Role Models: Kate Caldwell, Software Engineer at RateBeer

Today’s Role Model is Kate Caldwell. Kate pivoted into software engineering after starting her career in the publishing industry. Having worked in the tech industry for a few years now, she’s been thrilled the similarities between working on a written project like a novel and building software: both require an initial vision, a flexibility in approach, a dogged work ethic, and the ability to willingly seek out and incorporate feedback into your work.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’m a Software Engineer working to re-platform legacy features into a new web application for RateBeer. I started as a contractor in the summer of 2017, and then the company extended a full-time offer to me in the fall of 2017.

What attracted you to this role?

This role stood out to me during the interview process because of the challenges of the product and the people I would get to work with as we tackled them head on.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

On a day that’s largely left uninterrupted by meetings, I pretty much work on engineering tickets by writing code the whole day (with breaks to each lunch and grab coffee and mull over particularly complex problems by stretching my legs). Our engineering sprints are two weeks in length, so every other week we have a few meetings to wrap up and prepare for the upcoming couple weeks (e.g. ticket grooming, demo, retrospective)

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Because up until quite recently I’ve been the sole engineer focused on building out a web application for the product, I spend most of my day writing React Components in Javascript. If I ever come across a problem I’m not sure how to solve on my own, I’ll often start Googling and end up somewhere like Stack Overflow or a helpful blog post.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I love working closely with the design and product team to prototype and build out a feature quickly. Since my job is specifically focused on re-platforming legacy code into the new React codebase, I’ve gotten to build up the complexity of the repository over time which is has been a fun challenge.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

The product that I work on has a group of very dedicated power users who have been experts on the platform for years. As we try to build features we need to balance the needs of these expert users with the needs of more casual users we’re trying to court to expand the reach of the product.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

The product that I work on is pretty self-contained, so I don’t really work with other teams in the company. Within the team itself we’re rather specialized to a particular part of the stack (so for me that’s the web front end). We are very friendly and collegial to each other, always willing to answer questions someone may have, but as the owner of my sphere of work I’m expected to be able to speak to it and answer technical questions to product managers and other engineers.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’ve become really specialized in the specific part of the product that I work on, so for my next challenge I’d like to work on a team where there’s a bit more cross-functional work happening.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

I’ve found that communication and project management skills are essential to my role. Oddly enough, my background as an account manager in academic publishing prepared for a whole part of my role I didn’t anticipate when I started.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

I’ve learned a ton on the engineering side, since this has been my first full-time engineering role. I got the opportunity to build a web application from scratch, so every single step of that journey has been a huge learning experience!

In your role, what metrics define success?

We have a bunch of different sets of targets. Some come from a pretty corporate level, and some we set for ourselves. Knowing what success looks like for our team is actually something I’d say has been somewhat of a challenge for our team since there are so many different stakeholders with different priorities internally. I feel most successful when I build a feature and get it to market and users start using it and responding to what we’ve built.

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