How Coding Can Be Applied Across Different Industries: Insights from 3 Tech Professionals
Working in the technology field has its rewards, but there’s one aspect that continues to benefit both individuals and organizations alike: diversity. Professionals from all walks of life comprise the tech workforce, and since the World Wide Web was introduced more than 30 years ago, companies continue to pursue innovative ideas and seek knowledgeable candidates to embark on complex projects.
It should come as little surprise, then, that one particular profession stands out among the rest: software development. Software developer employment is projected to grow 22% by 2029, much faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations.
If you’re curious about the various pathways into the field, get a firsthand account from three professionals as they discuss their entry into the tech world, how they interact with coding in different ways, technologies used in their day-to-day role, and skills that employers are seeking.
Read a transcript of the February 2021 virtual question and answer session with Robert Ennis, Technical Recruiter at Facebook; Chris Fauerbach, Senior Director/Distinguished Engineer at Capital One; and Jessie Wu, Software Engineer at the New York Times; hosted by Alison Abbington, Industry Engagement Manager, on behalf of 2U, Inc.
What did your career path into tech look like?
Chris Fauerbach: I was a dual major in college studying computer science and music. After four years, I went to work in pharmaceuticals at a call center technology group. From there, I moved into government contracting, did time in an insurance company, and finally joined my first startup. There, I was the first person hired by the founders where we grew to 35 associates until getting acquired in 2014. Afterwards, I went to Capital One, left to another startup, and came back to Capital One. Although I can be labeled a job hopper, I made connections wherever I went, learned new things, and worked hard.
Jessie Wu: When I was in college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I chose business. I graduated during the recession and started working in retail. After a while, I realized I had invested a significant amount of money at school and wanted to do something with my degree. I ended up as a job coach for people with disabilities and then got certified for teaching English in Brazil. Eventually, I moved back to the States and came to San Francisco where I became a career advisor at a local vocational school. During this time I was building websites when a coworker suggested I look into software development. I decided to take a couple workshops and ended up loving it. So, I enrolled in a coding bootcamp which led to many doors opening up for me. After working at a startup, I made the decision to move to New York where I applied to the top 40 companies I wanted to work for; I was searching for an organization that aligned with my values and personality. That ended up being Buzzfeed. Today, I’m at the New York Times as a full stack software developer specializing in UX engineering.
Robert Ennis: I went to school as an economics major thinking I would work as a stockbroker. This was also during the recession and after graduating there weren’t many available jobs. I had taken out various loans with the initial thought that I would be making money in finance, but that didn’t end being the case. My sister, who was working in insurance, helped me get a job at her company where I ended up working for a few years, but it wasn’t what I really wanted. When a friend who operated a recruiting company for engineering offered me a job, I took it and found my niche. After five years of agency recruiting, I got to a point where I needed a change. During the job hunt, I was contacted by a recruiter at Facebook and I’ve been with the company for the last two years now.
What does a typical day look like?
Jessie Wu: On average, I start my day at 10:30 a.m. and have daily standups where we discuss what the team is working on and if we’ve encountered any obstacles. From there, I spend the rest of the day coding and attending meetings. I spend 50 percent of my time coding and the other 50 percent in meetings and planning. Right now, I’m working from home and my days typically range from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Currently, I’m active in extracurricular activities, specifically diversity equity and inclusion at work where we create space for underrepresented groups.
Chris Fauerbach: These days, I don’t code much at work, probably only three hours a quarter. My current role is targeted more towards software architecture. I work with project managers, who are our first line of defense when it comes to changing or using existing components in our platform, to meet user needs. I also interact with different development teams and collaborate with them on lower-level design or development practices—essentially acting as a senior consultant. I am a technical authority over anything that has to do with the enterprise platform and am also actively involved in promoting diversity at Capital One.
Robert Ennis: I start off my mornings following up with outreach from the previous day and do some email cleanup. On average, I have about 4.5 screens per day with different candidates and run through what the interview process looks like, different projects they could work on, etc. I spend two hours a day sourcing new candidates via LinkedIn or through our internal system. I’m also a liaison for Facebook East on diversity and inclusion.
What skills do you look for from candidates?
Robert Ennis: The roles I support are more senior level; at Facebook they’re considered levels 5 or 6 which consist of individuals with 6 to 15 years of experience. As far as backgrounds, some candidates are not college graduates but are incredible at coding. Our interview process begins with a technical test where we prepare individuals with different resources and go from there. We are language agnostic, meaning you should master at least one major object-oriented language. We offer flexibility and once accepted you can either learn other languages or remain comfortable with what you know.
Chris Fauerbach: We look for candidates that know something. I want them to truly understand one programming language because it’s easy to understand the syntax of a language, but being able to solve a problem is the real challenge. The biggest skill I look for is communication—are they curious about things and are they knowledgeable about something they can utilize in the role? Even if an individual is applying to a senior level position, I don’t care if they have experience with what they will be working on so much as being able to learn things and talk about their experience. Fake it ‘til you make it and don’t turn down a challenge!
Jessie Wu: I look for a team player, someone who is flexible, eager to learn, and has strong communication skills. You have to be able to articulate how you would solve a problem. Coding is all about discipline, meaning you can get better with time, but being adaptable and having a good personality is who you are. If you get stressed out and easily frustrated, that’s not helpful to a team. It’s also hard to work with someone who is insecure. There is always a way so don’t give up, and show you are eager to learn and want to help the company succeed.
What’s the best way to overcome impostor syndrome, especially as a candidate with no little to no previous experience?
Chris Fauerbach: I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and there are days where I also feel like an impostor. Just recognize it; intelligent people seem to doubt themselves a lot. If you’ve attended a bootcamp, that’s a great educational foundation, but don’t expect to be a senior developer instantaneously. You have to learn and show up. Also, don’t neglect your life before tech—there is value in customer service, in waiting tables, answering calls at a call center. No matter what you do, you’re learning and it’s easy to pivot these skills for ones you’ll need in software engineering.
Robert Ennis: Don’t get discouraged when an interview doesn’t go well. There are things that will trip you up but there will be other opportunities out there for you. You will have to work with others and it’s okay to admit that you don’t know something. Even if your background is not tech, you will have skills in previous jobs that carry over.
Jessie Wu: With experience you have to learn how to adapt. During an onsite interview I thought was going horribly, I gave myself one or two seconds to freak out and then focused on what the interviewer was saying. Make sure to take a deep breath, shut out negative thoughts, and explain your thought process. As humans we are aware of awkward silences, so it’s good to go over what you’re thinking in a clear and logical way. Afterwards take the time to learn what you didn’t understand by documenting all the questions you were asked and how you answered them. With practice you will get better! If you don’t have relevant experience, the best way to show what you can do is [through] passion projects, group projects, open source projects, or hackathons. You can speak on how you overcame obstacles, your experience working with Git, and collaborating with others.
What are some helpful resources to stay relevant?
Robert Ennis: My biggest recommendation is HackerRank and LeetCode. The questions on these websites are comparable to what you’ll experience at a top tech company interview. There are so many resources out there, so I would suggest jumping on YouTube and watching dozens of videos.
Jessie Wu: I love attending conferences and talks. I also follow a few developer accounts on Twitter and as a whole you learn a lot on the job.
If you’re eager for more insider tips and insights from tech professionals, explore Northwestern Boot Camps, where learners receive career support and assistance, including opportunities to meet and speak with industry professionals during Demo Days and experiential events.