We thought it would be cool for our users to have the chance to meet the team behind our products, so today, we're kicking off a series of posts to share a little bit about who we are, and what we do here. Our first post features Gemma Schrum, a software engineer on the Switch Communications web team. Gemma has worked on UberConference since 2012, and most recently, helped build and launch Switch.co. When she’s not working on Switch.co and UberConference, she’s probably dancing in an Argentine tango flash mob or hanging out with her roommate's bunny, King George. We spoke with Gemma about life as a software engineer and what excites her most about her job at Switch Communications. Here's what she had to say.
What interested you about software engineering in the first place?
When I was growing up, my dad would always come up with random projects for me, like physics experiments, or making things out of wood or Lego Mindstorms. I loved being creative and building things, and making things work and move around. I ended up doing an internship in high school where I had to teach myself to code. I found it exciting in a similar way because I was still able to be creative and build something, even though there was no real physical assembly. It sparked my interest and I ended up taking an online programming course the following year. At that time I assumed it would become more of a hobby.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my passion. I was fascinated in figuring out how things worked. I had so many interests and thought about becoming everything from an architect, to a designer, to a detective. It’s funny because with computer science, in a way, I end up doing a little bit of each of those things.
I can’t pinpoint one specific thing that drew me to software engineering. Both of my parents were nuclear engineers, the work hours are similar to how I like to work, and having the ability to work from anywhere was somewhat appealing. I also really liked the thought process involved with computer science; you have a project that can be solved a number of different ways, and it’s a matter of figuring out the best way to do it. But what’s really cool is once you’ve actually made something, you form a strong connection to it. And making something that people use and love is such a great bonus.
Tell us about your favorite project in building Switch.co so far.
I’ve helped build a lot of the core features of both Switch.co and UberConference, but I especially enjoy polishing the product and adding the animations and finishing touches-- the little things that help make the product memorable. Right now, I’m re-writing department chat to be more robust, and I’m spending a lot of time on it because I care so much about creating the right user experience. It’s rewarding to feel like I have ownership in the way something turns out.
You’ve been at Switch Communications since the beginning! What do you like best about working here?
I’m constantly improving here. I have things to contribute, but I’m also learning something new all the time. Also, the people make it great. Everyone I work with is really smart and fun, and they all have their own unique personalities. I never think, "Oh, I have to go to work today," but instead I think "I get to see everybody today."
What advice do you have for aspiring software engineers?
Maximize what you teach yourself, and also what others can teach you. I’d say when you get stuck, try to figure it out on your own first before jumping to ask someone because you will learn a lot on the way. But, you also don’t want to stay stuck for too long (which is a balance I struggle with). I’d suggest finding the answers to all the questions that you think would be important, and then going to someone with all the information you’ve already discovered and things you’ve tried-- this will help them help you. You’ll definitely learn a lot just by listening to another engineer and how they attack the problem. Then, teach others!
Also, be prepared for all-nighters (launch mode!), but don’t forget to take breaks when you feel burnt out… it helps keep your head clear.
Lastly, communication will be an important skill, even though a lot of people say engineers keep to themselves. Often times, you have to work with designers, other engineers, and product teams. Communicating what you’ve done and why you did it a certain way is invaluable.
Check back over the next few months as we introduce you to the awesome team behind Switch Communications! Follow us on Twitter, too! @Switchco.