My Tech Journey - Simona Pencea
Unless you are a child waiting for his/her birthday or Christmas present and counting down the days till the happy event, like us, you might also have the feeling that weeks and months are passing way too fast and you don't get to finish everything that it's on your list. But let's look today through the eyes of a child and get excited that a new month means a new great "My Tech Journey".
We are very happy to present this month the tech story of Simona Pencea. Whether starting coding alongside people who were already proficient or changing domains in tech, Simona has a great strategy on how to do it and she is very kind to share it with us.
What do you currently do for work?
I am a software engineer.
What is your educational background?
I am a Computer Science graduate, Politehnica Bucharest. Before University, my main focus was Physics, Math and Foreign Languages.
When and how did you get started being interested about programming/tech industry, and how did you learn?
Before University, I had zero programming experience. I was focused mainly on Physics. Not sure what is the admission process now, but when I went through it if you got prizes at one of the national competitions for Physics, Math or Informatics, you were automatically admitted. So that got me in and I did not consider trying to learn programming by myself before University. To my surprise (yes, I was naive :)) a lot of people already knew a lot of things which had me at a disadvantage. But studying for the physics contests prepared me mentally for some things: acknowledging there are a lot of smart people out there and focusing on what you can improve on yourself rather than what others know or do better. And most of all: being prepared for hard work. I was lucky some of our professors decided to start from the beginning and not assume we had prior knowledge of everything, which worked very well for me. And I always liked breaking things apart and putting them together and I think that fits well with the expectations one has from an engineer. I could not explain exactly how I learn, it just involves a lot of patience and a lot of writing on paper. I focus better like that. Tech industry - it was only a natural extension of the university. I started doing embedded programming, and it was very interesting to me to get feedback, like real hardware feedback for what I was doing. Then I got bored of that and moved to cloud development, which I still like and I will continue doing for a while. I like the fact that you can potentially have an impact in any field. You just need to pick something you like and persevere.
Which books/online courses/websites were helping you the most on your journey? The book I always return to is Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen et all. I read other books that helped me and at some point found some classes on Coursera that were really interesting and also free, but the one that stuck with me was that one.
Another book that influenced me was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It changed my perspective on a lot of things and made me understand things that may be obvious to others but were not obvious to me. For instance, ask for something that you really want, and never assume that others are mind readers and implicitly know what is going on in your mind. It is a wonderful read and it delivers a lot of important life lessons.
How has mentorship played a role in your tech career?
Mentorship is a complicated topic. I believe you need to be mature enough to be able to benefit from mentorship. You cannot go to someone and say "Please give me advice that will fix my trouble". I think there is an art in asking questions and you need to be at a point where you know yourself well enough to be able to ask the right ones. Some people that could have been good mentors for me, I met too soon. I was not ready for what they had to tell me, so I did not benefit from that advice. But over time I learned to listen and make sense of what people were trying to tell me. That being said, I have always been stubborn and made my own decisions. This is why, while I listened and looked for advice, in the end, I maybe did not follow any advice and mixed them all up in the final decision. I just felt that it was easier for me to deal with a bad decision if I felt it was mine.
There is always a tension, between what the company you work for needs from you and what you need for your career
What do you wish you had known when you started your career in tech? What advice would you give your younger self?
There is always a tension, between what the company you work for needs from you and what you need for your career. You need to be able to balance that out. How you do it can vary from time to time and from person to person, but always keep in mind these two parts and don't focus on just one.
Make small steps but make sure you make them regularly, daily if possible
What would you recommend to someone who is interested in starting with coding/designing/managing, but doesn't know exactly where to start?
I can only speak for coding here: this job requires insane amounts of patience. It's fun, but it can be frustrating as hell at times. Because of that, you need to make sure whatever motivation you have is strong enough. Ask yourself why you want to do this and most importantly, know your strengths. There is sometimes a big difference between what you are good at and what you would like to do. This is neither good nor bad. It is just something you need to know, and then decide. Are you willing to put in the extra time to become good at something you would like to do? Or would you rather focus on your strengths and improve those? I believe both paths are valid. If you decided you want to become good at coding, then I would start by learning the basics - understand some basic algorithms, even if you don't open a computer in the process. This helps you get into the right thinking pattern. After you think you have an idea about that, pick a language, any language and try to build a small project. Should be something that interests you, then things go faster. Don't put pressure on yourself, but make sure you track your progress. Make small steps but make sure you make them regularly, daily if possible.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What are you curious about?
I like reading, I like driving and visiting new places. I enjoy baking and coffee making. I am always curious to have explanations. Not only why do things work how they work but most importantly, why do people react to things in a certain way, what is the motivation? When I don't understand something, it bothers me, I keep coming back to that topic to try and understand it. It does not necessarily mean I am always successful, but I always make progress.