This January, we're all about dreaming big and setting goals, so we're shining the spotlight on inspiring professionals with solid careers in STEM fields! Software engineer Lauren Sperber once thought she'd be guiding college students as they struggled to make sense of Shakespeare. Life had other plans, and she soon found herself tapping into her passion for technology and the Internet and building a thriving career as a programmer!
Senior Software Engineer at Etsy
Because titles only say so much, tell us more about your job!
I write code for Etsy.com, which is an online marketplace for unique handmade and vintage goods. I work on the tools that Etsy sellers use to manage their shops. Every day I get to write and deploy code, give my coworkers feedback on their code, and collaborate with our designers, researchers, and product managers on how we can make Etsy better for our sellers.
What do you love most about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is how much I learn from my coworkers. The software engineers at Etsy have very different educational backgrounds and we all bring different perspectives to the same problem.
How often do you use math in a typical work day?
The math used for programming is more conceptual than computational. The cool thing about programming is that you can tell a computer to do computations for you--but you do have to be able to reason about mathematical concepts. I don't do a ton of math in my daily work, but I've written scripts to do complicated math for me, which is super fun!
Let's backtrack a little. Fill in the blank: When I was little, I wanted to be ___________ when I grew up!
Did you like math when you were younger?
My interest in math wavered a lot during my schooling. I was a good student, but I didn't like memorizing my multiplication tables in elementary school. I was definitely busted reading young adult novels in math class a few times!
I went from a middle school with average academics to a high school that was very challenging, so when I started, I was really behind the other students in my grade. It was frustrating because I had to work so much harder than everyone else to catch up.
However, when I got into 10th grade and we started doing geometry and trigonometry, we were all starting from the same place and I loved it. The logical proofs in trigonometry share a lot of conceptual principles with programming. I also enjoyed statistics in high school because it was a practical way to use math to solve problems.
Which components of your education (formal or informal) helped you get to where you are today?
I took a very unusual path to my current career. In college I majored in literature, and then I got a master's degree in literature as well! I thought I was going to be a professor, but ended up working in technology pretty much by accident. I was temping as a proofreader and I happened to sit next to people who worked on the website. They noticed that I knew HTML and CSS (which I had taught myself in high school) and asked me to work with them!
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
The most fulfilling thing about my work is the ongoing learning that I get to do with my coworkers. They teach me so much, and sometimes I can even teach them! It's really rewarding to work somewhere that everyone is pushing each other to be better at their job and to make a better product for our users.
What advice do you have for kids interested in pursuing a STEM-based career?
Don't get frustrated if some things you learn in school are more difficult for you to learn! Everyone has different aptitudes in life, but learning the perseverance to work through problems that don't come easily to you is an essential skill for any career.