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From History Major to Software Engineer: Brimhall '08 Follows an Unconventional Career Path

by Katie Gortz on 09/30/2020

In the midst of these unprecedented times, Travis Brimhall’s (Class of '08) post-graduation experience offers a timely reminder of one of life's great lessons: the journey is not linear. Brimhall, who graduated from SLU-Madrid with a degree in history, had initially planned to pursue SLU’s aviation program before he changed his major to education and later to history. After reinventing himself in the field of computer science, he now works as a software engineer at OpenTable.

For Brimhall, who hails from a town in East Texas with a population of 40 people, the SLU-Madrid experience proved eye-opening from day one. "The experience really helped me become more comfortable operating outside of my comfort zone and that allows for all sorts of other interesting stuff to start happening," he commented. “Aside from the academic curriculum at SLU-Madrid, I found an education in how to be successful in a very different environment from what I was used to.” He credits his decision to change from the aviation program to the education major as a result of immersing himself in SLU-Madrid's diverse student body.

Travis Brimhall

Travis Brimhall (Class of '08) works as a software engineer for OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service. He poses for a photo in his "home office." 

As a SLU-Madrid student, Brimhall taught English to locals through the Community ESL program and took part in Operación Inglés, a summer camp organized by SLU-Madrid for adolescents to learn English and Spanish together. The camp was "one of the most innovative ways that I've seen a university promote leadership in students while fostering the potential for making long-term connections to the community. There is something really humbling and equalizing about learning a language together with other people."

After completing his history degree at SLU-Madrid, Brimhall went on to earn a master's degree in modern European history from the University of Aberdeen. He then worked in the fields of social services and human rights advocacy in New York City and Copenhagen, Denmark, before pursuing additional studies in computer science and landing his current job at OpenTable in Los Angeles, California. "Non-linear and bumpy would be the simplest summary [of my trajectory since graduation,]" he said. "The types of work that I enjoy most these days, are… things I never knew existed ten, or even five, years ago."

At OpenTable, Brimhall works on the restaurant reservation management product, which has undergone rapid changes in response to the needs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to modify our restaurant product to allow grocery stores to take reservations for high-risk shoppers, and we also made it easy for restaurants to start offering a 'general store' style selection of goods from their kitchen," he explained.

When asked about his future career aspirations, Brimhall reflected, "I'd say that I'm generally just trying to leave the campsite cleaner than I found it, in both the big picture and the small. And the hope is that if I keep doing that, then my career will naturally take the shape of something that moves us towards a more equal workplace and society for all kinds of folks. The next chapter is to keep sharpening my technical skills, and figure out how to combine the focus on work with a social agenda with the skills I have picked up while working in tech."

Brimhall offered the following advice to current and future students at SLU-Madrid: "Sit in on other classes that sound interesting. Hang out with folks doing different things, and find a student job outside of the university, both to get better at Spanish and have a deeper exposure to something new. And, a bocadillo de calamares will fix just about anything that ails you."