Professional Development
AI / Education / Technology

How I Got Here: Tapp Network’s Steve Williamson makes sure to keep on learning

Here's how a tech-curious kid with no formal computer classes went on to become a successful Delaware technologist.

Steve Williamson. (Courtesy Steve Williamson)

This is How I Got Here, a series where we chart the career journeys of technologists. Want to tell your story? Get in touch.

Even after nearly two decades as a technologist, Steve Williamson and his team devote 20% of their time to learning.

“If you’re not constantly learning about new technologies, you’re going to fall behind,” Williamson, the director of software development for Tapp Network and a 2023 RealLIST Engineer, told Technical.ly.

With the rise of technology like AI that helps technologists do what they do faster, the toolbox is continually evolving.

“[With] software engineering, especially in the web space, every day there’s a different framework or something out there that you learn,” he said.

Williamson, 39, lives in Smyrna and works mostly remote. From his start in cyber education to his current work at Tapp — with projects including a booking platform for Denso and The Mill’s rental management platform — learning and evolving has been a common thread.

We sat down with Williamson via Zoom for a Q&A as part of our How I Got Here series. Here’s what he said, edited for length and clarity.

Technical.ly: What does the Tapp Network do?

Steve Williamson: The Tapp Network is a marketing technology firm. We focus on a lot of nonprofits, but it’s not limited to nonprofits. A lot of the stuff that my team works on is custom software development — your typical portfolio websites or brochure websites that most nonprofits might have. That’s usually done by the marketing side of the company. As soon as there’s something more technical than just a website, like a website that does something special, that’s when my team is involved. We’ve done a lot of automation as far as taking customers’ existing processes and automating them in such a way where it’s going to save them time or remove the human error aspect, or allow them to focus more on other things.

What are your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities?

I lead a team of developers and I also do some development as well, depending on how busy we are. I also help look at forecasting, like what projects we have coming down the pipeline, do we need more developers or who’s going to work on more projects and stuff like that. With a small company, there’s a lot of hats that you wear.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I grew up in Oxford, Pennsylvania. It’s bigger now, but when I grew up it was a pretty small town. We didn’t have, aside from word processing, any computer classes. But I did spend a lot of time on the computer back then, just learning things myself. I decided that’s what I wanted to go to school for. I didn’t really know much about software back then. So I went to Millersville for a bachelor’s in computer science and learned a lot there. And then during that process, I realized that I liked the web development piece.

What was your first job in tech?

I got a job at 21st Century Cyber Charter School in Exton [at the time]. My job was the image computers, to get them ready for the students. It started out with maybe 100 kids, but by the time I was done there, it was like 600 or 800 kids, I believe. I worked there [during college] for four years during the summer. And I took what we were doing manually and created a way for us to image all these computers on a network, so instead of hooking up one or two at a time, manually, we could do 10 to 20 at the time. And we wouldn’t have to touch the computer, we would just boot them up into the network drive and then everything would happen from there. That was where I got more experience with using a database and PHP and stuff like that.

What jobs did you have leading you to your current position?

I worked with the IT department at Millersville for a few years. Then I worked basically converting Word documents into HTML for teachers for online education. And then from there, I didn’t really get a job doing software, I got a job at HostMySite. They’ve got a really good training program, so I learned a lot about server management and all kinds of stuff like that, I think it was four to six weeks just in the classroom.

I grew from a support technician to a server engineer and then a team lead. And then I also started working in product engineering. It was a part-time gig within the company where I was doing software stuff and working with the product team to develop new products for them. It never worked out where I was able to go full time in that, which is where I was leaning. So I started working part-time after hours, like software engineering, web development. And then we also worked with a digital signage company, where we would create vertical screen touchscreens for conventions. We did, like, dental conventions over in Chicago, where I met Kyle [Barkins], the cofounder of Tapp.

What has been your favorite project?

So we’ve done a lot of projects. We’re partnering with Communities of Excellence to build a dashboard for them. It will be a centralized place for all the community members to log in and view their metrics, and even add custom metrics to trend over time. We are also doing a lot of work with the government. We have a few projects with DHSS for training and home visiting for social workers within the state. I like that I can do something different pretty much every day.

After a couple of decades working in tech, are you now incorporating future tech like AI?

Yeah, we definitely use that in our tool set. Even from a development standpoint, there’s a lot of tools that help us do what we do faster. So we definitely lean on some of those things and we’re very excited to learn about it. Software engineering, especially in the web space, every day there’s a different framework or something out there that you learn. We definitely spent a lot of time learning, 80% of our time is spent doing client work and 20% is for personal growth like learning new technology. If you’re not constantly learning about new technologies, you’re going to fall behind.

What have been some of the challenges in your tech career so far?

Most of my stuff was self-taught. I feel like early on, I could have benefitted from a mentor or just different resources. A lot of my early projects were all, like, very — I didn’t use any frameworks, it was all manually coded up. So there was a lot of duplicate work. I wish I had used [frameworks]. When I found out about it, I was like, “Man, this is insane.”

What advice would you give to aspiring technologists?

You need to put in a lot of work up-front. This could be building things, completing tutorials, not really caring if what you are doing is profitable as long as you are learning from it to take what you learned to the next thing. Find that community of whatever it is that you’re looking for just to understand who’s who in that ecosystem and who to follow. Find a mentor — create value for people that you admire in your space. Help them save time: Don’t just ask someone to be your mentor, show them you have work ethic and are really driven to create value. For instance, you do not want to ask someone what you can do to help them out. That puts the work back on them. A better approach is to study their industry and do something to create value for them, whether it’s a list of ideas, a tool they could use to make things easier or something completely different.

What’s next for you?

I mean, I like my position. And I like the type of work that we do. Since we’re not doing the specific software for a specific problem it gives us a lot of flexibility. So I would like to grow with Tapp and also maybe take some of the projects that we’ve done in the past or some of the experiences that we’ve had and build something that can sit on its own instead of just client work. We automate things, so we’re looking at our processes, how do we use our skill set and optimize workflow processes so less time is spent doing administrative stuff and more providing value to clients, and then maybe even helping other agencies do the same in the future.

Companies: Tapp Network
Series: How I Got Here

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