How to find a meaningful job

Interview with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
July 27, 2021
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I've been a Software Engineer and Manager in Silicon Valley for 15 years. Most recently I was the 19th engineer at WhatsApp, prior to the $18 billion acquisition by Facebook. I have built stellar products, engineering teams, and diverse communities as a Software Engineering Manager and a leader. I'm also the Founder of Exaltitude, helping engineers unlock their full potentials and shape the future of technology! Growing and nurturing future leaders of Silicon Valley has been my passion.

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Q: Let’s start with your former day job at WhatsApp. What was your experience like? Did you know WhatsApp would be such a success?

A:  I wasn't necessarily hunting for the next big thing. After my first full-time job at IBM, I was looking for a more intimate office setting. WhatsApp had a lot of users internationally but in America, it was not as popular as in Europe and India. My favorite part was the small intimate office, where you can turn your head and see everybody in the office. I got to sit right by the founders and got the opportunity to grow with the company. The 8 years at WhatsApp was an adventurous and exciting journey.

Q: What are some differences and/or similarities you’ve noticed working in a smaller and more intimate company versus a larger, long-term tech company?

A: The three main differences between startups and large companies are

  1. Ownership
  2. Speed and
  3. Learning and development.

At a larger company, there may be a whole team working on a single feature, whereas at a smaller company one person could be in charge of an entire project, Work gets done a lot faster at startups since you can go straight to the founders/ decision-makers with ideas instead of having to meet with numerous teams to get approval for projects like you would at a larger company.

In terms of learning and development, big companies tend to have more extensive training options for new employees; for example, my new hire training at IBM took around three months, whereas at WhatsApp I went straight to work on my first day. They also have a larger network of employees that you can get tips or advice from and more opportunities to get mentorship from experienced engineers, which is crucial for your growth in the industry but unfortunately harder to find at smaller companies. That is actually one of the reasons why I started Exaltitide—to support engineers who feel passionate about the benefits of working for a small company but want to get the same learning opportunities typically provided by larger companies through our community.  

Q: What advice do you have for people trying to find a job they find meaningful?

A: I would say the first part is to understand what gets you excited. What do you feel passionate about? Then network as much as possible to connect with people who work for the smaller companies you care about and get to know their mission to gauge how well it aligns with your own interests.

Q: You mentioned a new venture you just started, Exaltitude. Could you tell us more about it?

A: Through my years working as an engineer and a manager, I learned that what I liked most was nurturing and growing other engineers—finding learning opportunities, and helping people discover their strengths and define their goals. That’s why I decided to start Exaltitide, a community for engineers to learn from each other and develop within. I want to help engineers unlock their full potentials and shape the future of technology!

Q: What are some common things engineers early on in their career are looking for learning and development on?

A: I spoke with many engineers, who are invested in their career growth, to learn more about what they need support with. Some common themes included that they want to learn and discuss with their peers about: how to promote themselves, how to spot the right projects that are aligned with their career goals, defining their career goals, finding their strengths, and identifying their dreams.

Many say they’re not sure where to go next. There seem to be many options, but it’s not exactly clear what they are or what they will lead to.

These questions and dilemmas from real engineers from Silicon Vally have helped us develop the agenda for EXA Leadership Circles.

Q: How can people get involved with EXA as advisors and mentors?

A: EXA is built on a community of people who are willing to pay it forward to the next generation of tech leaders. There are a few ways to get involved:

  1. Be interviewed for our newsletters and nominate someone to be interviewed.
  2. Get involved as a mentor or host office hours. Check out ways to volunteer on our website.  

Q: In what ways do you think the industry could improve?

A: Something I feel really passionate about is having better representation in the tech world, in other words increasing diversity and having more gender balance -- especially in leadership. I think we’ve made a lot of progress compared to when I first started in the industry, which I’ve seen through more women and people from diverse backgrounds participating in the nonprofits and boot camps that I’ve volunteered at.

Q: What kind of advice would you have for the young girls thinking about whether they really want to pursue a career as an engineer or tech in general?

A: I would tell them that the stereotypes of needing certain abilities or attributes to be in tech aren’t necessarily true. Tech is such a large and wide-ranging industry, so no matter what your strengths are there is likely a place in tech for you. One of the best ways to figure out if the field is really right for you is to try it out! A program I highly recommend would be the Girls Who Code summer program, which I got the chance to lead a couple of years ago and found very helpful for providing girls the tools they need to be successful engineers.

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