Meet Brendan, Software Engineer
“Every roadblock is a chance to learn, and I’m constantly learning.”
Brendan Reville has had a productive 20 years. From ideating and working on the X-Box live feed at Microsoft, to being a vital team developer at Code.org, the world's leading computer science education site, 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. Reville is a software engineer at Code.org and integral to the development of the organization’s “Hour of Code,” an introductory course designed to teach 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 triumphs. In his approach to work and education, as in his work at Code.org, Reville propounds the edifying purpose of challenge in everyone’s life.
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?
Working on the Xbox 360 was amazing because I went from being a fan from the outside to actually being on the inside of this incredibly effective team, incredibly talented team. The people there were some of the best in the industry and to be around them and see how they were doing things and to be learning from them was amazing. And then shipping a console that was used by tens of millions of people every day was very exciting. A subproject inside of Xbox a couple years in I got to work on adding friends of friends and a newsfeed to the Xbox console. I had an idea and 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. And it was just exciting to have a project that combined that creativity and engineering and actually changed some substantial thing about the console for all of its 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 I've done three hours of coding experience and I'm currently working on the fourth one. And on such a small team you get so much impact and I get to work with a very talented team, once again, and we've all been building together something that impacts a lot of students all around the world and that's very rewarding.
What were you interested in as a child and how did you implement these interests in your career?
My interests were probably reading books and writing stories and designing things but actually I was much more into English- was always my best subject and my favorite subject. So 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's a lot about numbers, and actually that's fairly unusual. It's good to be good at math for certain branches of computer science but a lot of the time you don't use a lot of math or work with many numbers. To me programming is largely a kind of linguistic exercise, and being good at languages in general means you'll probably enjoy computer programming as well. You get to write and you get to read a lot and you get to communicate a lot. And 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 so I think I enjoy all those aspects.
What does it really take to make it and succeed in software engineering and computer science in general?
There’s certainly some fundamentals like being interested in technology and learning very deeply, there’s 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 on them. And identifying which parts you’re interested and which ones you’re good at and amping on them is a really good thing to do, focusing on them. Technology is always changing so it’s good to be interested in learning new things and always be not just reading about it but doing it, applying these things 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 and working in teams and working in an organization. And so having people with a common interest and having a good network of people who do this stuff that is interesting is really invaluable because as your career goes you’ll probably find people you like working with and you’ll work with them repeatedly as time goes on. And then their willingness to work hard-it’s hopefully fun to get involved in a project you really care about and work hard on it and being proud of your work.
Where do you see your career advancing from now in relation to some of your past projects like Brendanland?
I don’t know. I’m really enjoying myself where I am now. I love the people, the mission and the work we do. So really those are the three things that matter to me: the people the mission and the work. Brendanland is funny because I’ve always had this interest in the back of my mind in building these online worlds, but I will admit I’ve kind of gone through making 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. And then you were wondering about Littleland, it just didn’t really have what you would call gameplay, people would ask what’s the purpose and it was: well you could do things but they weren’t really goals or a former game structure and there weren’t enough things to do. Again it was an interesting project for me to build but it’s really, being a good entrepreneur is about identifying real needs that your customers have and I think I treated these more of an art project than an entrepreneurial thing because I’m still learning how to build something that’s useful to somebody else. So I put that as a kind of background interest but it’s still something that I’ve made more mistakes on than done things right and I’m fine with that, it’s how you learn.
Do you have any last words of advice?
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 actually, especially in the US. I was curious about what it was really like and so I wanted to see first-hand. 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.