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Finding Your Role in Tech

The Mission Society is hosting a virtual Career Fair this October to highlight the variety of opportunities available to students after high school and college graduation - connecting young people with professionals across fields who are sharing invaluable advice for the future. In this article, we spoke with Riya Kulkarni and Dave Murphy about two different aspects of working in tech.

The technology industry is ever-expanding, with numerous opportunities available for aspiring professionals. There are so many applicable skills that can be used in tech careers – like the organizational talents of an administrator and technical know-how of an engineer. With many of our Mission Society students expressing interest in joining this career path, we wanted to learn about its ins and outs, and get some guidance on how to build a successful future in the profession.

We spoke with Riya Kulkarni and Dave Murphy to hear more about these tech-related topics. Both professionals shared background on their roles, offered invaluable advice for our students, and demonstrated that there is a path available for anyone who is passionate about the field.

What are your roles and main responsibilities?

Riya: I am a front end software engineer for an online bank. I work on a lot of experimentation and run tests to learn what is getting more users to sign up for and understand what we have to offer. I also gather information on how people are actually using our product. My main responsibilities are coding, and working with teammates to review their code to make sure that everything is being built with unified mindsets.

Dave: I am the Senior Director of Customer Success for a company that sells software. Our product helps other organizations make sure that their own software – for example, a bank’s mobile application – works properly. My role is an eclectic one. I’m responsible for offering technical support, and ensuring our customers are able to successfully integrate and use our software. I manage various teams that help me achieve those goals.

What drew you to the tech field?

Riya: I like programming. I like coding. I like building things. It’s really fun to think about each element that goes into something and put it all together. And the satisfaction of seeing it work is very fun.

What are some of the different jobs available in the tech industry?

Dave: There’s a million different ways you can enter the tech field, so you have to consider what you enjoy and your skill sets. There are a lot of job opportunities that allow you to work in the industry, but that do not require technical knowledge, like administrators, finance teams, and human resources staff. At my company, there are also roles in sales, marketing, customer support, and engineering. These roles require some degree of technical knowledge – understanding enough about the product to make a sale, troubleshoot with a customer, or build the software itself.

What was your focus in school? Was it necessary to attend a four year college to find your way into this career?

Riya: I studied computer science in college for two years, but struggled with the learning environment. So I took a break from college and applied to a coding boot camp called “App Academy”, which is a more condensed experience than college. What you learn is very practical. Instead of the theory of computer science, it's the real nitty gritty of programming – you're building things every day, learning very practical applications.

The boot camp also provided a lot of support to find a job. When you're applying for a software engineering role, they really want to be able to see what you have created and built. This isn't necessarily always going to be a career where you need a four year degree, but you definitely need a good level of understanding and skills.

What should a young person keep in mind when interviewing for a job in tech?

Dave: What I try to understand when I’m hiring a new team member is what motivates an individual. Are they interested and excited to do the role that I have available? I always look for people who are doing their best to be honest with themselves, even in an interview setting, about what they want from their careers. It’s important to ask yourself those questions as you explore the various possibilities in the field.

Additionally, sometimes a candidate doesn't have all of the specific experience or requirements met for the job. However, if I can see that they have been developing necessary skillsets, and are interested in and dedicated to learning, I want them on my team.

What traits or skills are crucial to succeed in your role?

Riya: Being able to collaborate is an important thing to consider for engineers, which is sometimes overlooked. You also need to have a creative mind, and to not be afraid to try different ways of doing things. Being a good listener and being able to communicate your ideas to other people is vital.

Dave: In my role, I have to interface with almost every other department in my company. This means communication skills, both written and verbal, becomes very important. Understanding the product from the different perspectives of my colleagues and clients, and building credibility is also crucial. Since I have a management and customer-facing role, I always try to keep a calm demeanor.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Riya: Imposter syndrome, coming into a new job and not being familiar with how things there work, and learning to trust and believe in myself to make my own decisions. The first time I had to lead a technical project, I had no idea where to start, I had no idea how to even envision breaking something down like that. But don't be afraid to just try, get in there and do it wrong. And then you can do it right the next time. If you don't do it at all, you're never going to learn.

What do you love most about your job?

Riya: I love collaborating with my coworkers, especially doing “pair programming,” which is two people working on code together. Sometimes all four of the members of my team will get on a call, and we'll just build something together. With all four of us there, there's rarely mistakes. We usually figure out the best, cleanest, most organized, easy-to-understand way of achieving something. And we crack a lot of jokes along the way!

Dave: I really love solving puzzles. I like working with clients to troubleshoot when we're integrating our software, and finding ways to be creative when problem-solving.

What advice would you give students who are interested in working in the tech industry?

Riya: For aspiring software engineers, I would check out online coding websites, like Scratch, just to try it out. You can even learn HTML by customizing your own Tumblr. There are resources on YouTube, and if your school offers computer science classes, I would definitely consider taking them to gain experience.

Dave: I always recommend looking to your colleagues and talking to them about their various jobs. Ask what they do, how they do it, and what it took to get into their role so you can learn more about what direction you hope to take in your career. But the most important thing I can share is to do the best you can at whatever position you have when you enter a new company. If you start there, most companies will be thrilled to give you more opportunities and support your future aspirations.

Thank you to Riya Kulkarni and Dave Murphy for taking the time to speak with us for the Mission Society Career Fair! To join us for more job highlights, advice, and interviews throughout the month, check out our blog or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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