Kate Westman has been working as a Software Engineer for Brightspot since September 2017
Rose recently sat down with Kate Westman, a software engineer who joined Brightspot after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2017. They discussed Kate's role on the platform team, the winding path she took to becoming a software engineer, and one of her recent favorite reads.
Before starting full-time, you interned at Brightspot during the summer of 2017. Can you tell me about that experience and how it impacted your decision to work here full-time?
I was in an unusual hiring position when I graduated from college. I started my computer science major late and didn't have much web-development experience, so I was offered an internship the summer after I graduated with the intent to transition into a full-time position. During the summer, I had a really great time. I enjoyed being at the office, working in a positive environment, and I liked my project assignments. I learned from different mentors and got the sense that the people at Brightspot were dedicated to my growth as an engineer. The combination of all of those things convinced me to stay here.
Can you tell me about your role on the platform team and what you are currently working on?
After I started working full-time, I was assigned to the platform experience team, which was a new team at the time. We focus on the front end and user interaction (UI) of Brightspot to make sure everything looks and behaves just right. My initial focus was on the upgrade from v3 to v4 [the newest version of the Brightspot CMS]. For the past year, I have been working on Ops Desk fine-tuning the front-end look and feel.
You've done lots of interesting work over the past several years. Is there a particular feature you've built or problem you've solved that you are most proud of?
It has been really cool to build Ops Desk from the ground up. Most of my work on Brightspot had been maintenance-related and working within an established product. With Ops Desk, I had the opportunity to work on a product from the very beginning.
What inspired you to become a software engineer?
When I was in college, I didn't know what I wanted to study. I took a winding path, but ultimately ended up majoring in both English and computer science. Initially, I declared as a cognitive science major, which is an interdisciplinary major at UVA that required me to take courses in five different departments. I was initially attracted to the psychology and neuroscience aspects, but after taking a required computer science course my direction changed. I loved the intro course, especially the problem-solving aspects, and decided to stay on the computer science path.
I read that you were a resident advisor in college. Can you tell me more about that experience and what you took away from it?
I was an RA in one of the residential colleges at UVA that housed students ranging from first year to fourth year. It was a big commitment. I got to know each of the residents individually and aimed to provide programming that they would enjoy. Going through RA training, one of the biggest things I learned was how to be sensitive to people's needs and understand how to help them get the most out of their collegiate experience.
Recently, you volunteered at Aldrin Elementary School helping with our beautification project. What was the highlight of that day?
It was a great day! I was involved in a group in college that did similar projects, so it was fun to relive that experience. We had a fun time spending a day in the sun and getting a little dirty to create a beautiful space for teachers and students to enjoy. I also learned a lot about planting from David Gang!
As a female software engineer, what advice would you share with young women who are interested in pursing a career in the technology industry?
Seek out the people who will invest their time and energy to help you learn and grow. And just as importantly, whenever you get the chance to be that person, be that person.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
I have always been big on reading and music. I also love going to concerts. Being inside more over the past year, I have been exploring lots of cooking and catching up on movies.
Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
The mission orientation really drew me in. I like being among people who care about more than just work and want to serve others. I also like the amount of activity that is always happening at Brightspot. We regularly get affirmation from people using and enjoying Brightspot. It's great to know that the work we are doing matters to people.
What was the last book you read and would you recommend it?
I read and loved Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. It's a memoir told from perspective of the author's late grandmother that covers their matrilineal history and the special bond the grandma and granddaughter shared. It's funny, touching and wise. I've already recommended it to people who have gone on to recommend it to others!