Jess worked as an Apprentice for almost a year and exited MAXX Potential as a distinguished Alum, making it all the way to level 4.
What were you doing before MAXX Potential? What drew you to pursue a career in technology?
I used to manage a local bicycle courier company, Quickness RVA. We contracted with a small web agency, KNOWN, to build an online ordering platform. I ended up joining the agency as a project manager. I was drawn in out of curiosity mostly. The problems seemed diverse and challenging, there were always a million ways you could accomplish a goal. It also seemed very stable compared to service industry work.
I shifted from project management to coding because that was the most interesting part of projects to me, writing business logic and dealing with servers.
Can you talk about what you’re currently working on? What are some of your job responsibilities?
I work on AWS's web application firewall (WAF) service. WAF is a layer 7 firewall that sits in front of customer services to inspect request content and apply security rules. My team owns bot control, captcha, account-takeover, and other detection-related features. Dealing with bots is cool because it is something of a cat and mouse game. You can get better and better at detecting and mitigating bot traffic, but bot makers are also always evolving and disguising their networks. And the targets are very diverse - web crawlers/scrapers, account takeover bots, scalpers, etc.
In my day-to-day, I do a good mix of cloud architecture/design work, application coding, and DevOps.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your current role?
We own and operate our service, with no separate ops team. So building a feature isn't just writing some code, it's figuring out where it lives and how we deploy it and make sure it is working. Not to mention, pinning down what our users need and what would be most impactful for us to build.
And because of the scale we're working at, there are a whole new set of challenges around orchestration, monitoring, performance, etc. It really keeps you on your toes and makes you learn a lot of new technologies.
How do you keep your skills up to date? What’s the best way to learn new concepts, technologies, programming languages, etc.?
Mostly through work. I make sure to take jobs where I will learn new things and continually be challenged.
At somewhere like MAXX, you are exposed to something different just about every project. Frontend work, security work, APIs, native apps, robotic process automation - I did all of those in my time at MAXX. You get really good at jumping into something new and figuring out your way around.
You don't get quite as much variety if you aren't at an agency, but you can still stay sharp and seek out opportunities to bring in new technologies.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone early in their IT career or looking to get their start?
Find a way, now, to do the sorts of things you want to do at a job, later. Donate work to a local org, build something for a friend, contribute to an OS project, etc.
I see people who just study and study, have a portfolio full of practice projects or went to a boot camp. But in interviews, employers want to hear about problems you solved and how you did it. They are trying to figure out how you work. You need to have a way to show that to them.