what lemonade is. That makes complete sense. Now imagine running an omnichannel retail company overhauling its bottom line by providing machine learning recommendations based on time series data.
The kid running the lemonade stand is expected to have some working knowledge of lemonade, otherwise, how would they sell their product and run a lemonade business. Executives at Fortune 500 companies are now operating in a digital world accelerated by the pandemic. Digital solutions and data analysis are less of a competitive edge and rather a necessity to operate in our current environment.
Joining the Modus Create Team
As an aspiring business leader and entrepreneur, I believe that not having a fundamental understanding of software development and data analysis weakens executive decisions that accordingly diminish long-term value creation. In other words, making big decisions and not knowing how technology works is bad for business. Amazon is a trillion-dollar company because they use data-driven insights to inform every decision.
Unfortunately, some of these hard skills are not currently taught in higher education. A data scientist who knows how a neural network works will make significantly more in Silicon Valley than teaching undergraduate students. While I am biased, thanks to my freshman year computer science class, I believe that knowing React, Python, and AWS infrastructure is more important than making a linked list in C++.
I found out about Modus Create when I was looking for a technical mentor for Atlas, the social review platform I built that received a 5.0/5.0 rating from 63 reviews on the App Store with over 500 users. My quarantine consisted of surrendering my finance career and dedicating my time to watching YouTube videos on SwiftUI and Google Firebase. After releasing our beta version, I needed advice on whether to optimize, pivot, or pursue another opportunity.
Through some alumni networking, I met Pat Sheridan, a graduate of the MBA program at Georgetown. I told him how finding places to eat and drink was difficult abroad, but everyone had lists from their friends. I told him how no one would give me money to build out my vision, so I learned how to build it myself. I told him how we pivoted to college students in D.C. who had no idea where to eat and drink during a pandemic. I told him that scaling proved hard during COVID-19 and I had no idea what to do next.
I told Pat several things and he listened. I’m not quite sure how he responded, but within a brief few sentences, something resonated with me and he convinced me to work for Modus my senior spring. The idea of open-source development was exactly what the company was founded on, and my experience bootstrapping Atlas was enough for him.
There was no way I could make a hash map or binary search tree in a week (sorry Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and Google), but thankfully a small coding exercise in HTML/CSS/JS got the job done. If I wanted to go back to my startup, pursue product management, or fly to the moon after my internship, Pat was totally fine with my decision.
The structured environment over the past few weeks at Modus has been wonderful. I can learn as much as I want from top technical talent across the world, from people who understand that collaboration breeds innovation. I don’t know quite how to describe it yet, but the idea of open source collaboration resonates throughout the company.
I joined almost every technical slack channel my first few days and Modites are always posting about new framework updates, best Agile practices, and discussing relevant technologies for client projects.
I have no idea what the future holds for me, but the world runs on lemons (technology). I can see myself staying at Modus to make lemonade (building great digital products for clients). Maybe I’ll open up my lemonade stand or join another one. Whatever I decide, I know that lemons are here to stay and I want to be that little kid.