Engineering and Product

Laura Yang, Back-end Developer at Kernel

From dreams of becoming a vet to falling in love with the ability to creatively solve problems through computer programming, Laura Yang, Back-end Developer at Kernel shares insight into her career journey.

We caught up with Laura to hear what a typical day in her life entails, what she loves about her role and some guidance for others that might want to follow a similar path.

Thanks for sharing your story, Laura.

How would you explain to a five-year-old what you do for work?

My job is complicated, so I'd start from tech that every five-year-old knows - YouTube!

I would ask, "Do you know how many cartoons there are on YouTube?"

They might answer, "Millions!"

Then I would ask another question, "When you tell YouTube you want to watch the first season of Peppa Pig, do you know how YouTube found it for you?" A hard question for a five-year-old!

I would explain that finding the right video requires things called programs and databases.

The reason YouTube can find the video is because the video is stored in the database - like a big online library - and the program tells the computer how to find and display it.

Not only does YouTube find and display your videos, it also protects the videos from being corrupted or deleted by someone, makes sure you can watch it on your TV, laptop, or mobile, and much more.

As part of a programmer team, we work together to make all of those pieces work!

And for the adults, what does a typical day-in-the-life look like?

I always start the day at work with a routine stand-up meeting with my team. After that I reply to emails and Slack messages. Since I usually have a few meetings each day I plan my day around those.

The rest of the day is spent on working with my team to produce new features or changes that make the Kernel platform better and more useful to our customers! This involves working through the layers required such as databases, API endpoints, and collaboration with the front end.

Sometimes I pair with a teammate to do "peer programming", so we can work on the same problem together. In a tech team we also review code for each other, so that we're all on the same page. That's important as we're all working from the same code base.

Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not what was?

Haha, definitely not! I remember that when I was a kid, my dream was to be a vet.

My grandpa was living in the countryside while I was a kid and he kept a lot of animals - chickens, cows and sheep. I spent almost all the school holidays at my Grandpa's home, and what I remember most was the local vet visiting when the cows got sick. I watched the vet work without blinking!

In my little heart at that time, I thought being a vet was the best job in the world. Not only do you work closely with animals and keep them healthy, but it also seemed like very rewarding work because everyone (especially the kids) loved and respected the vet.

As I got older and started taking more science and maths courses, it became clearer to me that I wanted something creative and challenging. I loved to analyse and problem solve using mathematics.

Then I fell in love with programming at university, within my first few classes I found that programming is such a powerful way to problem solve.

What are some of the most interesting challenges that you face in your role currently and what makes it interesting?

I think as a back-end developer at Kernel, the most interesting challenge that I now face is how to understand the customers.

Without understanding the customers, we can't build something that they will use and love.

Understanding the customer is the foundation of our development work - the very beginning of the software development life cycle is called research and ideation, which is about understanding the client's expectations and motivations.

To be called a success, the software needs to be considered successful from the customers perspective.

This is a challenge because in general, developers don't usually interact directly with our users. Developers design, build and test features using code, but to do that right you need to understand the motivation behind a customers decision making.

So, the tech team at Kernel has done a few things to understand our customers needs and turn this information into actionable results, including conducting customer interviews, shadowing our Customer Success team to understand common themes, and analysing customer data generally.

All of these steps help me to build a better product for our customers!

Tell us a little bit more about your career pathway and ultimately how you got into your current role Kernel?

Looking back at university my major was electronic engineering, but during that time I already started to use different programming languages.

After graduation, my first job was as a firmware engineer in a mobile chip company.

Firmware development is somewhere between hardware development and software development, so I could explore both. After a few months, I found my passion for software programming.

In 2014 I decided to move to New Zealand, where I studied at Unitec, majoring in Software Engineering. After graduation I landed my first job in NZ as a .Net developer in a digital agency, where I worked for 2 years. Then I joined a startup health-tech company as a software engineer for another 2 years.

After working in these companies, I realised that I want to work in a company with great people with whom I could interact, learn from and continue to grow as a developer.

Now I've been working at Kernel for 1 year as a Back-End developer. Since my previous experience was very relevant, that helped me to progress quickly. I love the part of my job which is being able to continue learning and picking up new skills, and extending my knowledge about software development.

There are many talented programmers at Kernel, and because the company is growing so fast, I always see new faces joining. It's exciting to grow with the company and work with great people, so I was really happy to be part of the Kernel team.

What do you love about your role and why should others consider the career path?

The first part is that you are using your skills to build something that makes peoples' lives easier. And especially for me - I love the vision of Kernel, which is to help Kiwis grow their wealth. This can lead to a sense of achievement and pride.

Another aspect is that as a developer, you always have opportunities to learn new skills and wear multiple hats in the team. This helps me to keep learning and leverage my experience in various aspects in software engineering.

Lastly, programming is about teamwork, and working with the team at Kernel has been a delight. You get the chance to be involved in the software development lifecycle as well as communicate with different people (and learn from them) at different stages.

For people interested in following a similar path, what are the key skills or attributes that you think are important and where can people get started?

I think the willingness to learn is enough to get started in programming. There are many different industries, roles and languages in tech, so you can easily find a place where your passion lies. More importantly, it's never too late to start!

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