Episode 01 – CS Major & The Myth of the Standard Path

The first episode of Dial a Dev features Rama, who is now a Senior Software Engineer at a real estate technology company. She graduated with a BS in Computer Science from the University of Washington in Seattle and shares her thoughts and experiences on topics such as how she picked her major, when she did and didn’t suffer from imposter syndrome, and some fun little stories about winging it at hackathons and trying to hack the Myers Briggs personality test. Enjoy!

Interview Transcript

Linda: So today we’re going to be talking to someone who majored in computer science during her undergrad and I think this is an appropriate first episode to start on because I often hear some remorse from people who didn’t go to college or didn’t major in CS for their undergrad that maybe they would feel like less of an imposter if they had just gotten a bachelor’s in CS right off the bat and I certainly felt that way at some point in my career but what’s interesting to me is that hearing her insights made me realize that we can all feel like and postures at some point in our careers that software developers and we all have to start out somewhere and so with that I will introduce to you Rama

Rama: My name is Rama and I am a senior software engineer at Redfin and I have been in this industry for about 6 years

Linda: So just to kind of set the stage for everything– what first got you into computer science how did you decide that this is what you were going to major in

Rama: I supposed the most interesting thing about my introduction to software engineering is that I actually started to college with no intention of pursuing software engineering but halfway through college I kind of lost interest so I was not interested in the program I was pursuing which is architecture.

So I took a little bit of time off and decided to do informatics and computer science and said I really had no idea what I was going to do afterwards and both my parents are actually software engineers. I’ve always been very artistic but I’ve also really enjoyed the process of problem problem-solving, really thinking logically.

Linda: Was there any event that kind of kick-started your interest in switching your major from architecture to computer science?

Rama: I started sitting in on classes to see if I like them since they’re open to anyone and I had a few friends. So I kind of knew when the classes were and I started just like trying to do the assignments and they’re pretty fun. And so yeah after I like sort of shadow of that class I took it for real and I liked it

Linda: So that’s when you really knew that this was your your calling and you you fell in love with this this craft?

Rama: I guess I’m hesitant to say like I fell head over heels in love with it you know? Like I was like I enjoy this enough like I could see myself doing the sort of thinking as a job right and I know that CSE 142– which is like the first CSE class in the series– is not indicative of what working and industry is. But yeah I definitely took a little bit of a leap of faith and it like it really worked out so

Linda: Yeah it definitely takes the leap of faith to decide what career to pursue long-term. So did you ever have a fallback plan in case you hated working integrated working as a software developer? Specifically were you ever worried I might not like it and you you want to switch to something else?

Rama: I guess like when I graduated college and even like during my Redfin internship I sort of had this long-term vision of becoming a PM (like a product manager) and getting to work more with the design-side or the user experience side. But every time I really like to ask myself whether I wanted to switch to that I don’t see any reason to do it.

Same with management I’ve been thinking like more, and more recently I’ve been asked a few times to if I want to become a manager but I think I just really like what I’m doing right now. I still get to design user interfaces, I get to work with people (I’m a very social person), and so I have found the place at Redfin that sort of satisfies all these like niches where I lead a group of people but I’m not a manager. And I still get to like push the boundaries technically.

I have never really been unhappy enough to seriously consider switching from software engineering but I never want to put myself in a box, you know? If that changes that changes but not now.

Linda: Yeah so it sounds like it really worked out for you. Before you got your current job or or your first internship even is there anything you did that felt like it really prepared you for your current career?

Rama: While I was like sitting in on CSE classes. I also went to a non-competitive hackathon called code day. SoI had to like a high school friend who helped start it and so I spent one day doing this. Looking back on it I was kind of shocked because I’d only taken literally like two classes; I don’t know what the heck I was doing and I didn’t know anyone there except for my friends and the organizer. I just like went up to some random people and I was like I join your team. I won’t admit to like not knowing much or contributing much but it was an interesting experience. I was hopeful to just like see how other people did it.

