Jul 20, 2020 | Atlanta, GA
Jeremy Duvall, BS CS 07, MS CS 13, spent a decade in Georgia Tech’s classrooms – at times in an uphill battle – to earn his degrees from one of the nation’s top five public universities.
After Georgia Tech put him on academic probation, he had to leave after not making the minimum GPA, but upon returning home to Blairsville, 100 miles north of Atlanta, he realized he had to go back. It simply wasn’t in him to quit.
After appealing his status, Duvall was readmitted and went on to complete his bachelor’s in computer science with a 3.0 GPA.
He did the master’s degree in CS the hard way as well, launching right into grad school while working as a software development engineer for several companies along the way, including Microsoft and Deloitte.
Five years later, he “got out” again, two semesters prior to the launch of Georgia Tech's now nationally known Online Master of Science in CS program. That program currently enrolls more than 8,000 students and is helping fill the national shortage in software development talent.
"Without custom software, your company might become irrelevant, especially if software is part of your strategic focus."
After more than ten years of being what Duvall calls a “software craftsman,” building and advising others on how to develop software that is “rugged, performant, and beautiful” for nearly every industry, the 36-year-old set up his own shop in his adopted home of Atlanta. Duvall says he knew that the city's vibrant tech community would be able to provide the talent, resources, and growth opportunities his new company needed to succeed.
Duvall founded 7Factor Software in 2016 to innovate in software delivery, from high-availability systems to software engineering and architecture to site reliability design.
“I've worked at several places, and all of them had their own sort of software development life cycles and methodologies to solve problems for business stakeholders,” says Duvall, who lives in Sandy Springs. “It wasn’t until I was more on the consulting side that I learned that executives running $7 billion companies are just too busy to learn how the software gets built – they only care if it works.”
Duvall says that this often leaves a lot of room for interpretation how to deliver the final product, and in the computer software industry there’s no way to put a specific barometer on the quality of the software that’s being built.
“I feel that it’s an important approach at 7Factor to first define and then deliver on quality software that meets the needs of people. That’s our approach with every customer.”
To punctuate the point, he mentions his wife Judy, also a Georgia Tech graduate, who works in structural engineering, an industry where the physical integrity of buildings is paramount to protecting human life. Structural engineers have to be licensed and certified, and they must comply with exacting regulations. Software development may not have the same responsibility, but Duvall believes that day may be quickly approaching.
Duvall is quick to point out that software engineering shouldn’t be just about pulling out a blueprint or working from a script. He compares his company rather to an artist using a blank canvas to paint a picture, one commissioned by clients who are in the room describing what they want.
“The reason that 7Factor exists, and the thing that we try and hit on when we work with our customers, is to build the smallest, tightest, strongest teams possible, whose goal is to create inherently high-quality software that can positively impact the lives of many people.”
“One of my biggest customers provides care for children with special needs, so when my engineers are working on software that makes those caregivers' lives easier, we are indirectly impacting the lives of the families and the children that those caregivers serve,” Duvall says. “So we have a very lucky and wonderful conundrum on our hands, where we can solve problems that impact people directly in many different industries, not just one or two.”
One of the constants in Duvall’s career has been focusing on the human element of computing, and he says that fundamentally his work is about building “human-centered software.”
In 2007, he was at Danger Inc. helping write the operating system and services infrastructure for the T-Mobile Sidekick, one of the first smartphones to gain status with celebrities in the U.S. The phone also garnered a sizable following by those with vision impairments.
“It was a mobile device that was accessible to the blind community in ways that other gadgets just weren’t at the time. We had full software development kits, and people were literally writing blind-enablement and disability-enablement apps for the Sidekick platform.”
Fast forward a decade later and Duvall started applying a similar people-first ethos to the software his company builds. His desire to help his clients become better informed and not settle for one-size-fits-all solutions is evidenced in how he approaches his work.
“Without custom software, your company might become irrelevant, especially if software is part of your strategic focus,” he says. “When you look at software engineering now with the ubiquity of cloud services and the fact that anybody can write software, the problem is that many people don’t often think about how to write quality software.”
Duvall’s advice to Georgia Tech students:
“Remember that software is built by a team of humans that has to be able to work with other teams of humans to align to a larger goal, something no one told me when I was in school and I wish someone had.”
“Also, don’t get stuck in one frame of reference with computer languages, which we have no shortage of. Think in terms of, ‘I am an engineer, not just a developer,’ because once you think of your work as solving problems with code, you don't care what code you're using.”
Duvall recently made a financial gift to the James D. Foley GVU Center Endowment at Georgia Tech, which supports graduate students in computing-related disciplines.
Through giving, he hopes to inspire incoming students and encourage them to believe that they can succeed despite any previous hardships or socioeconomic challenges.
Duvall is living proof anyone can beat the odds. When he was readmitted to the institute, his professors held him accountable to his graduation plan.
“I came back a completely different person, fully focused and determined to succeed, no matter what. My dad, who was a single parent, had driven trucks for a week at a time to send me to school. I couldn’t accept any less dedication than that in myself.”
He had a 4.0 his first semester back while taking five CS courses. Duvall went on to win the President’s Undergraduate Research Award. He worked in the Pixi lab, directed by professor Keith Edwards, creating a zero-configuration router during the days when routers were complicated to configure.
Atlanta has been Duvall’s professional home ever since his days on the Tech campus lawn, and now with 21 employees at 7Factor, he’s looking at how to continue to grow organically and match his teams with the right customers.
“I think Atlanta is a great tech hub, and I think we have a lot of talent here. We have Georgia Tech, we have plenty of opportunities in front of us, and we need to keep the people here by providing the opportunities and jobs so we can continue to grow.”