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Entrepreneur Hall Establishes CS Scholarships

11/4/2020 11:26:49 AM Laura Schmitt, Illinois CS

A successful entrepreneur, Isaac Hall (BS CS '04) gained a growing appreciation for his Illinois CS education each time he hired employees for his two startup companies—Syncplicity, a file synchronization firm, and Recurly, a subscription management and billing company.

“Now that I’ve hired hundreds of people, I saw what skills were out there and where the gaps existed,” said Hall, a 2017 CS Young Alumni Achievement Award winner. “I really want to make sure that a lot more people get a good education like the one I got at U of I.”

Isaac Hall alumnus
Isaac Hall (BS CS '04)

In August 2020, Hall sold Recurly, whose software managed billions of dollars in subscription revenues for companies in digital media, streaming, publishing, SaaS, consumer goods, and professional services industries. He gifted some of the proceeds of that sale to establish two, $5,000 renewable CS undergraduate scholarships that will target students who can contribute to the diversity of the student body.

“It was very meaningful to have a successful exit from the company,” said Hall, who is finishing up a couple of projects for the company this fall. “Also, I really believe that education is the best way to change someone’s economic circumstances. These scholarships can help students in need of financial assistance.”

A skilled programmer who started coding as a child, Hall learned some more advanced technical skills and intangibles at Illinois.

“U of I helped fill in a lot of skills’ gaps such as advanced algorithms, building large systems, and working with people,” Hall said.

He recalls being particularly influenced by two faculty with whom he took classes—Jennifer Hou and Ralph Johnson.

“For some reason I was convinced that I had to get an MBA to start a business,” said Hall who shared his dream of starting a company with professor Hou. “She put me in touch with a successful entrepreneur who disavowed me of that idea. He told me to go and do it, which saved me a lot of time and money.”

Professor Johnson taught a two-semester course on software management, which at the time bedeviled Hall.

“I originally hated that class with a passion,” he said. “But that class ended up having a really large impact on my entire career. I have to give professor Johnson a lot of credit because he had us write an essay, which we rewrote multiple times following The Elements of Style. That was so valuable in learning to write clearly and concisely.”

Today, Hall is pursuing his hobbies. He built a flight simulator so he can practice his piloting skills from home. He aims to earn his private pilot’s license once COVID restrictions are lifted. A skilled photographer, Hall will also eventually return to creating unique portraits.

Although he hasn’t been back to campus since 2017, Hall stays informed about CS happenings and is impressed with the department’s continued excellence and new initiatives.

“It’s cool to hear about the progress CS is making on gender diversity,” he said. “The blending of CS degrees with other disciplines [CS + X degree program] is really valuable. I believe U of I is the best place to go for a computer science degree.”