Jen Duong — Full-stack developer at Caution Your Blast
We talk to Jen about the importance of mentorship, seeing the impact of your work and taking an unconventional route into tech.
- Tagged Interview
- Posted 14th September
As two early twenty-year-olds, it doesn’t take long for us to discuss fashion as I notice Jen wearing a really cool pair of ‘Old Skool’ Vans. After discussing the important fashion-related questions we quickly move on to discuss Jen’s journey into Tech, both armed with a caffeinated drink.
Jen is now 23 and working as a full-stack developer at Caution Your Blast.
"I ended up pouring myself into the coding. It was a hardcore crash course into web development."
“I had always been good at the sciences at school — they didn’t offer a computer science course at GCSE so I pursued the traditional science subjects.”
With a natural affinity to the sciences, a traditional career in engineering or even medicine would have been an understandable route. “I did really well at the sciences so thought maybe I should become a doctor — follow a more traditional path. As the child of first-generation immigrant parents, there is a natural draw to the traditional careers.”
However, during her studies, Jen began to work with her brother who ran the software company, ON. “I started to help him out while at school. I ended up pouring myself into the coding. It was a hardcore crash course into web development. I learned how to Google stuff well!”
With this experience, Jen soon applied for, and landed, an internship at Octopus Labs where she worked during her gap year. “It was a great opportunity where they offered technical internships to state school students — I was kind of working two jobs, it was a lot!”
The internship was meant to last for a couple of weeks but Jen ended up staying close to a year. “I think they were impressed how I could go away and do things without much help.”
Jen had been applying to universities during this time and received an offer from Goldsmiths University to study computer science but with the experience she was gaining she decided against it. “I had an offer but I thought, I’m getting paid to learn here.”
“I was too scared I was going to break things when I started out — my advice would be to be less scared and just do."
After working at Octopus Labs and for her brother’s company, the time came to move on. Jen moved to where she has now been for just over four years, Caution Your Blast. I wanted to know if Jen, without a traditional computer science degree, felt any sense of imposter syndrome working in high-quality and high-paced technical environments. “I maybe did feel that when I was starting out as if I was missing some of the fundamentals, but I love learning. If I ran into a problem I would Google it, explore it and absorb it… also, while people may have had more knowledge, I had experience working in a tech environment which allowed me to apply what I knew more easily.”
Beyond entering without a computer science degree I wanted to know whether Jen felt trepidation about entering a very male-dominated industry. “You’ll get the vibe from specific companies as to what their environment is like. For example, I could tell when I did the code test for Caution Your Blast that, while they were interested in my technical ability, they also just wanted to see how we would work together. A company where you can grow and have learning opportunities is the place you should be working.”
Caution Your Blast has offered the environment for Jen to continue her development. “We’ve created a culture of growth and humility, a place where we embrace failure and aren’t afraid to ask questions.”
Jen is reflective of the fact her career choice allows her to see the direct impact of her work. “I think that’s the main thing developers love: you can instantly see the impact of your work. With other careers, you might not realise the effect of your research/study for a long time.”
Jen has recently seen this first hand working on two exciting projects with Caution Your Blast. A form builder with the Government where she manages the open-source community working on it and secondly a project called Give A Little that minimises the barriers for charities to take donations. “We’re now thinking about building an iOS app for this and working on allowing charity workers to take donations using the NFC reader built into their phones.”
I ask the advice Jen would give someone from a non-traditional background going into tech so that they can make the most of the opportunities a career in tech can offer. Jen emphasises the importance of mentorship here. “I think for people specifically from non-traditional backgrounds there is an imposter syndrome that can kick in but your mentor is the person who has gone through all of that — they can see that you have that potential. There is a mutual buy-in — they trust in you and your potential, you have to do the same. They are there to guide you.”
Finally, Jen offers a gem of advice for people starting out in tech. “I was too scared I was going to break things when I started out — my advice would be to be less scared and just do. When you work in an agile environment it’s about failing fast so you can fix it faster.”