Career Nav #49: Excel on Your Tech Journey – A Conversation with Liberty Mutual

Career Nav #49: Excel on Your Tech Journey – A Conversation with Liberty Mutual

Written by Samantha Farley & Lauren Sylvain


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Anna Shur-Wilson, Program Manager at Women Who Code for Career Navigation, sits down with Samantha Farley, Technology Associate at Liberty Mutual, and Lauren Sylvain, Software Engineer from our partners at Liberty Mutual to talk about excelling on your tech journey. They discuss the importance of networking, the benefits of management creating a safe space for communication, and keeping an ongoing conversation about your goals and advancement.

When did you have that spark or inspiration to pursue this career, or do you have a memory or experience that made you think like, “Tech is for me. Engineering is for me.”? 

SF: That spark happened my first year in college. I was actually a journalism major. I wanted to write stories for newspapers. I wanted to be a print journalist. I liked the detail orientedness of that field and the nit-picky grammar rules. I really enjoyed that and have a great respect for the journalism community, but I took a web design class as part of my multi-media minor that year. That was my first introduction to code. I realized it’s HTML and CSS, and then we sprinkled in some JavaScript and PHP later on. It was pretty instant I realized that it was going to be a better fit for me with the creative design aspect combined with logical thinking. The combination of those two in a digital setting just kind of scratched that itch for me.

LS: I was working as an operations manager at a website agency. Another developer started showing me how to do some small changes on the front end, and he was super passionate about what he was teaching me. That kind of rubbed off on me, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I went on my own self-learning journey, taking apart websites and rebuilding them. When I first started, it was really overwhelming, but now I’m at a point where I’m writing all that code. It’s been a rewarding journey, but definitely a lot of challenges. Those challenges are what’s drawn me to being a software engineer.

How do you find out about a company’s culture before applying? How do you find a company that you want to stay at? Can you talk a little bit about Liberty Mutual and what stood out when you were looking to jump-start your career?

SF: I went to a career fair and met with a recruiter from Liberty Mutual. I was doing my research, reading up on the companies that were going to be there. I looked at Liberty and it stood out because I was amazed by all of the different ways to get involved in the company. There was a Women in Tech Summit that Liberty was hosting and I’ve always been passionate about women in tech. There’s also the Women in Tech Group at Liberty. It’s a community for women in the tech field to get to know each other, volunteer, contribute to events they’re passionate about and have that sense of community. My actual recruiter at that event stood out to me way more than any other company. She was so genuine and patient and answered all my questions. That really stood out to me as the first glimpse of the company culture.

LS: I came to Liberty through an apprenticeship. The first thing I did when I found out that the company I was matched with for an interview was Liberty, was Google them. I wanted to find everything about Liberty, specifically about the tech program. Liberty had a website that was focused strictly on tech and how they were using it. Once I got into the interview, talking to the manager about the culture and just seeing how the manager interacted with me was important. A big thing for me when looking for a company is I want a strong manager.

Can you tell us a little bit about what your first position was at Liberty Mutual?

SF: When I met with my recruiter, I was interested in a couple of different positions. I knew about the Liberty Mutual tech start internship. I was also interested in an entry level tech start program as well. It is kind of similar to the internship, but it’s a 12-month rotational program for folks looking to enter the tech space in a corporate setting like Liberty. It’s kind of the transition from your academia, boot camp or whatever experience you might have had to ease you into being a software developer at Liberty Mutual. I was interested in both of those roles, and unfortunately I couldn’t enroll in the tech start program, so I applied for the internship and that is the role that I got. I’m now in that rotational program.

Did you take time to learn additional skills or how did you work on showing your values and really letting them know that you wanted to stick around? 

SF: One priority for me in this internship was networking, I knew that was something I wanted to work on. The tech skills that I had are transferable, I think that’s really important. If you know one language really well, you can apply it in different settings. I went to a summer networking event for one of the departments at Liberty. I walked in and instantly started chatting with an associate software engineer. He introduced me to his team in his department. I ended up spending the whole day with them and playing games. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but the current rotation that I’m on, they put me on a team in that same department of the people. Not sure if someone recognized my name and said, “Oh, we want her on this team, we remember her,” or if it was just a coincidence. Either way I’m so glad I had that opportunity to meet with some folks and end up working with them now. It is just kind of full circle in that way. There are virtual opportunities as well. The main one that comes to mind is the Women in Tech group. That’s my plug for networking, but I think it was so valuable for me, it definitely helps me stand out from others in my position.

Can you share a little bit more about the transitions that you’ve had at Liberty Mutual?

