Charlie Reese

Software. Finance. Entrepreneurship.

2017 - My Year in Review

Jan 1, 2018 | 8 minute read

In 2017 I left my career to learn software development, travel, launch a company, and more. Below I go through why I quit, what I spent 2017 doing, and my plan for 2018.

Why I Quit Investment Banking

Banking was everything I was promised it would be; it was full of long nights, tight deadlines, and amazing learning opportunities. I learned so much from everyone I worked with, junior and senior. Despite this, I decided to quit investment banking early in 2017 for the following reasons:

  • I wanted to understand how 99% of the things running my life actually worked (Bloomberg, Excel, Gmail, Facebook, etc.)
  • I wanted to build a web application that could automagically generate personalized investment banking / consulting style pitchbooks, and I couldn't find a developer that knew how this could be done
  • I feel at peace when I'm building things, writing logic, and solving problems, and I was no longer satisfied with the capital markets / M&A models I was building
  • Working 100 hour weeks isn't super fun

I will take the work ethic and drive investment banking instilled in me everywhere I go. I did my best to harness it this year.

My 2017 Plan

I didn't have a concrete plan when I quit, but I knew that I wanted to do the following in 2017:

  1. Master core software engineering fundamentals
  2. Learn front and back-end web development frameworks
  3. Travel - ski, surf, and visit Asia
  4. Pass the CFA level II exam
  5. Build a SaaS company - preferably the aforementioned pitchbook generation web application

I am both happy and proud to say that I did all of the above items in 2017! Please find standalone segments for each item below.

My 2017 Achievements

1. Mastering Core Software Engineering Fundamentals

In order to learn core software engineering fundamentals, I completed Launch School, an online ~1000-1500 hour software development school. Launch School falls somewhere between a boot-camp and a degree, and typically takes 8 - 12 months for full-time students to complete. Each Launch School course has hundreds of exercises, one or more graded test(s) / assignment(s), and a live coding interview. A minimum grade of 90% is required to advance to the next course.

Unlike boot-camps, Launch School's core curriculum focuses on mastery and teaches core software engineering principles that don't change (vs teaching frameworks that are currently in vogue).

Launch School helped me learn the following languages:

  • Ruby
  • SQL
  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • Javascript

Courses in the Launch School core curriculum:

  • Orientation, Front-End, and Back-End Preparation
  • Programming and Back-End Development
    • Programming Foundations (Ruby)
    • Object-Oriented Programming (Ruby)
    • Ruby Foundations: More Topics
    • Web Development
    • SQL and Relational Databases
  • Front-End Development
    • HTML and CSS
    • Computational Thinking with JavaScript (name has since changed)
    • Front-End Development with JavaScript (name has since changed)

To further master software engineering fundamentals, I built and deployed a SaaS product, REPitchbook (rebranded to Black Swan Sales and further discussed in number 5 below).

2. Learning Front and Back-End Web Development Frameworks

In order to learn front and back-end web development frameworks, I have completed (and in some cases am still working through) the following advanced electives at Launch School:

  • Building Applications with Client-Side MVC (name has since changed)
  • Rapid Prototyping with Ruby on Rails
  • Building Robust and Production Quality Applications
  • Practical Programming and Automation
  • Working with Web APIs

In addition to the above, I have built a handful of React / Express / Node applications, and a clone of Trello with Backbone. REPitchbook (rebranded to Black Swan Sales), the SaaS company I founded, uses React heavily, as does this website (note: this site doesn't use React anymore)!

3. Travelling - Skiing, Surfing, and Visiting Asia

It was important to me this year that I didn't simply stick my head in the sand and program (although admittedly I did do a lot of that). Travelling, for me, is a way to meet new people, see new things, learn more about myself, and take myself out of a familiar environment. It was also an excuse to check out new places to ski and surf.

Whistler and Revelstoke (February / March): I could write a book on how much fun going skiing at either of these places is. I was fortunate to spend a little over a week at each resort. The highlight was definitely launching myself off of a 25-foot cliff in Revelstoke after getting a lot of snow the night before (and watching my friend Alex do it).

Koh Lanta, Thailand (April / May): Before this trip, I had never been to Asia. I spent most of my 5-week trip at a beachfront co-working space, KoHub, programming during the day and exploring the island in the morning and at night. I had an awesome scooter that I could rip around the ~25 km long island on, and a questionable helmet that I'm glad I never needed... The island was clean, nice, and for the most part, quiet. If you have ever wanted to go on vacation but need to work during the day, KoHub is a great bet.

Tamarindo, Costa Rica (June): Since I was a kid, I've always wanted to spend a couple of weeks surfing every day. I got to do just that on this trip, and my best friend growing up joined me for the second half. Other than getting beat up on days with overhead waves, this trip was amazing. We stayed at the Coral Reef Surf Hostel and Camp, which was a short walk from the beach, and have no bad things to say about it. If you decide to go surfing in Tamarindo, keep your head up for crocodiles - they are known to occasionally come out into the surf near the estuary, and there have been a couple of somewhat recent attacks.

4. Passing the CFA Level II Exam

Despite leaving investment banking, I haven't given up on finance. I studied for the CFA level II exam in the weeks preceding the test date, and am proud to have passed the exam. I plan to write the third and final CFA exam in 2019.

5. Building a SaaS Company - REPitchbook (Rebranded to Black Swan Sales)

During the end of 2017, I founded REPitchbook, a web application that generates investment banking / consulting style pitchbooks for sales representatives. As far as I am aware, it is the first application of its kind.

Key highlights:

  • Built minimum viable product in ~6 weeks
  • Engaged my first brokerage in a pilot project 1.5 weeks later
  • Application allows agents to save and print analysis, or share it on social media as personalized, standalone websites with chatbots / lead-generation
  • Created a tutorial video series for my current users
  • Noteworthy technologies used: SQL, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, React, Node, Express, Chart.js, Mocha, Jest, Nginx

Development of REPitchbook is now largely done (note: REPitchbook has been rebranded to Black Swan Sales and is again actively under development). I have transitioned it into a hobby project and am currently pondering how best to sell it (automated ads alongside a fancy landing page vs a manual process). I am also increasingly unsure that real estate is the best market for the application, despite my initial feedback and hunch. Regardless, I plan to eventually pursue a handful of other industries with the technology I developed.

My Plans for 2018

I am currently looking to join a company as a software developer. I would love to work with smart, easy-going people that are building something new / difficult / exciting.

Other noteworthy hobbies / projects planned for 2018:

  • Finding the most effective sales strategy for REPitchbook (now Black Swan Sales)
  • Picking up machine learning
  • Building my first custom computer from individual components

If You Read This Far...

Thank you for reading about how I spent my year! I'm not sure what lies ahead, but 2017 was definitely the best year of my life thus far.

If you are someone who has ever thought of quitting your job to travel, learn something new, or start a company, I hope this article gives you the inspiration and courage to do so; you can't find treasure without going off of the beaten path.

P.S. If you know someone that is looking to hire a developer with finance / business acumen, or you want to catch up over a coffee, please don't hesitate to give me a shout!

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