When Marc Whitman graduated from General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive1 pilot program in 2012, he probably didn’t think he’d be back so soon — especially as a hiring manager. But after securing a promotion as the manager of Sailthru’s Implementation Engineering team, he knew exactly where to find fresh software engineering talent. Learn how he used his background in the music industry to transition into tech, while helping others pursue their passion along the way
I’m a technical generalist, a live music fanatic, a wannabe guitarist/bassist, a dad, and husband with a wonderful family living in the New York metro area.
I currently run the Implementation Engineering group at Sailthru and Emma, two SaaS companies that are now part of the larger Campaign Monitor Group. CM Group is a conglomerate of some of the best marketing technology brands in the email marketing and larger “Martech” (marketing technology) space.
What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?
I had been in and out of numerous digital marketing gigs in the music industry (including Live Nation and Musictoday to name a few). I really loved the music industry, but over the years, I had run into a number of issues with acquisitions and working at not-so-profitable companies where — despite working with some really amazing people — the economics made it difficult to really progress in my career and feel like I was making a true impact.
I felt I was being held back by my career choices but also because I lacked certain technical skills and knowledge. At almost every turn, I was working with engineers, developers, and product managers — and soon learned how important web technologies are to a variety of businesses in the music space. It was an exciting time in the digital music space, but I consistently felt hampered without the proper tools and skills to actually build what I needed or what could be.
What was it about web development that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What was the defining moment (or moments) that pushed you forward?
In my final gig before the Web Development Immersive at General Assembly, I was basically running my own digital ad network and collaborating with some awesome websites and partners in the live music space. While I was able to set up one of the largest digital ad sales in the small company’s history, I was barely able to handle the technical needs of the campaign, especially with the little support I received.
At that point, I had sort of “had it.” I was not seeing much potential for growth in my third music industry role, and I was simultaneously seeing technology changing the industry in so many ways. I had already had a number of moments where I wanted to be a part of that technological change, so that one was the final straw for me. That’s when I decided I wanted in on the tech space.
I had dabbled in a variety of online coding schools (like Code Academy, Treehouse, etc). Those initial courses were a great spark for me, but I found it difficult to truly grasp the concepts. I also knew that I would have difficulty fitting it into my free time during nights and weekends, so I felt I needed to have a more regimented course to push me forward.
As a part of the pilot program in 2012, what motivated you to choose GA over other programs? Additionally, what compelled you to choose a bootcamp vs. traditional schools?
In my early phases of learning, I took an introductory course taught by Chris Castiglione — one of GA’s first lead instructors. I had also taken an intro to Ruby on Rails taught by Avi Flombaum (who eventually started Flatiron School), and that helped me realize I really needed something a bit more full-time. I remember considering programs at both Flatiron School and GA, but when it came to GA, I remember liking everyone that I met during the interviews. They seemed young, driven, smart, and really set on making the Web Development Immersive work for anyone willing to take the plunge (even someone a bit on the mature side like me — I think I was only one of two people in the class with a kid at the time!).
I honestly don’t think I was really even looking at other more traditional colleges or schools at that point — going back to a “college” just wasn’t even on my radar. I had dealt with a year of being laid off, having my first child, and quickly starting a new job that did not work out. Ultimately, I was a career-changer in my mid-30s looking to make a quick and drastic move, and GA’s Immersive program offered a three-month commitment to make that all happen. It just seemed like the right fit for me at the time.
What was the best thing about Web Development Immersive (WDI) for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?
WDI allowed me to completely change my career path, while also making use of all my previous digital marketing experience. In one sense I “started over” in tech, but in another sense, I was able to use that new skill set to build on top of what I already knew.
Describe your career path after completing the program. How has GA been a resource to you in terms of finding a job?
When I came out of the program at the end of 2012, it was so new at the time that GA did not really have a set process for helping new grads land tech roles. However, the GA team was very committed to helping everyone land a new gig, so they set up an “internship/contractor” scenario to help transition WDI grads to various startups. I — along with two other grads from my cohort — joined a startup in the email marketing space at Sailthru. The company was basically looking to hire anyone with basic HTML & CSS skills to build out email templates because of their rapid growth. We started working as a team and gradually took on various tasks for new clients during their implementation on the platform. I was able to get up and running fairly quickly with Sailthru’s technology, so after my three-month contract was up, they decided to offer me a job as a full-time implementation engineer.
From that point on, I worked my way up the chain over a few years. Thanks to my past experience managing people, I was promoted to the manager of the Implementation Engineering team. I still manage that team… though my role has evolved quite a bit through some promotions, inclusion of other areas of our platform, and other brands in the larger CM Group.
How do you think your background in music helped you in your career as a software engineer? And how about the skills you learned at GA?
I don’t see too much correlation, but I do think my love of improvisation has helped me in a variety of ways in my current role, at least in terms of adaptability and switching gears on the fly. Coincidence or not, I have hired two former professional musicians who turned into engineers.
What do you love most about your current role?
While there are various tasks I often repeat and do frequently, everyday brings a unique set of challenges, so no day is quite the same. The product and platform evolves constantly, and we’re always having to keep up with the latest technologies to stay current.
I will also say that one thing that has been really amazing is that once I became a manager, I was able to go back to General Assembly to hire new grads to my team. Since transitioning to a manager role, I have hired a total of five WDI grads to my team — three of which are still at the company in various roles. There’s just something really special about hiring new GA grads into the exact same role that helped me make my transition into tech. I get to tell them my story — how I made the transition — and then bring them on the team to help them find their own new career path. Of all the things I’ve accomplished since my time at GA, I think it’s probably the thing I am most proud of.
How has GA made an impact in your career?
It absolutely changed the game for me. I have autonomy, I get to use my technical skills and past experience, and I get to return to GA to hire new grads and help them do what I did back in 2013.
If you had it to do all over again, is there anything you would have done differently?
Since graduating, you’ve worked consistently in development over seven years. How important has continued learning been to stay competitive?
You began as an implementation engineer and are now a senior manager of that team. After working your way up, what do you look for in new hires? What’s it like being on the other side of the interview table?
I honestly look for smart, driven people who understand the core web development concepts and show they can pick up new things quickly. Given the role I am usually hiring for, I actually try to find the career changers who are driven, know they have a lot to learn, and are just super eager to keep learning.
As far as things that might get overlooked, I think maybe it’s finding folks with that drive and eagerness to learn who can also easily overcome all the imposter syndrome that comes with that process. That feeling never truly goes away, so I love finding people who embrace it, admit they don’t know things, and just roll up their sleeves to figure them out — because they have already proven to themselves that they can do it.
What advice can you give to those who are trying to break into tech?
This is a tough one, but I would say you really need to be driven and relentless in your pursuit, but be open-minded to which kind of role will work for you. In other words, a lot of web development bootcamps train you to become a full-stack engineer, but you don’t have to be exactly that to make use of your new skills or be happy. I mean, that is super awesome if you can make that work, but it’s not necessary and is not for everyone. There are lots of ways to break into the space. Just keep pressing ahead, look for your angle, and make it work for you.
In respect to development, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?
I hope my story helps inspire others to make a change. I would say that General Assembly helps you realize that you can be a lifelong learner and continue to evolve your skills as long as you are persistent and driven. I would also encourage you to view your career path as a long-term journey, so you should give it time and just try to very gradually make progress each day or week. Over time, it’ll eventually add up to a pretty amazing evolution.
1 General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) was updated and relaunched as the Software Engineering Immersive in 2020.