by Allie Glotfelty, City Year New Hampshire ’09, ’10
If you told me 10 years ago that I would be a software engineer today, I would have told you that you were absurd. At that time, I was serving as an AmeriCorps member and I had my sights set on joining an education organization or ultimately becoming a math teacher.
After spending six years at City Year New Hampshire at first as an AmeriCorps member and then a staff member, my husband’s new job took our family to San Francisco. I joined Technovation, a global nonprofit that helps young women learn to code through a mobile app competition, where I helped build partnerships and plan events. I loved the work that I was doing, but I wanted to explore new ways that I could learn, grow and contribute to my community. Seeing these young women learning and building apps to solve important community problems made me think, “Why not me?”
I spent two months teaching myself to code through online courses then landed at Hackbright Academy, a 12-week, software engineering fellowship for women. At Hackbright, I built my first web application and found that in this new line of work, I could still use my skills to give back to my community—jackpot!
I now work full-time at Twilio, a cloud communications company, where I have had the opportunity to build technologies that support amazing organizations. I never would have imagined that my nonprofit path would bring me here, but I’m so grateful that I still have the chance to make an impact every day through the organizations that use our products.
There are several skills, aside from the technical ones, that make someone a successful software engineer. Incredibly, all of these are embedded into our service during City Year. I’ve been told by several well-seasoned engineers that as long as you have the following, the rest of the technical skills can be taught.
Eagerness to learn
The opportunity to learn and grow as a software engineer is boundless. There are always new technologies being developed and new standards being created. It’s important to have the drive to constantly learn and grow. You will not be successful if you rely on the same base of knowledge throughout your career as a software engineer.
In my opinion, this is essential to most jobs, but especially those in software development. Coding is basically the practice of breaking things and putting them back together. Without a positive attitude, it could become very frustrating. As long as you’re able to keep pushing forward and persevering, you will be successful.
Being a team player
Your code is destined to break at one point or another. At Twilio, it’s always a team’s responsibility to figure out what went wrong, fix it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Blame is never placed on the individual. In reviewing code and collaborating on projects, we build software as a team. We stand by what we build, together.
Ability to teach others
With the growing number of concepts to understand within software development, it is important that we all teach each another the new things that we learn. Whether it’s through a tech talk or answering a question from a team member, knowing how to teach others and communicate a new concept is very important to a software engineer’s success.
Personally, the most valuable skill I learned during my time at City Year was how to effectively give and receive feedback. As a software engineer, a huge part of my job is reviewing code that other people wrote. Asking the right questions, providing the right feedback and incorporating feedback from others into my work are all things we need to do regularly to make sure that we are developing the best product possible. Participating in feedback sessions during my corps year was emotionally challenging at times, but the skills I learned from them have helped me build close relationships with my colleagues and allowed me to be a productive member of a team, no matter where I am working.
My experience serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member was an invaluable experience that I not only cherish but reflect upon highly. Whenever I question myself or want to give up on something, I think back to my students during my service year and how much effort they put into their academics, and I press on. I’m so grateful for my City Year experience—the relationships I built, the impact we were able to make, and the commitment to service that it instilled in me. Those values and lessons learned are a critical part of who I am, and they will stay with me always.