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A Conversation with Software Engineer Adrienne Domingus

Kayla DiPilato

Our CEO, Joseph Young, recently met Adrienne Domingus through Twitter and introduced her to us. We were so excited to meet her because she instantly shared lots of great insights about career advocacy, scaling for small businesses, and so much more. We quickly decided we needed to do a Q and A to share her thoughts with the world and the results are below. Enjoy!

Can you give a brief intro about yourself?

I’m a software engineer working at a startup in Seattle, where I live with my husband and our cat. When I’m not writing software, or reading or writing about software, I enjoy things like hiking and kayaking, or quilting (after spending so much of my time making things in the cloud, it’s really satisfying to make something with my hands!).

How did you get involved with software engineering?

Prior to becoming a software engineer, I was working in a high school managing operations and leading the outdoor education program. It was a wonderful community, and I got to do some incredible things, but I wasn’t challenged by my work and I wasn’t learning. I didn’t know what the long-term career growth would look like, but I knew that the lack of challenge wasn’t sustainable for me.

Part of my role there had been building the school website in Wordpress, and also managing student data (we used a grading system that wasn’t supported by the district’s data management system). These two things quickly became my favorite parts of the job. It took some encouragement from my husband for me to recognize the parallels between those things and software, and to consider that it was something I might be able to do, but once I started teaching myself to code, I was pretty sold on the idea.

I left my job and attended the Turing School of Software and Design in Denver, where we were living at the time - a full time, 7 month program, and the rest is history!

What did you learn from changing careers? What is your best advice for somebody looking for a career change?

I hesitate to give specific advice to people on this, since everyone’s situation is so different. I recognize the extraordinary amount of privilege I had in making my own career change happen - particularly in the form of a partner who was not only able, but also willing, to support our family financially while I left my job and went back to school. I don’t take that for granted.

I think the best advice I can give that probably applies to everyone is: have a plan. A plan for what you want your new career to look like, for how you’re going to get the skills you need to be hireable, for how you’re going to support yourself while you gain those skills. Without a solid plan, it’s easy to get caught up in what you feel like you “should” do, or to be caught off guard when it’s more difficult than anticipated.

The final thing I’ll say about this is more relevant specifically to people switching into software engineering, especially for folks who are underrepresented in tech - where you end up working is important. There are so many good teams and companies out there, but ending up at one that won’t support or advocate for you can make your experience so much more challenging. Be picky if you can, but if you can’t, it’s ok to change jobs quickly to find a team that will be healthy for you to be a part of. Finding your second job will be so much easier than finding the first!

All that said, it’s always going to be a risk to make a drastic change like a switch in careers, but it can be so rewarding and so worth it!

What are your short and long term career goals?

I know I’d like to remain an individual contributor. It’s tempting sometimes to consider a switch into management - career paths are often more clearly defined, and I developed communication skills and work strategies in my previous career that are useful for management, but it’s really not the work I enjoy the most. I want to continue writing code and designing the technical systems.

I don’t know what that looks like long term yet. The industry is changing so quickly, and I’ve only been part of it for about three years now. I’d be interested in working in civic tech someday.

Can you talk about a project you have worked on recently that you are proud of?

One of the things the current product I work on provides is customer analytics - this involves a lot of data aggregation, and historically we did this in batch jobs that ran every hour. This worked fairly well, but meant that the data our customers were looking at was up to an hour out of date. Our data size was also growing to the point where it wasn’t sustainable in terms of load on our system - the database in particular - to continue the batch jobs. I’ve been working with a small team for the past several months to implement a new CDC (change data capture) pipeline with Kafka to update all of our analytics incrementally, as the changes happen in real-time. It’s been an awesome technical challenge, as well as a rewarding value-add for our customers, not to mention the scalability of our platform!

I know that you are passionate about advocating for your own career and for others. What inspired this? What are your top three tips or insights related to this type of advocacy?

A lot of people find it easier to advocate for others’ careers than their own, which I totally get. Managers are responsible for people’s career advancement, but they often can’t see or be aware of everything the people who report to them do. Just as a small example, if one of my teammates does something awesome or “above and beyond”, I’ll often send a quick message to their team lead, just to make sure their manager is aware of it. Doing that doesn’t cost me anything, but can be impactful for people who are doing a lot of work that might otherwise go unrecognized. Another undervalued way to help someone else’s career is making introductions - especially for people newer in the industry, this can be powerful.

Advocating for my own career has looked different - I would feel awkward about sending my manager a message to directly tell them about something awesome I did, the way I would for a teammate. Advocating for my own career has been things like asking to work on a specific project I’m interested in - that’s how I ended up working with the infrastructure team on the CDC pipeline project I talked about above - it looked interesting, I asked if I could help, and my manager agreed. But it’s also been things I’ve struggled with more - asking for raises, asking for promotions. These things are harder to ask for.

I’ve found that asking what it would take to achieve something you’re hoping for - a raise, a promotion, a project -  can often be a good segway without having to ask for it specifically, at least without being prepared. Something like “What would I need to be doing to be promoted to the next level?” Once it has been defined, it’s much easier to then point out the ways you’re already doing that work, or else go out and do it, and make sure it’s documented for the next time that conversation happens.

What is your experience with scaling at young start-ups? We at Kuvio are a growing start-up, founded three years ago, and are always interested in hearing others' thoughts on this.

When I started at my current company, there were three people on the engineering team, in addition to the CTO. There are now about fifteen of us on three different teams, and we have team leads. Things look a lot different. I used to spend most of my time writing code, now it’s probably only half - but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I spend the other half of my time reviewing code, or answering teammates questions to enable them to write their code.  Some of this comes down to my own growth as an engineer - I spend more time thinking about the system and less about the specific feature I’m working on.

There’s also a lot more process. We have more product management, so the engineers are making fewer decisions about what we’re building and instead get to focus on how to build it. We have more and bigger customers - this makes the stakes higher when it comes to building things well and on schedule.

The main thing in any growing company is adaptability - there’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to processes we’re implementing - but we get to have a say in what those processes are, which is important when it comes to buy-in. But every few months, I can look back at where we were, and things will look pretty different from how they do today - usually in a good way.

I know that reading is a hobby, what is your favorite book you have recently read and why?

Choosing just one is so hard!

Professionally, I’ve been reading “Designing Data-Intensive Applications” by Martin Kleppmann - it’s been particularly relevant to the work I’ve been doing, and given me a lot to think about in terms of alternative solutions to technical scaling challenges.

Personally, one of my recent favorites has been “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N.K. Jemisin.

A big thank you to Adrienne for answering all of our questions! If you want to get in touch you can find her on Twitter, @a_domingus. Do you want to be featured on our blog or want to see an interview on a certain topic? Let us know on Twitter, @KuvioCreative!

Kuvio Creative is a full-service web design and  development company that creates partnerships with our clients to create truly custom websites and mobile apps. As a remote team contributing from around the world, we save on overhead costs and pass this on to our clients. See some of our work and contact us here.

Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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