1. What were you doing before you became a Software Engineer?
I was living in New York, New York. My background pre-Ada is in journalism: I was the editor-in-chief for my college newspaper, and worked at The Huffington Post and Good Housekeeping while I was in grad school at NYU for a master’s in journalism, which was where I had my first brush with basic tech concepts. After graduation I ended up working at NYU for 1.5 years in one of their IT departments doing QA and social media, and started doing some coding tutorials and attending tech meetups and Railsbridge outside of work when I could. When I heard about Ada, I knew I had to apply.
2. Where are you currently working and what do you do?
Currently, I’m an Engineer 1 at Nordstrom (which was also where I interned during Ada). I’m working on the web secure team (basically, the team that handles any page on Nordstrom.com where you see the ‘secure’ subdomain—your shopping bag, account page, wish list, checkout, etc). Nordstrom.com is undergoing a codebase modernization effort, switching from C#/.NET stack to a React/Node/Java stack, which is what my team is doing. I work on the UI (user interface), so I’m currently spending my days recreating pages with React and Node. Right now I’m (re)building the ‘Forgot your password?’ page, so circa sometime in 2016, when you’re trying to log in to your Nordstrom.com account, and realize your browser didn’t cache your password and you still haven’t signed up for LastPass yet (yeah, I know, it’s on my to-do list too), you’ll be using my code to reclaim your account. You’re welcome!
3. What’s your favorite part of your job?
Just generally speaking, coding is awesome. One of my metrics for “Do I enjoy this thing?” is whether I get so engrossed in it that hours slip away without me even noticing. That’s not something I often felt in past jobs; coding definitely checks that box.
I also work on a great team with great people. I’m the only Engineer 1 on our team, so there are a bunch of more senior devs around whom I can (and do) pester with questions, so it’s a great learning environment for me. Plus, they’re fun and friendly people to boot.
The Nordstrom/Nordstrom Rack discount doesn’t hurt, either. Nordstrom should probably just pay me my salary in Nordstrom gift cards at this point and save us all some time.
4. Describe a typical day in your role.
I typically arrive anywhere from 8:45 to 10, depending on how many times I hit the snooze button that morning or if I managed to convince myself to go to the gym before work. Hooray flexible work schedules!
First is catching up on email, then I check my notes on where I left off the day before. I’ve started writing a paragraph for myself at the end of the workday about what I was working on before I left for the day. I got tired of coming back to a bunch of errors in the morning and having to retrace my steps for a while to mentally get back to where I’d left off and start making any forward progress. It’s been a huge help and I highly recommend.
Our stand up meeting is at 10:30. For the uninitiated, stand up is a quick meeting where everyone on the team gives a short update about what they’ve working on and if they’re blocked by anything.
The rest of the day is usually devoted to coding and reviewing others’ pull requests. We don’t have tons of meetings, which is great. We’ll have occasional grooming meetings (where we braid each other’s hair, paint our nails and make sure tasks are “dev ready”, that is, clearly defined enough that the development work can start). Or we may have informal team discussions when someone stumbles on an issue that needs buy-in from the whole team to settle on a solution.
I work on my own more of the time than not, but also often ping or pull in team members when I get stuck on something and Google/Stack Overflow isn’t yielding anything helpful.
Then I leave for the day at an extremely reasonable hour depending on when I arrived, because work/life balance at Nordstrom is great.
5. Any advice you have for others looking to enter the tech industry as a programmer.
If programming feels hard, it’s because it is, especially when you’re first starting out and everything still looks like hieroglyphics and you’re just kind of trusting that eventually pieces will fit together in a way that makes some kind of sense. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. Figuring out how to embrace your inner ¯_(ツ)_/¯ about feeling dumb on the regular will serve you well. (Luckily there are also those times where you FINALLY figure out how to get something working, and in that moment you feel like a magnificent genius the likes of which the world has never seen before, so it kind of balances out.) The faster you can get comfortable with the fact that no matter how much you learn, there will always be tons of stuff you don’t know and that’s fine, the better off you’ll be and the more of your sanity you’ll be able to preserve.
Figuring out how you learn best (tutorials? reading books? open ended projects? pair programming?) is helpful because you’ll never not be learning new things. Be confident in what you do know, but open-minded to uprooting everything you thought you knew if necessary because what are best practices today may be anti-patterns tomorrow.
(Kat’s view from her desk)