It’s Andy’s junior year of high school, and he’s eating lunch in a closet with his computer.
He had just been accepted into the Governor’s School program, which meant that he spent half his day at the local community college and half his day at his own high school. And, for the first time, he had gotten his own personal computer. But there was a problem: his high school had an extremely strict “no device” policy. It’s why, come lunchtime, he’d take his computer and hide in a closet— or a bathroom stall, or a sympathetic teacher’s classroom— so he could get online and watch Coursera videos.
Andy was amazed by the internet. He realized that he was only getting a glimpse of a whole world of knowledge — free knowledge — and he’s kept that memory with him since. In many ways, Andy is still fundamentally motivated by people’s access to, and relationship with, knowledge. In order to keep up with his own curiosity, though, he needed to become comfortable with uncertainty.
Andy has faced uncertainty head-on at every point in his HackCville experience. He was in HackCville’s very first Hustle entrepreneurship class the first semester of his first year. At that point, HackCville was just getting off the ground, and therefore had little structure, management, or community. This frustrated Andy — so he decided to step up to try and make it better.
He joined the Public Events team to plan events about design and marketing. He was given little training or guidance and was simply told to make it happen. “I had no idea what I was doing back then,” Andy recalls. Some events failed and some events succeeded. He quickly realized he was just in a new process of learning: experimenting, leaving behind what failed, and building on what worked.
As Andy began to take on more leadership positions, he felt more and more comfortable in these kinds of challenging, often undefined roles. It was intimidating to set his own rules, but that’s important, he says. All the uncertainties gave him the room to develop his own leadership style and flow. Fast forward four years and Andy has held more leadership roles at HackCville than any other person: Public Events Coordinator, Public Events Manager, Senior Producer for The Pioneer, Managing Director, and now Launch Director.
From the outside, Andy’s long list of leadership roles looks like a planned, even obvious path up the leadership ladder. In his year as Managing Director, the top student leadership role at HackCville, he grew HackCville’s program offerings from three to nine and added 200 new members to the community. Since he stepped down, the role of Managing Director has been split between two people. And this was all happening while he was undergoing McIntire’s School of Commerce’s famously challenging ICE program.
“Looking back, it might seem that there was a plan or pattern to what I accomplished at HackCville — but that’s not true. At every stage I had no idea what was going to come next.” Andy says. His experiences taught him that “not knowing enough” is a constant state for those who love to learn.
One of Andy’s proudest accomplishments was HackCville’s first Programs Showcase. In spring of 2016, he turned HackCville’s clubhouses into something akin to an interactive museum. “We wanted to show what you could accomplish with just a little bit of training and prototyping,” Andy says. Dozens of student projects — from videos to websites to data visualizations to startups — were on display in each and every room.
Andy was inspired by how many students came to see each other’s projects. “It was really cool to hear the conversations that came out of that,” he says. “It was probably the first time that a lot of these students had seen new ideas come to life across so many different disciplines.”
Not everyone gets access to that diversity of new ideas, skills, and projects. Andy understands this personally. Fauquier County in Virginia, where he comes from, is “corn, cows, and… that’s literally it.” So when he got a summer internship at Blackstone in NYC his third year, it was a big deal to him and his family. He was on Blackstone’s Innovation team working as a Product Manager, expecting to do what he liked to do: making technology, and the knowledge it creates, more accessible. He had the amazing opportunity to spend a summer in the big city, working alongside big-name tech innovators and entrepreneurs— and he absolutely hated it.
It’s never, ever easy to make the decision to pursue an alternate path after graduation, even if you’re as talented and motivated a person as Andy. October 31st remains forever etched in his memory: the day when he rejected the return offer from Blackstone. It took a lot to talk himself, and his family, through it. “That was a super stressful, dark period,” he says.
His dad, in particular, couldn’t understand why he would refuse an offer of financial stability. Andy’s dad grew up in Madrid and came to the U.S. with little English. He’s held one job his entire life. “For him, taking the Blackstone job was a no-brainer,” Andy says. “But I knew I didn’t feel useful at Blackstone.” It was tough, and it still is, he says, but he smiled when he added, “I hope I can show my parents why I made the choice I did and still make them proud.”
Andy had realized at Blackstone that the people he worked with— generally well-off, highly educated, and definitively metropolitan — were only building products for people just like them. “They have no idea what most of the United States is like,” Andy says. “I was helping lawyers save thirty minutes a week or business analysts leave an hour early on Fridays…It wasn’t the most fulfilling work.” This experience helped Andy define what matters most to him.
“People are spending their entire lives and tons of money building companies making life slightly more convenient or entertaining. How are these companies going to help the people I grew up with?” Andy asks. “Too many talented people are overlooking the meaningful problems that people like my Fauquier County neighbors face.”
Andy believes that if skilled, entrepreneurial students stay in small cities like Charlottesville, they’ll actually address the problems that are physically and intellectually close to them. That’s why he’s so excited about Launch, HackCville’s summer program he’s currently directing. Next year, his plan is to extend Launch to other cities, starting with Richmond. And he’s developing an online version of Launch, Satellite, a program to give people remote access to this kind of community.
Andy’s got his work cut out for him. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But I’m excited because, whether or not it works out, I’m going to be living with 10 other awesome people, sharing wins and losses, and doing what makes me happy.” He also can’t wait to watch other people fall in love with Charlottesville— and to see what they can do with that new motivation for giving back.
Andy’s next year is uncertain. It’s also entirely his own. “I’m so excited!” Andy grins, “I’m so excited!”
Andy is participating in the Elliewood Fellowship, a cohort of graduating HackCville members who are staying and starting ventures in Charlottesville after graduation. Learn more about the Fellowship →