Sarah has been working for Brightspot since June 2017
To finish up the summer, Rose went on the record with Sarah Powell, a software engineer who recently celebrated her three-year anniversary at Brightspot. Sarah first connected with Brightspot at a career fair at George Mason University during her junior year of college and after a summer internship decided to join the company full-time in 2017. Rose and Sarah discuss this decision, how she's grown in the three years since, and her most rewarding project to date.
You interned at Brightspot in 2016. Can you tell me about that experience and why you decided to come work here full-time after graduation?
I met Parker Ramsdell at the George Mason Career Fair and I really liked the vibe that I got from him and from the company when I interviewed. I applied for an internship in 2016 and worked for about ten weeks that summer on a very early version of the intranet called Brightspot Central. I really enjoyed the people I worked with, I loved the office, and my project was really fun. When I was finishing college, it kind of felt like a no-brainer to come back and start my career here.
Can you tell me about the current project you are working on and your role on the team?
I am currently working on a redesign of the Amazon Day One blog. We launched Day One a few years ago, so this refresh is an effort to keep the site up-to-date and give it a fresh coat of paint. It's a pretty fast-moving project with our launch scheduled for the end of September. I am working as the back-end developer on the project.
What inspired you to become a software engineer?
Oh, that's a good one! My sophomore year of high school, I needed an elective that was IT focused and I found one in the course catalog called advanced computer math. I had a loose idea about programming, but I had never done it and had no idea what the course would entail. On the first day, my teacher announced that we would be learning C++ and I thought to myself, "I guess we're going to do that!" I ended up really liking it and took two more programming classes in high school. When I got to college, I decided to major in computer science and have never looked back.
You've worked on lots of interesting projects over the past three years. Is there a particular feature you've built or problem you've solved that you are most proud of?
When I was working on Sotheby's back in 2018, the client wanted to use a third-party technology called Algolia to power its search experience. To make this work we needed to take all of the content in the Sotheby's CMS and put it into this external search engine. This was the first time we integrated with Algolia so there was a lot of learning involved to make it function. That was a really fun feature because I spearheaded the whole thing. I researched how to design and implement the solution, wrote all of the code, and got it working for the Sotheby's website. If you go to Sothebys.com and type in the search bar, that's my work. It's cool that I can point at something and say, " I made that!"
How have you grown professionally over the three years that you have worked at Brightspot?
I have grown a lot by learning how to take charge of things that I am doing. I default to being very humble and modest, so I have focused on becoming more assertive and confident in my work. Working at Brightspot has helped me develop that belief in my abilities, but it is an area that I continue to strive to improve.
What traits are most important to making you successful at your job?
Communication is huge. You have to be able to convey your ideas to clients, product managers and other developers. You have to take technologically complex ideas and break them down for different audiences depending on their knowledge and skill set.
An eagerness to learn is also important. As a software engineer there is always something new to learn every day. You have to accept that you will never know everything because the technology is constantly evolving, but you have to remain open and excited to discover new knowledge and develop new skills.
Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
I feel at home when I am at Brightspot. It has always felt like a different company. It's very unique and there aren't many like it. I feel very fortunate that I found a company that meshes so well with me and what I want out of a career. The team that I'm on, the people I work with, the office I work in—all of these are important to me and make Brightspot a special place to work.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
I like to hang out with my friends and I like to read. COVID-19 certainly impacted my social life, but I've started making plans to get out of the house and see friends even if we're socially distant.
What has been a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic for you?
I am definitely spending less money! A real sliver lining is my appreciation of working at a stable job. During this pandemic so many people have been laid off. We are lucky that we can continue to work effectively while being remote. COVID-19 has also made me appreciate the normalcy of going into the office and seeing people everyday. I think of Brightspot as a second family and I miss meeting new co-workers and seeing my colleagues.
What was the last book you read? Do you recommend it?
The last book I read was by Andrew Yang, who ran for president earlier this year, called The War on Normal People. The book is about the impact of automation and increased use of robots on our society, specifically the jobs that will be lost as a result of this technology over the next few decades. It is a topic that has interested me for a while. It was a really insightful book and I would definitely recommend it.