Q&A with Jean-Pierre Vertil, who sees business & tech as a winning combination

In this post, we’re catching up with Hack Reactor alum Jean-Pierre Vertil, who graduated from our Intermediate Coding Bootcamp in 2018. Jean-Pierre has a background in Electrical Engineering and Economics and has worked with Sigora International in Haiti, where he’s from, and where he implemented solutions to make clean energy accessible in remote regions of the country. Subsequently, he worked with Sigora Solar in the U.S., making door-to-door sales and as a product manager leading a team that built proprietary software for solar system design, financing, and contract signing. He’s passionate about using business and technology to solve emerging communities’ toughest challenges in clean energy and responsible access to financial services.

Below, we asked him a few questions about his coding bootcamp experience and what he’s been up to since graduating.

What was your background before you signed up for a coding bootcamp? What inspired you to learn software engineering?

Before starting Hack Reactor, I was working for a company called Sigora International, which manufactures smart electric power meters in order to bring access to electricity in emerging markets, namely Haiti, my home country. I was amazed by the work we were able to achieve through the use of technology.

For context, we electrified several towns in the most remote and rural areas of Haiti by providing clean, accessible, and reliable power. Being a part of that team alone was gratifying, but I wanted to do more. I took the initiative to self-learn how to build phone applications, and build an app enabling our technicians to be more efficient in their work. The sense of fulfillment I got from that experience compelled me to want to learn coding in a more rigorous and structured fashion, which is why I decided to attend Hack Reactor.

You’ve studied at various universities and are now working on your MBA. What inspires you to keep learning?

I first earned my engineering degree as I’ve always been passionate about energy access. I saw this degree as an opportunity for me to roll up my sleeves and concretely work towards the realization of that goal. I also understood that in order for me to create something meaningful and scalable, I could benefit much from business training, hence why I’m pursuing my MBA. My strategy is to put myself in the best position for a significant impact.

You started working for a solar company as their first software developer. What was it like to be a one-person software development team?

Right after completing Hack Reactor, I joined a solar energy company as their first software developer. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being the first developer was indeed intimidating, but I had just completed a comprehensive curriculum from Hack Reactor. My biggest takeaway from Hack Reactor was that I can really do and build anything, granted I’m willing to put in the time and effort.

My biggest challenge was in making sure I was coding with industry best practices. To that end, I reached out to more seasoned developers who gave me guidance. I learned how to think programmatically and gained the confidence to tackle really any software task.

How did your responsibilities change when you went from Developer to a Product Manager? And how has your development strategy changed after going from a solo developer to managing a team of 15?

My first task as a Developer was to build the MVP of an internal tool. Upon its release, management saw value in and validated the need for an actual software development team. Given that I was the one most familiar with the platform and the vision the company had for its evolution, I became a product manager. In that capacity, I had to learn how to flex new muscles- especially making sure my team was on task, on time, and on budget.

Having some experience as a software developer gave me a unique advantage when I started leading a team of developers, as I understood the implication of their work, and as I was able to design scopes of work that were both technically feasible and digestible. It for sure put me out of my comfort zone, but I’m better for it.

You led two organizations empowering Haitian youth: Education Haiti and PUSH. What inspired you to work with these organizations? And do you have goals or ideas for future charitable work?

Education Haiti is a group of mentors helping bright Haitian high school students enroll in the most competitive universities in the US. PUSH is an organization that places recent college graduates in Haiti in internships and full-time jobs. I engaged with these two organizations as I’ve always made it a personal goal to create meaningful opportunities for those who need them the most. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life, especially for having had the opportunity to pursue my studies in the U.S. The least I can do is find ways to empower others who were not given as much.

I’m now pursuing my MBA and I’m working to launch ventures that enable access to energy in emerging markets or enable individuals from these communities to have responsible access to credit and preferential financial services in order to help them make the most of their potential.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in becoming a software engineer?

It’s absolutely rewarding to learn how to code. It may be intimidating at first, but if you work at it, you will figure it out and it will frankly become second nature. The nice thing about coding is that once you learn the fundamentals, you become unstoppable as you’ll become able to pick up on other coding languages. You will also become comfortable with ready spec sheets that will enable you to manipulate software you may have never interacted with before.

One of my biggest takeaways from learning to code is the confidence that I can build anything I imagine – at least most of it 🙂 Frankly, nothing is more gratifying than bringing life to your thoughts.

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