Alumni Spotlight

Justin Hall, '97

By: Devin Hanners, '09
February 11, 2014

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” - Famous words, to be certain. Nietzsche’s quotation, while relevant for anyone, has traditionally been best suited to those individuals who have encountered significant adversity in life. Folks who have persevered through the storm and emerged triumphant see the sunshine that lies at the end of every gale. It’s a wonderful old idea, to be sure; but can such aged words still hold wisdom for such a rambunctious world? My conversation with Justin Hall, the topic of this month’s Alumni Spotlight, inspired me to remember that old adages can still ring true.
Today, Hall can be found in Lexington with Lexmark as a contractor, working on diverse projects that primarily utilize his knowledge of computer programming. While studying at then Pikeville College from 1993-1997, he told me he envisioned himself becoming a baseball player in some capacity post-graduation. Hall confided in me that he thought he had his life “figured out” during his college years – he had a promising baseball career with the Bears, and a budding scholastic career majoring in art and communications. However, fate had other plans.
Like so many interesting people we come across, Hall’s path was not to be quite so straightforward. In early 2000 while still in school, he underwent invasive back surgery that left him temporarily unable to walk. Consequently, he found himself unemployed soon after. With no idea about jobs, insurance or what to do, Hall said, “I had no answer.”
His healing period was to be a time of great change, and more than just physically. Unable to walk, his uncle Danl brought him books and software and he taught himself how to program in various computer languages. Meanwhile, his stepbrother, Matt Cram, also provided encouragement along the way. Each of them supported Hall in their own unique ways. “I say this all the time, they breathed life into me.”
As his body gradually healed, Hall began to build a new life for himself. He credits his education at Pikeville College as having an influence on his life during his time. He found a mentor in his art teacher, Patricia Kowalok, whom he says was instrumental in assisting him in finding his path. After graduation, he began putting his newfound knowledge of computer programming to use, obtaining employment with SouthEast Telephone as a webmaster. He held the position for some time before deciding to advance his career by relocating to Lexington, Ky., in 2001.
While in Lexington, Hall tried his hand at entrepreneurship. “The move was very significant for me.  Eastern Ky. was my home.  In some ways, when I watch the movie “The Hobbit,” I feel like Bilbo did – very ambivalent because of the heart strings involved and fear of the unknown.” He spent a lot of time pitching ideas to varied people and companies. During this time, he met his future wife Kristen. “We went to a gallery hop in downtown Lexington for our first date. We spent all night talking at Triangle Park,” he said.
Hall credits his wife and her father with being vital sources of support and inspiration throughout the advancement of his career while in Lexington. With such support, his career has led him to work for companies such as Ciplex, Able Engine, and Prevention Research Institute.  
Indeed, Hall had some remarkable experiences. During our conversation, he shared great stories, from speaking at technology conferences in San Francisco, to working on computer aided design (CAD) projects in Sweden. Prior to relocating to Lexington, he had only traveled by airplane perhaps twice in his life. Since moving, however, that tally has climbed to at least 100. Throughout it all, he credits the mountain values that he was brought up with and his time at Pikeville College as being the central pillars of his success. “A lot of that was heritage, things you get by being around good people in Eastern Kentucky.”
In addition to a wide range of experiences, Hall has worked with an equally diverse collection of people. He says he’s worked alongside people of all races, creeds, and backgrounds – from Russia to South Korea. He notes, “some shared my values, some didn’t.” Throughout it all, the one constant has been the lessons learned in places like UPIKE. “Just be honest, treat people fair.” Whether it was playing baseball, working in the maintenance department, or serving as student government association president, he told me lessons learned “on the hill” have been a source of grounding in a world where change is the only constant.
One cannot help but enjoy Justin Hall’s company. I was inspired by his positive disposition. Hall has always been about making the most of a situation, or creating an opportunity where some would see none. He says he owes this belief to those who have been willing to share their experiences. “If you wanna go somewhere, ask a person who is on their way back from there what to expect,” said Hall.
These days, he is doing his best to pass that advice to his children and to the people he crosses paths with on a daily basis. When I asked for parting words of wisdom to those of us who are forging our own paths, he delivered. “Do something, and do it the very best that you can. Don't try to be holistic and do everything, and check off every box, and try to suffice every option. Instead, do one, or maybe two, and that’s it. And do those the best that you can. Become the expert.”
That’s advice that can help any of us grow stronger.

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