We recently caught up with Leen Bitar, a Software Engineer at T. Rowe Price on her journey into the Technology team.
What does a tech graduate do? What does a typical day in the life look like?
As an associate on the Technology team at T. Rowe Price (we refer to employees as ”associates” at the firm), you will tend to work with a team on a project. Projects usually consist of building a product for a set of internal users within our Investments or Distribution businesses or in other Technology teams. If you enjoy continuous learning, thrive on seeking out new information, and have an aptitude for solving logical puzzles, then you have the qualities to succeed in such a role. It’s important that you stay curious.
There are a wide and varied range of tasks that a tech graduate at T. Rowe Price will have to complete—from data analysis to writing software specifications. The fun aspect of working in Technology is that there are usually plenty of different ways to complete the work. There are also a number of tools that can be used to solve these problems.
I usually start my day by checking emails, as well as any alerts that may have been raised overnight. If any problems have occurred, I immediately try to find the root cause to help rectify the issue. This is arguably one of the most enjoyable aspects of working in Tech: trying to debug and logically reverse-engineer an issue. We have short, daily update calls where we also discuss any blockers, share information, and try to find solutions as a team. The rest of the day is dedicated to completing whatever tasks I have picked up. Although you could be working on the same project for a number of years, the short-term tasks you’ll be required to complete are usually very different.
As part of the Development team, we usually have weekly or biweekly demos where different groups in the team will showcase what they have recently built. There are also demos at the organizational level, where you get to see what other teams in Technology have been working to deliver and understand the details of their implementation. Another weekly meeting that takes place is with the eventual end users of the products that I’m working on delivering as part of my project work. These meetings are essential, as they help me to understand user expectations, as well as obtain ongoing feedback on the progress I’m making.
Is there a task or project that you’ve worked on that has stood out to you?
During my time at T. Rowe Price, I have mainly worked on a large-scale data project, which has offered me the opportunity to work on a wide range of tasks. The most interesting and useful tool I picked up early on in my career, which afforded me the ability to work on a varied set of problems, was the programming language Python. This is the most widely recommended programming language to learn as a first step because of its simple syntax (or grammar), as it’s similar to learning a human language. It also can be used for a wide range of tasks like Web development, machine learning, or just exploring sets of data. I found that being able to use a programming language can be a very powerful tool for any role that deals with data, whether that’s within technology or otherwise.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting?
The most valuable insight I can share is that attitude determines outcome. Your attitude toward what you can achieve will direct what you will achieve. Starting a career in any domain can be a little daunting for a recent graduate, as it introduces new structure, social context, and communication patterns. I have learned how important it is to (1) accept that continuous failures are an integral part of any successful journey and (2) maintain grit and an assured, curious, can-do attitude for building a successful career in technology. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Acquiring more information will always leave you in a better place than where you started, at least when it comes to technical information!
How did you become a tech graduate? What was your journey into the role?
I joined T. Rowe Price through a tech graduate consultancy. I had completed an undergraduate degree in finance and did not have any background in computer science. I started out working on the business side of technology, looking at technology from a high-level organizational perspective. Having completed some basic technical training at the consultancy, I was interested in expanding my knowledge and in being more involved in projects and detailed low-level technical work. I spoke to my manager at the time, who was very supportive and facilitated my involvement in project work by speaking to other technology managers.
I ended up working on a data project as a business analyst. I was the most junior and what felt like the least skilled member of the project team. However, I was very lucky to work with team members who were highly skilled and who were always happy to take time to provide detailed explanations of both basic and complicated concepts to enable me to grow and succeed in the role. I slowly built up my technical skills and general knowledge around data and software delivery, working as a technical business analyst across the different teams on the data project for three years. More recently, I transferred into a software engineering role. This wasn’t a very easy move as this type of role requires even more finely tuned knowledge in computer science and programming. Most other engineers on the team had completed a computer science degree or had been in the industry for longer than I had. This meant that I had more work and learning to do and feeling like a junior team member yet again after four years on the project!
The important point I’m trying to share is that feeling short of knowledge or lacking confidence in what you’re able to offer in a job is the norm, especially as a graduate. It’s important not to forget that any successful person in any career, regardless of their background, has spent a considerable amount of time gaining knowledge and building their skills. They have almost certainly had many failures and at one point were the most junior person with the least knowledge on their team.
What top tips would you give to Bright Network members wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Reiterating the points made above about having the right attitude and always asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. You could spend a lot of time trying to find a solution when you could just ask someone who already has the information and experience to help. This does not detract from the time you’ll have to invest learning and practicing. But realizing that it’s also OK to ask questions when needed will enable you to work smarter. Try not to be overwhelmed by the thought of learning complicated concepts. Everything can be learned and simplified by breaking things down into smaller parts.
Secondly, communication can arguably be more important than technical skills. Regardless of how skilled you become or the amount of knowledge you obtain over the course of your career, it’s hugely valuable to be able to communicate your ideas and skillset with others. It’s similarly important to be able to listen to and understand other people’s ideas. Keep developing your communication skills. Always try to be as clear as possible by simplifying any concept or idea you’re communicating.
On the topic of communication, I would always recommend communicating your goals to your manager and other team members. If you don’t ask for the change you are working toward, then it most likely isn’t going to happen.
Having a mentor is also invaluable. It’s worth enquiring about any mentoring programs you could potentially join at the organization you work for. A mentor will help answer your questions and provide career insights that could take you a lot longer to obtain on your own. A mentor can also help you to home in on your career trajectory by encouraging you to set goals and objectives.
Don’t be afraid of, or disheartened by, failure. Failure promotes learning and growth, whether that’s when interviewing, within a certain role, or in completing a simple task. Failure is an indicator of ambition. If you always succeed in what you’re doing, this could point to the fact that you are not being challenged enough! It’s a lot more difficult to learn from successes than from failures, and as hard as it may be, you should always embrace your failures. Try again, and don’t be afraid. I found that the cliché of ”get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable” has a lot of truth to it after all.
Finally, there is a perception that females entering the technology field and the financial services sector will face a predominantly male-dominated environment. While there are challenges that females face in such an environment, they have shifted immensely in recent years and are not as daunting as they may seem. Colleagues are very supportive and do not differentiate between team members. Everyone is willing to listen to the ideas of any other team member, regardless of their gender or background. If you have an aptitude for learning and willingness to collaborate, there are no barriers to being successful.