Welcome @hithisispanda, how did you discover software engineering as a career?
Hi there @ryan.swanstrom , thanks for having me! My first experience with programming was actually a summer camp as a preteen where we got to build our own basic websites using notepad – think basic HTML and CSS. Then in high school, I took AP Computer Science my freshman year and loved it. I had a great teacher, and she really encouraged me to continue. So I took CS from her for 4 years and then decided to do the same in college.
I ended up doing my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Software Engineering (not CS which was a separate degree). I was in a “dual course” program where you can get credit for masters and bachelor’s at the same time, so I had both degrees at the end of 5 years. And I’ve been in software ever since.
How would you differentiate getting a degree in Software Engineering from a degree in Computer Science?
SE and CS shared the vast majority of courses but the biggest difference was the degree requirements. Either degree would work for people going into IT. But CS was a more traditional degree like you’d see at any other college, and was more open ended with course choice; better for students going into research or advanced degrees. Whereas SE was sort of a new concept at the college then, designed specifically for students who wanted to go into an IC role in the software industry.
The SE degree required courses based on the SDLC – requirements gathering, project management, software testing, etc. Those courses were electives for CS. You had to use that knowledge during your semester long senior project where you followed the SDLC and produced documentation for each step, working on a project introduced by real companies.
Also, SE students had to pick a domain and take at least 3 electives in that domain such as networking, security, or computer graphics. I didn’t find this as valuable though since our university was pretty small and didn’t have many options for domains.
What does being a Tech lead entail? And How does one become a Tech Lead?
What a great question. It depends on the org you work at for the scope of the role, but I’ll speak from my own experiences. The tech lead or team lead is in charge of the entire team and the product(s) they work on. You have your own individual contributions still, much like a senior dev. But you also have to help the other devs with their work, and bear more responsibility for the systems overall, the project timelines, and the team’s output each sprint.
You have to shift from an individual perspective to a team perspective – how can I help the entire team work better? You mentor individuals, code review, technical design/documentation, talk to stakeholders to understand the work and then break down that work into tasks for others to work on. And then you get to help the team work on those tasks and make sure everything is on track for the release from a tech POV. It is has more people management and project management tasks than being an IC.
How to become a tech lead – look for leadership opportunities every day when working with the team. Work on becoming a reliable senior dev first. Get your tasks done and then help others, but always keep an eye out on the big picture for what is highest priority. Step up when a leader is needed to make hard technical decisions.
All of my opportunities fell into my lap because I was the most competent/most senior dev on the team, and a leadership position opened up. I didn’t interview for the job specifically – I showed up and did good work as an IC, and my managers offered the promotion to me because they knew I could do it.
How has being a parent made you a better software engineer? Or vise versa?
Becoming a parent has helped in a few ways. It ignited my passion for the health tech industry because I’ve seen firsthand through my daughter’s medical experiences what it’s like to go through the hospital system, and how hard doctors and nurses work. Anything an AI company can do to help that process along would be helping so many families.
Also it’s helped my overall confidence. I used to have very bad social anxiety. Having a child changed my perspective about life – I have more important things to worry about than what silly faux pas I committed today that nobody but me is gonna remember. This perspective helped a lot once I became a tech lead & had to attend more meetings, talk to more people, give my opinions and make difficult decisions. No time to second guess myself or fall into the social anxiety trap now.
What hobbies do you have outside of tech?
I have lots of different interests. Video games (currently playing Genshin Impact), anime/manga, reading, writing, playing piano. I enjoy finding ways to be creative outside of work
How can people find you elsewhere online?
Thanks for having me! I’m just on Threads at the moment
See the full interview on Threads: @ryan.swanstrom • Threads Dev Interview #39 with @hithisispanda I am finding developers on Threads and interviewing… • Threads