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From Microbiology Student to Staff Engineer: The Unconventional Tech Journey of Yang

Are you interested in entering the tech industry but lack confidence? Are you curious about the role of a staff engineer but unsure of what it entails? Or maybe you're going through a challenging period and need guidance for your next steps. You will surely find inspiration in Yang's story.





In this podcast, I had the opportunity to interview Yang Su, a former microbiology student who eventually became a staff engineer role at a tech company. How did he accomplish this? What factors contributed to his success? If you're eager to learn his full story, I invite you to listen to the podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.


Now, let me provide you with a written summary of our conversation.


 

Table of contents


Yang's Student Journey

Yang's Tech Industry Journey

Success Factor


 


From Microbiology to Software Engineering: Yang's Journey of Transformation

Yang's journey began in the field of microbiology, driven by a desire to become a doctor. However, after facing the disappointment of not getting into medical school, Yang needed to find an alternative plan. This led him to explore the world of electrical engineering, where he envisioned combining his healthcare background with innovative electrical engineering solutions.


During his final year of electrical engineering, Yang's perspective shifted when he worked on a project involving programming and data analysis to assist doctors in tracking patients' movements and postures within a hospital. This experience opened his eyes to the power of software development in making a significant impact on people's lives. Inspired by this realization, he decided to pursue a career in software development.


What happened to him during these school years? Is the transition as smooth as it sounds? So we discussed his challenging period.



 

Tough Period




During school, Yang worked three jobs while also studying and looking for a job. He took on these jobs to pay off his student debts and challenge himself. Even though all three jobs are very different, Yang had to learn everything from scratch. This meant he had to manage his schoolwork for his electrical engineering coursework, maintain three jobs, and also prepare for interviews in software engineering, which is a completely different field from his major.


Handling this situation seemed almost impossible, but Yang successfully managed everything. Not only that, he also landed a job as a software engineer in the end.

I want to challenge myself.

 says Yang.


I have come to realize that regardless of the job type, I believe in my ability to do it. I value the importance of having a growth mindset, as it allows me to approach seemingly overwhelming challenges with determination. Even if a task seems extremely difficult on paper, being present and receiving support from others, such as finding mentors or having great teammates, empowers me to succeed.

Yang was initially a very shy and introverted individual. He had difficulty communicating with others in English and found it challenging to speak fluent English in professional contexts due to his international background. To enhance his English and public speaking skills, he first acknowledges these areas as weaknesses that he wants to improve upon. As a step towards improvement, he takes on the role of a receptionist, which, while not enjoyable, helps him enhance his English proficiency. However, simply improving his English is not enough. He seizes the opportunity to become an MC for events with thousands of attendees. This is a daunting task for someone who is introverted, let alone for anyone.



But Yang said,


The most challenging part was overcoming that fear. Once you conquer your fear, it's all about practice. The more you practice, the more confident you become in your speaking abilities and expressing your thoughts and emotions.




 

His Journey in the Tech Industry


Landing his first engineering job was not without its challenges. Yang faced initial struggles and rejections in finding a job in his desired field. However, through a combination of luck, perseverance, and the support of a friend, he secured a position at an AI startup. Despite not having a coding background, Yang impressed the CEO with his dedication and problem-solving skills, ultimately securing the job.


You may wonder, how does one become a staff engineer? Here, we are sharing some general tips from Yang on how you can achieve this position. To hear Yang's story, you can listen to the podcast.




 

How to Become a Staff Engineer?


Yang has provided some tips on how to become a staff engineer. He suggests going to your manager to discuss your career growth plan, as every company is different. In addition to that, he mentioned some general tips.


Junior Engineer

As a junior engineer, your main focus should be on learning and absorbing as much knowledge as possible. Be a sponge and seek opportunities to learn from different perspectives within your team. Take the time to understand software development cycles, basic software processes, and design patterns. Engage with your QA and PM colleagues to gain a holistic understanding of the development process.

Intermediate Engineer

As an intermediate engineer, you should start taking more ownership of tasks and projects. Develop the ability to handle tasks independently and think about different approaches to solving problems. Continuously learn and challenge yourself to find more efficient ways of completing tasks. This is also a good time to deepen your understanding of software design and system architecture. Start thinking about the trade-offs you make in your design decisions and the impact they have on the overall system.

Senior Engineer

At the senior engineer level, your focus should be on mentoring and sharing your knowledge with others. Take the opportunity to coach other senior engineers within your team and across different teams. Look for ways to make an impact beyond your immediate stakeholders. Reach out to other teams and understand their challenges. Collaborate and share ideas to make the engineering processes better for everyone. Develop your communication and influencing skills to effectively work with different stakeholders.


 


Key factors through his journey:


Embracing a Growth Mindset


Continue to persevere if you find yourself in a challenging situation. Things may not go as planned, but I have faith that ultimately, it will work out. It's crucial to maintain the right mindset, specifically a growth mindset.

One of the key factors that helped Yang navigate through this challenging period was his growth mindset. He believed that he could tackle any job, regardless of how difficult it seemed on paper. This mindset empowered him to take on multiple roles and pushed him to continuously learn and grow.



Continuous Learning


There are times when I feel exhausted, and I take a break. After a while, I continue down that path because I know that the feeling of not knowing data structures and algorithms will always be on my mind. It constantly haunts me. So I keep telling myself that I'll go back to it when I have time. Eventually, I stopped waiting and went back to it.

Yang was willing to explore different fields and successfully transitioned from microbiology to electrical engineering to software development. This adaptability enabled him to discover new passions and seize opportunities. Throughout his three jobs, all of which were relatively new to him, Yang had to learn everything from scratch. His commitment to continuous learning played a crucial role in his current success.



Seeking Help and Mentorship


These mentors played a crucial role in my development as an engineer and influenced my perspective on learning and growth.

Yang recognized the importance of seeking help and guidance from others. He reached out to seniors and mentors to discuss his work and seek feedback. He valued the feedback loop as it allowed him to update his work more quickly.

When he first joined the company, he was not familiar with computer science knowledge. To enhance his skills, he also learned from interns and sought their feedback. By embracing the knowledge and experience of others, Yang was able to learn and improve at a faster pace.



Perseverance


I think the biggest lesson I've learned is a general life lesson: don't give up. Keep trying, even when faced with tough situations. Things may not work out exactly as you expect, but I truly believe that in the end, they will work out.

Yang's experience taught him the value of hard work and commitment. Despite facing challenges, he persevered, stepping out of his comfort zone and focusing on personal growth. As a recent graduate without a computer science background, he recognized the need to put in extra effort to enter the tech industry. Yang willingly took on more responsibilities and prepared diligently for interviews. This dedication led to job opportunities and personal growth.



Conclusion:


Yang's story is a powerful testament to resilience and growth. From a background in microbiology to transitioning into electrical engineering, Yang's journey has been filled with challenges and setbacks. However, instead of giving up, Yang embraced these obstacles and used them as opportunities for personal and professional growth.


If you found this excerpt from the podcast episode interesting, I highly encourage you to listen to the full episode for a deeper dive into the insights and experiences shared by Yang. Growth and learning are continuous processes, and we can always find inspiration and lessons from others' journeys. So take the time to listen to the full episode and let us know what resonates with you!

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