My Name Is Chris Zempel — This Is Why I Joined Aha!
What was your favorite activity as a kid? For me it was reading. I burned through multiple flashlights late at night, devouring anything I could get my hands on — fiction, nonfiction, video game booklets, even manuals. In sixth grade I started writing my own stories. One day at school, I noticed a classmate stealthily looking over my shoulder. He was engrossed in the fantasy story I was writing and urged me to continue. I found his interest puzzling and intriguing. What made him care so much about the words on my paper?
Writing is all about building a relationship — words only come to life when an audience reads and reacts to them.
In college, I studied communication to grow my skills as a writer. I loved the process of researching a topic deeply and creating content to educate readers. But after shadowing a few journalists and public relations folks, I was not thrilled about my career possibilities. The internet was rapidly changing the media landscape, and it was difficult to envision myself as a professional writer.
After graduating, it was time to figure out my next step. I have always been logically-minded, so programming seemed like something I should try. I worked at a pizza place and spent my free time learning to code. I enrolled in an online Ruby on Rails class and quickly discovered that programming and storytelling are surprisingly similar — both types of writing require thinking about who your audience is and what they need. Now I simply had to shift my audience from readers to people using computers.
Whether I am writing words or writing code, I care most about giving my audience an experience that they enjoy.
In my Rails class, I built my first working app — a tool to help people plan trips on the St. Louis Metro. Serendipitously, a local nonprofit called LaunchCode had just opened. Their mission? Help people launch careers in technology. I eagerly attended LaunchCode's inaugural event with my trip planner app and was selected to be an apprentice. I met a few mentors and accepted a placement at a small software consultancy, where I worked on a variety of Rails projects.
Later, I started my own Rails consulting company — developing and maintaining applications for startups and small businesses. Working with different teams and solving a variety of problems was exciting. But running a business and managing clients was draining. I wanted to spend more time actually writing code.
I joined a local sales and marketing services firm. One of my favorite projects there was implementing a new parallel processing approach, reducing the time it took developers to ship new products from months to days. I also built a simplistic roadmapping tool for the product managers at the company. So when I saw a job posting on We Work Remotely for an Aha! software engineer, I was curious. I already understood some of the pain points of product managers, so I applied and hoped for the best.
The People Success team reached out incredibly fast. I appreciated how the interview process tested directly for perseverance. I gain energy from working with teammates who do not give up, and it was gratifying to speak to like-minded people. Since joining the engineering team, I have worked on updating our internal admin tooling and improving the overall customer experience. I even applied my writing skills recently to the Aha! Knowledge Base — contributing an article for early users of Aha! Develop about how to build extensions.
The best developers remember that they are writing code for people, not just computers — there is always an audience you are trying to help.
The greatest part about working at Aha! is that the code I write directly impacts our customers. Our team is constantly iterating and shipping enhancements that improve our users' workflows and daily lives. It is truly a joy to do this work. Instead of writing stories, I am writing code and building software that helps a huge group of users every single day.
That is why I joined Aha! — and why you should too.