Career Pathways

November 30, 2020

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Play the video below: 

Video Tran­script:

Mark: Hi, I’m Mark John­son. I’m a Man­ag­ing Part­ner and Co-Founder at Michi­gan Soft­ware Labs. I am going to be inter­view­ing Lisa and Sarah today about their Career Path­ways to Michi­gan­Labs. I will start with Lisa. To kick us off here, why don’t you tell us some­thing fun about yourself?

Lisa: I don’t what’s fun, but I thought of fun, and you choose the more fun one. The first one is that I am Viet­namese, Chi­nese, Cam­bo­di­an, and French. So, there’s a lot going on there. And the oth­er one is that I took lin­ear alge­bra for fun in col­lege and it wasn’t fun. There’s that.

Mark: Nice. What about you, Sarah?

Sarah: I was going to go with…I trained in danc­ing for 14 years and have since then done a lot of swing danc­ing. So I kind of missed that this sum­mer, but I’m excit­ed to get back at it when it is safe to do so.

Mark: Awe­some. So as you both kind of think about each of your path­ways into a tech­nol­o­gy career, what comes to mind as you think about your path­way into tech? Was it some­thing in your child­hood that made you inter­est­ed in tech­nol­o­gy? What has kind of drawn you to that? And we will start with Lisa again and then go to Sarah.

Lisa: I guess I was always inter­est­ed in going into some type of STEM career. My par­ents kind of pushed me into becom­ing a doc­tor, so I went that route for a real­ly long time, but I was always inter­est­ed in math and sci­ence. Fast for­ward to two years into col­lege, I took biochem and just hat­ed it. I thought I would switch to bio­med­ical engi­neer­ing, so we were required to take an intro engi­neer­ing course or a com­put­er sci­ence class. I took the com­put­er sci­ence class and basi­cal­ly fell in love. It was real­ly fun. It was more of what I liked as a kid, more than the rote mem­o­ry-like type of study­ing. So that is how it start­ed. I took my intro to CS (com­put­er sci­ence) class on a whim and then here I am!

Mark: Awe­some. What about for you?

Sarah: Mine’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent in the sense that my dad is actu­al­ly a soft­ware devel­op­er too, so in high school, they need­ed some­one to do some grunt work, essen­tial­ly, just cod­ing. So I start­ed there as an intern and slow­ly went from okay, I’m just fol­low­ing the pat­terns to okay, now I actu­al­ly under­stand what is going on on the screen. I con­tin­ued there for a few years as an intern. It kind of stems the Okay, this is def­i­nite­ly what I am think­ing about doing.” Then I went to col­lege, first semes­ter I decid­ed to try both engi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence and then very quick­ly became com­put­er sci­ence. Just because I like the diver­si­ty of prob­lems you can solve and how every few months you could be work­ing on a total­ly dif­fer­ent prob­lem for a total­ly dif­fer­ent user group. I just like the diver­si­ty in prob­lems you can solve in it.

Mark: That’s great. Awe­some. Well, let’s com­bine these next two ques­tions togeth­er: What has your jour­ney been like at Michi­gan­Labs? And what type of projects have you worked on? Let’s start with Sarah and then go to Lisa.

Sarah: Okay. I start­ed as an Asso­ciate — one of the first ones, so that was excit­ing. I very quick­ly got thrown into projects that actu­al­ly involved work­ing direct­ly with a client, which super excit­ing. So yes, I jumped on a bunch of dif­fer­ent types of projects. I was all over the place. When I start­ed, I was with apps then went to web devel­op­ment and then went back to app and now cur­rent­ly I’m on web devel­op­ment again. So, yes, it has been all over the place, but that is good.

Mark: That’s awe­some. What about for you, Lisa?

Lisa: I this ques­tion as very gen­er­al more than just look­ing at the projects for me. I kind of got thrown into my first pro­fes­sion­al career at Michi­gan­Labs, right after col­lege. I didn’t real­ly have any intern­ship expe­ri­ence. It was a lot of learn­ing how to deal with clients and my cowork­ers and learn­ing the norms of what it is like to work in a pro­fes­sion­al environment.

The first project I was in worked on Android and a web app and that was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about that. My pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence was work­ing with an Android app, but this was dif­fer­ent because there was so much more involved and the client was so large. My next project was…building more of a web app that was mobile-friend­ly for san­i­tiz­ing water-heat­ing sys­tems that could be checked for hos­pi­tals. That was a lot of fun because I got to be real­ly cre­ative and got to be on the project towards the begin­ning and up until the end. Well, the end of that sec­tion. And now, I am on T and V and that is very sim­i­lar to it, just with­out the Android portion.

My path­way at Michi­gan­Labs, in gen­er­al, was not what I expect­ed. I thought it was going to be a lot of heads down, direct cod­ing, just a lot of that — like what you see in the movies or what­ev­er — but it’s a lot more than that. I got to do things out­side of that, like grow­ing the com­mu­ni­ty through Bit­Camp or doing some inter­nal Lunar New Year cel­e­bra­tions and teach­ing every­one about that. I also went to Jack­sonville and played Top­Golf, which was not some­thing I expect­ed to be part of my own career, but it is, and I’m real­ly hap­py about that.

Mark: That’s awe­some! Yea. Oh, how fun! That is real­ly cool.

Lisa: Yeah!

Mark: And I heard you won, too! Right?

Lisa: No! It wasn’t even close. I was real­ly bad. It was my first time golf­ing or anything.

Mark: Yeah. Cool.

