Presenting in front of a room full of people has never been my favorite part of a job. I’ve presented as a tech consultant in a midwestern state to a room full of clients, fresh off a 5:45 am (non-direct) flight from Boston. I’ve presented at engineering team meetings, running activities around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with some of the brightest people I have ever had the pleasure to learn from and work with. I’ve presented school projects for grades, where someone was quite literally judging me as I presented. However, the most intimidating situation in which I’ve ever presented has been in a room full of teenagers, eager and excited to dive into their AP Computer Science A practice exam. Though I became very comfortable with the phrases, “I’m actually not sure,” “Let’s explore this together,” and “What do you think?”, the dreaded “Can you explain this to me again? It’s still not clicking for me,” still makes my stomach sink.
It’s not that I couldn’t pass the AP Computer Science A exam as a high school computer science teacher. Though I never took the course as a student, I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and I’ve been working through my master’s in CS as well. It was up in front of that room full of high school students, with all 26 eyes on me, that I realized just how much experience I lacked. I felt as though I was doing a disservice to my students to preach the importance of software engineering and the high demand for female engineers in the field without ever actually working as an engineer. It was after 3 years as a high school computer science teacher in both public and private schools that I decided it was time for me to practice what I preach and experience the world of software engineering firsthand.
Finding the Right Company
Before I made the switch to engineering, my experience with coding was always within the confines of a classroom, whether as a teacher or a student. I was ready to branch out and step away from teaching to focus on my own learning. Don’t get me wrong; those students taught me far more than I could ever teach them. There really is no career quite like teaching high school. Those wonderful students definitely taught me patience during the week before vacation and kept me up on the latest trends, but they also showed me different approaches to solving the same problem and new frameworks in our ever changing world of programming. But when it came to hard, technical skills, I wanted to work in a position at a company where I was learning every day.
Finding the right company was no easy task. I had a list of priorities. I knew I wanted to work in the education space, I wanted to be passionate about the company mission, and I wanted a team where I could be a student every day. I wanted to be able to say to my colleagues: “Can you explain this to me again? It’s still not clicking for me,” and expect a patient and understanding engineer on the other side of the question to take the time to help me learn.
It was through the interviewing process at many companies, in between those horribly intimidating technical interviews (talk about a stressful presentation), that Panorama Education stood out to me. Their framing of technical interviews highlighted the collaborative nature of the team instead of putting me on the spot. The engineers in the room were there to help guide me through the interview rather than judge me for my abilities. Panorama is a place that prioritizes learning and collaboration. There was even a learning interview where the actual purpose of the interview was to understand the candidate’s openness and willingness to learn. With employees who are extremely passionate about the education space and their mission statement combined with a safe space to ask questions and learn, Panorama was an obvious fit for me.
Expectations == Reality
Fast-forward a year and a half, and I am excited to say that I am still learning each and every day. I am able to say with confidence that the interviewing process was indicative of a company that continues to allow me the space to grow.
What I’ve learned as an engineer:
If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions.
Though this may seem obvious, as a new engineer with the least experience in every meeting, I was hesitant to question what the other engineers were doing/coding/thinking. I did not want to take up space in meetings to either further understand the work we were doing or possibly find another solution path. Once I was able to speak up and take space in the room, I was able to learn more from my coworkers while even offering up alternate ways to solve the problem.
Imposter syndrome is so real.
A year and a half into the job, it still feels odd to me to call myself a software engineer. When I first started working as an engineer, I would mumble my new job title to friends with a disclaimer such as, “though I don’t really know what I’m doing yet,” or “I know, can you even believe it?” In reality, I had to remind myself daily that this company hired me because they know I am capable of the job and will add value to the team. It was challenging and intimidating to switch careers, but I am so grateful I did because I have not stopped growing since day one.
Keeping going and growing.
Once I got into the swing of things and actually started to feel like an engineer, it became easier for me to coast through each day. However, I often remind myself why I switched careers. I want to continue learning each day and never feel stuck. Whether this means picking up a ticket that isn’t familiar to me or raising my hand to help on a new project, it is important for me to continue to push myself to learn and grow so that I can one day bring all of these lessons and skills back to the classroom with me.
While I wish there were school bells forcing the end of meetings like we had in between classes, and we don’t stand up at our desks every morning and say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am happy to report that making the switch from teaching to engineering is still giving me the space to learn each day. One day I will eagerly head back to teaching, taking with me all that I gained from a career in software development. I’ll be more prepared to answer the “Can you explain this to me again?”s of my classroom, with the understanding that there will still be many responses of “Let’s learn this together”.
Update: This story was also featured on the Heroku blog here.