Coding Conversations: Transforming My Career

July 23, 2018

Transformation. Is there a right time to transform your career? Is there a cheat sheet that helps us transition from role A to role B? How do we figure out what role we are passionate about? How do we figure out the right time to transform?

Transforming my career from a Test Engineer role to a Frontend Engineer role was challenging and interesting.

Two and half years ago, I was a Test Engineer with the LinkedIn Bangalore team. I had a chance to interview and apply for a Test Engineer position at LinkedIn Sunnyvale. I always dreamed of visiting Silicon Valley at least once in my life because I fell in love with computers and user interfaces when I saw an ATM machine for the first time as a teenager.

I would have wanted to apply and interview for the position if I weren’t eight months pregnant. Applying for the job would require me to spend time studying algorithms instead of spending my time on the new baby or what to expect. Everything in my personal and professional life would change around me if I did get the job. I would need to move to US with a small baby.

I applied to the job after my husband’s and my mentor’s encouragement. My husband said I could lean on him and he would support me in every possible way. After interviewing, I ended up getting the job and moved to the US with my four-month old son after my maternity break.

As my husband and I both had to go to work, we needed to leave my son with a nanny or daycare. It was not easy to leave him in another person’s care and go to work during the day. It was tough but at the same time, it made me look at things differently. It pushed me to think about my passion, my interests. It also made me question my dream. I had to remind myself what it felt like when I first fell in love with computers and coding. I decided that the time away from my son would be spent doing something I love.

Looking back, my transformation from the Test Engineer role to a Software Engineer role involved the following six phases:

1. Figure out one thing that excites me the most

I made a list of the responsibilities in my job at the time. As a Test Engineer, I was involved in the following activities:

  • Communicate with product managers and engineering teams
  • Write test plans based on product/functional specs
  • Write test code using various test frameworks and languages
  • Setup and improve the product’s continuous integration pipeline

I then ranked what I liked about the Test Engineer role from best to worst.

  • Write test code
  • Communicate with product managers and engineering teams
  • Setup improve the product’s continuous integration pipeline
  • Write test plans based on product/functional specs

I also thought about what would excite me the most beyond my current role. I knew I loved the intricacies of user interfaces. I thought, “What if I can find a job that lets me code for user interfaces?” Based on that passion and what I enjoyed working on as a Test Engineer, I talked to a few UI Engineers on the development team and realized that Frontend Engineering would be my dream role, where I got to code a lot and work with user interfaces.

2. Try out the new role

Every quarter, LinkedIn conducts Hackdays. These days give employees time to get together with a group of people to work on a cool, new idea. Hackdays were a great way for me to try out the Frontend Engineer role. For example, I participated in two Hackdays where I worked with other brilliant developers and built Chrome extensions for the hack. I loved working with JavaScript. I loved how the code came to life in the browser. From those experiences, I knew for sure that Frontend Engineering was the role I wanted to transition into.

3. Identify skills needed for the new role

I looked at a ton of job descriptions as a way to identify the skills and demands of the role. I went through a few job postings on LinkedIn for Frontend Engineer roles and cross-verified that the skills mentioned in the “necessary skills” section of the job description matched my other research.

4. Acquire skills needed for the new role

I have a bachelor's degree in computer science and was already working in the Information Technology industry. Skills such as programming fundamentals, algorithm design and networking were covered in my degree. But UI frameworks evolve with time, and the web was much different in 2009 when I graduated than it is today.

Therefore, I logged into my LinkedIn Learning account and searched for the learning path for becoming a "Frontend Engineer." The course curriculum included topics such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ember.js, responsive design, and web fundamentals. I took several online courses to acquire the latest skills in demand in the industry.

5. Have the transformation conversation

Approaching the manager of the team you want to move to can be pretty daunting. But it will never happen if you don’t ask.

I figured moving into a development role with the same engineering team I worked with as a Test Engineer was my best chance to transition quickly. I met the manager of the team and expressed an interest in an open development role.

I’m lucky to work for a company that truly believes in career transformation and encourages employees to follow the path they feel most passionate about. In the past, I had seen my development team transition a Test Engineer successfully into a UI Engineer role. I was sure that my team would support me in my journey. In true LinkedIn spirit, my manager and team supported me through my transformation.

6. Transform into the new role

In my Test Engineer days, my focus was on making sure we were shipping code to production with high quality. As a Frontend Engineer, I needed to shift my thought process to think about approach to build products. Looking at a design mock, I would start processing the layouts I needed to define in template files, the JavaScript I would write to support the functionality, and the styling changes needed for the mock to become a real functionality. On a day-to-day basis, I started participating in UI code reviews, having conversations with designers, product managers, and other engineering teams.

One of the latest projects that I’ve worked on is for GDPR. It re-enforced how we treat data with the utmost care. I learned how frontend and backend development go hand-in-hand. I got to work on the full stack of our Recruiter product. The project gave me insight into what happens internally right from the time a member logs in up to when a step in the backend queue gets triggered. I learned how to work on REST, Java, Play, JavaScript, in addition to unit tests, API tests, and Selenium Webdriver test frameworks. During my time as a Test Engineer, I had understood the functionality of the product well. Now, thanks to my new role, I’m able to understand how the nuts and bolts of the systems come together to keep the engine running.

This career transformation has been one of the most exciting yet challenging journeys I’ve experienced in my life. Not every day was easy, but I continued to move forward because I felt passionate about evolving into a role that I was excited about. The following are key takeaways this journey taught me.

  • There is no right or wrong time to transform your career. I transitioned from the LinkedIn Bangalore team to LinkedIn Sunnyvale  when my son was 4 months old, and then I transitioned from a Test Engineer to a Frontend Engineer when my son was 1.5 years old. It turns out all I had to do was make up my mind, and all the other things fell in place with time.

  • Find a mentor. When I was first considering transitioning roles, I had approached a few of my colleagues at LinkedIn who were working as software engineers. Talking to them gave me a clearer picture of what my daily activities would be in my dream role. Once I expressed my interest and my plan, they helped guide me and motivated me to stay on course. A mentor does not need to be someone who has been formally assigned a “mentor” title. Your colleagues and your friends can also be your mentors. Sharing your transformation plan with someone who is already in the industry and at your current company can help expedite the process.

  • If you want to transform, don’t be afraid to raise your hand. It was scary to approach my dream team manager to help me transform onto his team. But only after I asked for an opportunity, things started rolling. After having a conversation, I was formally assigned a mentor and a transformation plan was put in place to ease my transition.

Acknowledgements

I am so lucky that I am part of a company that believes in transforming the world and its employees. LinkedIn transformed my life and paved the path for a lifetime of learning. I will forever be indebted to all the people who helped me along my journey. I would like to thank my husband Vamshi Krishna, Sridevi Kulasekaran, Neha Jain, Harsha Nagaraj, Lei Ni, Abilash Badri and Narayan Pai for all the support and mentorship.

 

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