When he graduated from the Engineering School, Steve Huffman (CS ’05) watched a number of his classmates take their first jobs with one of the many government and defense contractors in Northern Virginia. He had other plans for using his computer science degree.
Along with his roommate and College of Arts & Sciences graduate Alexis Ohanian (Coll ’05), Huffman created the successful news aggregator site reddit.com in the summer after graduation. The site’s parent company, “Not a bug,” was purchased by Condé Nast Publications in 2006 and you can now find the reddit.com news-sharing icon on webpages for media outlets such as CNN and USA Today. The site, which allows users to share and comment on news stories, has become ground zero for Internet culture trends.
“When we launched the site, Alexis and I had 50 accounts each, to create the appearance that the site was more popular than it was,” Huffman recalls. “After a few months, I woke up one morning and saw comments from real people. It was exciting to see that the site was working on its own.”
The reddit community now has 8 million unique monthly visitors and has surpassed Digg to become the largest social news aggregator.
Following the sale of reddit.com and a subsequent consulting gig with Condé Nast, Huffman helped MIT engineering grad Adam Goldstein create a flight-booking website, hipmunk.com. The site received a rave review in TechCrunch and made national headlines with its launch in August 2010.
“The online travel industry hasn’t really innovated in five years,” Huffman says. “When you try to book flights, you can spend hours and visit multiple sites. We wanted to take the pain out of the process and make it an easier user experience.”
“We tried not to look at competitors,” he says. “We asked ourselves: In a perfect world, what would this site look like?”
The result is a straightforward site that allows users to easily compare color-coded flights in a grid.
Before Huffman’s career as a website entrepreneur took off, he was honing his programming chops in the Engineering School’s Department of Computer Science. He credits faculty members Dave Evans and Marty Humphrey, among others, with teaching him not only the theoretical background of computer science, but also how to apply that knowledge to solving realworld problems.
Huffman is pleased to hear that the Engineering School is working to enhance entrepreneurial opportunities for students.
“When I was at U.Va. there wasn’t much of an entrepreneurial vibe,” Huffman says. “It’s a mental thing. Students need to be told that they can have lucrative careers as entrepreneurs.”
As for advice to current students, Huffman isn’t an advocate for a traditional career path. “There is a whole world of things you can do. Starting a company doesn’t take much money at all. It’s mostly just time. As a college kid you’ve been living in poverty for four years; what’s another year or two?
“If you managed to graduate from U.Va.’s Engineering School, you probably have the talent. So follow through on your idea and go build it.”