software engineering

Spend Wisely: 3 Ways to Maximize Your Money as a New Engineer

Note: This article is part 2 of Hello $World: Financial Planning for Aspiring Engineers.  The first part covered budgeting, in particular expenses to consider as you prepare to pursue engineering full-time.

These three ideas provided great savings at a time when I was counting every dollar:

  • Bargain.  Most private tech ed companies have the ability to adjust prices.  Ask for information on scholarships and [0% interest] payment plans.  Find ways you might help their business in exchange for a discount.  Bonus points if your way of helping is also a learning opportunity, such as helping with a website or blog or running review sessions.  I offered to copy-edit a lecturer’s upcoming book in exchange for a $1k discount, and he was thrilled with the exchange.  I received free entrance to an expensive JS conference by volunteering to hold down the welcome booth for a couple of hours.
  • Purchase refurbished equipment instead of brand new.  Many companies sell refurbished laptops with the same guarantees and services as new ones.  Apple and Gazelle are two sources I’ve used for Mac products.  You’ll save several hundred dollars, and it won’t make a bit of difference if your laptop came out a year ago vs. a month ago.  Keep in mind that once you get a job, your employer will provide a nice laptop for your use.
  • Use e-books.  Most books about software engineering have a free (or significantly cheaper) electronic version online.

    Note: if you plan to read in an e-reader or mobile app, preview the content.  Some code block formats that look fine in a browser don’t show up correctly in apps and e-books.

What are your best money-saving tips for new engineers?  Let us know in the comments.


How many Jr Engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

It’s been said that a senior engineer is worth 10 junior engineers, and some days that idea haunts me.

Three months into my first engineering job, it’s tempting to feel no-good when I get stuck on another jasmine test, or screw something up in my git branch yet again.  My more experienced colleagues are faster and better at coding than I am, able to get to the root of a problem in seconds while I’m still desperately console-logging everything in sight.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about things in my job that I’m good at.  Even as the most junior person in the office, and partly because I’m the most junior person, some areas come naturally to me.  Here are a few examples of the things I’ve excelled at so far:

Being an intelligent test user. This is the one skill I’m most proud of.  As a detail-oriented person, I can sniff out a bug like a hound on the trail of a ferret.  As a detail-oriented person, I see technology from the Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 9.13.36 PMtarget user’s perspective and easily find areas where s/he might get tripped up.  Over the last three months, I’ve made hundreds of github issues for features and refactors to make our app easier to use.

One recent example: Our ‘dirty’ input text color — dark orange — is so close to red that I kept thinking that my input values were invalid.  Like me, our users won’t realize that the dark orange is for a ‘dirty’ input (with dark orange color mimicking our logo); they will just wonder what they’ve done wrong.

Explaining technical concepts.  I may only know a small fraction of the information that a senior engineer knows, but I can explain that fractional amount in great detail.  This comes in handy when someone on staff needs to learn jasmine or angular.  In fact, I wrote a set of exercises to folks get their sea legs in our angular code base!

Research.  Writing new features is challenging, but a great deal of work happens before the writing starts, in the form of research.  Engineers often put off creating new features because they don’t want to stop everything in order to look up and vet libraries and methods.  With an English / history background, I jump at the chance to do a little research.  By explaining pros and cons of each option to my team, as well as answering their questions, I get our new features off the back burner and into our next release.

Pulse.  As a fairly new JavaScripter, I know all the best engineering podcasts and meetups around the city.  I know the latest information on the MIT Open Courseware and other course offerings.  I make it a point to keep a beat on the cutting-edge libraries so that I can offer these when our team is looking for new solutions.

Back to the original question: Is a senior engineer faster than 10 junior engineers?  Maybe.  But is a senior engineer worth 10 junior engineers?  I’m skeptical.  A senior person brings speed and knowledge, but also brings the baggage of comfort and a single perspective, often overlooking reasons why someone else might get tripped up on her/his UX, or spending hours on tired recruiting methods when s/he could simply contact a couple of key meetup organizers with the job announcement.

Junior engineers may be slow and overly methodical, but we’ve got grit and eagerness on our side.  When it comes down to it, I guess the only thing as good as 10 junior engineers is… well… 10 junior engineers.