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Engineering Your Future: Learn About EPAM’s Emerging Engineers Lab with Jordan Kline

In the first two interviews of our Emerging Engineers Lab series, we introduced EPAMers Ryan Farney and Ariani Herrera. In our third interview, we chat with Jordan Kline, Software Engineer at EPAM, and a participant in the Emerging Engineers Lab pilot class. Jordan talks about his experience in the technology industry, highlights why having a supportive team sets you up for success and discusses the importance of continuous learning. 

EPAM’s Emerging Engineers Lab (EEL) is a 10-week paid training program based in the US, where participants work alongside industry experts and receive an education tailored to their career interests. At the end of the program, participants are reviewed by their mentor, project lead and a client to become full-time employees.  

Here’s what Jordan had to say: 

How did you know that you wanted to begin a career in software engineering? What was your background prior to joining EEL and what sparked your career interests?

I’ve worked across several industries and—while most of them have helped to align my skills with what I’m presently doing—actively working toward a career in technology was always something that seemed just out of reach.

I have a degree in linguistics and cognitive science because I’m fascinated by language, communication and people. I studied programming when I was in high school and thought that I’d use it moving forward. Eventually with that knowledge, I began working in theatrical automation and taught myself how to script in Bash. By then, I realized that it was the right time to get an engineering education because the industry is growing so fast.

Tell me a little bit about your journey with EPAM. Why did you join EPAM’s EEL?

I was recruited for the pilot program and, having been one of the first participants, I had the opportunity to help develop some of the direction for the program.

For me, the prospect of continuing my training and getting practical experience with the support of established developers at EPAM was my main motivation for joining. The most difficult part of development—apart from choosing good variable names—is knowing the best way to do something, and I knew I would gain that experience in EEL.

Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in the program?

From day one, we were welcomed in with great support and the entire regional team was constantly involved, from the HR department to account managers to developers. We were brought into an open and collaborative environment with great continuous learning and development opportunities. I worked closely with my mentor, who provided me with the tools and resources I needed to succeed. Before EEL, I had engineering experience from a bootcamp program, but, during EEL, I was able to put my experience into practice and familiarize myself with formal procedures and processes without any professional background.

My project was to repeat a learning program that’s used at EPAM. We explored different ways of approaching the project. It was a rigorous course that tested my knowledge and my patience but, in the end, it helped me to become a better engineer. My specific role on the project was to build a React app from scratch, configuring Webpack and Babel, and build out the full application to spec and with testing.

During your project, did you develop new skills or were you introduced to tech stacks that you were unfamiliar with?

My project has been different from anything that I expected when I first started. We work on a marketing tool that has recently become its own technology; my team and I started by working to build a new use case for this product and find ways to make it more adaptable to the end user.

From day one, EPAM helped me with a mentor who was able to bring me straight into a program working to understand Angular, a framework that I hadn’t previously worked with. He worked with me to build my own application and understand some of the critical differences between Angular and React, the technology that I was most familiar with when building frontend applications.

Every time that I had questions, I knew right where to go, and, thanks to my team, I was able to get feedback and assistance. So far, I’ve worked across the frontend stack of our application to overhaul designs, clean up logic and trim old code, implement new designs, build new interfaces to APIs and work directly with the marketing teams to optimize layouts.

How has EPAM’s EEL helped you to transition into a full-time role with your respective client?

Having the direct support of a mentor didn’t end when the program did. When I was placed with my client, I was assigned a mentor with experience in the technology that I was using, which was critical to my success. To have someone who could answer questions when facing a deadline has been—and still is—invaluable.

It’s intimidating to go for a position, especially your first role in this field, when you’re not a subject matter expert just yet and you may be asked difficult questions. But having support from account managers who are actively working to find positions for developers in the right roles on their accounts was useful and made me aware of exactly what skills I needed prior to joining a project.

What advice would you give to a software engineer who is looking for their first job opportunity?

Build stuff. Meet people. Prepare for difficult interviews. Learn to learn better. Build, build, build, build. Experience and interview preparedness are what matter for your first position.

Working on teams has been a constant in my professional life and that has been invaluable for this journey. Being able to communicate in different environments on diverse teams does require support — and EPAM helped with a solid foundation and a formal, well-structured training to better integrate my bootcamp knowledge with real world engineering experience. Their support, with mentors and resources, has made all the difference in solidifying knowledge and being able to transition seamlessly onto my team.

How has the diverse workload during your time in the EEL aided you in developing your skillset?

This project was basically a deep dive into technologies that a lot of entry-level developers these days learn only the surface of. They are technologies that affect everyone who uses them, but a lot of web developers scaffold their applications and never need to optimize for things like bundling and transpiration.

The workload was focused weekly on different technologies and guided us through a best-practices orientation on a lot of concepts that are critical to modern application design. We started with an empty directory and built out the subdirectories, added packages, made config files, then built out the functionality in the app with different technologies than I had ever used before.

The focus on well-designed, maintainable apps while reinforcing clean code style and consistency, using linters and good practices with versioning, mostly focusing on the GitFlow pattern and using feature branches were helpful in reinforcing basic skills that are fundamental to being a successful developer. It’s important to write readable, maintainable code with practices that help you to work on a team. This program was effective in doing that.

What would you say to a candidate considering joining EEL?

Your journey is your journey, but it’s helpful to have a group of people behind you who are actively helping you to be successful. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but the nature of this field is that you are constantly growing and adapting to changing technologies. EPAM provides the tools to continue growing and the experience to get your hands on active technologies, to learn best practices and to have the support to implement them effectively.

I didn’t know about EPAM before I started this journey, and I can only say that it was a leap of faith and a journey that has been consistently reinforced as being the right one. I am a person who is always looking for red flags in any experience, and I have sincerely not found any on this journey. The support has been fantastic, the people that I work with are engaging, the field is constantly changing – that challenge is what keeps it moving forward.

Aside from your interest in software engineering, what do you like to do in your free time?

I have too many interests and passions for the free time that I have, to be honest — I’m a pure geek and am tireless when it comes to learning.

I love learning languages, human and computer. I run long distance. I cook — and, at the moment, I’m perfecting a recipe for a type of cured meat from South Africa called biltong. I have a 3D printer, so I design parts, like plant holders for my wife or useful things in the house. I also practice mindfulness meditation, so when I’m not doing a million things, I’m trying to focus on only one. It’s busy, but I can easily say that I’m never bore

What does being an EPAMer mean to you?

Growth. It’s about personal and professional growth. It’s being a member of a huge team that still focuses on your success and the success of the projects that its people are working on. You can always be making constant improvements that will help you solidify a foundation and you have a clear route for upward movement.

Beyond that, it means being a member of a team that works on the platforms of some of the most important companies in the world. The projects that EPAMers are involved with are not inconsequential; it says a lot about a company’s identity that they want to develop the best people and the best technological knowhow possible.