21 mar, 2017

ISL's Marissa Halpert Shares the 5 Lessons She's Learned Since College

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Marissa Halpert was first introduced to IT in high school and has since continued her journey in the ever-changing and growing IT industry. Upon graduating from James Madison University with a Computer Science degree in 2014, she returned to her hometown of Richmond, VA to start her career as a Software Developer at a Fortune 500 company.

Marissa recently relocated to Washington, DC to join iStrategy Labs ISL, an award-winning digital agency acquired by JWT in 2016. Her technical interests include front end technologies, user experience, and advocating for computer science education. She is passionate about closing the gender gap within the IT industry and she is a National Winner of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.

It has been almost three years since she walked across the stage at James Madison University to receive her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Today, as a Web Developer at ISL, she reflects on the top five lessons she has learned thus far.

Technology is different at every company:

Between internships and full time jobs, I have worked at several companies in different industries within IT. The technologies have been different at each company. The methodologies have been different at each company. The approaches to innovation have been different at each company. In my last job, I was working on a web application built with AngularJS 1.3 and the .NET Framework using one browser on one type of device in an agile-scrum environment. The need was very specific. Now, I am working on a large web application that is used on different browsers and devices with a focus on accessibility in an agile-kanban environment. One of the great things about IT is that there are countless combinations of technologies.

Say yes. Say no. Consider every opportunity:

You never know what additional opportunities you will have access to because of a previous opportunity. By saying yes to certain speaking engagements and conferences, I have met some amazing people. At my last job, I had the opportunity to pursue the Certified ScrumMaster, a certification to facilitate scrum development teams within the agile methodology. This was not something directly tied to my job responsibilities, but having the distinction has helped me on many occasions. I believe that my ScrumMaster certification, in addition to other opportunities I have said yes to (and put on my resume), helped me to stand out when I was job searching.

It’s also okay to say no. At times, I have said no to networking or professional opportunities because that was not where I wanted my career to go. I learned the importance of prioritizing my time towards my professional (and personal) goals.

Failing is good:

As long as you learn from it. Just like everyone else, I have faced failure more times than I would like to admit. I have spent many hours trying to solve a problem one way before realizing there is a better or simpler way to solve it. I have learned so much from those situations, including what types of technologies I want to work on and how to solve problems. I have also faced rejection in the forms of jobs that I was not as qualified for, but interested in, conference sessions not being accepted, or rejected requests for outreach funding. These situations have helped guide my interests.

It is okay to ask for help:

In college, I was not someone who frequently went to office hours or raised my hand during class. I spent a lot of time outside of class Googling things that I did not know. I thought that asking questions was a sign of weakness, especially when my classmates were not asking questions. You cannot do that in the real world. It is not efficient to spend hours internalizing a problem when you can ask a more senior developer for help and solve it in a few minutes. It was not until after college when I was working in an open, collaborative space that I got over my fear of asking for help. After all, that was the purpose of no cubicle walls—to increase collaboration. And chances are someone else is wondering the same thing or has asked the same question before.

Do not let someone tell you what you can and cannot do:

To be honest, I learned this lesson in high school, but it is too important to not include. In high school, I attended a specialty program for IT. During my freshman year, while taking a foundations of technology class, my teacher (who happened to be the chairperson of this program) accused me of cheating. According to him, there was no possible way that I (a woman) would be capable of writing a Java program myself; my male classmate must have written it and I copied it. I later proved that I did not cheat on the assignment. He suggested that I quit the program because there was no way that I would ever be successful in this field.

This was my first encounter with discrimination in the IT industry. At the time, it felt like my world was collapsing—I admired this teacher so maybe he knew best what I could achieve. Eventually, I realized he was wrong. Only I could determine what I can and cannot do. Today, that experience continues to be my biggest driving force to succeed. I have proved him wrong by determining myself what I can do. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

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