Panelists from Deloitte, General Motors talk tech
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
It’s not what you know, but who you know.
That’s all fine and dandy.
But in the technology world, it’s also about how you think. As it turns out, the tech industry is all about innovative thinkers, problem-solvers and quick-witted people who, no matter how quick-witted and tech savvy they are, are willing to keep learning beyond the hallowed hallways of their colleges.
Grand Canyon University software development major Melanie Spence knows a little bit about this. She applied to about 100 companies before landing her internship and part-time job and sat in more than a few interviews.
They’ll ask about your capstone projects — GCU’s students are in the race to complete their capstones before presenting them in April — but they want to know something else.
“What they want to learn more is how you think,” she said. “So they would ask, ‘How did you think of doing that for your project?’ or ‘Why did you choose that language?’ or ‘Why did you choose that process?’ That was more important to them than the actual project, which I thought was quite interesting,” Spence said.
Spence, a student software developer at LittleBird who also has worked as a software engineer intern at Cox Automotive, was one of three panelists at the Spring 2022 Technology Deans’ Speaker Series, organized by the College of Science, Engineering and Technology and the University’s Strategic Employer Initiatives and Internships department.
Spence shared the spotlight at the event, held Friday in the Cyber Center of Excellence, with GCU alumnus Andres Paez, a software developer at General Motors, and Christina Herman, a cloud engineer who landed her job at Deloitte after graduating from GCU’s Java Bootcamp.
Employers also want to know not only how you think but if you can learn. Students, the panelists said, can expect to continue to learn in on-the-job training long after they’ve left GCU’s classrooms.
“They give you opportunities,” said Paez, “but if you don’t have the aptitude to learn, they do let you go. I have seen it. As long as you’re willing to try and have a can-do attitude, they’ll definitely work with you.”
Paez, who worked for GCE Technical Support and was a Students Inspiring Students scholar, said he didn’t feel as if he knew much of anything when he started in his role at GM.
“In the job, they don’t expect you to know everything. That’s where they come in, teach you, train you,” he said.
He had to learn three applications for his job, which involves engines and transmissions.
“The guy that was teaching me, he taught me for five months, and then he retired. So I definitely messed up a lot,” he said. “But they were willing to work with me. They were being patient, and me, being like the sole person for those three programs, it was definitely nerve-wracking. I felt very stressed, but everyone was fairly patient. As long as you show that you’re learning, don’t be afraid to mess up. Keep rolling with the punches.”
“There are tons of open positions,” GCU Head of Technology Programs and panel moderator Rob Loy added. “If you have a technical aptitude, it sounds like companies are going to find a role for you one way or the other.”
Spence said she learned the AWS cloud platform from online training site Pluralsight, to which employers gave her access.
“I spent a lot of time learning AWS from those videos,” she said. “I had a team I could always ask questions of, and they never said it was a dumb question. They always were very supportive.”
Added Spence, “One thing at GCU that was really helpful for my job was I learned how to learn,” so when she was given time to learn a new programming language, she was confident in doing that.
Herman said her company, Deloitte, is big on training its employees for the projects they’re working on.
“My company brings in the vendors that will offer the training,” she said. “The cloud training I went through that was for a month or so, that was through AWS vendors, so certified AWS training. I got everything I needed for the certification, and it was up to date. They do that for everything,” from AWS to Java 1 to Docker.
Loy asked the panelists what technical skills they wished they learned in college.
Paez said he uses SQL and Java frequently in his job and wishes he had paid more attention in those classes at GCU.
Spence, who hasn’t taken her cloud computing class at GCU yet, said Docker, AWS and Terraform are all software she finds she uses a lot in industry that she doesn’t use at GCU because students don’t have to deploy to anything other than Microsoft Azure.
Herman wishes she learned Linux. “From day one,” she said, looking at Loy, “you had said to start learning Linux, just because I am working in the cloud space.”
Loy also asked if the panelists saw themselves long term at their companies.
Paez already is eyeing another position at GM, a company he has traveled for, since there are GM plants around the world. He loves his job, he said. “To me it’s more of a career than a job.”
Herman has worked for Deloitte for three years and also enjoys what she does. “But I would say, always keep an open mind and always be looking at other jobs and opportunities, because if you stop growing in your job in the tech industry, I feel like you start to get behind. So if you definitely feel that’s happening, I would suggest switching.
“The advice I’ve gotten from my other colleagues is to not stay in a tech company for more than a couple of years.”
Students, particularly seniors who will be graduating in a few weeks, wanted to know a little about the interview process. One student asked what question the panelists were most asked when they were interviewing.
Paez, who met with GCU’s Academic and Career Excellence team many times to refine his resume, said students should prepare an answer for this question: “Why should we hire you and why shouldn’t we hire you?”
In her various interviews, after applying for those 100 or so positions, Spence said the question she got most often was: “Can you tell me about a project you worked on, and what did you learn from it?”
The panelists also discussed how important it is to know how to present – “It’s important because there are stand-ups every day,” Herman said. They shared the importance, too, of working on a team. “My manager told me you could really know what you’re doing, but if people don’t like working with you, you’re not going to be a good fit,” Paez said.
Students also heard from Dr. Pam Rowland, Associate Dean of Computer Sciences and Technology, and Dr. Brandy Harris, Assistant Dean of Technology. They advised students to meet their deans, interact with faculty and find clubs to be involved with or start their own club.
Paez’s last piece of advice: “Keep an open mind and take the leap.”
Herman said to go into interviews with confidence.
“Definitely, an open mind is important, especially when you look at companies,” Spence said. “There are companies that may sound boring, so you don’t want to apply. My company does car management software for dealerships. That’s not the most exciting thing ever, but the job itself is super cool and super fun.
“It’s important to look at not exactly what the company sells but what the company values and how they’re going to treat you as an employee. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to matter more.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.