This blog marks the kickoff for the Developer’s Dialogue series where I will interview industry professionals on various topics and share their golden nuggets of wisdom. For this first interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jenna Palmer, a Senior Full-Stack Software Engineer with a specialty in frontend technologies. She has been in the industry for six years and is currently working at TMT Insights as a Senior Frontend Engineer on their Polaris project.
Jenna’s interest in software engineering started in high school when she joined the robotics team. Despite being the only girl on the team, she was not allowed to program, and the guys consistently told her to go away and refused to let her learn any of the languages and concepts they were working on. However, a team mentor named Steve Ruschill took her under his wing and showed her the power of programming. He helped her create a website for the robotics team, which was her first introduction to the foundational concepts of programming. Jenna found the experience of applying those concepts and creating a great-looking website to be very rewarding, which led her to pursue a career in software engineering.
After graduating from college with a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science, Jenna got a fantastic job at a consulting agency, which set the groundwork for her to get hired as a software engineer on the West Coast. She has been programming there ever since.
When asked about her career goals, Jenna mentioned she wanted to be able to solve problems easily and quickly without too much ramp-up time. She also wants to improve her LeetCode problem-solving skills and become great at those questions to feel confident about technical interview challenges.
As a software engineer, keeping up with ongoing tech education and training is essential. The field of software engineering is constantly changing with the introduction of new technologies, tools and programming languages. Personal development will “help you become more marketable, valuable and to help you stand out as a programmer in the software industry.” (Hackathon.com) Jenna shared her tips and advice on how she stays up-to-date with the latest technologies and pursuing tech education.
Jenna shared that she keeps up with her tech education by immersing herself in programming communities that love discussing new concepts. She also watches a lot of YouTube videos, follows a lot of readmes, and does a lot of leg work when it comes to testing out technologies for the first time. Additionally, she creates mini-“hello world” projects and tries out new packages or tech stacks for the first time.
According to Jenna, once she became adept at adopting any new technologies she needed, she moved on towards understanding how all apps and files were actually compiled and delivered together. Being educated on how CI/CD pipelines worked contextualized how her apps actually made it to production, and better informed her on what build errors were and how environment separation worked.
Jenna’s advice on pursuing tech education is directed more towards “confidence boosting” than actual “steps to follow.” She emphasized that a lot of people, especially women and minorities, think that they’re not cut out for tech because they encounter a lot of frustrating issues along the way. Things like errors, bugs, and broken apps can really destroy someone’s self-esteem. However, she advises people to be kind to themselves and know that if someone else was able to figure it out, they will be able to, too.
Jenna shared that vulnerability is rewarding, and knowing that everyone struggles with learning and understanding everything can make someone feel less alone. She encourages people to be kind to themselves and know that there’s plenty of room in tech and that the industry needs them more than they know.
Jenna also shared that she loves working remotely. She used to have to commit almost two hours every day to drive to campus for work, but now she gets to stay home. Her setup is comfortable, she always has coffee, and snacks are bountiful. Onboarding remotely isn’t that difficult either. Most of the time, people just give her tickets and leave her alone, so it’s not like the environment did much to motivate or help.
According to Jenna, the only benefit to in-office jobs that she can think of is the visual cues to get up and go to meetings. She missed quite a few meetings when COVID first started because she was too used to waiting until her coworkers stood up to actually get ready for a meeting. However, she has been onboarded to a new company remotely three different times, and it has been so easy each time.
Jenna advises other remote workers who feel disconnected from people and company culture to get coffee with others. She likes to have virtual coffee with all her new coworkers when starting a new job. She also suggests joining some of the more “fun” chats in the workspace to engage with others and get to know her coworkers. Additionally, she suggests that if a company does not provide any professional development or feedback, then sending out anonymous surveys every six months to see how you’re doing as a teammate could be a solution to the lack of structured feedback. She likes to ask questions that inform her about her reliability, technical strength, and communication patterns so that she knows how her teammates are perceiving her. These forms, which she allows to be anonymous, help her get truly unfiltered feedback. Jenna’s recommendation on getting unfiltered feedback is like drinking coffee without sugar: it may be bitter at first, but it’s better for you in the long run.
Jenna’s journey into software engineering highlights the importance of mentorship and community in shaping one’s career. Her perseverance in overcoming challenges and pursuing her passions serves as an inspiration to others looking to break into the field. Her positive attitude towards vulnerability and self-care in the face of technical challenges is a testament to the importance of mental health in the workplace. Jenna’s experience with remote work and her tips on staying connected with colleagues demonstrate the growing trend of remote work and the need for effective communication and collaboration in a virtual workspace.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jenna’s interview, where she discusses the challenges women face in software engineering, as well as the current state of the tech industry.
Feel free to connect with Jenna Palmer at the following:
Featured Image By Chelsea Sexton