The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Month: May 2019

Hiring in an Ever-Changing Landscape

By Jesse Mazur

The New Hotness

You can’t go a month without hearing about the latest new framework or language that will solve all of your coding problems. In the mobile and front-end worlds it feels like last year’s state-of-the-art project is next year’s crufty legacy code. In this ever-changing landscape, engineers are always trying to learn the latest technique, attend a new bootcamp, or crank out a new personal project in order to keep up. The result can be piles of resumes that contain every new buzz word under the sun, and applicants painting themselves as the best candidate for just about any engineering position. How can hiring managers ensure that they find the right person? How can aspiring engineers land the right job?

The answer: fundamentals.

Back to Basics

There will always be a new way to do things. In the iOS world we saw a major shift from Objective C to Swift. In the Android world we are seeing a shift from Java to Kotlin. In the web world, we saw jQuery take the JavaScript world by storm, then Google’s Angular was the only way anyone wanted to write web apps. Now, it seems like Facebook’s React is leading the pack. What has not changed are the basic building blocks of software: data structures and algorithms. Minor differences aside, an array is always an array and a for loop is always a for loop. What many new engineers are missing when they go after “the new hotness” are those fundamentals. It’s not just about knowing how to set up an Action/Reducer in React that makes someone a good engineer. That skill will make them relevant right now, in the world where React is king, but in a few years there will be a new player in the game and that skill will be yesterday’s news. The engineers that will continue to shine will be those who understand the fundamentals of programming so that they can adapt to the next wave of short-lived must-have tech stacks.

The Current Process

There are certainly valid criticisms of common tech hiring practices. Long interview loops with difficult coding problems written primarily on a whiteboard inevitably leave something to be desired. The reason for this process is often misunderstood and can lead to dissatisfied candidates complaining about unfair, puzzle-like questions. “When was the last time anyone actually used a red black tree on the job anyway?!” Not all of those complaints are unwarranted. An engineer, at her core, is a problem solver. The programming language is simply one of many tools she uses to solve the problem. The spirit of these questions is to reveal the candidate’s problem solving skills in order to understand if she will be able to solve similar problems on the job. Coding interviews shouldn’t be vocabulary tests or mind bending trick questions. A well-worded question will challenge the candidate, but it will also be practical and relevant to the work they will be doing on the job. It will have several possible solutions, each of which may leverage different data structures and algorithms. Its difficulty will also scale, so that a more seasoned engineer will solve it more elegantly, while handling more edge cases right off the bat. An experienced interviewer should be able to gauge that skill early on and know what curve balls to throw the candidate to calibrate the questions to the candidate’s level.

Talent vs Skill

A final piece of the puzzle is the ability to recognize and balance the difference between talent and skill. In this context, talent is defined as an innate ability or trait the candidate possesses— something that cannot necessarily be taught. A skill, on the other hand, can be defined as something that can be mastered with practice over time. Finding the correct engineer should start with identifying which talents she needs to embody in order to be successful in the role, then defining the ideal skillset. For example, a candidate with a natural drive to deliver results, who is a quick learner with good fundamentals, might not need to be 100% familiar with the bleeding-edge framework being used on a given project. She can probably join the team, learn quickly, and get a project to the finish line on time.

Conclusion

The engineering world is always changing and there will always be some new way to solve the same old problems. Finding candidates with innate talents that are necessary for the role, who also have a strong grasp of the fundamentals, will set up any dev team for longer term success. Trying to hire a team of engineers who only know the latest and greatest means having a staff that will not outlast the ever-shortening lifespan of tech stacks. What’s more, trying to find that unicorn-ninja-coder may actually take longer than simply finding a solid engineer who can learn on the job.

Jesse Mazur is a Senior Director of Engineering at Meredith Corporation, the largest US media conglomerate (People, Sports Illustrated, Real Simple, etc.), and a member of the Brandeis GPS Master of Software Engineering advisory board.

Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.

Rabb School 2019 commencement ceremony celebrates commitment to having it all

The Rabb School of Continuing Studies awarded diplomas to 117 Graduate Professional Studies (GPS) students at its 2019 commencement ceremony this morning. Approximately one-third of the graduating class attended the event, which took place from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Faculty Club on campus.

One of four schools at Brandeis University, the Rabb School is dedicated to developing innovative ways to deliver a Brandeis education to non-traditional communities. The GPS students graduating today have earned their masters of science degrees fully online, often while holding down full-time jobs and balancing other professional and personal obligations.

“You embody the larger mission of Brandeis, which is distinguished by academic excellence and the pursuit of truth and knowledge,” said Karen Muncaster, Vice President of the Rabb School, in her opening address. “The entire University community has great respect for what you have accomplished and how you have done it.”

Keishalee Shaw, a graduate of the Strategic Analytics program and this year’s student speaker, encouraged 2019 graduates to embrace life’s curveballs.

“Today we celebrate our success … and remind ourselves that our desire to learn was and will always be greater than any obstacle we have faced along this journey or will face in the future,” said Shaw.

Commencement speaker Michael Figueroa, president and executive director of the Advanced Cyber Security Center, challenged the graduating class to consider the value their advanced degrees can bring to situations beyond individual professional accomplishments.

