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Drew Ordway


March 15, 2023 (Update: August 10, 2023)

How it began?

Hello, everybody. I am Drew Ordway. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, adventure, hiking, and exploring. My career as a structural engineer allows me to do plenty of that. Still, another thing my career did for me in my early college days at the University of Southern California was to plant a bug in me – a desire to know more about computer programming. I was studying civil engineering with a structural emphasis, and a particularly inspirational civil engineering professor taught me first how to program. He taught our class how to write basic programs in C and Fortran, which I knew nothing about then. I did not fully appreciate the significance of the algorithms I was learning, like how well the binary search finds data in a sorted collection or that Newton's method often yields results in even fewer iterations. I had a couple more enjoyable classes involving programming, but then graduation came, and the opportunities to write programs halted.

After graduating from USC back in 2008, I was ready to hit the ground running. I had earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Engineering in Structural Design. My expectation from school was that all the structural software needed to do my work already existed. Beginning with my first full-time job as a structural engineer, I realized how wrong I was. The fact was that there were enormous gaps in the software suites available that practicing engineers were required to fill in. Despite the holes in the available software, my first full-time employer, Mr. Silver, was prodigious at creating spreadsheets for abstruse building code requirements. Much easier to write than custom programs, the spreadsheet is the tool structural engineers choose to tackle our work. My programming career, it would seem, had come to an end.

Fitting In Programming

Just when I thought programming was struck from my life, a couple of opportunities to program appeared. The first reason came as a challenge from my first employer. He invited all the engineers to write a program for our TI-89 calculators, to design singly reinforced rectangular beams. The winner would get a new calculator. I enthusiastically dedicated a few evenings to studying the tools available and solving the problem. I discovered the C compiler called TIGCC, which I could use to write C programs on my computer and then compile them for the calculator. It worked beautifully, and I won the challenge. The mortgage crisis brought on my next programming opportunity. As construction slowed, so did structural engineering, and many of these jobs dried up, including my own. After about a year in my first full-time engineering job, I was seeking work again.

While beginning the job search, I enthusiastically used my extra time to learn more about programming. First, I read books to learn about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, VB.Net, and, eventually, the Java programming language. All these tools permit me to write effective programs on and off the web. Ultimately, I began helping my brother-in-law at his bagel shop and spent the rest of my time studying and developing. Exposed to the bagel shop, I decided to use the internet and my programming skills to allow people to order from my brother-in-law online, as well as other restaurants, and eventually to offer the service for grocery deliveries. I also wrote a program to monitor his email and print out online orders for preparation and delivery as they came in. While I was developing my long-term vision, after around nine months of study and development, the web-based interface was nearing completion. Then, I got a call from an engineering firm I had interviewed with. They needed me to start work immediately, so I did.

My work as a structural engineer at KPFF Consulting Engineers began in June 2010. There was a crush of work, and I was happy to throw myself into it. Immediately, my new structural responsibilities brought my computer programming to a halt. As much as I desired to continue programming, the engineering work consumed most of my time. So I shelved my plans to release my online food ordering service and embraced the work at KPFF. I was happy to be doing structural engineering again, designing various projects from schools and hospitals to the structure supporting a roller coaster and everything in between. The people I worked with were real heroes solving big problems and doing great work. Nevertheless, I wanted to take our spreadsheet solutions to the next level using programming.

Committing To Programming

Time and again at KPFF, I noticed problems that seemed better suited to a general programming language than hand calculations. Through the years working there, I managed to squeeze in the time to write a couple of applications, including an email filer program. The email filer was integrated into Outlook and helped our construction administration workflows by downloading emails and attachments, placing them in dated folders in the appropriate project subfolders, and clearing our inboxes of these messages. By 2018, the programming bug had not left me, and as a new year's resolution that December, I decided to make programming a priority and learn a language really well.

I chose to learn Python programming well. I committed to putting in 20 hours per week studying it. I am proud to say that this effort was successful, and I regularly put in 2 hours before work each weekday and an additional 10 hours on the weekends. During this time, I read through and solved every problem in Al Sweigart's Automate the Boring Stuff with Python and Programming in Python 3 by Mark Summerfield. Additionally, I watched and worked through numerous LinkedIn Learning courses and learning paths on Python, Django, React, and general front and back-end web development. During this time, I developed confidence in solving complex problems by writing programs. In January 2021, after two years of study and nearly 11 years at KPFF, I decided to move on and begin my own company, Ordway Software, to solve problems through programming and wield the ever-growing power of computers.

In its first two years, Ordway Software has already managed to develop three main software products. First, a Python-based sentence processing AI engine suitable for use in nutritious recipe aggregator websites. The program uses functional programming techniques to derive the meaning of arbitrary sentences describing recipes on the web. Next, it extracts the relevant information for cataloging into a well-organized format – a hash-mapped data structure. The information is then available for further analysis in programs intended to determine the nutritional value of meals and allow for fine-grained filters that can help people avoid allergens and food sensitivities and follow their dietary restrictions. The second product developed was a private social network called Friendchat.club, where people can share photos and comments. Finally, and most importantly, Ordway Software developed a web-based structural beam design software for structural engineers. Its public release to engineers is currently in-process as of today.

Leveling Up with Formal Education in Software Engineering

In December 2021, I enrolled at Glendale Community College to gain exposure to formal lessons in computer science. My experience at the college has been terrific. The instructors and textbooks that I have been learning from answer questions that are highly relevant to the work that I have been doing. Increasing my familiarity with object-oriented practices, the function of underlying data structures, and the various algorithms for performing work efficiently, have all been invaluable additions to my understanding of computer science. Additionally, I have improved my proficiency in several programming languages, including C++, Java, NASM Assembly, and Bash scripting, and my general familiarity with many other programming languages and paradigms.

As I conclude my education at GCC, I am applying for admission into the Georgia Tech Master's Degree program in Computer Science. Students receive the finest instruction from world-class professors in an excellent educational program. In addition, the computing systems program at Georgia Tech perfectly aligns with my goals to develop sophisticated software systems for engineers and other users. Hoping my future CS career will flourish with an education from Georgia Tech.


Drew Ordway, S.E.
Founder and Lead Engineer
Ordway Software

UPDATE (8/10/2023): I got in! OMSCS welcome week has been terrific. Loving the other graduate students and staff. Now, I'm working to be able to say "I got out."