For Ben Wencke, the Indy Tech Fellowship was the perfect next step after college to put his passion for building things to good use and to make an impact on his community. Growing up in Mays, Indiana (population around 100), Ben never thought Indianapolis was small. It was the “big city” to visit if he needed anything not available in Mays. Without the TechPointX talent programs, however, Ben would likely be in San Francisco right now.
Art was Ben’s first love, so much so that he resolved to become an artist at a young age. In order to share his artwork with the world, Ben created a website that would showcase his creations. While he was building his website, he discovered a new avenue to funnel his natural creativity through — software development.
“I realized that building software was an endeavor that required just as much creativity as being an artist, while also being far more practical and personally rewarding. It is very easy to measure success in software (eg. a properly functioning application), whereas success in art is very loosely defined,” he explains.
Ben attended Purdue University after high school with a major in computer science honors. He received a certification in entrepreneurship and innovation through what he considers the most useful set of courses throughout his time at Purdue.
“I learned way more about building software and living life in general from these classes than I did from every other class I’ve ever taken combined.” He also minored in music theory and history in order to continue challenging himself artistically through music, his favorite hobby from high school. Ben is a composer and considers it his most important hobby. He hopes to one day make music a part of his career.
When asked what interests him about software engineering, Ben answers, “I’m passionate about building products that will have an impact on a significant number of people. I love every part of the process of product creation from the users’ needs, to the business strategy, to the ideation, to the design, the development, the marketing, all of it. My focus, however, is software, and as far as I can tell, computer science is the only thing to study that guarantees you get to work on software.”
During school, Ben took many opportunities to develop his real-world software skills. He took three part-time and two full-time internships with Interactive Intelligence, (now Genesys,) and one full-time internship with Salesforce. Two of his summer internships were facilitated through the Xtern program, where he lived and worked downtown with a group of like-minded upperclassmen from different schools across the country. “My time at Interactive Intelligence taught me about working on a development team and writing robust code,” he says.
Because of Ben’s involvement in the charter year and year two of the Xtern program, he had a hand in influencing what the Indy Tech Fellowship would be and what it is today. Between offers on the West Coast and an offer from High Alpha in downtown Indianapolis through the fellowship, Ben had a lot to consider when choosing where he would end up after his time at Purdue. Ultimately, he chose venture studio High Alpha and was matched with one of their newest startups, Doxly, to complete his fellowship.
Today, Ben is a software engineer at Doxly. He spends a majority of his time building new features for the startup’s major product and finds great satisfaction in his ability to participate in every step of the process from ideation to implementation.
What was your impression of Indianapolis prior to the fellowship?
I’ve never lived outside of Indiana. Indianapolis has always been THE place to go where they have EVERYTHING. The longer I live here, I discover there is even more than I knew. During my first internship with Xtern, I discovered there was a downtown area of the city. In the 20 years I’d lived in the state, I had never been there before. I didn’t even know it existed. Obviously my opinion of Indianapolis will vary a lot from a lot of people because, growing up in Indiana, I’ve never had the wrong mentality that Indianapolis was a small, boring city.
What about the Tech Fellowship program appealed to you?
After working at large companies, I knew I was ready to experience working for a startup. I want to start my own company someday, and how better to prepare for that than to experience startup life firsthand? High Alpha was created by some of the most prolific and visionary entrepreneurs in Indianapolis. I chose High Alpha as my top choice company because I wanted the opportunity to work with these amazing people and learn from them. I got introduced to High Alpha through the Indy Tech Fellowship.
In addition, I’ve experienced working at a job in a city where you don’t know anyone. I’m not a naturally outgoing person, so my free time was just me sitting alone at home. By contrast, my two years of Xtern were two of the best times of my life. I need a structured social program like Xtern or the Indy Tech Fellowship to make me comfortable enough to participate in social activities.
Tell us about your 9-to-5 Tech Fellowship experience.
What skills (workplace, business or technical) have you learned?
Our product is built in Ruby on Rails, which I had never used prior to starting at Doxly. I’ve also gotten a lot of insight into what is it like to grow a startup and the funding rounds necessary to make it happen. Leveraging relationships with the media is very important in generating enough publicity to attract customers.
How did you hear about the Tech Fellowship?
I heard about Xtern through one of my entrepreneurship classes at Purdue. Michael Coffey was a guest speaker and was working on creating the program at the time. Having already had an internship without much social interaction, I loved the idea. Later on, Interactive Intelligence asked me to participate in this new program called “Xtern” as part of my internship, and I immediately said yes.
In my second year in Xtern, Techpoint was putting together the Indy Tech Fellowship program. I even had some input on what the program would be.
What do you do outside of the 9-to-5?
I play a management role in our technical community service projects, attend almost every formal and informal Indy Tech Fellowship event, and typically play video games, watch YouTube, or work on side projects when I’m alone at home.
What is Indy’s competitive advantage in attracting young talent?
People in Indy are nicer and more helpful than in other cities. Cost of living is much lower. Taxes and government regulation is lower.
What is your favorite Indy food?
Bub’s Burgers, Abuelo’s, Some Guys, and the Spaghetti Factory!
What’s on your must-see and must-do lists?
Indianapolis Zoo Dolphin Show!
Where do you see yourself at the end of the fellowship?
At the moment, I see myself staying with Doxly until a liquidity event. My next gig will definitely be another startup. My experience at Doxly has been exceptional. Long term, I hope start my own company, but that is still a few years out.