Career stories: The power of an impactful mentor
June 28, 2023
Initially a Chicago-based data analyst, Jelanah had her heart set on a more meaningful career in frontend (UI) engineering. She chronicles for us how a life-changing engineering mentor at LinkedIn unlocked her frontend technical skills, supported a relocation to Atlanta, and championed a promotion to software engineer.
Finding the right fit at LinkedIn
After I graduated from college with an interdisciplinary marketing, math and computer science degree, I wanted to find a role that combined my interests in computer science, math, and marketing.
I started my career at Allstate in an entry-level program that helped me gain experience as an application developer. As I built up my software engineering skills, I wanted to advance to the next level — where could gain more meaningful frontend (UI) engineering experience and create features on my own.
I began searching for a new role and eventually stumbled upon an associate software engineer opportunity at LinkedIn. The role was part of LinkedIn Engineering’s Data team — focused on building frontend tools and features for data scientists at LinkedIn to help with data analytics, experimentation, and storytelling challenges they were facing. The role would be a part of a rotational development program within Data called the Talent Development Program. This program included additional mentorship and technical training that I was seeking. It was truly the ideal job for me to learn and grow as a budding software engineer.
Embarking on new engineering projects
My LinkedIn career started with an exciting project on the Knowledge Graph team. The Knowledge Graph and Skills Graph define and standardize how everything connects on LinkedIn.
Ultimately, my work with these AI models is helping job seekers better identify critical skills gaps employers are seeking, address those gaps through LinkedIn Learning courses and other trainings, and then get that ideal job, for instance. The promise of helping LinkedIn members learn, grow, and find their ideal jobs is incredibly rewarding.
Flexibility to move cross-country, and learn
In addition to meaningful work, one of the hallmarks of LinkedIn’s culture is flexibility. When I joined LinkedIn, it was in the middle of the pandemic.
I originally was a remote employee, based in Chicago — with colleagues in New York City and Mountain View, California, among other locations. I caught wind of opening up a new office in Atlanta — so I asked my first supervisor at LinkedIn if I could relocate. He was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to live in whichever city I felt most comfortable in. In some of our meetings, we would even brainstorm and talk about the pros and cons of different cities that I was considering! I have been very pleased with my decision to move to Atlanta. The LinkedIn office is inside of Microsoft — LinkedIn’s parent company — so I love that I get the opportunity to connect with both LinkedIn and Microsoft employees. At this office, I have made a lot of new friends.
The team has also been super flexible in my professional growth, offering me flexibility to take time away from my day-job to take an online bootcamp to elevate my skills, or attend a conference like AfroTech. I also had the opportunity to travel to the LinkedIn headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA. for the first time, to attend last year’s internal Data/AI Week. It was an amazing experience where I was able to further connect with my teammates and the members of my program.
Advancing to the next level through mentorship
At LinkedIn, I’ve received so much support from my current manager toward achieving my long-term goal of frontend engineering. We have a unique working relationship since we collaborated on the same team before he became my manager. All of his feedback is transparent and supportive of reaching the goal of strengthening my technical skills and preparing me for promotion to the next level of engineering.
To reach this goal, my manager has shared valuable insights that will help me when I’m up for a promotion. One example is that he’s shared specific formatting tips for my code, which are the important details LinkedIn will look for. I spent a quarter exploring further backend (apps) engineering and building my skills there, and I discovered it wasn’t an area of engineering that especially excited me.
However, he assured me that at places like LinkedIn, there are distinct career paths in frontend, backend, mobile, systems & infrastructure, and among other engineering specialties — so I could easily double down on frontend engineering and not be limited.
Earning the promotion
He's helped me discover and work toward what I’m most excited about within engineering and has been one of the most hands-on managers I've ever had, especially on the technical side. He's been a mentor, coach, and manager all in one — and am so grateful to have him.
As part of my mid-year reviews, my manager helped champion me and I’m excited to share I was officially promoted to software engineering rank on our Knowledge Graph team — where I’ll be continuing my work in building a user interface, and preparing for the product to go into beta internally.
Advice for aspiring engineers
My advice for entry-level engineers is to focus on small projects, and learn data structures to understand the tech stack, which you can then share in interviews to demonstrate your skills. There are a lot of free courses out there — from LinkedIn Learning to Udemy to YouTube — so maximize those whenever possible to help strengthen your technical and business skills.
Even though I didn't have a lot of technical experience when I started my engineering career, I utilized past projects and previous experiences in my interviews. For example, one of my go-to projects I referred to during interviews was a recipe-finder program I had created in a prior coding class. I showed that I was passionate about all of my small projects, and received lots of feedback from the managers I spoke to saying that they admired my ambition and willingness to learn on my own.
LinkedIn's programs encourage my goals and provide many opportunities for engineers who still need formal experience. If you are willing to learn, there is no limit to where your engineering career can take you at LinkedIn.
Based in Atlanta, Jelanah is a frontend (UI) software engineer on LinkedIn Engineering's Data team, supporting our Knowledge Graph and machine-learning work. She’s also served as an associate frontend software engineer on the team, focused on building data-science productivity tools.
Before joining LinkedIn, she worked as an application developer and data analyst at Allstate. Jelanah holds a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Cincinnati, where she focused on computer science, marketing, and mathematics. Outside of work, Jelanah is involved in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She enjoys playing tennis, and exploring Atlanta in her free time.
Editor’s note: Considering an engineering/tech career at LinkedIn? In this Career Stories series, you’ll hear first-hand from our engineers and technologists about real life at LinkedIn — including our meaningful work, collaborative culture, and transformational growth. For more on tech careers at LinkedIn, visit: lnkd.in/EngCareers.