LS: I have a non-traditional background in tech. I’ve learned everything from my previous job and my own self-learning. I came upon an apprenticeship through a program called Apprentee, I ended up getting accepted into that program, and then I got matched up with Liberty Mutual. They put you through a boot camp and on-the-job training. I started at Liberty Mutual, actually with the team I’m currently back on now, the HR data services team. I went through my team rotation. I got experience in another section of Liberty that was different from the HR data services team, and then I went into my individual rotation. In my individual rotation I went back to the team that I started on. I was able to kind of grow my skills to get where I am today.

A lot of people in our community can sometimes feel nervous about bringing up the idea of advancement, at what point do you start the conversations about advancement? Do you have any advice to people who are nervous to have that first conversation?

LS: Start from day one, that first time you meet your manager. You want to have ongoing conversations about what they’re looking for and where you need to grow, so you can get to a point where you can get promoted to your next role. I think that if you have those ongoing conversations, it will kind of naturally just happen.

In your experience, how can a manager or company support new hires? How did you feel supported once you did get the job? 

LS: I feel like everyone has impostor syndrome no matter what career you’re in. It was definitely a big thing for me, especially since I had that non-traditional background. My first manager put me at ease because he was so supportive and super pumped that I was there working at Liberty. His main goal was to help me get where I wanted to be, and he made that very clear from the beginning. The developers that I was learning from and working under empowered me.

SF: Impostor Syndrome is a real thing. I think it’s important when looking for a company that you want to work for to know what kind of support they offer. I think the manager has a responsibility to create a safe space for their employees to be able to communicate any concerns that you have. Both managers that I’ve had have kind of set that tone. I’ve always felt comfortable addressing any issues.

What advice would you give someone who’s looking for a job now based on what you wish you knew in the past, but also any other factors that you feel like are happening currently? 

LS: I held myself back in the beginning. If you are coming from a non-traditional background, I would say just believe in yourself. You can come and be a good developer at a company like Liberty Mutual. They’re also looking for people that have non-traditional backgrounds in tech. I would say if you’re having doubts about being good enough, try to push through those and not let it deter you from applying for a job.

SF: The first thing I would tell anybody that’s applying for a job or about to make that step at a career fair or wherever you are in that process, is to first pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve done so far. Celebrate every resume tweak that you’ve made, every cover letter that you’ve written and every portfolio edition or practice coding exam. Whatever it is that you’re doing to prepare, that is a step closer to where you want to be. That should be acknowledged and celebrated. The mental toll of that process is challenging. Have the confidence to know that you can do this. Be open to opportunities that you might think you’re not qualified for, or you might think you might not want to do, or you’re maybe a little curious about, but you’re unsure about going that route. You can go to the interview, learn about it and say, “You know what, this isn’t for me, I’m not going to do it.” Or you can say, “Wow, this is totally different than what I thought, and maybe this is the right thing for me at the right time.”

How do you balance maintaining the day-to-day business goals that you were hired to do with your own personal technical or leadership growth? 

LS: One of the areas where I try to learn new skills is my team actually has around four innovation sprints spread out throughout the year. It’s two weeks of time where a developer gets to choose whatever they want to work on. I try to pick something new that I want to learn, but also something that I could see helping my team. At Liberty, they offer both structured and unstructured learning opportunities. We have a subscription that developers can get to Pluralsight. Many of my teammates have recently taken Python classes. We’re getting into Python, so there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve also done different events. I took part in our annual hackathon in the fall. I got to work with a ton of other different developers, learn from them and work on something new that was outside of the products that my team was working on. Make sure you’re talking to your manager about goals and where you see your career going and what technologies you want to use.

SF: It seems like every couple of months they’re giving us the opportunity to explore a new technology that we’re interested in. If you just want to take that time to learn, that is equally valuable in the company’s eyes. I’ve taken Pluralsight courses on React, and also how to be a good leader in a development setting. The soft and hard skill range of that resource is really impressive. When having that conversation with your manager saying, “These are the skills I’d like to improve on.” Oftentimes, your manager might come up with a solution or an idea that you hadn’t considered.

What is one takeaway about what the apprenticeship meant for your career, what would you want people to know about that? 

LS: The apprenticeship helped instill confidence in me that I think I was lacking. I was able to go on this journey with other developers who were also going through the same journey and going through some of the same things. Through that shared experience I was able to see where I fit in the tech industry. The biggest thing for me was definitely having those supportive managers and I’m excited to keep building on that.

SF: My biggest takeaway is networking and being able to explore different parts of the company, meeting new people and learning about the different departments. You don’t live to work, you work to live. Work-life balance is huge for me and that internship really showed me that Liberty makes that a priority. People are still very motivated in their jobs here, but there is that balance.


Guest: Samantha Farley, Technology Associate at Liberty Mutual
Lauren Sylvain, Software Engineer from our partners at Liberty Mutual
Host: Anna Shur-Wilson, Program Manager at Women Who Code for Career Navigation
Producer: Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager, Women Who Code