“Every roadblock is a chance to learn, and I’m constantly learning.”
Brendan Reville has had a productive 20 years. From working on the XBox at Microsoft, to being a developer at Code.org, a leading computer science education organization, Reville has made wide-reaching impacts on the world through his work as a software engineer. Before starting his professional career Reville earned his degree in computer science at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Later relocating to Seattle, WA to work at Microsoft, Reville is still based out of the city today. He is a software engineer at Code.org and has contributed to the “Hour of Code,” a worldwide event designed to introduce the basics of computer science and computer programming to a diverse range of students.
The global movement has been taught in over 180 countries and reached tens of millions of students. Throughout his career and life, from a student to a professional software engineer, Reville has encountered both failures and successes. In his approach to work and education, as in his work at Code.org, Reville propounds the edifying purpose of challenge.
Q: What do you love most about your career, currently at Code.org and in the past at Microsoft? What would you say are some of your proudest achievements as a software engineer?
A: Working on the Xbox 360 was amazing because I went from being a fan on the outside to actually being on the inside of this incredibly talented team. The people there were some of the best in the industry and to be around them and to be learning from them was amazing. Shipping a console that was used by tens of millions of people every day was very exciting.
One exciting project inside of Xbox was adding friends of friends and a newsfeed to the Xbox 360. I had an idea, I made a proposal and I got the chance to actually build it. We had to change our plans at the last minute when it was clear that the first design wasn't working but we figured out a design that did work. It was exciting to have a project that combined creativity and engineering and that actually changed some substantial things about the console for all of our customers.
Fast-forwarding, Code.org has been an amazing experience as well. When I got to Code.org we were just 15 people in a room, we were just a few months old and we were racing to build our website and the first Hour of Code. And now we've done three annual Hour of Code events and we're currently working on the fourth. On such a small team you get so much impact and I get to work with a very talented team; once again, and we're building something together that impacts a lot of students all around the world and that's very rewarding.
Q: What were you interested in as a child and how did you implement these interests in your career?
A: My interests included reading books, writing stories and designing things but I was mostly into English- it was always my best and favorite subject. I've always been interested in stories and storytelling and thoughtful writing.
A misconception about computer science is that you have to be good at math and that it involves a lot of numbers, but actually, that's fairly unusual. It's good to be good at math for certain branches of computer science but most of the time you don't need a lot it.
To me, programming is largely a kind of linguistic exercise, and being good at language in general means you'll probably enjoy computer programming as well. You get to write and you get to read and you get to communicate a lot. In programming not only are you creating programs but you're communicating with your teammates and your customers all the time so there's a lot of communication. I enjoy all those aspects.
Q: What does it really take to make it and succeed in software engineering and computer science in general?
A: There are certainly some fundamentals like being interested in technology and learning very deeply; There are breadth and depth to what you can learn in technology and usually it’s a combination of the two. You have to learn a lot of different things but also you have to go deep on learning some skills and being really good at them. Identifying which parts you’re interested in and which ones you’re good at and amping on them is a really good thing to do.
Technology is always changing, so it’s good to be interested in learning new things and not just reading about them but doing them; applying these new skills by having projects, either at work or in your spare time, where you’re actually applying these new technologies and learning how they work because the tech world changes fast.
It’s also about having a good network of people. Even though you use a computer a lot, your job in technology is really about the people all around you, working in teams and working in an organization. Having a good network of people who do this stuff is really invaluable because as your career progresses you’ll find people you like working with, and you’ll work with them repeatedly as time goes on. It’s fun to get involved in a project you really care about, to work hard on it and to be proud of your work.
Q: Where do you see your career advancing from now in relation to some of your past projects like BrendanLand?
A: Great question. I’m really enjoying myself where I am now. I love the people, the mission and the work we do. It's funny that you mention BrendanLand because I’ve always had this interest in the back of my mind around building these online worlds, but I will admit I’ve made all the mistakes possible in that space and I think that’s a great way to learn. The early BrendanLand had technological issues that prevented it from scaling. A follow-up project called A Little Land just didn’t really have what you would call gameplay.
These were certainly interesting projects for me to build but being a good entrepreneur is about identifying real needs that your customers have, and I think I treated these more as art projects than as entrepreneurial endeavors because I’m still learning how to build things that are useful to others. I consider these projects as a background interest in which I've made more mistakes than done things right. But that's fine; it's how you learn.
Q: Do you have any last words of advice?
A: Maintain that sense of curiosity. Go explore a little bit. When I took time off I went to have lunch with a lot of friends who work in a lot of technology companies all over the world. So be curious, go explore and go look around and find the path that works for you and be willing to learn from other people.
A very big thank you to Brendan Reville for taking the time for this interview. If you would like to learn more about Code.org, visit https://www.code.org.
By Daniel Nguyen, Gladeo League Journalist