Play the video below:
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.
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!