Dev Interview: Launching a career as an enterprise developer in Austin, Chapter 2
A multi-part interview series chronicling three new enterprise developers. Follow them as they move to Austin, Texas to launch their careers and adjust to life…
Chapter 2, Moving to Austin and adulting
While getting a job offer as a young professional is a momentous occasion (Chapter 1), it often represents the start of a long and challenging journey. For our trio of young developers, Diana, Luc and Da-In, it was time to uproot themselves from their homes in New Jersey, Florida and Georgia to settle down in a new and vibrant city, Austin! Along with a new job, starting a new career often means a new life and a lot of adjustment. Let’s drop in on our intrepid developers to see what’s going on as they move to the ATX.
Q1 – What did you know about Austin before leaving to move? How was the relocation experience?
Luc Olsthoorn – Developer Advocate: I had been to Austin about 2 years prior on a road trip. I vaguely remember going to Rainey Street and the outdoor lifestyle, so I had a basic idea of what to look for. To find a place to live, the first thing I did was try to calculate how much money I could spend. Touring places virtually is somewhat hard, but I found going on google maps and virtually driving around the area gave me a good feel to where I might be living. Also my apartment choices were narrowed down by who actually responded to my emails. Austin has a VERY competitive market for apartments.
For the actual move, fortunately most of my college possessions went straight into the dumpster, returning to their original home. The rest I shipped and the apartment held on to it until I arrived. For myself, on the other hand, I drove from South Florida to Austin, making a road trip out of it with my sister. We spent a week and saw all that the South has to offer.
Da-in Ryoo – Developer Advocate: My time and experience in Austin during my internship was pretty limited. I didn’t have access to a car to get around and explore. And I wasn’t about to spend all my intern money on Ubering everywhere! IBM provided housing right next to the office, in what’s mostly a shopping area called The Domain. So my tiny, one-dimensional view of Austin was essentially just this outdoor mall I was living in.
For my full-time job, I actually came down to Austin with my longtime college roommate and her boyfriend because they both somehow found jobs here after I got my offer. She and I were both overwhelmingly anxious, detail-obsessed and similarly neurotic people. So with our combined powers, plus our excitement about moving to a new city, we spent weeks intensely researching apartments around the office. Our GPAs probably would’ve been a few points higher if we’d spent that same burning energy into our classes. We had this ridiculous spreadsheet listing all viable units in a nearby vicinity, their exact square feet, commute time, years they were built, estimated rent and fees, links to the complexes’ Yelp and apartments.com reviews, everything… We even used our spring break to fly to Austin and just do apartment tours. We ended up signing our lease during the trip and flew back signed up for our new apartment, months before we were actually coming back.
Diana Galarza – Developer Advocate: Honestly, I knew little to nothing about Austin when I interviewed. But after getting the offer, I did a bit of research and started to feel more comfortable with the idea of moving here. It sounded like it could be a good place for a new grad like me because of the cost of living and how it was an up-and-coming tech hub. The actual move to Austin however, was kind of a crazy, stressful experience. I guess part of me wanted to stay home for as long as I possibly could. I ended up giving myself only a week to get settled in before my first day of work. Back home, I had already been looking at apartments online, but I still wanted to check them out in person. So the day I flew in, exhausted, I went on about six apartment tours and signed a lease the next day.
Another thing I wasn’t anticipating was the limited amount of public transit. Back home, I had the option to take a bus, train, subway, or the lightrail, and could basically get to NYC from NJ in ten minutes. In Texas, you really have no choice but to get a car unless you wanted to wait long periods of time for a bus to get somewhere and back. So the day after I moved in, I went and got my very first car! Now all that was left to do was learn how to pump gas myself… (Ed. – New Jersey and Oregon are the only states that do not allow self-serve gasoline.)
Da-in: Yeah one of the first things I ever sent Diana on Slack was a step-by-step explanation on how to pump gas. I was even there for her first time, really an honor.
Q2 – How was your orientation experience at IBM? Challenging? Was the company what you expected?
Luc: My on-boarding was to put it lightly: interesting. The position I had interviewed for was no longer available, and so they put me in a new role, doing Java support on a legacy product. The team telecommuted and I was left in a metaphorical and literal, dark room.
Although the team did their best to integrate me, I could tell that the position was not for me. I made a bit of a fuss to my hiring manager, my old internship manager, as well as the manager of the team I was supposed to be on. Given my concerns, IBM acted instantly and within the first week Al, our current manager, called and asked me to join his team. It was an almost perfect fit. I accepted the next day and started working the next week. The entire process was rough but I thoroughly appreciate the time IBM took to give me an appropriate position.
Da-in: I interned at the Design Studio, learned about the world of IBM Design, breathed the same air as designers. I was going to return full-time as a front-end developer at the studio. I’d met with my future manager, even learned that one of my friends from the internship was going to be on my team! I was ready to leave the world of engineering!