Linda: Honestly I think that’s pretty impressive. I myself wanted to join a hackathon at some point but I suffered from extreme imposter syndrome. Did that affect you at all in any way?

Rama: No I didn’t have imposture syndrome because there’s sort of this like this like strength that comes with just not knowing anything. I leaned into it I was like I’m not expected to know anything there’s like no stakes right? I’m just going to show up and what’s the worst that can happen. Like I’ll accidentally learn something or I’ll make some connections or friends, you know? And yeah I think even to this day like when I jump into a new technology or whatever that I just like to remember that I don’t know anything about this and I’m not expected to know anything about this and that gives me some freedom.

Linda: Yeah that that totally makes sense because you don’t know what you don’t know. Another question that I often get asked is how how did you get your current job? What was the interview process and prep work like? For me personally I know that I had to do a lot of Leetcode and grinding and learning algorithms. So what was that like for you with managing your coursework?

Rama: Actually Redfin was my first technical interview ever and I got it. I’m didn’t have many interviews afterwards so I don’t want to say I got lucky. I think looking back I should have not been so busy because I was taking a full course load pretty much the last three years of my college experience. I was TA and I was involved in other clubs and stuff which means I was just always sleep deprived and always stressed and always half-assing thing. Everyone said that CS the major just prepares you for interviewing so I was like okay I sort of trust in the process.

During my first year in the major I bombed a lot of interviews because I hadn’t taken that many CS classes yet but I think the second-year I started getting used to like how to think in code and how to hack the technical interview process. So I think taking CS. classes just helps a lot.

Linda: When you actually did start working what do you think was a really challenging part of your job or what was the most challenging part about becoming a software developer?

Rama: I think in a college you’re always working on like little contained projects right? You work on them for a week maybe two weeks, you turn them in you never look at them again usually. In industry you’re working with code that’s like 10 years old. It’s like built on old stuff and has hacks in it. I think it takes a little bit of wisdom to know how to effectively handle that.

Linda: In the same vein what is something that came up that you didn’t account for in your everyday duties on the job? What was your training lacking?

Rama: Proper migration techniques like thinking more architecturally. Trying to finagle A system that does X to also do Y. You know that’s like hard to have a class teach you about problems that scale. I don’t personally work on systems that like get millions of users but that’s not an uncommon thing to work on an industry.

I think like you don’t really think about that in college. If you work at a good company they have resources that teach you these sorts of things rather than expecting you to figure it out on your own.

Linda: There really are a lot of things that come up in the day-to-day job that you just don’t realize until you actually start working because you have no idea when you’re just taking a class learning the basics. What was your favorite part of becoming a software developer?

Rama: The fun parts that I remember are like TA-ing with my friend Megan. We like went above and beyond and we would teach like a quiz section. Even though it wasn’t like a required things for the class! I think like looking back on it it’s a sort of leadership stuff. You know like rally people and like help people– that was definitely really fun.

I recall many sleepless nights or type 2 fun which means not fun in the moment but fun to look back on. I think just like learning stuff… like it was a time where I was just learning a lot. I had a thirst for knowledge which I still do but not quite at the same rate you know.

Linda: I think especially in in our industry and Tech because Tech move so quickly there’s always stuff to be on top of there’s always new technologies to learn so I think that people with strong learning ethic definitely could thrive in in the space.

If you could do anything differently about your career path like if you could go back and do any part of it again is there anything that you would do differently?

Rama: No not at all. I think I really enjoyed my architecture classes too until a certain point but I don’t regret that at all. I did a double degree Informatics and CS– there’s a say a part of me that was like doing it because it was cool and just because I could do it. I mean I did like a concentration in human computer interaction for my informatics degree which I slightly regret doing the double degree just because I was just like half-assing all my classes. I think if I’d just done CS I would have had more time to like take higher level electives. I didn’t really get to do too many of those and I would have just had more time to devote to them.

Linda: That make sense especially when you’re a college student. I sometimes think back and I’m like oh yeah you know like it could have taken more interesting classes rather than just taking these like random easy classes to boost my GPA because like what what’s the point right, especially in college.

