Alan Hamlett is a 2010 graduate of the Computer Science Department at UT Dallas and founder of WakaTime – a developer efficiency platform gaining popularity in Silicon Valley. Hamlett, an avid programmer since the age of fourteen, thinks his experiences in Silicon Valley can be useful for any new computer science or software engineering graduate looking to create their own start-up in the technology sector.
Building comes naturally to Hamlett, whose first product was a Google Chrome extension for Craigslist’s housing posts. The product was successful enough that it drew Craigslist’s attention and they requested a cease and desist. Hamlett considers this as a badge of honor.
After graduating from UT Dallas, Alan wanted to build a company out of his many ideas and products he had developed as a student, but instead, he decided to first learn best practices from other startups. So, he picked up his bags and moved to Palo Alto, CA, the mecca for high-tech innovations. There he lived in a “hacker house” with other like-minded developers and polished his ideas. At the same time, he started freelancing as a contract software developer. His greatest frustration as a freelance developer was the lack of an automatic time tracker which forced him to remember to clock in and out when working. The result was highly inaccurate measurements of time spent coding. To solve the problem, he built the first WakaTime plugin for Vim to passively track coding time at a very fine granularity. The WakaTime plugin understood folder structure, source control semantics and file formats.
Hamlett found himself using WakaTime regularly to keep track of time, building new features, fixing bugs or improving infrastructure. Simultaneously, the WakaTime user base was growing and developers around the world were reaching out to help build the product further. This was the first time, it appears, a productivity tool had touched the hearts of the developer community. Seeing this user sentiment, Alan decided to focus on WakaTime and have not looked back since. Currently boasting more than 30,000 developers as WakaTime users, the product has evolved into an efficiency tool developers use to improve their coding skills, deliver products on time and gain real-time insight into their codebase.
With the success of his startup, Hamlett finds his time stretched in all directions but holds true to the values of giving back, which he says he learned from his time at UT Dallas. “When I was at school, I was lucky enough to take classes with Professors such as Jorge Cobb and Greg Ozbirn, who were passionate educators who cared about their students. I knew right then that whenever I started making an impact, I should go out of my way to support other people in my field.” So even though WakaTime keeps Hamlett very busy, he makes time to run the San Francisco Flask Meetup, a group interested in Python framework called Flask. Alan has also contributed heavily to open source in the form of Flask extension, and as a result Hamlett has become an influential figure within Flask/Python circles in The Valley.
For students aspiring to be entrepreneurs, Hamlett recommends that they start early to test out their ideas. “Building and releasing my ideas early on prepared me for WakaTime. When we initially started seeing traction, I already had experience with various technologies needed to scale the product. The other important thing to do is to build a support network of mentors. This is something I learned the hard way in The Valley. You cannot succeed by yourself because no man is an island.” As a proud alum of UT Dallas, Hamlett wants to do everything he can to help UT Dallas students and welcomes them to reach out to him for advice via email.
Header image courtesy of HBO’s Silicon Valley
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 2,400 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,000 master’s students, 150 Ph.D. students, 53 tenure-track faculty members and 38 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2017. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.