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Rachel Meltzer is a software developer in Atlanta, Georgia. The 31-year-old has been in this line of work for five years, but she's always adding to her skillsets. “I have learned on-the-job from development teammates, and companies have bought online courses for us to take,” she explained. “Regardless of having a degree or what your degree is in, technology is a rapidly changing industry that requires continuous on-the-job learning.”
What do you like most about your job? And least?
I have always been passionate about teaching, making technology and knowledge accessible to everyone. As a developer, I truly enjoy making software solutions that provide the best user-friendly experience. A rhetorical question I always keep close to my work is, “What’s the point of making this technology if no one uses it?” When I receive feedback that I’ve saved users hours of time every day, making their jobs easier, or that I’ve enabled someone to use technology that they previously didn’t feel technical enough to utilize, that’s when I feel the satisfaction of a job well done.
The development process involves a lot of failure and trial and error. When presented with an open-ended problem with no clear, singular solution, it can feel overwhelming and frustrating when you continue to hit dead ends while researching a solution and trying ways to make an idea work. Thankfully, a supportive development team is a great way to alleviate that frustration and bounce ideas around or get another set of eyes on something I may have overlooked in a perpetuating issue. Finally seeing your code compile and function without issues makes the frustration and steep learning curve all worth it.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
It’s not like in the movies, where tech-savvy people sit in a dark computer room in front of a giant wall of monitors, banging away at their keyboards while hacker-looking feedback scrolls rapidly on the screen. Development is a lot of research, thinking through the problem, and more time is spent on testing and re-working the code than the actual code-writing. Project planning, scoping out work and communication with the end users take up a lot more time than the actual fingers typing in the code base. The development cycle can be exciting and fun when you finally deploy a new feature that you have all worked hard on, but there is a lot of work in that cycle that has nothing to do with typing code. In-demand software developers are valued more for their problem-solving skills and their ability to work with a team through the research process than for their detailed knowledge of every code language in existence.
I also hardly ever see the stereotype of the nerdy IT guy with the fancy degree and poor communication skills. I’ve worked with plenty of people with no degree but a lot of passion and experience, and I’ve worked with teams that have a lot of fun interacting together on a project or during work social events. Technology is no longer limited to this stereotype, and people of all personalities and backgrounds can find an opportunity in computer programming that suits them.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
I wish I knew more about the gaps that exist in technical understanding. It can inhibit a great development team when you work with recruiters or hiring personnel that are not directly involved in the technical aspects of the company. There can be a costly realization after a few weeks or months on a new development team, when the daily expectations of a job did not translate well from the dry list of technologies on a job description. The day-to-day of a software developer or software engineer with similar job descriptions and skillsets may look quite different from one company to the next. Everyone wants technology and its benefits, but not everyone along the hiring and development process fully understands what the exact needs are to enact that change. Unless the rest of the company buys in to changing their process, the development team will experience roadblocks, delaying the full benefits of the new technology.
What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
The main task of development and any engineering-related position is problem solving. If you enjoy solving problems – including learning from failure and the rest of the research process – then software development would be a good career to explore. Depending on the company size and the company’s specific industry or product, it is also good to have an affinity for working with a team – with such things as paired coding, peer reviews and learning from senior mentors.
Every company and every development team has their own culture and workflow, and I have always been encouraged to look for a company that is just as good a match on culture as it is on technical skill development and experience. I don’t think there is any one personality or quality that works for software development, especially when you have so many different industries and products that now have programming at some level of their business.
Is there a time where you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?
I’ve worked with the Women in Technology Job Shadow program, teaching high schoolers how to code. I have worked with Women in STEM and JumpStart for mentoring high schoolers that are interested in a career in STEM fields. I have also enjoyed making software development accessible through various career information gathering efforts, much like this interview.
Why would you recommend that someone go into this line of work?
Software development – and computer programming in general – is a field that will continue to grow, meaning you will have job opportunities for as long as you want to continue learning. If you enjoy the challenge of problem solving and teaching yourself technology through hands-on learning, software development can be an engaging line of work to pursue. Working in technology also gives me greater insight into the technology all around me. I have a better understanding and appreciation for it, which helps when using consumer applications, choosing new technology products for personal use or helping friends and family with technical support.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I have worked for several nonprofit organizations in the past because I enjoy helping others in a more direct setting. I think I would be in a nonprofit role working with children, coaching others in the fitness and health industry or teaching others how to use technology.
What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you at the completion of a job?
When the first startup that I worked for was pivoting in a different direction, I turned in my two-weeks’ notice. They were sad to see me leave, although I know I made the right choice as the rest of the team was radically downsized shortly thereafter. There was emotion on both sides as my managers, the ones who helped me become a developer and learn on the job, tried to negotiate a way for me to stay. They said I had such potential to become a leader on the team, including mentoring new hires, as they had watched me learn so much in such a short time. I felt the strength of their belief in me as a developer, and I have carried that with me ever since. They taught me the importance of a strong development team, one that defends your work, supports your personal growth and believes in your success.