And then suddenly, a few weeks before I was supposed to start, I got an email saying I was changing teams. There were some funding issues or something. I was now going to be a software engineer with the IBM Developer team. Same Austin location, but a whole separate building from the beautiful Design Studio. Like Luc, I was first contacted by Al. We spoke about what the team did and what I would be doing, but I honestly was confused and rattled. On my first day of work, I was shown the quiet little office I’d be in. The opposite of the bright, colorful, open office design of the studio. No more hip, modern working environment with chatter and movement everywhere, post-it notes on random walls, and blurred concepts of personal space. Instead, I was alone with my laptop, in an office with a door.
I might’ve been projecting, but my new teammates seemed as confused about my arrival as I was. But everyone was incredibly welcoming. Al made sure I was comfortable from the start. I was told to work with Angela on our internal developer advocacy tool and I clung onto her for survival. Questions about peoples’ names, how to set up my laptop, where the bathroom was. And everyone on the team seemed really close and friendly, having lunch together every day, going out for beers once a week. The shared eating time was a great way to get to know everyone and it definitely helped me calm down and warm up to the team.
Diana: I actually had the chance to meet some other new hires through a Slack channel and plan some outings the weekend before I started work. Bar-hopping downtown with the cohort was so much fun and a highlight for sure! Making new friends definitely helped me get settled in as I started this new life. Although we were all on different teams, it was nice to have this new hire support system since we were sorta all on this journey together.
As for onboarding, my manager and team made me feel like family right from the start. Starting a new job is always a nerve-racking experience not only because of the actual work but also not knowing if you’ll fit in with the team you’re on. Yet from day one, I knew I was gonna love it here. My team is made up of some of the best and brightest people I have come to know. Any doubt I had about IBM being a good fit for me was gone.
Q3 – What efforts did you make with your personal life as you settled into Austin? Favorite food and eats in the area?
Da-in: Because I’d come here with friends, I was really lucky and had an initial support system. Without them, I probably would’ve been lonely coming home to an empty apartment every day after working an unfamiliar job, with unfamiliar teammates, in an unfamiliar city. There were also the few people from the internship that had received return offers in Austin, and I got to reconnect with and become even closer to them.
This was something I was always afraid of, making new friends as an adult. How are you supposed to do that? There’s no more forced interaction in a classroom setting, or a convenient gathering of like minded, similarly aged people stressing about the same things, swarming around you at every moment. I got really lucky that the universe blessed me with some semblance of a social network pretty much the moment I arrived in Austin.
I’m pretty unpicky about food, so every beef brisket I’ve tried in Austin has been great, every beer in Austin has been great. There’s definitely people out there with very strong opinions about what they think is the objective best barbecue in the city, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed all I’ve tried. Beyond meat and alcohol though, my favorite places so far have been Uzeat, Habesha, and the beautiful HMart food court.
A really interesting place I’ve found here is a little green area called Mayfield Park, where I’ve watched people take what were probably quinceanera, prom, and wedding photoshoots. It has cute ponds and gardens and… peacocks!!! Free range peacocks. Just wandering around, looking pretty. I took my visiting friend there once and we ate banh mi while we watched the birds threateningly approach our bread crumbs.
Luc: Unlike Da-in, I knew nobody when I moved here. I was well versed in this, because when I spent summers at different internships, in different states, it was very similar. Being able to deal with that loneliness and actively try to make new friends is very difficult, especially when you just want your old friends to hang with.
Thankfully the apartment I moved into had a bunch of very similar people and I was able to socialize pretty much instantly. When everyone is drinking white claws on the rooftop pool, it makes it pretty easy. I also spent a lot of time doing the things I enjoyed and hoping I would find some lost souls doing them as well.
Some hidden restaurant gems that I wish I knew about earlier (most defunct as of right now because of Covid): Ultimate Frisbee @IBM, Rositas Al Pastor, Craft Pride: Live music, Driveway Austin Race Track, COTA: Cars and Coffee
Diana: If it weren’t for the other new hires I met at the beginning, I would’ve been pretty lonely. I also would’ve never tried some activities, such as rock climbing, if they hadn’t convinced me to go. I found that Austin was a different kind of city from the one I was used to. I was able to do a lot more outdoor activities and more frequently like hiking trails, hitting up swimming holes and paddle boarding. Some of my favorite spots are Barton Springs and the Bull Creek Greenbelt.
Thanks to my team who are Austin locals, I got to try some of the best food and drinks in town. Out of all the micro-breweries we’ve gone for happy hour, I think my favorites are The Brewtorium and Austin Beerworks. They have pretty good ciders which are my go-to. As for BBQ, I would have to say Stiles Switch BBQ, not only for the brisket, but their mac and cheese is so good too! For music, if you’re looking for a dance club that plays mostly indie/pop, I would say check out Barbarella! Saturdays are the best.
Chapter 2, Close
As anyone who has moved to a new city knows, the process can be super challenging but also incredibly rewarding. Now settled in a bit into IBM and learning how to balance life and work, it’s time to start learning how to be a professional, enterprise developer. Which is a LOT different than academic learning and chasing good grades. And when you have over 300,000 people at a company the size of IBM, learning the ropes can require some ninja-like skills! Join us for the next installment of Dev Interview as Luc, Da-In and Diana get thrown into the deep end of the techie pool.