On a related note what advice do you have for someone who is deciding if they want to pursue software development as a career? Whether it be somebody who’s trying to do a career switch or someone who’s deciding their major in college or just deciding what their next move is?

Rama: I’ll give maybe two pieces of advice.

One is talk to a lot of people. I’m sure you have friends or family or people are just fine randos on LinkedIn or ask me! Ask them what it’s like to be a software engineer.

The second is like…this admittedly works out really well for me but like there’s a ton of resources online and they can be overwhelming so creep on some college curriculum. A lot of the projects there is open source and free free for the public and so check them out try learning some stuff. Learning how to code is one of the least gate-kept fields of knowledge. There’s tons of resources so definitely take advantage of them.

Linda: Yeah and so speaking of resources I wanted to revisit the topic of hackathons because I think I personally think that they’re great way for people to gauge whether or not they enjoy software development and enjoy working on a software development team but I often get asked the follow-up question of where it where can I find a hackathon? Where do I start? I wanted to know what your experience with that was like– whether or not you found it through Googling or it was through Facebook events or just kind of on-campus stuff?

Rama: I’m not fully sure how I found code day but the people that started code day were.. I sort of knew them from high school. So I likely just saw a post on Facebook. I think there were more hackathons advertised on campus but I also think that like they got old very quickly. Turns out staying up all night drinking Coke and eating pizza is not that great and I value balance and sleep! It’s fun to do once or twice but yeah.

Linda: That totally makes sense it’s like one of those things where it’s fun in the moment and it’s it’s good to try at least once in your life but you don’t want to be doing it all the time it kind of gets old after a while.

The other thing that I wanted it touch upon is that I know for a lot of people who are trying to become software developers one thing that kind of stops them is the stereotype that a lot of movies and social media memes portray. People kind of get intimidated because they think like you know I I wasn’t this High School hacking prodigy… I wasn’t coding at the age of 6. They feel like because they don’t embody that stereotype, then they don’t fit into this mold. It’s a little bit harder for them to kind of portray themselves confidently as a software developer when in fact their skills are actually in line with being a really solid/really good software developer. So what’s your experience with that?

Rama: Yeah I I think there’s always some people that would really fit into that box but the box is reductive. I work with a lot of people that are similar to me– have similar personality traits to me, whether that be like really being drawn to leadership within Tech or being really social. I don’t get that stereotype or I don’t see that stereotype overwhelmingly at all

Linda: Totally. I want to know what you think the benefits of having more diversity in this spaces? If you just have a bunch of people that are very similar then your product isn’t going to be a strong you know? And that’s totally what I wanted to drive home with this first episode is that really for anybody who is intimidated that they don’t fit the stereotype or don’t fit this mold that they think they have to belong to that there is actually a space for everybody in this in this industry!

Rama: In college I had a phase where I was like super interested in the Myers Brigg test which puts people into boxes. So for those who are not familiar there’s four traits that you can be one of 16 different personality types and I was in CS right I had a lot of CS friends. I realize that like lot of the people in CS were the personality type INTJ so I spent so long trying to like force myself to embody the traits of the INTJ and looking back on it I’m just like why was I trying to do that? Like it didn’t make me any better of a developer or that’s sort of comes with experience so I think there was a lot of imposter syndrome to start with. But I was particularly like trying to change introverted versus extroverted part and the second one was the N vs. S (intuition vs. sensing). I kind of like thought about it as like a “whether you’re more inwardly focused or externally focused.” And as you know architecture is very extremely focused here. You’re literally dealing with the outside world– like buildings and thinking in 3D realistic/3D spaces. Computer science is very much the opposite where it’s all abstract and like you’re in your head. Just it’s a different kind of thinking and I think for that second one I just didn’t know how to become more intuitive. But I think I’ve become more intuitive just after spending half a decade in industry.

Linda: I think a lot of people can really resonate with that and thank you so much drama for sharing your experiences with us today. I think a lot of people find it really valuable.

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