How Intro to Comp-Sci Started my Career as a Silicon Valley Software Engineer
I’m a software engineer at Virta Health. We’re a clinically-proven treatment to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes. I build software that our health coaches and doctors use to deliver care to thousands of patients, 24/7. Our core focus is patient success, and that’s reinforced by the fact that our company gets paid only when patients get healthier. Day to day, that means I work with care providers, other stakeholders, and other software engineers to…
- Understand how software can help our patients safely get healthier
- Identify how software can make care providers and stakeholders more efficient
- Architect technical solutions to problems
- Estimate how long it will take to implement solutions
- Write code implementing architected solutions
- Test and review code changes to ensure our applications are reliable
In early 2010, when I was accepted to join Hamilton’s class of 2014, I trusted Hamilton to teach me how to think. I was right on the mark there, but what I didn’t see coming was the breadth of experience the open curriculum would provide me, and how it would enable me to discover my life's work.
A Rough Welcome to HamTech
Part of my college search included recruitment for varsity soccer. I spent my summer before freshman year training, and it paid off with a great performance on the fitness test. But everything came crashing down when I sprained my ankle during our first practice, and found myself in a cast for several weeks.
In retrospect, that injury may have worked out for the best. While my body was prepared for college, I was not prepared for the academic rigor of a full course load at Hamilton. The injury gave me more time to focus on school.
The only class where I felt ahead of the curve was CS110, Introduction to Computer Science. I only signed up for the course because my aunt Suzie (a Google employee) was adamant that “even the best bankers and doctors need to understand computers.” Early in the semester it dawned on me that I had stumbled into a new passion. I’d save my CS homework for last; a reward for finishing other work. Studying CS didn’t feel like work to me. This made declaring a major easy. After declaring and planning out what CS courses I needed take, and when I’d take them, I felt free to take advantage of the rest of Hamilton’s open curriculum.
Get used to “no” – and use it to get better
By the time I reached my senior year as a CS major, I still wasn’t sure of what I was going to do after graduation. I thought of software engineers as dorks from Office Space... locked away in cubicles, pounding away on keyboards, isolated from each other and certainly the rest of the world. That life didn’t interest me then (and it still doesn’t today).
I knew I wanted to maintain a technical focus as I transitioned to the “real world,” while also finding a career where I’d work with a team. Product management felt like a good balance: a role where I could translate business requirements into technical specifications. After hearing a few of my classmates had offers from big Silicon Valley companies, I panicked and applied for any product management position I could find.
Only after I sent out close to 50 applications did I even get offers for interviews. And once I got to an interview, I found out quickly that I wasn’t the most attractive candidate because of my limited (read: nonexistent) experience in product. Stepping back to look at what I had experience in, I pivoted to reluctantly apply to software engineer positions.
Although I was a solid programmer and computer science student, I learned that interviewing was a specific skill that I had to practice and improve on in order to succeed in my job search. I had to learn how to talk about myself, and that included my work outside of the classroom, like an online tool I had made to help high school students pick the best college for them.
Even then, with several onsite interviews under my belt, I was rejected many times. Only after lots of “no” – and lots of practice – did I start getting offers. I ended up accepting a software engineering job at Practice Fusion, a tech company building software to help doctors deliver care and manage their offices. As the son and grandson of physicians, I’ve always seen immense purpose in the work of healthcare professions. I was excited to to apply my skills in CS to a larger undertaking, by helping doctors provide better care and improve patient outcomes.
From Hamilton to Here
After a few months on the job I realized that I was far from being the guy from Office Space. I learned that roles don’t define you; if you want experience outside your defined role, you need to make an opportunity for yourself. I didn’t want to be locked in a cubicle, and so I decided I wouldn’t be. I networked within my own company to find impactful work that other teammates weren’t excited about. Taking on responsibility at every chance led to some long hours. But it also meant learning on the job, and gaining experience that I wouldn’t have, otherwise. And it eventually earned me recognition from my colleagues.
I spent almost four years at Practice Fusion before I decided it was time to move on to a new gig. I found that it was much easier to get my second job, with all that I had learned and pushed myself to do in my first position. I ultimately picked my current company, Virta Health, based on the company’s clear and focused mission in which I believe, and a group of founders, investors, and board members who I respect and trust.
Today, I think the most valuable advice I can impart is to focus on growth. Seek opportunities that deliver value to your employer and build muscles you didn’t have before -- regardless of your role’s explicit responsibilities. It’s on you to seek those opportunities and take on responsibility. Good things come to those who make them happen.
Sampson Reider graduated from Hamilton in 2014 with a degree in computer science. He is now working as a software engineer at Virta Health in San Francisco.