LaBrina Loving, Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft

LaBrina who studied Industrial Engineer saw an opportunity in tech during the “dotcom boom” and and took it. Now, with 18 years under her belt, she works with large organizations to help them build and innovate their products in the cloud using many technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data and Analytics, and MR/VR!

I’m currently a Senior Software Developer Engineer at Microsoft. I’ve been in and around software for about 18 years, wearing literally every hat including tech lead/architect, developer, tester, devops, business analyst, database, and pre-sales, support. Because I spent the majority of my career in consulting, I was lucky enough to do this across multiple technologies and industries.
 
I’m also pretty active in dev community speaking at many conferences across the world and am pretty passionate about building the next generation of women in STEM volunteering with organizations such as Black Girls Code, YearUp, Women who Code. I help sponsor the DC .Net User group.
 
I love to travel and cook, I’m hoping to put together a podcast that combines all three passions of coding, traveling and cooking soon so be on the lookout…I’m a puppy mommy to an adorable shihpoo, Watson….And I’ve finally got something more interesting than tech stuff to organize since I’ll be getting married in July 2019 to my fiance Shawn at the happiest place on earth Disney World.
You are an Industrial and Operations Engineer. How did you get into IT? Tell us about your first tech job.
So while I was studying Industrial Engineering, I took a Visual Basic course (dating myself) and then followed it up with a Database Design course. I really loved it and knew I wanted to do IT as a career.
 
I spent one year as an Industrial Engineer and then got my first job at Allstate to help build the first version of Allstate.com. Luckily I started in the “dotcom boom” where demand was high. The recruiter said in order to get the job, I had to take a test on HTML and ASP (classic that is) and get a 70%. I was super nervous as I kinda embellished my HTML and ASP experience, but I got a 72% (phew) and got the job.
 
My first week was extremely daunting, I remember looking at the architecture diagram and I hadn’t heard of the majority of technologies (DB2, MSMQ, SQL Server, UNIX, AS/400, Weblogic, Windows NT—what?). But every paycheck, I bought a book on one of the technologies and learned. I then casually sat next to members of the team and started learning what they did.
 
After one year in role, I was 24 running a 8-member support team responsible for both bug fixes and monitoring.
 
As a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, what does your daily routine look like?
So my role is interesting, probably not your typical description of a Software Engineer. I work with large organizations to help them build and innovate their products in the cloud using many technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data and Analytics, and MR/VR.
 
I work very closely with these organizations and to help design and build new solutions with them using Microsoft Cloud technologies. So my day can vary from doing conference calls with customers to understand their business and challenges, building a quick POC/demo on one of our technologies, upskilling on new technologies, working with our product teams to help unblock our customers on issues they might have, or traveling to customer sites to help design and code a new solution.

How did you develop your technical skills?
I’m constantly learning. I love to do video courses from Pluralsight.com, Edx.org, or Udemy. I usually do a couple of courses a month and then immediately take what I learn and build something tangible so not to lose the skill. There are also a number of blogs that I follow as well as twitter and linkedin, for just hearing latest IT news.
 
What are some difficulties you faced when starting out? How did you overcome them?
I think the most difficult thing starting out was that since I didn’t have a background in Computer Science and new to IT, I didn’t speak the lingo and didn’t have the experience that so many around me had.
 
Even though I worked with so many talented people (mostly men of course) and everyone was very supportive, my internal competitiveness drove me to want to be as knowledge as my colleagues. So I worked and studied (a lot), almost to the point of probably being unhealthy.
 
Recently a friend of mine and former colleague was joking with me, reminiscing of days that I actually blew off dates because I was fiddling with something at work. We joke about it now, but seriously what was I thinking????
 
For me the other hard part was the social aspect. There were so many happy hours and dinners I had to attend. People around me talked about their amazing travels, hobbies, and food and wine. At that time, being a middle-class kid growing up in Chicago to a single mother, I didn’t have those experiences.
 
I spent so much time focusing on being accepted for my technical knowledge, but still couldn’t overcome my social insecurities. For this, not sure if I’ve ever truly overcome it, it’s something I work at everyday.
 
It really starts with staying true to yourself, embracing the experiences of others, and being willing to try new things. If it weren’t for IT, I wouldn’t have been able to travel the world, enjoy all the yummy food and wine, or meet the amazing people that I have. For that I’m forever grateful.
 
You have worked as an Architect for a few years. What does one do as an Architect?
The role of architect means so many things to so many people and sometimes gets a bad rep. But in my opinion, a true architect is a technical thought leader, creative mind, problem solver, salesman, change agent, psychologist, and mentor all wrapped into one.
 
You are responsible for designing and architecting solutions that solve business problems. You need to understand the “big picture” of the system from security to networking to hardware to software to integrations to database and by the way ensure the solution is scalable, redundant, and most importantly solves the actual business problem.
 
While you may not be always “hands-on”, you are working with an entire team to ensure every component works together like a conductor conducting an orchestra. In addition, you are often selling new technologies and patterns to the organization and leading change.

As you were gaining experience, how did you go about transition to a higher position? What specific steps did you take?
So one thing in my career, I never got too concerned with titles, I always stayed focus on building my reputation and taking on work that I found interesting or will be of interest to the people I wanted to notice.
 
The career path I took wasn’t just straight upward, I’ve moved up, then side to side, then up again (maybe even down at times).
 
Sometimes I’ve managed tons of people, but currently I’m not a people manager. I always try to tell my manager what I’m looking to do next, even if it’s several years away.
 
I want to know what it takes to get that level and focus my efforts on achieving that. After that I start putting a plan in place to start doing the work for my next position (regardless if I was asked or not).
 
This could mean taking on tasks totally outside of my day-to-day job. But it’s incredibly important to make sure my colleagues and key people in my organization know me and what I’m capable of quickly, therefore I raise my hand all the time and I speak up all the time.
 
Once you have built trust and strong reputation in your organization, generally I’ve found transitioning to higher position either in your current org or a new one is much easier.
 
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?
Do It!!!! Get involved in the dev community (go to meetups, conferences, hacks), learn (there are tons of resources), and then build some stuff.
 
Even almost 20 years in, I’m always working on a dev project. Pick a problem you want to solve or something you’re passionate about, and build something. It doesn’t have to be the most beautifully written code, or the best working thing ever. Build it anyway, try it anyway. Then share your knowledge with others through blogs code sharing, and speaking.
 
Also, there are many negative stories about some of the difficulties of having a career in tech due to the current lack of diversity. Please don’t let it stop you, keep striving for what you want. Don’t let the fact that you are the only person who looks like you stop you from pursuing your dream.
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