Sarah: If I actu­al­ly can just back in a sec­ond. Just like Lisa was say­ing, Michi­gan­Labs is real­ly good — we start­ed right out of school or just before out of school and we were both put on projects where we were talk­ing with the clients direct­ly. It was not just Okay, we talked to the clients and this is what they want.” And it wasn’t just all that heads-down work, which is kind of sur­pris­ing, but pleas­ant­ly surprising.

Mark: That is real­ly cool. Talk a lit­tle bit about how your tech­ni­cal exper­tise has evolved or matured through­out your career. Maybe just share a sto­ry about that, about how your tech­ni­cal exper­tise is involved or maybe it hasn’t, I don’t know. Let’s go Sarah.

Sarah: I think in two things I’ve got­ten a lot bet­ter at learn­ing. As in, being able to look at what I need to accom­plish and draw on things I already know, rather than just say­ing well, I’ve nev­er done it in this lan­guage before, so I don’t know how to do it.” It is tak­ing the base­line, but know­ing how to learn what ques­tions to ask and how to solve the prob­lem from there.

Sec­ond­ly, prob­lem-solv­ing skills in gen­er­al. Look­ing at dif­fer­ent ways at how to approach prob­lems. Some of the projects I’ve been on the prob­lems have been pret­ty ambigu­ous. It has been: this is the prob­lem we need to solve and this is the end result, but we don’t real­ly know how to get there right now because it hasn’t been done before. So just being okay with explor­ing an option, but then if some­one says, Hey, what about this option?” You just have explore that one. You have to weigh out the ben­e­fits or short­com­ings of some of the ways you can solve the prob­lem and acknowl­edge when oth­er peo­ple have solved the prob­lem bet­ter than you have.

Mark: What comes to mind for you, Lisa?

Lisa: I still think I am real­ly ear­ly in my career. Which I am, because I just got into it after col­lege, but I think work­ing with clients — kind of sim­i­lar to what Sarah said — is some­thing that def­i­nite­ly evolved. I went from zero to this. Also, aside from client inter­ac­tions, learn­ing how to talk to peo­ple and ask the right questions.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, I start­ed dab­bling into learn­ing how to design and know­ing what works well for cer­tain users and what doesn’t work. So, it is kind of cool because I thought I would be more involved in back-end things because that is what I learned in col­lege. Then it was more front end and I know I feel like there is this notion that front-end devel­op­ment isn’t as hard­core as back­end, but that isn’t real­ly the case. Work­ing and mak­ing sure things are user-friend­ly is actu­al­ly very dif­fi­cult — or at least it is out­side of back-end work and it is as impor­tant as well. So now I am dab­bling more into design­ing late­ly since our client has been more demand­ing in terms of new designs. There are just new fea­tures and there are only a few design­ers, so it’s real­ly fun get­ting into that. I would say, I could be a part design­er now as well. That’s a stretch.

Mark: Cool! As you think back — this can either be your career at Michi­gan­Labs or even before — but, what is the best advice you’ve been giv­en as you have embarked on your tech­ni­cal career? I’m going to go to Lisa first and then Sarah.

Lisa: I think imposter syn­drome. Tack­ling that has been kind of dif­fi­cult, so good advice — I don’t know if it is the best one, but the one that rings well with me — I always felt like I had to keep prov­ing myself or be in the know about the lat­est tech­nolo­gies and learn­ing every­thing, but some­one told me it’s okay to be com­fort­able with what I’m work­ing on cur­rent­ly and hon­ing in those skills instead of spread­ing myself too thin.

Mark: What about you, Sarah?

Sarah: I def­i­nite­ly can relate to what Lisa just said. I’d say addi­tion­al­ly to that, espe­cial­ly I for­get who men­tioned it, but one of the Deliv­ery Leads I worked with at Michi­gan­Labs, espe­cial­ly when we were talk­ing to clients about the fea­ture set they want — they were con­stant­ly adding things they want­ed, but just know­ing when to say Okay, let’s actu­al­ly hone in on what you actu­al­ly want.” Rather than spread­ing your­self to thin and say­ing yes to a bunch of things, but not being able to deliv­er on all of them. Say yes to what you can do and do well. It’s okay if you do have to say no some­times. Just know­ing that it’s okay to say no.

Mark: Yeah, that’s real­ly good advice, espe­cial­ly as you are try­ing to cre­ate the best dig­i­tal prod­uct pos­si­ble too. If you say yes to every­thing it might not work out for the user in the long run, so mak­ing that more spe­cif­ic and detailed is better.

We are going to round it out with one more ques­tion here. What is one trend in tech­nol­o­gy that has real­ly cap­tured your inter­est the most? We’ll go to Sarah and then Lisa. 

Sarah: I think for a long time it was kind of the buzz­word of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence. But, I think I’ve switched more to gen­er­al com­put­er-human inter­ac­tion. Just as more and more tech­nolo­gies are cre­at­ed and get added to soci­ety. It’s not just addi­tive — you can’t just take it away and soci­ety would be the same with­out it. Just that con­cept of look­ing at how dif­fer­ent things, when you add them, how soci­ety morphs around it and changes to either maybe are bet­ter, but some­times you have to see the neg­a­tive sides of things. I just love see­ing how all of that interacts.

Mark: Cool! What about you Lisa?

Lisa: I actu­al­ly had the same thing. I wrote arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Specif­i­cal­ly, I recent­ly heard about this — I don’t know if it is an app or just AI — but it lis­tens to your cough and can, with 90% accu­ra­cy, if it is a COVID cough or not and that was mind-blow­ing. Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is absolute­ly inter­est­ing. I’m not real­ly sure how I can get involved or do some research on the side, but that’s some­thing that is real­ly inter­est­ing to me.

Mark: Thank you both for join­ing me for the career path­ways video. I’m excit­ed to see where this goes and I’m also going to stop record­ing. So, thank you! 

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