Although he’s lived many places in the United States, Brock Wright chooses to call Florida his home. From a middle-class family with 7 siblings, Brock experienced a childhood full of creativity and adventure. His religious upbringing gave him a baseline for living and allowed him clear boundaries to excel and grow into the person he was meant to become. Being the son of an entrepreneur, Brock had many examples of how to excel in business of which he took advantage at a young age.
Brock started the most ingenious business ever when he was 12 years old. Are you ready for the idea? He charged people $1.50 per week to take trash cans from the back of people’s house to the curb the night before trash day. GENIUS!!! I mean seriously, think about this business model… $0 cost of goods sold, weekly recurring revenue and you can outsource the labor. Don’t be surprise if you see my name beside this idea one day!
After getting out of the garbage business Brock had “the talk” with his dad. It wasn’t about sex and girls, it was about software development and a crash course on taking over the world. Brock described the conversation a little like this:
Dad — “Sit down son…”
Dad — “Listen, you are not going to leave my house without the ability to provide for yourself. You are going to work for free. You are going to gain skills. Skills are worth more than money. You need to step up and develop a work ethic and develop skills before anyone will think about paying you for anything, much less a really skilled position like a software engineer. So I’m going to teach you to build software, ready?”
Brock — “This is a rhetorical statement right?”
Dad — “Yes. We start tomorrow.”
Brock — “Am I getting paid?”
Dad — “That is a rhetorical statement right?”
Being in the Wright household had it’s perks…you get to know how to write code for free. Luckily for Brock, the year was 2007 and software development was an emerging trend in the United States.
Brock didn’t attend college but started his training to be employed at age 14. He learned through shadowing his father at home. He respected his dad, but hated this new craft being thrust upon him. His attitude of learning wasn’t one of enthusiasm, but Brock found a way to stick it out even if his attitude wasn’t great. Brock’s Dad taught him the key practice of “iterating to success”. Brock would use to solve a small problem and apply the principles learned to bigger and bigger problems until he could complete his all the task assigned to him.
I think one of the key things that sets Brock apart is his ability to push through undesirable situations and get the job done. It was evident at age 14 that Brock not only didn’t have a knack for software development but didn’t even have a desire to learn it. He explained during this season, that he was, “doing it… not really loving it…but doing it.” Although this may seem bad to the outside eye, the character trait of perseverance that Brock developed here would turn out to pay dividends for him in the coming years.
After a year of shadowing, Brock had turned 15 and started getting bigger challenges. One of his greatest fears is speaking in front of people. At this point in life, Brock couldn’t even drive a car and yet his father immersed in the mission of closing business deals with real clients. With his palms sweeting, his insides turning upside down, and his mind overflowing with self-doubt, Brock went into a boardroom and pitched his first client. Low and behold, it worked! The deal was closed and this was the beginning of Brock concurring one of his greatest fears.
The more I sat through this interview, the more I came admire Brock’s father as well as him. See this link to the Tim Ferriss Blog where he talks about using “stakes” (in Brock’s case, money) to help you accomplish goals/get over fears. Brock’s dad seemed to know all this stuff internally.
Working with his dad, Brock’s first “compensation” was an iPhone 3Gs. The conversation went a little like this:
Brock — “I want this phone.”
Dad — “okay, what are you going to do to get it?”
End of conversation.
This was really smart because honestly, what is a 15 year old going to do with cash? Brock was doing intern level work. He was half business analysis and half web developer. The iPhone really motivated him. At the end of the project Brock got rewarded with his new iPhone and you can tell this was a seed that sparked his passion for mobile and technology.
After the project ended Brock had more skills and was assigned to a contract role on a new project in his dad’s company. He started working for $15/hour. Brock was 16 years old at this time, and was still living with his parents and using the family car for transportation.
Still, software development wasn’t really clicking with Brock and he wasn’t being energized by his work. Brock like technology so he had the idea to go work at Best Buy. He failed at even getting an interview. Not wanting to go back to software he used a family connection to get on as a sales agent at a car dealership. Brock was literally trading the world of technology to be a used car salesmen. Brock got hired and went through the training. After a few weeks on the job, Brock hated it. But he didn’t quit. As much as he hated sales, he hated quitting even more.
At age 16, he was making minimum wage plus commission. Brock sold a total of 4 cars in 4 months. Pretty bad right? He said even the sales he completed, the people were already buying and he just got lucky. After 4 months he realized this job wasn’t going to be his career. I think the most important lesson here is that now Brock was choosing software development, vs being forced to do it.
He knew he could make good money doing software. So what motivated Brock to get back into development? Simple, money and a girl. He really wanted to get married. His in-laws required him to have a job. The choice was simple.
By the time he was 17, Brock was back to writing code in his father’s company and got assigned to a really cool project building swarm robotics (Link to white paper). Being on this team enabled him to learn a ton even though he wasn’t really that much of a help. This is proof that if you can just get in the door, it’s going to help you. My dad always told me, 80% of success is just showing up! The Robotics project paid him $20/hour.
During this project, Brock also managed to graduate high school, a year early than the average American teenager. Most teenagers start college around the age of 18. By the time Brock was 18, he already had accumulated 4 years experience working in technology and had real, marketable, skills.
Finding his “Sweet Spot”
After Robotics, Brock got the opportunity to join a team at his dad’s company doing mobile development. This was a big turning point for Brock. Building something for a mobile device allowed Brock to finally work on something he was passionate about! Mobile was his “sweet spot”. Check out a talk my friend Ken Colman gave on how to find your “Sweet Spot” here!
