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Tuesday Transformation - Tianna Homer

Who is Tianna Homer?

An adequate description of who I am will not be correct if I did not begin by mentioning that I was born and raised in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, as so much of my early life and experiences there has helped in grooming me into the young lady I have become. I am considered to be and also consider myself as a compassionate and humble individual with a deep-rooted sense of values and ethics. At the same time, I am open to and have a love for learning and having new, impactful experiences. These qualities in themselves, as well as the experiences I have had as a person with Caribbean roots, has further shaped me into a young woman of great character who respects, appreciates and accepts each individual for who they are. At heart, I am a driven, goal-oriented, focused individual who loves planning, and even more than my love for planning, I love to effectively execute my plans. Despite this though, I abide by the maxim ‘all work and no play makes Jane (or in this case, Tianna) a dull girl’ – I love going out and having fun, but equally enjoy staying at home and binge-watching TV shows or practicing my hobby of graphic design.

What does the life of a Software Engineer entail?

As a Software Engineer in Test (SEIT), I am responsible for ensuring that my team adheres to our quality goals. While each day at work as an SEIT brings its own set of (fun) challenges for me, typically every day, I meet with my Scrum team where we each give updates on what we’re working on, how we are progressing and any hindrances to our progress if applicable. The majority of the remainder of the day is spent carrying out my job functions which involves developing and executing automated test cases, testing our software product to ensure that it passes quality assurance, and attending meetings. Of course, all work and no play makes Tianna a dull girl, so I also make time to catch up with my work friends either before work begins, at lunch or after work. On the slower, less busy days when I have more time, I engage in some personal development where I either do courses on Pluralsight or work on deepening my knowledge on the company’s product or programming languages I am interested in outside of work.

What journey did you take to get where you are now?

If a year ago someone told me I would be working in fintech as a SEIT, I would not have believed them. I was first exposed to IT in grade 3 at primary school, and it became my favourite class, so I went on to do it at secondary school, then I took a Computer Science course at community college. Naturally, I decided to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (CS) at the University of the West Indies and it was during my 3 years there I developed a deeper love, understanding and appreciation for CS. Initially, I didn’t like my first software engineering (SE) class that much, so I did not think I would pursue a career in that area. When I took my first database course in my second year of university, I had plans of pursuing a career in database management systems. However, in my first semester of my final year, I decided to give software engineering a chance again and took the advanced SE course and ended up really loving it. It was through that course I was able to appreciate and understand concepts that went over my head in my first SE course (In fact, much of what I learned in that course helps me in my career today…which goes to my advice of not taking what you learn in school for granted). At that time, I told myself “I’m going to be a software engineer.” However, in my final semester of my final year, I took a course called Software Testing & Quality (just to make up for credits) and really, really enjoyed it as I was exposed to automated testing (I only knew about manual testing prior to taking that course). There I was evaluating where I wanted to take my career…again. As I started my search for employment I could potentially have with a CS degree, in April 2019, I came across the ‘Software Engineer in Test’ and the ’Software Development Engineer in Test’ (SDET) job titles. From the moment I read the job description and found out that it involved databases, software engineering, and software testing skills, I knew what I wanted to do. I made up my mind that I would apply for such jobs, did a lot of research, tailored my resume for SEIT/SDET jobs and sent out job applications.

Of course, that was just half the battle. I also had to prepare for the typical 4-hours long technical interviews (that I didn’t know was a thing before moving to the USA). I revised the software engineering and testing concepts I learned at school, learned new concepts I thought I would be asked about during an interview and practiced ‘whiteboarding’. I remember staying up late at night prepping and feeling like a student at school all over again. Of course, this did not automatically save me from rejections, but I was able to take comfort in the fact that I worked hard and gave it my best shot even when I got those dreaded rejection emails from companies I interviewed with.

** whiteboarding is where the candidate is required to solve technical questions on a whiteboard, piece of paper or on the computer during a technical interview.

Tell us about your transition from the Caribbean to the United States of America.

While I used to visit the USA during the breaks at the end of each semester, I officially moved to the USA in June 2019, and it’s safe to say that I am still adjusting. I’ve definitely experienced some culture shocks (and I am still experiencing them), namely informality in communication, diversity, and the general infrastructure of the country. It’s quite funny as I reflect on the time I moved to Barbados from St. Vincent for university and experienced culture shock for the first time, because it was nothing like I’ve experienced when I migrated to the USA. In the midst of all this, however, I have managed to become really great friends with people of similar backgrounds and cultures to me, which has made me more comfortable in expressing myself, whether it be through my ‘very strong accent’ and Caribbean slangs, or the foods, music and hobbies that I love.

As it relates to work life in the USA, I would say it is more fast paced here than it is back in the Caribbean. It is highly expected that you work hard in your career in the USA, but that you play hard too (provided that you get your work done). One thing that I absolutely love about working in the USA is that you can take full charge of your career - you can choose whichever path you want, as there are countless opportunities available.

Have you ever felt like giving up while developing a project? If so, how did you remain committed?

I have definitely had my moments where I felt like giving up and scrapping a project altogether. Especially since I’ve started working a full-time job, it is easy to feel comfortable and procrastinate or even abandon personal projects, especially when difficulty arises while developing the project. To remain committed, I often think about the feeling of accomplishment I would achieve when I complete the project or even overcome its occasional roadblocks. Another tactic I’ve found that helps me to stay on track, is telling my friends and family about what I’m working on. I have told some of my friends and relatives about an app I am working on at the moment, and every now and then, they would check in and ask about my progress, which I feel holds me accountable. They would even motivate me to keep going when I tell them “You know, I haven’t worked on it in a while now…”. I also love writing things down, so I would normally break up a large project into smaller, SMART goals along with the deadline I would like to achieve each individual goal by.

Do you have any advice for an aspiring professional?

My primary advice is to work hard, especially if you’re in school now and would be transitioning into an IT- or CS-related career in the near future. Don’t slack off on your courses and never take for granted the things you learn in school, because almost always, you will be tested on the material you learnt in school during interviews and you will surely need to know them to perform your job well. Also, gain experience early - whether it be through internships (something I wish I took advantage of during my time at university), workshops, and/or personal projects. Develop a good relationship with your lecturers – not only are they there for academic assistance, but they are also great mentors and can offer sound advice and support as it relates to transitioning from school to the workplace.

Don’t skimp on your soft skills. They are just as important as your technical skills. In your tech role, you will most likely be working as part of a team, so effective communication is key.

Always keep learning - stay on top of the most relevant and wanted technology skillsets. Tech is an ever-changing industry with new technologies emerging and many opportunities for growth. However, taking on learning multiple things at once can be overwhelming. It is wise to find something that you really enjoy and master it, then you can focus on enhancing your skill set by picking up other languages, programs etc.

What do you miss most about home?

While I have started getting used to Boston’s super cold temperatures, what I miss most about home is definitely the sunny weather. Second in the line of things I miss most about home is the food and fruits and how widely available they are. I also miss hanging out with my friends both in Barbados and St. Vincent. And it would be remiss of me to forget the chill, laid-back vibe and music of Caribbean parties, bars, and clubs and hearing familiar accents everywhere you go.

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