Lafayette Degree & Major(s): Bachelor of Arts, Computer Science and Anthropology & Sociology
Minor: Film & Media Studies
Were you an international student during your time at Lafayette? Yes
Location: New York, NY
Title: Senior Software Engineer
Describe what your employer/organization does: Within Google, I work for Sidewalk Labs, a division that helps make cities more livable and sustainable. In particular, my team builds Delve, a generative design product that helps real estate teams and cities create and compare thousands of urban design options for a city block or neighborhood.
Please provide a brief overview of your role: As a software engineer, I design, develop, and maintain software systems that power Delve. In addition, I also provide support for customer-facing teams, mentor junior engineers, and contribute to larger engineering culture within Google.
What gets you excited to go to work each day? Since 2020, I’ve reoriented my career towards solving the climate crisis. Working on Delve allows me to earn my living with a passionate, interdisciplinary team while tackling some of the hardest challenges of our time.
What keeps you up at night as you think about the opportunities (or challenges) related to your work? Working within as big of a company as Google presents both opportunities and challenges: we gain access to a potentially huge number of existing users, so whatever impact we have needs to be a net benefit upon the world. “With great power comes great responsibility,” if you will. As I work on Delve, I want to make sure we can justify our impact without overstating it, as well as ensuring that we are not creating unintended consequences down the line.
What key strengths are necessary to be successful in entering this career field? To me, key strengths needed include a strong foundation in logical thinking (which is not limited to math–in fact you don’t have to be good at math), a good grasp on problem solving techniques, and–perhaps contrary to popular stereotype–good communication skills. Modern software is always built collaboratively, and having the skills to explain to as well as comprehend your collaborators is crucial to excel.
Is education beyond a Lafayette degree required to pursue this path? Nope! This really depends on the niche of software engineering one is going for, but I’d say for the most part, no. However, you do typically need a Bachelor Degree in Computer Science or related fields (ECE, or at least a minor). The good news is if you want to switch your career path midway into becoming a software engineer, there are many low-cost, short-term educational opportunities out there (coding bootcamp, etc). Additionally, certain specialized subfields like cybersecurity or machine learning or graphics might benefit from post-graduate education.
How did your Lafayette experience equip you for success in your career field, especially as an early career professional? At Lafayette, I treaded along a windy and interdisciplinary academic path that combined social science, humanities and computer science. These formative explorations allowed me to approach my career with a broader and more multifaceted set of questions, such as: Who benefits from my work? What are the power dynamics at play when we build a technology product within a big tech company? Who do I work with and how would the demographics of my colleague impact the outcome of our work? How might what I work on inadvertently create harm in the world, given the complex roles technology has played in shaping our lives in the 21st century so far, and so on. “Success” is probably very premature of a word–instead I would say that having principle guiding questions like these have helped me better navigate where I want to go in my career.
What specific experiences during your time at Lafayette made the greatest impact on your professional path? Many experiences: both the A&S and CS departments have provided crucial support and impact in shaping my path through the coursework I took. Working for LaFarm, reporting on the Veggie Van for one summer, and listening to a TEDxLafayetteCollege speaker addressing sustainable agricultural practices have been formative for me in thinking about the climate crisis. Being as a Writing Associate Mentor honed my writing, communication, and mentorship skills, which are very crucial, but underrated skills in my job.
As it relates to career exploration and development, what is one thing that you know now that you wish you could go back in time and tell your student self? Not to toot my own horn, but I was the most diligent career-pursuing student I know in college, and I think I was able to explore (and therefore cut off) many different career paths (I completed 5 internships during college, and several other skill-gaining campus jobs). On the flip side, overworking left its mark on my mental health, and I remembered the dread and anxiety of waking up everyday in my junior year not knowing if I will have something to do over summer. If I could go back, I would tell my student self to seek more support from friends about these fears and doubts–in the end, nothing is worth one’s health.
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing your career field? My main advice to students in this field is: really, really think about what you want to be in technology for, and look towards roles that align with your personal interest and values. In technology, there is more freedom in the choice of industry, and somewhat more power in influencing the industry’s direction. You are allowed to be picky about your career.
What strategies, tools, or other efforts do you utilize to find “balance” or reduce your career-related stress? There are 2 types of career-related stress: external-inducing stress (from colleagues, clients, managers, etc.) and self-inflicted stress (self-imposed workaholism is very easy to slip into in my line of work).
For the first type: the first and best line of defense is during the recruitment process. I often read GlassDoor reviews and speak with one or two potential colleagues before making the decision, and I used those opportunities to figure out what sources of external stress a team might be prone to. In addition, my team runs regular retrospective sessions that allow us to reflect upon things that do not go well, such as undue stress, and collectively act upon improving our process if we can to restore balance.
For self-inflicted stress, the strategies that work most effectively for me are 1) keep track of all the tasks I’m supposed to do and carve out specific time for deep focused work, and 2) make commitments outside of work, with loved ones, friends, or other volunteering activities. Having a life outside of work is the best defense against overcommitment to work.
How do you enjoy spending your free time when not at work? Reading, writing, going on bike rides, going on hikes, and all good food-related ventures.
What was your favorite spot on Lafayette’s campus when you were a student? Shout out to Janine Block and the International Student Association for organizing the amazing ISA Grand Finale event every year! I’ve had many memories as both participant and audience, but most memorably I got to check off my bucket list singing in a band during my senior year (fellow Queeromantics–you know who you are!).
Would you like to connect with Ha to learn more about her career path?
Ms. Vu is happy to connect with students via Lafayette’s GatewayLink platform. Access or set-up your account here: https://gatewaylink.lafayette.edu/.