Jake James

What's Up with All the Places You've Lived and that Career Path?

It started with me asking the question “What is the coolest job you can possibly have?”. My answer to that was an astronaut. So I thought, ok, seems like the natural thing to study would be aerospace engineering and astrophysics. When I started the college journey, I knew I’d do well in liberal arts classes like business, history, economics, but wasn’t so sure about engineering. I knew I could do it, I just wasn’t sure how well I’d do. Turns out, middle of the road. Not gonna lie, it was tough. But, I got through it ok with a decent gpa. As I studied aerospace, the problem I found extremely irritating was how difficult it was just to escape earth’s gravity, and propel ourselves through interstellar space. You can look at how we get ourselves from earth to space and with almost 100% certainty know that this is not how we’ll be doing it in 100-200 years.

As I researched alternative forms of energy, fusion energy popped up on my radar. I thought not only could this help with interstellar travel, but it would solve the earth’s energy problems for every human being. Forever. I still feel strongly about this. So, I went ahead and applied and got accepted into a fusion energy masters program. There are 2 main fields of fusion energy: Magnetic Confinement and Inertial Confinement. I had my heart set on magnetic confinement and diving into the physics of electricity and magnetism. However, I was offered a research position in inertial confinement. Naively, I thought I could study electricity and magnetism while doing inertial confinement research, but naturally, my research sponsor expected me to take courses that had to do with our research. I made the decision to stick with the research position route and took those courses. If I thought aerospace and astrophysics was tough, it was a lot tougher taking courses in graduate level materials science that you didn’t really want to take. Also, I was having a lot of fun bartending 30 hours a week, so that probably didn’t help things. To supplement my dragging GPA, I took undergraduate and graduate level law courses. Loved those classes. Taking those law classes confirmed my suspicion that I would have excelled in a liberal arts education. But still, becoming an astronaut was the idea from the beginning. However, not being a top student in the engineering curriculum was making that goal seem more and more out of reach.

After grad school, I moved to Seattle based on a discussion I had with a Boeing recruiter at a career fair. All I needed to do was apply, go in for the interview, and bam, it’d be a shoe-in. Turns out it wasn’t quite that easy. I must have applied for 60-70 different positions. While I bartended on Alki beach, I even spoke to and had great conversations with upper management Boeing personnel. I even once talked to new hires and explained to them that it was probably due to my undergrad GPA. They both admitted that was considerably better than either of their GPAs. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Blessing in disguise. I look back and am grateful I didn’t get a job with them. During my time in grad school and in Seattle, I had been bartending, and had tried a few different point of sale systems (the software you see servers and bartenders entering order information in). I remembered the one I used at my fist gig in San Diego and seeing one of the techs come on site to fix an issue while I was busting my ass making drinks and doing bar-back work. I remembered seeing this guy just monitoring the system, and I thought, that’s not a bad gig. Fast forward to Seattle, and I found a job ad for this particular software company. I had thought it was a huge company, as it was by far the best POS software I had used. Turned out they were a tiny little company up there in Seattle. I would go on to interview with them and become employee #12. Being with them opened my eyes to the world of software and entrepreneurship, and I thought if astronaut is #1 on the coolest jobs list, entrepreneurship was a close 2nd or 3rd (although I maintain that being a professional musician or artist is tough to beat out for #2).

That job got me thinking of different ideas and businesses I could start. I had a great idea, but then one morning in 2008, a conversation with our Founder/CTO changed everything. Let me explain a little here. I had always had respect for our military, and I had always told myself that if a situation arose that warranted a full scale war, I would sign up. Back up to 2001 and 9/11. At the time, I was in my sophomore year of college. As I debated the decision between continuing my engineering degree, or joining and coming back to it later, along came the whole Iraq and WMD scenario. I knew we were being lied to. I couldn’t get behind invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, no matter how terrible the regime was. I wanted us to go after the people who hit the towers. None of it made sense to me. I decided I couldn’t join based on a false narrative. Fast forward to 2008 and that fateful morning in Seattle. See, the founder and I would always be the first ones in the office in the mornings. Carl would come by my office and we’d shoot the shit for a good 20-30 minutes most mornings. Well, this morning, he told me some horrific news about some happenings in Iraq. Right then and there I thought to myself, regardless of how I felt about this false narrative, if they’re committing these kinds of atrocities, I’m getting in there.

So now the research began of what branch do I want to join. I had always told myself if I joined, it would be in front-line stuff, boots on the ground kind of stuff. However, I had all this engineering education and this lingering dream of being an astronaut. Soon enough, I came across the Nuclear Propulsion Program. I thought to myself, wow, if there’s anything like being on a long duration space mission on a space shuttle, it’s being on a nuclear submarine. And, I got to actually use all that engineering education I paid for. Not to mention, it’s considered the most advanced and technically challenging program in all the military in all the world. I thought, what the hell, let’s do this. So I did. Again, I struggled with the academic portion in the accelerated graduate-level nuclear/chemical/electrical/physics/mechanical engineering curriculum, but somehow I made it through. And lucky enough, I got to fulfill another dream and live in Hawaii by getting my first choice for a homeport, Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.

From Pearl Harbor, we drove that boat all around the Pacific ocean. To Guam, Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and even Alaska. Driving the boat was hands down the best part of it all, especially on the surface. I was fortunate enough to be chosen to drive into all the best ports, especially Singapore which had the longest and most interesting inbound surface passage. Overall, it was a great experience. However, I decided at some point into my commitment that I wouldn’t be re-enlisting. Also, I had come to terms that the astronaut route was not a good fit for me. I wanted to get back to the real world and get back into software and tech. I wanted to learn the latest ways that software and businesses were being built. Additionally, I had developed a new interest, the financial markets.

It’s amazing to me now to look back and think about my lack of knowledge of the financial markets. I didn’t know what futures or options were. I didn’t know how commodity prices were intertwined in global economics and that they were traded electronically, primarily on one exchange based out of Chicago. As I began my transition out of the Navy, I started learning about trading, investing, and teaching myself Python and how to navigate around a Linux terminal. As I looked for jobs, there were a few interesting ones, but then my headhunter threw an opportunity in front of me. He told me to have a look, but to not get my hopes up, as he didn’t really have a good understanding of what it was. It had something to do with trading, something called high frequency trading. I had no idea what it was. As I looked into it, I was surprised to learn that it was with a firm that combined all the things I was teaching myself. It entailed working as a core operations engineer who would be responsible for ensuring the trading platform behaved as expected, coordinating with developers in rolling out new code, and teaming up with business development to onboard new trading partners. And the job was in Singapore, so I’d get to hop off and travel all around southeast Asia. And apparently it was a hard crowd to get into it, very competitive with tons of super smart people. Heck, yeah.

That was almost 8 years ago now. That job would take me from training in New York to living and working in Singapore to living and working in Austin, Texas. Awesome places with great people. I’ve learned a lot at the firm and got to implement a lot of processes and procedures that would help the firm scale from 140 people, go through an IPO, acquire and merge with 2 companies, and keep our team organized. Of course, life has a funny way of leading you in different directions. The pandemic and family situations would present the opportunity to go full time remote working out of Washington, D.C. And now, here I am. As I went fully remote, my role changed and freed up some time. I started dabbling here and there, reading about commercial real estate and business. Then, in 2022, I went ahead and started a side business in commercial finance. It’s hard to say what my future with the firm will be now that I’m one of the very few who are fully remote, but all I know is that there’s a ton of opportunity out there and I’m keeping my eyes open. We’re living in extraordinary times. To be continued.