Mobile was where Brock’s passion intersected with his skill. Note to the reader which came first…Brock’s skill of software development lead to his passion for building mobile technology. It’s hard to be passionate about things you suck at.
Going the extra mile
On this new mobile project, Brock was able to bill 20 hours per week. His actual workload took around 40 hours and he would commute 2 hours a day to Tampa for the work. While working on this project, Brock took up internal projects for his dad’s company to build mobile apps used in TradeShows. These projects really boosted Brock’s brand as they were helping to earn more business for the company. Brock is 18 years old at this point in life and he’s making between 30/40k a year.
Brock used his earnings from this project to keep scratching his itch for technology. He bought the latest and greatest MacBook Pro with all the upgrades. Other than a car payment, he had no expenses and was able to start saving. When you are making $20/hour as an 18 year old, you are doing pretty well. After a few months on the job, Brock’s results earned him a raise to $22/hour.
At this point in life, Brock had accumulated skills like:
- Low level Java
- Objective C
- Business Analysis skills like writing user stories and gathering requirements
Brock’s Big Break
It was 2012 when Brock caught his big break. His father was talking about his kids one day at work and the right person heard Brock’s name. The job description involved low level coding and writing automated test cases. Brock gets the interview through his dad’s referral. Brock is nervous, but prepared… he’s been working in software for 5 years and knows his stuff.
After the 2nd phone interview, Brock got extended an offer only to find out there was a catch…he’d have to move to North Carolina. This is a big deal. Brock now has to do something that is very uncomfortable for him. Move away from his family. Live by himself. Start a long distance relationship with the woman he is trying to marry… Choices choices choices.
Many people would have said no to this job, but Brock said yes and thats why he is where he is today. What I think sets Brock apart here is that saying “no” to this job offer never even crossed his mind. Perhaps he was blinded by love, or just naturally awesome, but this is uncharacteristic amongst millennials today. Brock’s mindset was, “I want to get married” and getting a job as a software engineer made it possible for his father in-law to give the green light.
At the age of 20, when most people are in their sophomore year of college, Brock signed a $50,000 contract with PRFT as an entry level software engineer. Brock was ecstatic when he got the offer. He didn’t negotiate at all, just ask, “where do I sign?”
Brock bought a new car, packed all his possession in it, and drove to NC. Brock signed a lease for a 1-bedroom apartment and slept on an air mattress. He lived what he called, “a Spartan existence”…working a lot and coming home just to sleep. Everything about this experience was new to him. He had never lived by himself and never lived so far away from his family.
After signing on with PRFT, Brock experiences hockey stock growth. He had flat lined for 5 years but he didn’t quit and he never gave up. I loved his quote about this 5 year season, “In retrospect, the motivation doesn’t matter as much as the result.” The result is he didn’t quit….who cares how he got there!
If you are reading this, go to the Podcast and listen to minute 32:00–33:30. You will learn a life lesson and that will kick you in the pants! Big Key!: “Whatever you need to tell yourself to get over the hill, tell yourself that. When you are finished and are going down the hill, it doesn’t matter what it took to get you up it.”
But we are still not at $60k… so how did Brock get there? For this he needed to develop better skills and add more value to his company to justify a pay increase. He’s no longer competing in the labor force with his dad’s employees and he is no longer working for his dad’s company. Brock is in the real world and working along side adults, many of whom had been developing software for years.
His first day at work was culture shock to him. His job at PRFT was the first time he worked along side people from another country. Many of Brock’s co-workers were from overseas and were working in the USA off of work visas. Brock caters his quick adjustment to the corporate atmosphere to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The CAP program Brock shaped him as a leader and taught him many of the skills he would one day use in the work force to excel.
As a kid, CAP got him out of his shell and taught him the skills to deal with people. Brock learned leadership, discipline, and responsibility. Bring in CAP, Bock learned how to deconstruct task and look at problems from different angels. This is one of the keys tools for any software engineer.
Getting to the Next Level
PRFT had Brock assigned to a job at Lowe’s Hardware ($LOW). Brock was doing his job of writing automated test cases but more. What takes him to the next level was what he did in his downtime. In between task, Brock started trying to learn the jobs of everyone else, especially the guys doing the hardcore coding because thats where the money was. Just like when he was 14, Brock went back to the shadows. This time around, he had a much more attuned ear and a huge desire learn. After Brock developed the respect and trust of his coworkers, he ask if they would outsource some of their basic task over to him. Because development is such an amazing culture, they said yes and were eager to help him grow as an engineer.
Before long, Brock’s job started shifting from QA testing to Java development. While Brock was gaining a lot of knowledge about backend dev, he still had a passion for mobile and wanted to pursue it. He was patient and the opportunity eventually came. When Lowe’s went to spin up an Android Team for their mobile app, Brock was the first to raise his hand.
After a year with PRFT, Brock won the “Rookie of the Year” award at holiday party. In May of the following year he got a 15% raise. This was so far out of the norm that the company had to get the raise approved by the CFO. This bump put Brock at a salary of $57,500.
How did he get to $60k? He just waited and worked, and kept doing what he was doing. Brock kept learning new skills and refined the ones he had. Slowly but surely he became more and more valuable. Over the next year, Brock started to get incremental raises. He got to $59,000 by winter and by the following May he crossed the $60,000 mark and has never looked back!