From Illiteracy To A Career In Computers: An Interview With A Web Production Manager

Matthew Galagher

Name: Matthew Galaher
Current Job: Web Production Consultant
Date Of Interview: 13 September, 2014

At age 12 when Matthew entered middle school, he was illiterate. Enrolled at an “Experimental Learning” elementary school, Matthew somehow slipped through the cracks and was unable read or write as he was reaching adolescence. Taking charge, his parents admitted him in a private school where he began his long and difficult journey to get back on track.

He was kept back one year and with intensive private tutoring and struggling through most of middle and junior high, he finally got on par with his peers in high school. But with this experience, Matthew gained something far more important than just being able to finally graduate high school. He got the spark to learn and the confidence that nothing is insurmountable.

AT 12 HE WAS ILLITERATE

After high school, Matthew attended community college for a few months learning to play music and spent the next 15 – 20 years in Portland, Oregon, playing in various local bands. But when he finally got married in the late 90s, he decided he needed to find stable income and without a college degree he started looking at options.

Networking with friends and acquaintances, he learned about what everyone was calling the greatest thing since sliced bread, i.e. the Internet. “Everyone wanted websites” says Matthew. But at the time “they were simple pages” not like the websites today which are very interactive. While a few community colleges did offer relevant courses, Matthew chose not to go the traditional route mainly because his “personality didn’t like [being in a classroom]”. Not only that, he was apprehensive of waiting for 4 years to work while he got his degree.

HE CHOSE NOT TO GO [TO COLLEGE] BECAUSE HIS “PERSONALITY DIDN’T LIKE IT”

Self-motivated, Matthew picked up some books on HTML and Photoshop and built a few websites. At the same time, however, he would take every opportunity to tell everyone he knew about his new adventure. “Every time I introduced myself to someone, I will tell them about it, like ‘How are you? I am good! I recently started working on websites’” says Matthew as he explains the importance of networking. Eventually at a party, he got referred to someone for a job and got hired at a startup called @Once (pronounced “At Once”).

Working at the startup, he built small websites and marketing emails for the company but whenever he had some time, as a constant learner, Matthew used the time to learn more about any technology he found out. “I picked [up] Photoshop and just went through each and every menu item to see what it did” he says, and soon he “got proficient”. As time progressed, he transitioned to YesMail through some mergers and acquisitions, but never lost the spark to learn.

HE GREW TO A DEPARTMENT MANAGER
OVERSEEING STAFF IN 7 OFFICES

As the manager of the Web Production group at YesMail, Matthew didn’t have as much time to learn new technologies but he still tried to do, whenever he could. At one point, he got introduced to Perl (a computer coding language) and decided to write some automated programs (scripts) to speed up the work in his group. His scripts improved productivity for the team and got the attention of other managers who started to seek him out. “As you provide solutions to your company, it is noticed and rewarded” points out Matthew. The rewards were not only financial but the recognition was a very important motivator to keep the interest. Eventually, he grew in the company to a department manager overseeing a staff in 7 offices across the globe..

Being a manager at the company, Matthew was also in charge of hiring. Even though he didn’t have to get a GED himself, Matthew is very familiar with the issues GED students have to encounter. He understands the apprehensiveness of GED students who are debating entering computer science and is strongly supportive of them. He advises that candidates applying should not be put off by the job description. They “are just a wish list” he explains. Not every requirement posted is actually required to be hired for the position and “a lot of times, items (requirements) can be waivered”. While most positions expect a degree, “equivalent experience can be a very good substitute” he says. People interested in building up their resume can gain the experience by volunteering with non-profits. One example would be to seek out a non-profit with an old website and offer to rebuild it for free while charging them a nominal fee for ongoing maintenance. Craigslist is another option to explore non-profit opportunities. Another way to gain experience is to freelance on the internet. Multiple websites like Elance, oDesk, Fiverr and others exist where it is possible to get small projects and build knowledge.

MATT SUGGESTS JOINING COMMUNITIES TO
LEARN AND NETWORK

Being a self-starter himself, Matthew also knows about the major challenges that GED students who are learning on their own, may encounter. People interested in areas like website design and programming can be introverted and that can lead to being isolated as they work through the books, learning what they can. This saps motivation and can generally make it harder to gain employment as you don’t have any connections. Instead, he suggests joining communities like Meetup.com and meet like-minded technologists. Not only do you learn from more experienced developers, you also learn about their experiences and build networks. This infusion of new ideas and energy is significant to keep the motivation and eventually land a job.

Finally, he suggests that new students should seek out jobs with smaller companies that may need your skill set but aren’t necessarily in the tech space, as these jobs can have lower competition and be less likely to disqualify candidates based on “boiler plate” requirements and be an easier way to enter the field.

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