It’s been a year now since I graduated from a coding bootcamp and completed a software engineering fellowship.

Two months after graduating, I landed my first engineering job and prepared to move from New York City to Silicon Valley. I was ecstatic, and finally achieved the goals I set forth a year earlier.

Lo and behold, in that same week, a global pandemic was declared on my birthday, and the offer was rescinded due to covid.

While a rollercoaster ride indeed, in the grand scheme of things, these events paled in comparison to the escalating health crisis and social unrest that ensued. Rather than scrabbling to push out job applications, I focused the next few months on doing a few practice problems per day, staying informed on proper covid safety measures, and learning about police reform.

As new covid cases began leveling out in July, I hopped back into the search and was fortunate enough to land a software engineering internship at VTS.

The Internship

Upon hearing of my offer acceptance, one of my interviewers and soon-to-be teammates reached out to welcome me through a video call. We shared our excitement of soon working together and acknowledged the oddity of this new way of work. Without the environmental cues of entering a new office and seeing new faces, I was slow to process that this was really happening…in my living room.

Some swirling thoughts that preoccupied my brain included:

  • The abandonment of my previous professional ambitions in international health and research.

There was a lag time for sure, but when reality eventually hit, I felt overwhelmingly grateful.

On my first day, I had fewer logistics to worry about. There was no commute to time right or new building to enter with curious eyes; no greeter at the door who would introduce me to others, and lead me to my workspace. Instead, I tested my computer mic and camera a few times and was up and running clicking in and out of one meeting after another.

Initially, I didn’t expect a lot of collaboration due to the nature of working from home. However, tools such as Zoom, Google Calendar, and Slack made for a streamlined remote onboarding experience. Most impressive of all was the use of Tuple for pair programming. Tuple’s neat features allowed me to participate in remote pairing multiple times a week, and I came away each session learning a ton.

calendar filled with pair programming and pear emojis
🍐 🍐 🍐

As a career switcher and first-time software engineer, my team consistently checked in to:

  1. Ask if I need help.

Seemingly menial on the surface, the reminder from time to time particularly reinforced everyone’s willingness to extend a helping hand. As a newcomer, it’s not uncommon to carry self-imposing pressures to prove oneself. However, after a good amount of effort with no resolve, reaching out for help shouldn’t be a cause for apprehension. There’s still a lot to gain from the exploration process, and the practice of backtracing to explain each step exercises one’s communication skills. As a result, asking for help turns into a teaching and learning moment that only magnifies everyone’s return in understanding.

This is a view I share with my manager, who emphasizes the importance of psychological safety, and that means a lot to anyone new to the expansive field of software engineering. Consequently, all of this instills a level of comfort for me to be my most productive self, and to proactively reach out whenever I find myself stuck on any one problem for too long.

Joey shoulder tapping Chandler
No more shoulder taps or bump-ins for quick questions

Unlike internships that batch interns into cohorts for isolated projects, I was integrated to work on the living core app used by tens of thousands of people. As a member of the front end team, my first task required an app-wide font change during the second week of my internship. Font changes rarely occur, and my team provided me the opportunity to release this large scale visual change early on.

VTS gave me the opportunity to create real value from day one and this made every pull request all the more exciting.

Transitioning to Full-Time

After 14 weeks of interning, I was thrilled to become an official software engineer at VTS :’)

Apart from a wave of congratulatory welcomes on my new status, I continued on similar tracks of work. Mentorship and guidance were readily available, but I also had the freedom to work independently. From the beginning, I was entrusted to work on tasks comparable to the ones any other engineer on the front end team would tackle.

The six company values

As one of the company’s values Appreciate the Difference means to thrive on unique perspectives and experiences. I’m often asked to draw from my client-facing and user research experience to offer input with regards to my non-traditional background. Similarly, my ideas are valued irrespective of whether I am an intern or a full-time engineer.

Despite no difference in treatment or huge overhaul of duties, I still felt a personal shift in my sense of responsibility after transitioning from an intern to a full-time position. The removal of “intern” from my title empowered me to take greater ownership as well as weigh-in more, whereas previously, I remained in sponge mode to listen and to absorb.

Through remote work, it’s easy for imposter syndrome to exacerbate. Imposter syndrome is defined as the fear of being exposed as a fraud based on feelings of not belonging, not being good enough, or not deserving of one’s own achievements. At present, most of us are in homes a bit too homey, dressed on the borderline of casual and loungewear, and more than likely, interrupted by distractions in our perimeter every now and then. Beginning a new role in such circumstances makes it difficult to form the professional software engineer identity of myself. To mitigate this feeling, communication is more important than ever.

Nobody knows you’re stuck unless you tell them. Nobody knows you want or need help unless you tell them. Starting out as an intern put me in the right mindset to be more forthcoming about the things I know, the things I’m working on, and the things I frankly never heard of. Without the awareness to truthfully pinpoint these areas, this is where imposter syndrome comes from.

Fortunately, the supportive environment here at VTS encourages open expression of these three areas as opportunities to teach, grow, and learn together.

Reflection

It’s been one heck of a year for EARTH, and all of us deserve to feel this proud Ross moment in our bones.

This year didn’t turn out the way any of us expected, but staying close to family and friends after living abroad for so many years is exactly where I need to be right now. Those years of travel taught me a lot about sitting with uncertainty and having to adapt. We are more resilient than we think and 2020 has been a testament to that.

While all of us at VTS will still be working from home for the first half of 2021 (and perhaps beyond), we’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other. In tough times like these, where many internships have been canceled, VTS continues to see the value of bringing in diverse talent. Unforeseen challenges of 2020 were met with transparency and understanding, and this exemplifies great leadership.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet my colleagues in-person in the near future!