Ensuring a company’s digital security is vital in today’s connected world. 5thColumn builds strategies to ensure other companies’ data is secure, using automation, network design and advanced encryption, among other techniques.

Adam Yala, Backend Developer at 5thColumn

Why did you get into coding? 

I got into coding when I interned for a tractor manufacturer in college. I was writing Excel macros to help them process data going into and coming out of their big enterprise systems. After the internship ended I continued doing contract work for them. I knew I wanted to turn it into a career when I was backpacking through Central America writing code for them on the beach. Unfortunately, macros don’t fully pay the bills, so I started teaching myself web development. After graduation I spent a year working as a tax accountant. During that year I probably sunk between 200 and 250 hours into teaching myself. The first web application I ever made was a site that could automate property tax assessment research.

Once you decided you wanted to start coding, how did you turn it into a career?

Once I had that app done I had something I could show companies so I started applying to any startup that had a listing for a junior developer. I think I sent out about 40 applications in 40 days. Two companies offered me an interview. One offered me a job. When you’re more than 30 applications in and have spent over a month searching, the doubt starts to creep in. I’ll never again doubt the troubles of someone struggling in the job hunt.

What do you love about Chicago’s coding community? 

Chicago’s tech community is one that stresses open source software and teaching those who want to learn. When I was stuck on concepts the folks in the Chicago Python User Group taught me for free. I could go to any of the project nights and attend any of the talks they do. If I was willing to put forth the time and effort, someone there was willing too. Now I mentor people who were learning like me to help pay it forward.

Vince Forgione, Head of Backend Development

Why did you get into coding? 

I’ve always been a sampler: I love to mix and match things in life. I jumped majors a few times in college (the joke being “what is my major du jour?”) doing everything from architecture to Spanish. I had a friend who was taking an intro to programming class over the summer and I was curious what that was like, so I started reading the class material and doing the homework for fun. I realized that it was an excellent extension of many of my interests — I could combine logic, math, language, art; the possibilities were endless. After playing around with some basic exercises for a couple weeks, I was totally hooked and I declared myself as a computer science major.

Once you decided you wanted to start coding, how did you turn it into a career?

I had an in with the cybersecurity office at Argonne National Laboratory through my university, and after a few semesters I got an internship with them. While at the lab I worked with the cyber office and networking team. I soaked up everything that I could about the network stack, programming, operating systems, security — probably the most important lesson was how to think on my feet and execute. After college, I took on a series of jobs that pushed me way outside of my comfort zone and forced me to keep learning. Every success and failure along the way has enabled me to further hone my craft.

What do you love about Chicago’s coding community? 

Chicago is a no nonsense city: Chicagoans pour themselves out and are unfazed by difficult work and take pride in their success. The tech scene here, by and large, embraces those values. I’ve lived in this city most of my life and have a deep affinity for the simple joys of working hard and celebrating the small victories. In spite of the constant churn of engineers to the coasts to chase unicorns, I find Chicago to be an exemplary city for engineers and entrepreneurs to get together and build amazing products, and that’s why I continue to choose to remain a Chicagoan.

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