Pick a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. What might sound like a quote from a commencement speech or something from an inspirational calendar actually rings true for School of Information Technology alum Brandon Dewitt ’05.
[Original article found in the 2016 ForeCAST magazine by the College of Applied Science and Technology at Illinois State University.]
By: Kara Pool Synder
As chief technology officer (CTO) for MX in Lehi, Utah, Dewitt often finds himself saying, “I’ve never been to work a day in my life. I hang out with creators who have found a purpose.”
MX has almost 200 employees, but the company is still considered a startup. As such, he has trouble defining his main responsibilities as CTO. “Some days a salesman, some days a janitor, some days a coder, some days a friend, but I’m always a builder and a creator.”
Founded in 2010, MX’s main goal is to offer digital money management solutions that amplify user loyalty and drive an increase in profitable revenue. MX partners with digital banking providers and financial institutions to enhance the account holder experience and position banking partners as true advocates for end users. MX strongly believes that finance can be simpler, more useful, and even enjoyable.
Some might think making finance enjoyable is an oxymoron that would be impossible to overcome, but employees at MX are up for the challenge. The team at MX believes that “it’s everyone’s job to get things done,” Dewitt said. Days at MX kick off with a 15-minute, stand-up meeting where engineers share what they accomplished the previous day, and what they hope to execute today. “We share concerns, ask for assistance on significant problems, and brainstorm solutions.”
Dewitt often follows up the stand-up meeting with an hour or two of writing code. “I got into starting companies to write code that changes how humanity interacts with daily life,” said Dewitt. “Part of my happiness is found in tackling hard problems in maintainable and scalable ways. I need to spend time coding every day.”
Dewitt is mindful of spending time on things that make him happy, especially after receiving a wake-up call that made him realize what matters most in life. “I had been through a few careers at this point, and I had never purchased a car,” said Dewitt. “I decided to ‘reward’ myself for the success I had experienced. I went to the BMW dealership and negotiated to get a BMW X5, white with a brown leather interior, and pick it up the following Monday.”
“As I was headed to pick up the car on Monday morning, I received a call from my doctor, who said I needed to go to the hospital,” Dewitt said. “I told him I had another appointment and that I couldn’t come in; he informed me that I needed to go to the hospital as soon as possible. I canceled my car appointment and headed to the hospital to learn that I had a fast-growing cancer.
“After sitting and crying for half an hour, I called my mother and told her the news. Then I called and canceled my BMW order. When I ordered the BMW, I was focused on what was materially important to me, instead of how the decisions I made influenced and impacted the world around me.” Dewitt eventually ended up purchasing a hybrid car that gets 44 miles per gallon and an electric smart car.
Dewitt was diagnosed on September 8, 2014, and spent three months in daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments. He was still working and in communication with his team at MX, but staying quarantined from the office was difficult. Dewitt remains grateful for the support he received from his co-workers. “I had visitors during that time, and the entire company supported me throughout the whole journey,” said Dewitt. “They even wore ‘Just Dewitt’ shirts every chemotherapy treatment.”
Dewitt shared his story with Illinois State Information Technology students at RedbirdHacks, a hackathon hosted at Illinois State in April 2015. “Brandon has always been an innovative thinker and an excellent programmer, but his battle with cancer turned him into a great role model,” said Mary Elaine Califf, director of the School of Information Technology. “I’ve seen him talk to students both before and after. Before, he was an interesting speaker who does some exciting things; now, he’s the kind of speaker who touches hearts and lives.
“He’s still the entrepreneurial brilliant programmer, and yet, he also has figured out what else matters in life and is willing to talk to students about those things.” “My experience has caused me to live and work with more purpose,” Dewitt said. “I realized I wanted to read more; I realized I wanted to be the person that I have always imagined I could be (without the typical excuses); I realized the everyday interactions of life are not boring, but they should be cherished and purposeful.”
Dewitt’s goal of reading more started during his hospital visits, and one book he got his hands on was This is Water, by David Foster Wallace, a former Illinois State University professor. “It has become required reading at MX and informs how we interact with one another at the office and in our daily lives,” said Dewitt.
After his diagnosis, focusing his efforts became a main priority for Dewitt in his life. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized pretty quickly that life is not infinite,” he said.
“This was an inspiration to magnify the impact of my efforts, but also to focus them. The seconds we have left are a finite resource and saying ‘no’ is a necessity if we are going to optimize the use of those seconds.”
This focus extends to the office. “Every week at MX, we visit with financial institutions and organizations that are looking to solve big problems in new and innovative ways. Our biggest challenge is not generating opportunity, but deciding when to say no to one,” said Dewitt. “My natural curiosity and excitement about building, creating, and solving problems makes saying ‘no’ a challenge.”
Dewitt’s natural curiosity for learning meant that he saw more of Illinois State’s campus than some students. While he ended up as a computer science major, he initially began his journey at Illinois State University in the School of Music. “The intersection of art and science at the University has made the most significant impact on my success,” said Dewitt. “As humans, we are not single-track; we require both sides of our minds to be engaged.”
This way of thinking started early for Dewitt: “I wrote myself an email before starting my first entrepreneurial endeavor, and I still live by it today. Every time I read it, I realize how prescient my younger self was; the naivete of my youth still guides my present.” The email references to-dos that engage both the right and left sides of the brain: Be passionate to the point of ridicule; statistics don’t lie, so learn to read them; practice objectivity; and remember that “integrity matters more.”
The last point on Dewitt’s list encourages him to “find out what’s real, what matters, and what you value.” It is clear that creativity is one thing that rises to the top of that list for him, day in and day out. “When I leave the office, I feel the true fulfillment that comes with knowing that what was built today did not exist yesterday, and the momentum we have built over time can continue to grow,” said Dewitt. “Planting the seed of creation is something that can never be undone and fulfillment that is rarely matched.”
When asked what advice he would give to someone who is considering starting their own company, Dewitt said, “Do it! Start a business, or go learn at a startup company how to start a business of your own. There is no time like the present to lose everything in the pursuit of purpose.”
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