“The Most Incredible Experience of My Life”: How Mike Gelber Turned a Final Project Into a Fully Fledged Company

When Mike Gelber quit his analyst job at a top banking firm, he knew there was no going back. After studying finance and economics in college, he’d thought wealth management would be a good professional fit. But six months into his analyst role, he found himself burning out and growing bored.  

During a slow workday, Mike decided to kill time by building an accounting computer program using basic coding software. His colleagues quickly took notice. “My program started getting distributed by other analysts at the bank,” he said, “but then I got flagged by compliance for coding on the job.” For Mike, this put things into perspective: Wealth management wasn’t his passion — but programming might be. 

Finding his future

Eager to explore a new industry, Mike left the bank for a job at the adtech company AppNexus. “Programmatic advertising was a fascination of mine,” said Mike. “I’d see ads that were clearly targeted to me and think: How is this technology working?” 

The next two years at AppNexus helped Mike answer that question and even identify a gap in the programmatic advertising market. While AppNexus catered to larger enterprises with substantial online advertising budgets, Mike wondered: What about small businesses that need a simpler, more affordable option? 

“I wanted to take internet advertising and make it more accessible,” said Mike. And he wanted to do it for a niche audience: health care professionals. “Doctors study to be doctors,” he explained, “but if they create private practices, they’re also tasked with running and advertising a business. It’s not always easy — and I wanted to help them.” 

With that, a startup concept was born. Mike shared the idea with his friend, Paul, who was immediately on board. They had a business model — now, they needed technical expertise to bring it to life. And so, the pair enrolled in Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp.

“We’d researched every single coding boot camp,” recalled Mike. “The people we spoke with at Columbia were so supportive. I told myself, ‘If my instructor has this level of dedication, I know I’ll be successful.’” 

The first page of a new chapter

It didn’t take long for Mike to realize he’d made the right decision. 

On the first day of the boot camp, instructor Michael Russo demonstrated how to edit the HTML code of a webpage. From his seat in the classroom, Mike was struck with an overwhelming sense of possibility. “The world is at my fingertips,” he thought. “I can make a webpage say whatever I want it to.”

And that was only the beginning. 

An education like no other

Today, Mike recalls his instructor as one of the biggest highlights of the entire boot camp experience. “I’ve had some good teachers in my life,” he said, “but Michael Russo was the best. He was so passionate about teaching and technology. That combination creates a really uncommon person. He was always there, early and late — answering questions, walking through bugs, and going above and beyond.”

Beyond a full stack curriculum, Michael Russo taught relevant, real-world tech skills. “Every boot camp teaches you how to code and create a website,” explained Mike, “but to be an actual engineer and build a productionized application, you need more than that. You need product management skills. You need to be comfortable with an agile workflow. You need experience using Jira and writing good pull requests. No other boot camps focus on that — I’ve never seen it advertised. But Michael Russo taught everything.”

And that made all the difference.

The final project that never ended

For Mike, the final project was a much-awaited opportunity to bring his and Paul’s business to life. Using the skills they’d gained in class, the co-founders created AdHouse: a user-friendly platform that helps health care providers and practices advertise online at highly affordable rates. 

When the boot camp ended, Mike and Paul continued optimizing their startup for its June 2020 launch. “It was two months of nonstop coding followed by weeks of selling, countless bugs, breaks, pushes, and rejections,” said Mike. But in the end, it was all worth it. 

AdHouse is exactly what Mike had dreamed of during his days at AppNexus — and he couldn’t be more excited to watch it grow.

Ongoing, on-the-job learning

Looking back, Mike is certain he made the right decision in changing careers. “The boot camp was the most incredible experience of my life,” he said. “Paul and I wanted to build a company, and now we have. At AdHouse, I’m always learning — and that feels amazing.”

His advice for others looking to make a leap? “Do it. A lot of people say they will — next summer, next year. But the longer you wait, the more opportunities you’re missing out on. Get started now.”

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