Successful Berklee/BoCo Alumni #176: Johann Schuster

Johann Schuster

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Graduated from BoCo in 2014 with a major in Double Bass Performance.

Position: Senior Software Engineer at Motor Trend, a branch of Discovery Communications, a very large entertainment company with over 10,000 employees. Working on the devices team, Johann helps build apps to allow their program content to be broadcast worldwide. Johann similarly builds templates so that other branches of the Discovery network can do the same with minimal effort.

Side Job: Johann is part of a tech startup called “WeedUP”, an app which serves as a once-stop-shop for legal cannabis-based products in South Africa, where he is from. Johann does the tech side of the business, while his partners, located in South Africa, do everything else.


Overview: After finishing BoCo, Johann involved a career in classical music, and he went to Roosevelt University in Chicago to get his masters. However, he did not like the program, and was running out of money, so he and a friend co-founded an video business, which allowed him to scrape by, but visa issues prevented this from becoming a steady income. Johann needed to go back to school by the end of the year or his visa would expire. He enrolled in Depaul University’s program and started walking dogs to make ends meet, often walking/cycling over 20 miles per day year round! Johann became interested in entrepreneurship, and spent much of his time dog-walking listening to podcasts all about teach start-ups. Meanwhile, by late 2016 he got a job at a local orchestra, which allowed him to earn as much money has he had walking dogs. But they had to let him go because he was on a student visa. Facing a tuition bill he couldn’t pay Johann left grad school before the spring, 2017 semester, and resolved that “if anything is going to save me, it’s going to be coding.”

By the late winter of 2017 he and his girlfriend had moved in with her parents in L.A.,. and he spent the rest of the year teaching himself computer programming, first with Free Code Camp and later on his own once he’d mastered their material. In addition to gettting up at 6 am to study all day, Johann also went to local meetups and networking events. He’d built an app but through the networking events got a programming internship before it went live. After a few months, Johann continued his job search, applying to 105 companies, hearing back from 4, and getting 1 job at a company whose app project was behind schedule. The app was successful, but the company wasn’t dong well and Johann worked with a recruiter to find better opportunities. That led to Johann being hired into his current job in late 2018.
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You can see Johann’s LinkedIn profile here.
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Choice Quotes: “A job like this you have to appreciate challenges. I came to learn that in my first months of coding. I get a kick out of stretching my brain and figuring out the problem–that’s the feeling I chase when doing this. One other thing I love is you can just put on headphones and think for hours about a problem. That’s fulfilling to me–I love just being in the zone.”

“I’ve always had a side hustle. Weedup is my third. My company didn’t have to guess what I could do. They could see actual systems and sophisticated architecture which I had built.. I interview people all the time and the first thing I ask is ‘What is the project you’ve built on your own that you’re most proud of?” Many folks say they don’t have one, and to me that’s not a good sign. If they’re really passionate about something they’d have done it.”

“My experience with his business started at Roosevelt from a/v inspired me to keep doing that sort of thing–making money from nothing. So I wanted to start a business, which ultimately led me to reading about the creators.” “As musicians we’re told to make a difference, be an example, create stuff. With business I could do that and support myself well.”

“If you have a hunch, follow it and figure it out, whatever you have to do. Then really go for it. Id’ thought I’d be a musician since I was 10, I was from a musician/artist family. I was terrible at math in high school and barely graduated. It took a lot of courage to take a risk to go in the opposite direction If it worked out for me it’ll work out for anyone.”

“Never underestimate the value of an arts degree and knowledge of art and culture. That power the human spirit. Creativity is a big thing in all fields and to be able to connect dots is the most creative thing there is. As a musician, you learn to think that way. You just have to take that into offices and other venues and it’ll work out.”

“You’re not too old, and it’s not too late. Don’t get bummed out if folks younger than you are successful. Many time, many nights I’d be living with my in-laws with my bridges in Chicago burned and people around me unsure about my path and I wondered if I was too old to do a new career at 26. But it worked and I feel younger than ever!”

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See the full index of successful Berklee/BoCo alumni

Successful Berklee Alumni #175: Ross Alexander

Ross Alexander
Listen to the interview or download it.

Graduated in 2017 with a major in Film Scoring. Principal instrument: french horn.

Position: Software Developer at Datacor, a small (75-person) software firm that provides all-inclusive business/product management software used by chemical companies. One of seven developers on his team, Ross spends much of his time converting old product to newer programming languages and upgrading the graphics as well as customizing features for their customers.


Overview: Ross’s father, a computer programmer, tried to get Ross into it, but Ross resisted. At Berklee, Ross focused in scoring music for video games. Many of his class projects involved making or finding a simple video game to write music for. Ross found the video game creation process really interesting and, by the end, was spending more time developing the games than he did writing the music. Ross’s father, who works at Datacor, offered Ross a decent-paying internship after gradution. Aware that it was hard to break into the video game scoring industry, and enjoying software, Ross took the internship. Several months later, as was common, Ross was hired full-time into his role.
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You can see Ross’s LinkedIn profile here.
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Choice Quotes: “I’ve always enjoyed puzzles. Music has that a little bit, especially writing, but that’s the main focus of coding. At least in front end (which I do) it’s a simple problem to deal with and you know what you want, but you have to develop a complicated answer on how to get it to work. I’ve always enjoyed having my mind engaged that way.”

“I don’t think I’d be where I am had I not gone to Berklee. No other school offers such and comprehensive video game scoring program, and I got into programming because of that little push. Then that got me into games. I definitely learned a lot about technology.”

“If music is what you enjoy most and you don’t mind it as a career, that’s fine. But if you don’t see yourself doing that, don’t force yourself to do it. You don’t have to figure it out immediately–it can take a while–but eventually you’ll find it and you can get there. It’s OK to do something different.”

“There are way more places to work in software than Amazon and Google. Every company needs at least a few software developers, for a website/app if nothing else. Getting to work at one of these other places is not that hard if you have the skill for it. I don’t have a Computer Science degree, and one of the two others hired at the same time as me also didn’t. It’s easy to get into at least if you have the skill for it.”
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See the full index of successful Berklee alumni.