“Go ahead, dream big,” Figueroa said. “Perhaps your dream is about literacy, providing people with the education they need to overcome poverty. Or, perhaps you’re concerned about global health, preventing the spread of virulent diseases and providing basic healthcare services to underprivileged peoples. Maybe climate change drives you. Whatever it is, hold on to it.You have already invested in your degree. Now, put that investment to good use.”

The full breakdown of diplomas awarded this morning is as follows:

  • Master of Software Engineering (11 graduates)
  • MS in Bioinformatics (7 graduates)
  • MS in Digital Marketing and Design (8 graduates)
  • MS in Health and Medical Informatics (12 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security (6 graduates)
  • MS in Information Security Leadership (2 graduates)
  • MS in Information Technology Management (5 graduates)
  • MS in Instructional Design & Technology (6 graduates)
  • MS in Project and Program Management (31 graduates)
  • MS in Technology Management ( 2 graduates)
  • MS in Strategic Analytics (26 graduates)
  • MS in User-Centered Design (1 graduate)

View a recording of the commencement ceremony here. Congratulations to our graduates!

Countdown to Commencement 2019

It’s that time of the year! A new set of students from Brandeis University’s division of Graduate Professional Studies (GPS) are gathering their friends and family and preparing to travel to Waltham, MA to walk across the stage and receive the master’s degrees they so diligently worked toward. This year’s Rabb School of Continuing Studies commencement ceremony will take place on the Brandeis University campus on May 19, 2019. Graduates and their families unable to attend in person can stream the ceremony on Facebook or  here: http://www.brandeis.edu/streaming/rabb.html

The ceremony will feature the following speakers:

GPS Commencement Speaker: Michael Figueroa

Michael Figueroa HeadshotMichael Figueroa, CISSP, is President and Executive Director of the Advanced Cyber Security Center, a Boston-based nonprofit that organizes the private and public sectors to operationalize collaborative defense, strengthening each member’s cybersecurity posture and preparing the region’s response to large-scale cyber threats. Michael has a diverse IT background, serving at times as an executive technology strategist, chief architect, product manager, and disruptive technology champion. His past work has spanned a broad spectrum: preparing cyber technologies for transition, managing research and development, applying non-security emerging technologies such as deep learning and human analytics to security problems, and serving as the Principal Investigator for a DARPA-funded effort to design and develop an innovative secure network and communications platform for cloud and mobile applications. Michael has served as a CISO for a late-stage financial services startup, was a strategic program advisor for CISOs at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the World Bank Group, and has managed consulting teams securing large-scale systems integration efforts at DHS. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and received his masters degree from the George Washington University (GWU) in Forensic Sciences, concentrating on High Tech Crime Investigations.

Student Speaker: Keishalee Shaw

Keishalee Shaw HeadshotKeishalee Shaw is a native of St. Ann, Jamaica, and was raised in Maryland.

Her passion for healthcare began at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. where she shadowed the Hospital’s CEO and learned what it takes to run such a large operation. Soon after completing her graduate studies, she worked as a technical program assistant at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD. In 2006, she worked as an analyst for New York State’s Bureau of Medicaid Statistics and Program Analysis in Albany, NY.  In 2008, she was selected to be the reimbursement system senior policy analyst at Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy in Boston. In 2011, she accepted a technical program leader position at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where she was eventually selected for one of Blue Cross’s competitive leadership program. There, she spent four years receiving executive mentorship and training throughout different departments within Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA.

Keishalee holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and Literature with a minor in Political Science from the University of Maryland College Park; a Masters of Science in Healthcare Administration Management from the University of Maryland University College; a Masters in International Healthcare Management, Economics and Policy from Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy; and a Certificate in Public Sector Management from Cornell’s School of Industrial ad Labor Relations in Albany, New York.

Keishalee resides in Milton, Massachusetts with her husband Steven and her children, Katherine, Kristianna, William, and Alexander.

Congratulations to all of our graduates, we can’t wait to celebrate your accomplishments with you! For more commencement-related updates, follow along with us here on the blog and at #GPSClassof2019.

GPS at UXPA Boston 2019

The Boston Chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association will be holding their 18th Annual User Experience Conference on Friday, May 10, at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

Eva Kaniasty, chair of the User-Centered Design program at Graduate Professional Studies, will participate in the Innovation Fishbowl (9:15 a.m.), a debate-style panel session that will cover several controversial topics around UX and innovation:

  • What’s the state of UX design for emerging technologies (voice, IoT, etc)?
  • Are we inventing new processes and methodologies, or just re-branding the old?
  • When we creatively adapt a method or process to fit project realities, are we losing its core benefits/value?
  • Are standards and design systems good for UX, or are they forcing us to design to the least common denominator?
  • Can design collaboration and reliance on user feedback devolve into groupthink and rejection of new ideas?
  • Does UX foster or kill innovation?
  • Have we finally found a way to make Agile and UX play well together?

The Fishbowl format is designed to facilitate discussion in large groups, making it ideal for an advanced conference session. First the panelists will discuss a topic while the audience listens. Next, the audience is invited to join the discussion with questions and comments. The fishbowl round continues for 10-15 minutes, at which point a new topic is introduced and the process repeats.

Eva will also be facilitating a lunchtime discussion at the conference. If you’d like to learn more about the event and programs offered, check out the website and follow along with the hashtag: #UXPABOS19.

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