Alumni Spotlight: Trent Willis
Written by: Ryan Helterhoff (MAMC ‘23)
Trent Willis (DAS ’14) currently works as a Senior UI Engineer at Netflix where he makes tools and applications that provide product insight for other engineers. Prior to working at Netflix, Trent worked as a developer and engineer for companies like Grooveshark and LinkedIn. He credits Digital Worlds for helping him develop his career skills and industry knowledge.
- How did your time at Digital Worlds lead you to the career you have today? Was there an experience or project you had during your time here that stood out to you or helped steer you toward your current path?
When I first chose Digital Arts & Sciences as my major, I thought I wanted to work in video game development. After building several games for various DAS classes and doing an internship with a video game studio, I realized that it was not actually what I wanted to do!
Meanwhile, I had been paying my way through school by working various jobs on campus. Several of those jobs involved web development and I discovered that I really enjoyed it, so I decided to pursue that as my career after graduation.
Ultimately, even though it didn’t specifically focus on the industry I eventually went into, my time in the DAS program helped me figure out what I actually wanted to do and still gave me lots of relevant skills and knowledge that I continue to use today.
2. What’s the most exciting part of your current career?
If I had to pick just one, I’d say the most exciting part of my career is getting to work on solving interesting problems with stunning colleagues.
It feels a bit cliche, but I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with and have been fortunate to work on some fascinating projects. Those two things combined are what help me stay excited about my career.
Put another way, I think the best way to stay excited about your career is to find a job where you can learn from others, enjoy working together, and have work that is interesting to you.
3. What advice would you give to a new DAS student just starting out in college?
In a word, explore! While it may seem overwhelming and busy, college is an exciting time filled with many opportunities to try new activities, learn new subjects, and meet a diverse group of people. As I mentioned above, exploring several different career paths in college helped lead me to where I am now.
Being open to new experiences and exploring many different things can help us validate our decisions in life. Plus, it makes for good conversations in the future.
4. What advice would you give to a soon-to-be or recent graduate who is looking for a job in this field?
Landing your first job is hard. My advice would be to get involved in your local community and keep learning. Find local meetups, conferences, or other events where you can meet people in the industry and learn.
Your early career is mostly about learning and becoming an expert at your craft. Being a part of your local community is one of the best ways to accelerate that process; it helps you build relationships with people in the industry, gain relevant skills, and learn about exciting companies you might otherwise miss. All of those things will help you land a great first (or second or nth) job.
5. What’s one of your favorite memories from your time at Digital Worlds?
The first memory that comes to mind is taking my first upper-level DAS class, Intro to Digital Arts & Sciences. It was the first time I had a class filled with other DAS students. I had no idea what to expect, but being around other people with similar interests was fun!
Additionally, I found the diversity of content and the projects interesting. Some of the projects I most remember from that class were Conway’s Game of Life, Mandelbrot explorer, and my first custom video game (which I believe is still on GitHub and probably terrible).