Sean Langford graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2000 with a B. S. degree in computer engineering. Even so, he has built a career in software. From software engineer to chief technology officer, Sean has been employed by several companies. Currently, he is Technical Cofounder of Collect.it—a social community and marketplace for collectibles. Sean holds five US patents and is cofounder of Strong Like Bull—a bicycle / triathlon training camp.
FMC: Sean, you have an engineering background. How and why did you build a career in software?
SL: I continue to love the immediacy of software. Being able to quickly iterate a product in real time in concert with your customers, getting instant feedback and recycling ideas directly back into the product is a thrill I continue to enjoy. I've always loved building things; software allows me to build big things quickly.
FMC: What was your first job after graduation, and how did you get it?
SL: I worked on a startup with three other URI alums: knowpost.com, a question / answer site very similar to Quora. I think I got it from a teammate from one of my CS classmates, in fact.
FMC: What did you do on a typical day?
SL: I wrote code, played frisbee with our founders in our office, refused acquisition deals, and ate tapas. :) (What do you want? It was the year 2000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dot-com_bubble).
FMC: Did your work change much as you moved from place to place?
SL: Yes, different industry domains meant different products and corporate—even industry—values. Different mentors and teammates from different places have had significant influence in various ways on both myself and the works I create. Differences in corporate culture can be large, which has had real impact on how fun the work is.
FMC: Should our new graduates expect to change jobs as often as you did?
SL: Yes. Software is a volatile industry affected by the economy, trends in business, corporate politics, and technology itself. In my 15 years in industry post-university, I have witnessed various software companies perform major restructurings, serious shifts in product strategy, layoffs, and mergers / acquisitions. I've also seen intractable corporate politics, drastic misdirection, and companies getting swamped by their competitors who use better/newer technology.
FMC: What are the pros and cons of changing jobs frequently?
SL: Pros include learning new technologies and techniques, meeting new people, learning new business processes, and experiencing different corporate-cultures. Cons involve maybe not being able to leverage specific skills from one place to the next and having to learn new processes.
FMC: You are now Technical CoFounder at Collect.it. What do you do in a typical day?
SL: I write loads of code; evaluate technology; evaluate competition; assist the formulation of marketing strategy; go to trade shows; and meet with investors, potential partners, and customers.
FMC: Did college prepare you adequately for your career?
SL: Yes. College taught me the process of learning technology and science, and gave me the experience of working through very difficult, time consuming problems and projects. College also taught me how to experiment, research, and work in a team.
FMC: How much do you enjoy your career?
SL: I love it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Being able to create things with your mind, use the latest and greatest technologies to satisfy customers, solve real problems, and create business value are very rewarding ways to make money.
FMC: Does your career leave you enough time to enjoy life?
SL: Yes. Although sometimes it requires specific effort to ensure balance. There’s always more work that could be done and, in the software space in particular, it’s tempting to work long hours. Warning: Some companies are better than others for honoring a work / life balance.
FMC: Do you have some advice for our current students?
SL: 1) Find, cultivate, and nurture your love for creating software. This may take some mining; if you find something specific that resonates with you, dig deeper and don't stop. Hack for the fun of it. Have some hobby projects and read/use open source code. This field can be unmerciful, if you're not enjoying what you’re doing.
2) Complement your studies with a sport or a real-world activity. Computer science and engineering are extremely abstract and often mean long hours of “out-of-body” virtual living. Find something you love that will reel you back into your body; don't be afraid to take it seriously either. The energy you get back is worth the investment. College is a great place to find this activity, too.