Conversations #76: Calli Rogers, Director, Data Engineering, CapTech Ventures
Can you tell us about your career journey?
I started as a science major in college and switched to a big data degree. There I learned GIS, data mining, data cleaning, data warehousing, and relational databases. All of my electives were developer classes. I took Python, Java, and Visual Basic.
I got my first job working for a large health insurance company in Pennsylvania. I was bouncing between Oracle PL/SQL and Java services work. After a couple of years, I needed a change of scenery, so I started consulting with CapTech as a Java services developer provider, doing more data-centric work.
My next opportunity was cloud-based doing data engineering work, much more hands-on with the infrastructure. I'm now considered an expert in two of the three big clouds, AWS and GCP, and a subject matter expert in Snowflake.
There have been a few transitions in your career before being a data engineer. How and why did you make those transitions?
I switched to big data because I like getting my hands on data. I like making information out of data. I like making sense of things. Transitioning from a software engineer doing Java services to a data engineer was a very natural transition for me.
I moved from Java services which were more object-oriented considering how the services interact with the UI, to thinking about how to interact with the data. Taking that step back in the stack at a very high level, that's where I've been since.
I've gone from On-Prem to the cloud. As the industry shifted, I had to shift. I went from MapReduce and Hadoop to Spark, to now we have tools like AWS Glue, some of the drag and drop tools like Matillion, and then being able to manage the infrastructure.
How has CapTech supported you professionally and individually?
CapTech is fantastic. When I was a Java services developer in my first few years, I went to data leadership and said, "I want to be in the data space. How do I switch?" The data engineering lead at the time said, "Here is a list of skills that we are trying to staff. Here is what our clients are looking for. Here is what we need out of consultants." I could take that list and do a lot of stuff on my own time.
I started learning all those tools and concepts and went back to data leadership and said, "I understand this in theory, what can I do to get some more hands-on experience?" They connected me to mentors, worked with me, and guided me.
They then switched me out of a Java services role into a data engineering role and gave me the opportunity to grow and develop. CapTech has fostered my growth and kept in line with my interests.
One of the core values of CapTech is intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm, and that keeps me driving. It's an important core part of the company.
What tools and techniques are you using as a data engineer, and how easy have they been to adopt in your new career?
Tools are abundant. Everyone uses something different. Once you learn the concepts and techniques of those tools, they become levers to help you do your job well. It's more important to learn ETL versus ELT, the benefits of On-Prem versus cloud, and when to use hybrid or managed services versus your infrastructure.
I'm in the process of working with a bunch of junior CapTechers who want to get into the data engineering space. We are not teaching them all the tools, but we're teaching them skills like Python and ensuring they have advanced SQL. We’re also ensuring they’ve got the basics of DevOps and understand GitHub and some core service development pieces. Once you learn those, the tools come second nature.
Nowadays many organizations are offering data engineering, data science, and AI courses. Do you see the need for formal education in those emerging professions?
I don't. Formal education is excellent, I have a degree in big data, and it helped propel me toward my career, but I'm very self-taught in a lot of emerging tech. You need to get some core capabilities down, which can also be self-taught. The industry is moving too fast, and formal education can't keep up. You're better off getting a subscription to A Cloud Guru, DataCamp, or Codecademy.
I bought books that were out of date the day I got them. Data science, ML, AI, and data engineering are moving so fast. There's a new term in the industry, “ML engineering” because data engineering wasn't specific enough. You need very specific skill sets to be able to build pipelines and move data for ML developers and AI developers. How you interact with data differs from how you interact with data for basic analytics and reporting.
It's constantly changing, it's always shifting. I think formal education is a fantastic option for getting a solid footing to start with, but once you get there, Google is your best friend, and you've just got to start digging into it on your own and learning and reading blogs.
How do soft skills complement tech skills in technical professions?
Those soft skills help propel your career, even if you're not a consultant. You have to be able to interact with business counterparts and talk non-technically to people. If you don't develop those soft skills, you may be the best at what you do, but if you can't communicate what you're doing and how you're doing it, you'll never get beyond engineer II.
Once you get into those senior roles, people expect you to start mentoring the junior positions. CapTech put me through a leadership program where I had to learn about emotional intelligence. They did an EQ (emotional quotient) test instead of an IQ test, and I did not score well. I took a lot of lessons learned from that.
I've worked very closely with my coach. At CapTech, you own your career, but you have coaches to help guide you and move you through your career. I've worked with other mentors, who helped me build those soft skills. I'm technical first, and I always have been, but if I took that EQ test again, I would rate it much higher.
Being a woman in the tech profession, what are the significant challenges you’ve faced? How you have overcome those challenges?
I worked for a large health insurance company, and there was a particular architect that did not like me, and at one point, point told me that I would never be as good as my male counterparts because women don't think the same way men do. I was in my first two years out of college, and that was a big blow, especially from someone with 15 years of experience.
Fortunately, none of my other co-workers felt that way, and I was able to build a support network. All my mentors were male, but that never stopped them from treating me like everybody else. I was very fortunate in that regard.
Being an engineer, more often than not I was the only woman on the team. And even when there were other women, as I moved into a leadership role, many of the senior architects, executives, and VPs were male.
I had to reassure myself that I’d earned my spot at the table. One of the biggest things I have struggled with is the difference in attitude. I can't approach a topic the same way one of my male counterparts does. If they get very authoritative, they come off as a to-the-point person. If I do the same thing, I don’t come off as well. They dismiss me and think I'm annoying.
What I do is stick to my guns when I know I'm right on something or I don't think my opinion is being heard, and I need it to be heard. I have no problem being louder than the loudest person in the room. It's not necessarily the best approach, and it doesn't work for everybody, but it works for me. Another way I've handled that is by finding allies, whether they be male or female. They can help to give my voice leverage in a room if somebody interrupts.
What are you passionate about outside of your work? How do you balance your work and life routine?
Take your PTO, please. I don't care who listens to this male, female, alien species, take your PTO. I learned that the hard way, I burnt out a few years ago, and it took me months, if not years, to recover.
Set your boundaries. I have a separate work profile scheduled from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM on my phone. At 6:00 PM, it shuts off, and I don't get notifications till 8:00 AM It's great. I try to make sure my time is used effectively. There are many times when a meeting could have been an email, or I am doing something someone else could be handling. Don't be afraid to say no, I have too much on my plate.
As far as my time, I love playing video games. I love playing video games with my friends. I was just recently playing a dinosaur survival game called Ark. On top of that, I have a dog that I've had since he was 3 years old. He's 11-ish now. He was a rescue, so we don't know much about his background. We got a DNA test done, and he returned ten variations of Terrier.
What advice would you give to women looking to join the tech profession?
If you're good in this profession, it's lucrative. However, there is a wage gap. Find a company that values you as you, not because you fill a diversity bucket. When they value you as you, they pay you as you, not as a female.
Intellectual curiosity is essential. Always be learning. If I do the same thing for over a few years, I get bored out of my skull. I love consulting because I get to bounce from project to project and constantly learn something new. It's hard. Sometimes there are days when I wish I just knew the answer and didn't have to learn something new. But for the most part, being able to learn constantly is essential.
You have to love what you do in this field to be successful at it. Otherwise, you'll stagnate and lose all of the benefits. Don't stagnate in this field. Be prepared to constantly learn and say to somebody, "I don't know, but I'll find out." It's one of my favorite phrases. I love saying that. The money's good, don't let yourself be sold short; always be learning and passionate about what you're doing.