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Windward’s CEO Shows CS Freshman What It’s All About…

Posted on 11/11/2015

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… working at a startup, that is.

Freshman year of college: a lot of excitement, freedom and homework that gets in a way of having a blast with your new friends. A lot of us don’t have a clue who we want to be in 4 years, but for those who do — and it happens to be in Computer Science — we might still have many questions and uncertainties.

That’s why our CEO, David Thielen, volunteers every year to be a guest speaker for an intro to computer science class. Yesterday, he answered many important questions that the majority of students in the audience had. They all revolved around one topic: What it is like to work in a startup?

Interning at a Start-Up

Dave has not only hands-on experience on being an employee in a startup himself, but he has built his own start-up, where he interviewed and hired many interns. The first part of his talk was Dave giving valuable insights on what he personally looks at and takes into consideration when hiring an intern.


What’s it like to work at a start-up? At Windward it might mean dressing up like the boss (fourth from left) on Boss Appreciation Day.

His main point was to get as much experience and internships prior to graduation as possible in order to build a strong recommendations network that will help their future employer to quickly determine, as Dave puts it: “Are you and idiot or not?”

It is harsh, I agree, but in a nutshell this is what happens behind the curtains. Dave says GPA  has almost no value to him when making a decision to hire one intern over another, since it doesn’t relate much to the characteristics that he is looking for in a candidate.

Another huge quality that Dave is seeking when looking for new interns is how long have they been in the industry. He looks for someone who has been involved with programming since 9th grade at least. His argument is that those people are really passionate about computer science and they have a head start on those who only decided to become a programmer half a year prior to their freshman semester.

Yes, it does sound really discouraging for all of the students in the audience who do not meet Dave’s criteria, but let me explain. This is not the end of the world for them.

At Windward when we hire freshman as our interns, we give them tasks that require decent programming knowledge. They are not here to constantly shadow someone; they have an impact on the company and the product. Within a couple of months, most of them specialize in a certain area of development and write actual code that gets incorporated in our final product. That is why a person who has never programmed before and just took their intro class would not be able to do this.

Secondly, Dave was not implying that if you have not been programming since diapers you are screwed. Students can always have their own ongoing or completed small projects (which he encourages them to accumulate as much as possible) that show their potential and ability to think and adapt. The key is to show personal interest and dedication in programming. Show that you love it and not just that you want to get on a salary upon graduation.

Running a Start-Up

En-jay, JJ and Kelly find their inner Minnie Pearl.

Managing a start-up is a lot of hard work but it has its fun side, too, like when you run the Windward Employee Scavenger Hunt.

The second part of the speech was Dave sharing his experience as a CEO and managing a startup. One point he made very clear is that it will and should consume you, up to the point where you pass out on your keyboard only to wake up to have a quick snack and continue working. You also should be doing what you think is too easy for you, because usually those are things that you are very good at, so focus on them.

Another big point that Dave sent across was that you will fail. You will fail a lot, miserably, to the point of no return like you might think. But that is natural, and this is why starting a business is insane. It is very fun and the rewards are great when you are at the top. But when a certain substance hits the fans everybody will see it, so be ready to deal with this.

To help succeed, you need to always believe in what you are doing and in the people next to you. In order to accomplish that, you need a goal that is worth the effort. For Dave, it must be something beyond money; it must motivate and inspire. So he said that start-ups that follow profit or a quick sprint to get acquired are not going to make it.

I would argue that some cold-blooded people very successfully do exactly that, but for a sustained growth throughout the years, there has to be something to motivate you other than money. This something, this goal, will be the light in the darkest times that might push you through hardships to success.

P.S. Interested in interning at Windward? Check out our internship openings.

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Author: Roman Matskiv

Roman Matskiv is a marketing enthusiast currently working on getting Windward into the Fortune 500 list. Originally from Ukraine, he came to United States in 2007 to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. In his free time, Roman can be found running through canyons in the Utah desert, trying to catch the biggest fish in Colorado, or casually hammering on his keyboard and mouse trying to beat his opponents online.

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