From a computer newbie to software engineer. Meet Caley Brock.
Welcome to our interview series, where we introduce you to developers of all levels from all walks of life. Prepare to be inspired!
Caley Brock is a software engineer who sort of stumbled upon code during her time in university. She has a diverse background when it comes to work experience and she is passionate about the importance of both mentors and role models for women in tech. She shares about all of this and more in our interview below!
What’s your current position and company?
Software Engineer at VTS
What’s your day-to-day like?
My typical work day involves working with folks from different disciplines: programming or doing code reviews with another developer, planning work with my product manager, working through decisions with my designer, and ensuring I’m always meeting quality standards with our quality assurance analyst.
This collaboration with different perspectives is crucial to my happiness at work.
Can you tell us about how you got into code, and why you chose this career path?
I started learning to code unintentionally. I was enrolled as an Arts and Business undergrad student, doing a minor in Math. One of the required Math classes was Intro to Computer Science. At this point, I didn’t know you could install another browser on your computer, and definitely hadn’t seen code before.
That class was my worst mark of the semester, but I loved it. It was challenging in a way that was different than any school work I’d done in the past. I figured I should be spending my time in university learning about the thing I knew the least about. So I switched programs and ended up getting a degree in Computer Science. As someone who liked a variety of subjects, this decision felt like I was closing the least amount of doors.
My interest led to pursuing a career in the industry once I realized the type of problems software could solve are meaningful to me.
Talk to us about your experience as a computer science student at the University of Waterloo. Did you feel like you were supported as a female student? What were the challenges?
After switching from a program that was about 80% women to about 12% women, computer science classes felt like a shock. Because I had never programmed before, I felt like I missed some secret prerequisite that it seemed like everyone else had. It took me some time before I found my people, some friends and TAs, that provided the support I needed.
The best part of my university experience was that it was a co-op program. This means that every four months, I switched between school and internships. The constant job applications felt so overwhelming at the time, but I’m grateful for the exposure I got to a variety of roles and companies in the software industry. I created a really supportive network during my work terms. That gave me a boost of energy needed to get through the next school term.
You’ve worked in non-profits, the government, and tech companies. What stands out to you about the work culture in each of these environments?
Culture varies widely by company industry, size, and values. The public service and non-profits both have opportunities for mission-based work. I’m so proud of the work I’ve done in both of these places. Some tech companies I’ve been at have had more established opportunities for growth and mentorship. I’ve gotten value out of all of them at different points in my career.
As a Code For Canada Fellow, what did you build for the Public Service Commission in Ottawa?
The PSC is responsible for assessing candidates that apply to jobs in the federal public service. This is a large and important task as it determines who works for the government, providing important services to Canadians. I got the opportunity to prototype a digital assessment that tests managerial candidates, by simulating a manager’s inbox that evaluates how they respond to a variety of situations.
What were the challenges of implementing new practices and technology in the Canadian government? How did you overcome them?
Fellowships like Code for Canada exist to create an exchange of ideas between the two worlds: private tech with modern best practices and government with important standards around privacy, security, and access.
The processes and technologies we used for our project were a big change for our colleagues in the PSC [Public Service Commission], who hadn’t introduced a new technology stack in over 15 years. To pull this off we had to build a lot of trust with our team and our stakeholders. I wrote up a blog called “Introducing a New Tech Stack To Government” on some of the strategies we used in the process.
You talk about the difference between mentors and role models and the importance of each. Can you explain that?
I’ve been fortunate and grateful to have supportive mentors throughout my career, people who have helped me set and achieve professional goals and solve challenges along the way. They helped me get the skills to be good at my job.
I didn’t start to see a future for myself in the industry until I worked with other women developers who had leadership qualities and skills I wanted to have. These women were not always mentors, but their presence and confidence in the workplace gave me the confidence to feel I belong in this industry.
My mentors help me level up and my role models give me the inspiration to keep doing so. Both are important.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work outside of a traditional tech company?
Tech companies are specialized in recruiting and hiring people in tech, so those opportunities are the ones you are going to see the most. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other great jobs out there, especially if you’re more passionate about what technology can solve than technology itself.
It just means you might have to look harder for those jobs or reach out to companies you’re interested in directly. I got an internship at one of the non-profits I worked for, even though one wasn’t posted and they didn’t hire interns at the time, because I reached out to them. This extra effort is worth it because there is incredible work happening outside of tech startups and big tech.
Quick fire round
When I can’t solve a bug, I…
start from scratch and find a pair! Explaining my process aloud helps.
My favorite programming language is…
Dream company to work for…
I’m pretty open – I like the variety I’ve had in my career so far and I hope that doesn’t stop.
If I had unlimited resources, I would develop (insert app / technology)…
a completed personal website! It feels like it’s always under construction.
In 5 years time, I want to…
be in a leadership position, just not sure if I’m more interested in tech or people management.