Justin Cromer is trading in his drumsticks for silicon chips. The 34-year-old Florence, South Carolina, native worked as a session drummer in Nashville for five years before finding his way to Clemson to pursue a Bachelor of Science in computer science.
He’ll finish his studies remotely from Redmond, Washington, where he has landed a job with SpaceX, working on the team that makes chips for Starlink satellites.
“I got my dream job — twice,” said Cromer, who is on track to graduate in December.
Cromer’s path is a testament to the transformative power of education and illustrates how Clemson’s inclusive community strives to open a place for all students no matter where they are on the career ladder.
“He’s very good at identifying what is needed to be successful,” said Jacob Sorber, a School of Computing associate professor who mentored Cromer. “Rather than say, ‘I guess we’ll see what they teach me in class,’ he looks at what we didn’t cover that would be useful. That makes a huge difference in the kind of student he is and the kinds of outcomes he is likely to have.”
When he first arrived in Nashville, Cromer hung out in places where he liked the music, made connections to land his first few gigs and started playing shows with increasingly big acts. After about five years, Cromer found himself wanting a family and a dog and saw that making a living as a musician was becoming harder.
Cromer headed back home to Florence to come up with a new plan, and that was where he was living when his uncle, Rodney Godwin, was in a tractor wreck. Cromer ran Godwin’s business, Dun-Rite Automotive & Transmissions, during his uncle’s recovery.
“He had operations running so smoothly I never did take back operations of that shop to this day,” said Godwin, who owns six businesses in the Florence area. “When he was leaving, he brought somebody else in and trained them how to do it.”
While running the shop, Cromer discovered a passion for computer science and software and knew he would have to go back to college to pursue them professionally.
“He is such a driven individual,” said his wife, Annamarie Cromer. “Once he puts his mind to something, there’s nothing he can’t do. He’s going to dedicate all of his time and effort to it, and that’s what he did.”
In Sorber’s lab, Cromer has earned a reputation as an outstanding team member who regularly helps with debugging, data collection and other tasks while remaining upbeat. He won an award this year recognizing him as the Outstanding Senior in the School of Computing or Applied Sciences.
“The biggest change I’ve seen in myself since coming here is a real respect for perseverance,” he said. “I found that success isn’t always about being the smartest person in the room. A lot of times it’s just about keeping on going when everybody else might give up.”