July 28, 2012

Student Spotlight: Matt Freeman

When Matt Freeman graduated from Cornell in Economics, he wasn't quite sure what to do with his degree. After college he worked for a non-profit assisting a homeless shelter as it underwent growth and change.

Finding he had a knack for helping organizations manage change and growth, Matt started a business consulting for nonprofits and small businesses in Burlington, VT. He soon discovered that not only did his clients need help with their structure and other organizational details, they also needed help with their web and social media presences. In the fall of 2011, Matt taught himself html and css which led to an interest in JavaScript and eventually stumbling upon Bloc.

![Matt Freeman](http://cl.ly/image/3u1e2L0l3d1P/matt_freeman.png)

####What were your interests in high school?

From an early age I thought I would be a physician. My parents were both involved in medicine. I became an EMT and got involved in student emergency services. As I progressed through college, I took a fair number of the pre-med courses. I eventually realized though, that it wasn't really me. From there, I decided to try economics because I knew nothing about money or finance or any of that world.

After college, I still wasn't entirely sure what to do, but I had a much better idea of what I didn’t want. Being fairly independent I started working on my own. It was tough, but I look at it as a fun and cheap business education.

####What was the point when you made the decision to work for yourself?

I had been working for a homeless shelter, after college. They had recently expanded from 6 employees to 26, from 1 building to 3, and started having 24/7 staff coverage. It was exciting because it was during a period of really rapid change.

Through work I do with my college fraternity, I’d picked up some of the things that a growing organization needs: setting clear expectations, delegation, better communication,  and how to run meetings. It was all fairly basic stuff, but a lot of people just wing it.

Long story short, the executive director of the non-profit gave me a chance to see what I could do, and I guess I did OK. She suggested that I get into the consulting work full time. She thought I had done an impressive job of working with people twice my age and getting them to realize not that what they were doing was completely wrong, but that there might be another way.

####What are your hobbies?

In college, I was on the lightweight rowing team for 2.5 years. I sat on the 2nd eight, and we did pretty well. Both our first and 2nd eights won eastern sprints in 2006, and our 1st eight went on to win the IRA Championships which means that we won the national championship in a D1 sport which was pretty sweet.

Move recently, I enjoy running, and both drinking/making beer. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro so you could say that I like getting outside. I also enjoy food and love cooking and baking.

####Do you feel like some of the things you take from athletics translate over to your work?

I had a crew coach in college who was a pretty accomplished rower himself. We had some pretty brutal practices. I remember one in particular. It was mid-november, it was late and dark and it had been raining. We thought that we were just going to paddle in and hit the showers, but as we got closer to the dock, he told us he wanted us to do a few more short, high pieces. We groaned and he then proceeded to chew us out. He basically told us that we could sit there in the rain until we agreed with him that we could “Do anything for a minute".

That saying always stuck with me. If there's something I don't want to do, or I'm having trouble getting started, I'll just remember that I've probably done far more painful and less pleasant things. I think for most people, that's the hardest part. Just sitting down and putting your mind to it and getting going.

####What actually made you decide to do Bloc?

Jared's blog post “This is how you really teach people how to program” resonated really well with me. I’ve been fumbling around and learning bits and pieces since last September. I've gotten familiar with the space, learned a lot of the tools, and gotten a little bit better every day, but with everything so new and no one to help me, I’m embarrassed to say that it took me three days to get Ruby, Rails, and git installed the first time I tried the Hartl tutorial on my own.

Having the support network there is one thing Bloc does very well. To know that if you get stuck, there's someone who is an IRC chat away from making a couple hour or couple day problem into a 10 minute problem is huge. The roadblocks seem small now, but they’re big and scary when you’re just getting started.

####What were your favorite things about Bloc?

I loved the meetup we had in New York City. It was cool to meet the other people in my cohort and it was cool to meet Jared when he was out here. The meetup played a decisive role in me deciding to also do DevBootcamp in the Fall. I also liked IRC a lot.

Having an active IRC channel with alums answering questions, instructors answering questions, and helping out some of the greener students will definitely be a growing asset. When people are learning what they need is a safe place where you can ask a question that might seem dumb and know that we’ve all been there.

I also love the flexibility of Bloc, I thought Jared did a great job, we definitely connected right away as friends. I think that the program speaks for itself. If you put in a lot, you’ll learn a lot in the eight weeks. I think someone would be really hard pressed to match the amount of learning on their own unless they were working the whole time with a friend who is more experienced.

####What were your least favorite things?

I think Bloc could do a better job of setting expectations. It's definitely something that most organizations struggle with. But I also know you're a startup and things are rapidly changing. I also think that doing a better job of setting expectations will help keep other students more engaged. I think because we're not meeting in person, you have to be very very clear on "Here's the syllabus, here's what's going to happen, here's what we expect of you, and here's what happens if you don't meet those expectations."

I think what you guys are doing is awesome. Clearly the model that exists now for higher education isn't really working anymore. The liberal arts degree is underwater but it's going to be another couple years before most people are really saying that. I love that you guys are taking a different approach.

####How have your technical skills improved  since taking Bloc?

I understand what a web application is, and I understand where the various pieces of technology start and end. I’m comfortable finding my way around a Rails app. I also feel much more comfortable with Git. It could just be me, but when I was starting, I found git to be one of the scarier things for a beginner.

Before Bloc, I had fumbled through the Hartl tutorial, and now it's something I look at straightforward. With what I know now, it's not that any one piece is particularly difficult, its just that there are a lot of things going on and a lot of things moving all at once. I definitely have a good broad introduction to the space. With Google I can figure out most of the basic problems I’d run into.

####Is there anything you'd like to tell future Bloc students?

I would say spend as much time working on Bloc things as you can, because it goes by quickly. You're paying to work and keep yourself busy. I know it's hard for someone who has a full time job that keeps them there for 10-12 hours a day. But obviously at the end of the day it comes down to your motivation and dedication. When you think about it, there are a lot harder and less pleasant things than sitting around and working with others learning how to program.

####And what are your goals, now that the Bloc course is over?

Since I'm doing DevBootcamp, I'm trying to use everything I've learned in Bloc to get myself as ready as I can be, because I know that's going to be tough. From there I hope to get a job as an entry level web developer and keep expanding my knowledge.

I’m excited that things change quickly, and that there is still so much to do in the space. Software is eating the world, and while I feel like I got started with it late, I know I’ll enjoying keeping up and eventually contributing to open source. I think it's a wonderful model for businesses and for people working together.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone