Susie: Hello, why don’t you introduce yourself first.
Michele: My name is Michele Larson. I’m a Senior Engineering Manager here at GumGum. I manage the team Advertising Applications. We’re responsible for all of the web applications that support the advertising side of the business.
Susie: Nice to meet you. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey before GumGum? What brought you here and what has been your experience so far?
Michele: In college, I actually majored in Advertising and Business and started with a career in TV Production. I decided that I wanted to get into a new career, more specifically, software engineering. I worked at another start up in the financial space for about a year and a half. I had gone out to dinner with a friend who knew someone who worked at GumGum and was telling me about the company. I thought it sounded really great, so I interviewed here and got the job. I’ve been here now for around three and a half years.
Susie: Congratulations! How did you decide that you wanted to be an engineer?
Michele: Starting when I was in middle school, I kind of dabbled in some HTML, CSS, PHP, and SQL, but I never thought that it could be a career. It was kind of a fun hobby. When I was thinking of different opportunities and what I would enjoy working on, I did a lot of Googling for different career options and kind of thought, “Oh, okay. This could be a potential thing I would really like.” I knew that I had enjoyed it before, and I really wanted to get back into making something. I started doing it again and loved it and felt a lot more fulfilled than I had been.
Susie: That’s great. I think we all are trying to find a fulfilling job.
Michele: Yeah. Definitely.
Susie: So, congrats to you. You didn’t have a STEM major then?
Susie: And then did you learn more about software or did you take classes on your own? How did that work?
Michele: Yeah. I did a bootcamp training program where we were taught a lot of the basics, and we got to work on projects. So, I gained experience that way. Now I’m actually back in school to get my Computer Science Bachelor degree. I’m almost done that. I kind of went in reverse order.
Susie: Everyone has their own path to success! What’s been your experience being one of the few women on the engineering team?
Michele: So far, it’s been really great. I think we actually have a decent amount of women in engineering, which is really good to see. I think that’s really valuable. My last company, I was the only woman and I wasn’t made to feel anything less, but it was still something I was aware of. Just being able to work with women here is nice, and it provides a different perspective on the team.
Susie: What would you say to encourage young women to enter into a STEM career?
Michele: I think for me, personally, I wasn’t aware of the opportunities. People might have an idea of what working in engineering is like and they might think, “Oh, that’s not me.” Or “I could never do that.” But when you learn about the day to day and get more exposure to it, I think people would find that that you could find your place. There’s also a mix of technical skills and a lot of other skills, like communication skills, working with products, talking to people … There’s a lot of other skills that are really valuable. I guess I would say, “If you’re interested, talk to someone who works in the field and get to know what they actually do, you might find that you would enjoy it.”
Susie: Could you give me an in-depth description of your role and maybe some cool projects that you worked on?
Michele: Sure. Right now, my team is 11 people so most of my day to day is in people management. I’ll do 1–1s with people, check in to make sure that everyone has what they need, they’re not blocked, and they have all their questions answered. I make sure things are documented and prepare for interviews. I also work closely with the product team. My team works on a wide variety of different projects, so understanding the business requirements of something, what we want to focus on from a high level, what feedback users have, and prioritizing what the team should work on. There’s a good amount of planning in it too. Then, I personally like to keep my technical skills relevant. I don’t necessarily have a lot of time to code anymore, but I do review a lot of code so I still know what’s going on and I can see what other people are doing and learn from them.
Susie: What’s a cool project that you worked on that you were really proud of, or that was
Michele: When I started at the company, we had just started this new project called Ad Builder. I’ve seen it grow from the very first version of the app, where we were kinda figuring out what it should do and how it should look. To now, we have a team in house of, I think it’s four people now, that their entire job is to use this app. It’s really grown a lot since it first started. I am excited about it and there’s a lot of really cool ideas we have to take it to the next level too. My team also works on an application that everyone in the company uses, and we’re currently reworking major sections of it and it looks really great. We’re getting really good feedback from it, and we’re making it more efficient for people to do their job. So seeing the progress has been great to experience.
Susie: What would you say the most rewarding part of your job is?
Michele: For me, it’s honestly seeing my team grow. I know this’ll sound cheesy, but-
I really genuinely like everybody on my team and I wanna see them succeed. Since I’ve been managing some of them for a couple of years now, just being able to see their progress. Then, when they are doing really well or finish working on a big project or accomplish something, I feel good about the path they’ve taken and any part that I might have had in helping them.
Susie: And being a mentor and seeing them kind of progress?
Michele: Exactly. I also get personal satisfaction about seeing our products, people using them, and getting positive feedback for things …
Susie: Lastly, do you have any advice for the women of GumGum?
Michele: I think it’s in knowing our strength together because women can lift each other up. Men are better about talking about their accomplishments and as women, we tend to minimize what we do and not really talk about our successes that much. We can help each other, even if it’s something like mentioning, “This woman helped me in this way” to other people who may not know, then it helps everyone.
Susie: So you’d say maybe affirming each other?
Michele: Yes and sharing success with others, because we’re not necessarily going to talk about ourselves, but we can help each other.
Susie: Definitely. Are there any last comments that you want to say, or anything you want to address?
Michele: I really enjoy reading these interviews and finding out about other people and what they do. It’s very interesting. If anyone ever wants to talk about engineering or has a question about it, then they should definitely reach out.
Susie: Great! Thank you so much for your time