Tech’s his instrument: How Code Fellows CEO Jeff Malek reprogrammed his rock star dreams

Code Fellows CEO Jeff Malek and his fiance, Stephanie. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Malek)

In the early 1990s, Jeff Malek moved to Seattle to find his fortune and make a name for himself in an emerging field that was gaining strength and attracting talent.

And no, we’re not talking about technology and the ascension of Microsoft and others in the sector (though a ’90s newspaper headline did announce: “More Jobs Now In Tech Than Timber — Natural Resources Fall Into 2nd Place”).

Malek was drawn to the Northwest for its thriving music scene, drawn by the siren song of the Alice In Chains’ album “Dirt.”

His goal was to “become a world-famous multi-instrumentalist rock star,” Malek said. It didn’t quite play out that way. With a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Malek worked as a bartender and waiter in Seattle bars and restaurants, including home-town favorite’s Deluxe Bar and Grill and The Showbox.

Jeff Malek. (Code Fellows Photo)

Over time, Malek decided to change industries. He’d grown up around computers (his dad worked for IBM) and in college he’d taken a music and tech course. He began teaching himself how to write code, studying HTML, CSS and JavaScript. He earned an online certificate from the University of Washington in the C programming language.

His first tech gig was a brief stint as a Linux system administrator, followed by a job as a junior programmer at an e-commerce company. He got hooked on startups, working for or helping co-found businesses including 180solutions, Zango and BigDoor.

“Leaving the startup world and going to a corporate job has never appealed to me. I’ve always been attracted to the risk and reward,” he said. “The most fun of starting a company is in the very beginning, building a product from the ground up.”

In July 2015 he took the role of chief operating officer at Code Fellows, a Seattle-based boot camp that has graduated more than 1,000 software developers in less than seven years. In 2017 he became CEO.

In a way, it feels like coming full circle, Malek said.

“I’m basically helping our team on a daily basis follow the path that I took,” he said, transitioning from the service industry or other sectors into a first tech job. Code Fellows aims to reach underrepresented demographics in technology: half of its students are female, half are from minority groups and the organization offers scholarships for low-income enrollees.

And Code Fellows still has a startup vibe, Malek said. The organization is working internationally to help other schools establish training programs. He recently traveled to Amman Jordan to help launch a new coding program funded by the nation’s queen that uses Code Fellows’ curriculum and methodology.

Code Fellows’ focus is on intensive, in-person education that prepares people to work in teams in a structure that’s similar to what graduates experience in their first jobs, said Malek.

“They’re trying to start their career,” he said. “They’re eager to learn, they’re hungry, they have the grit to get through the training.”

Malek may have shelved his dreams of rock-stardom, but hasn’t silenced his musical passion. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Malek)

And that music career hasn’t been completely muted. In 2015, Malek released a solo album “Never Settle Sometimes” that he said “is still making its way to the charts!”

We caught up with Malek for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: 3rd and Broad in downtown Seattle, across from the Pacific Science Center and the Space Needle.

Computer types: I’m a Mac user, and usually have my 15” Macbook Pro with me.

Mobile devices: Android Pixel, iPad; my Bose wireless headphones are my favorite mobile device.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: I love listening to books on Audible and music on Spotify, r/funny on Reddit when I need a laugh. I think YouTube, Google Maps and Wikipedia are three of the most incredible things on the internet. Ableton Live and MOTU Digital Performer for making music. Love everything AWS, most recently Lambda. Git and Github. Google Docs. Atlassian, Vim and Bash, in years past.

Malek’s office and his wide-screen monitor. (Code Fellows Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I’ve always loved being able to work from anywhere, with a laptop. My office is pretty minimalistic, but I love my big Apple monitor. I have a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad within reach for practice when I need a mindset break.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Do what you love, put love into what you do. Start the day by doing something difficult, like pushups. Have a delicious breakfast. Take a few minutes to read about something positive that you’re interested in. Invest in a great bed, and an even greater coffee maker. Actively seek out the thoughts and opinions of others, particularly those who don’t think, look or act like you. When wrong, broadcast that you were wrong. Remember that leaders can and should change their minds. Do what you say, say what you do. Get up, walk around and talk to people, particularly when you find yourself staring at an electronic device in frustration. Keep time. Practice. Learn, grow, improve. Be good to yourself. Be mindful. Express thankfulness and kindness. Elevate others. Keep family and friends at the top of the priority list.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I use LinkedIn many times a day, for work. I’m not a big social network user outside of work any more, but if I was, it would be Instagram. I’d be all about that ‘Gram. Maybe Periscope too.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Over 20.

How do you run meetings? Always with notes in a shared Google doc, cut short whenever possible. Keep it on point, but let the good and sometimes tangential conversations happen. Respect time. Coffee and food are helpful.

BigDoor executives Keith Smith, Matt Shobe and Jeff Malek at the company’s offices in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood in 2012.

Everyday work uniform? Comfortably tucked in and buttoned down, business casual. I’m a big MTailor fan. The Adidas NMD R1 sneaker is the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn, love them. For the rainy season, I also love Danner’s waterproof boots.

How do you make time for family? I try to model friends and family who are really good at clocking out. It’s a very high priority, something I’m always working on, and one that I’ve failed to manage well in the past.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I plug in! Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums — anything music. Spend time with friends and family.

What are you listening to? A Spotify favorites playlist I made, as I type this, it’s “Lucky Man” by The Verve. One of my favorite tracks. Before that it was “Steambreather” by Mastodon, and “I Feel No Pain” by Diamond Head.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? The Wall Street Journal, Puget Sound Business Journal, Brad Feld’s blog, LZ SundayPaper, Reddit, Medium, Crunchbase, Hacker News.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson. Recommended.

Night owl or early riser? Both a night owl and early riser. I feel the best when I get 4-5 hours of sleep.

Where do you get your best ideas? I’d call my best ideas those that make people laugh or get some other good reaction, typically in the moment. If I knew where those came from, I’d be there right now.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I’d love to learn more about Da Vinci’s, or Dave Grohl’s work style. Actually, Dave Grohl’s.

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