"Making an Impact as a Senior Software Engineer and a Member of MongoDB’s Women and Trans Coders Group"
Maria van Keulen is a Senior Software Engineer on the Server Team at MongoDB. When she isn't working on challenging technical projects, she's developing initiatives for MongoDB's Women and Trans Coders employee resource group.
I sat down with Maria to learn more about her experiences and the impact she's had on the company over the last three years.
Jess Katz: Can you tell us a bit about why you joined MongoDB back in 2016, and what you love most about working here?
Maria van Keulen: I joined MongoDB full time after interning twice at the company during college. When I was an intern, I saw that MongoDB had a welcoming, collaborative, and talented community of engineers, and I knew that this was the kind of community I wanted to pursue after college. Additionally, the projects we got to work on as interns were technically challenging and addressed real company needs. I was very excited for the opportunity to do such high priority work.
As a full-time employee, I continue to see the same great qualities in MongoDB as I saw as an intern. In addition, my time since interning has given me an appreciation for MongoDB as a leading innovator in the world of database technology. I recall our "startup-y" nature from 2014, and it's amazing to see where we are today. Presently, we are not only becoming the new paradigm of database technology, but also occupy a valuable position in the database market and are expanding into new areas of data management. I am so excited to see where we will go next and be a part of shaping the company's future.
JK: Beyond your experiences as a Senior Software Engineer, what are some of your other passion projects at MongoDB?
MVK: I am involved in a few groups at MongoDB, one of which being our Women and Trans Coders group. MongoDB's Women and Trans Coders group is a group of technical individuals who identify as women and trans who provide a network and resources for one another to grow professionally and personally. The group meets regularly for various business and social events, including periodic dinners, which I assumed responsibility for organizing in 2017. These dinners foster team building and provide networking opportunities for the individuals in the WTC group. Most recently, I have been organizing themed discussions to take place during the dinners.
I have been reading several leadership books on my own time in the interest of growing myself as a leader, including Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Leading Matters: Lessons From My Journey by John L. Hennessy, and Mindset: The New Psychology For Success by Dr. Carol S. Dweck. I have been taking key ideas I learned in these books and organizing discussions to brainstorm how we can grow our skills and further foster a nurturing company culture. For example, we had a discussion regarding how to promote an environment in which employees have the courage to be vulnerable, as Brené Brown describes in her well-known TED talk on vulnerability.
One exciting result of this discussion was the idea to introduce team social guidelines in order to promote productive collaboration and interactions, and these guidelines have since been rolled out by the Replication team (kudos to Pavi Vetriselvan and Tess Avitabile for spearheading those efforts). We are also in the process of having these guidelines adopted by our overarching team.
The MongoDB Women and Trans Coders Group is a valuable forum for fostering the growth of our members and enacting changes to make MongoDB an even more welcoming, collaborative place to work.
JK: How have you grown both professionally and personally as an engineer here?
MVK: I joined MongoDB fresh out of Columbia University three years ago. Over these past three years, I've spoken at MongoDB World, mentored two interns, and became a Senior Engineer. Each of these journeys has taught me valuable lessons and allowed me to better my technical abilities and communication skills.
My MongoDB World talk was my first professional experience presenting to a large group of people. The presentation discussed how our New Grad team rotation program teaches New Grads to embody MongoDB's core values. It entailed an interesting combination of technical and non-technical subject matter. I drew technical examples from the projects I worked on with each team I visited, and connected the big-picture lessons I learned to the company's core values, like "Make it Matter" and "Build Together."
My experience mentoring interns taught me valuable collaborative skills. Something interesting that I learned as a mentor was to be proactive in checking whether the interns have any questions. We were taught in our mentor training that new generations of interns have become much more autonomous in general than their predecessors, and are less likely to ask questions unless prompted. I learned to take a more hands-on approach when mentoring.
My promotion to Senior Software Engineer was the culmination of my efforts both as an engineer and as a leader on my various projects. Most importantly, it involved leading a complex, multi-stakeholder project called Replica Set Flow Control to completion. This project was my most challenging experience in task management; I had to adapt the project work and react swiftly to changes in project direction and shifting engineering resources as other higher priority tasks flowed in. My experience leading this project allowed me to demonstrate my autonomy in managing large tasks, and earn my position as Senior Engineer.
JK: Can you tell us a bit more about the Replica Set Flow Control project? What did it entail and what were some of the technical challenges you faced?
MVK: I am very proud of the work that my coworkers and I did to push this project to completion. The project tackles the ever-pervasive engineering problem of alleviating a system under heavy load by limiting the number of operations permitted to execute. As a result, the system is allowed more chances to process the existing load rather than continuing to attempt new operations and forcing itself into an unrecoverable state. The project took approximately nine months of engineering effort to be successfully finalized, and I think we should be very proud of the result.
We overcame a few engineering challenges while working on this project. Firstly, Flow Control itself is a complex engineering problem. It took us three separate implementations of proof of concept algorithms to find a viable solution. Additionally, since this was a groundbreaking project, the implementations necessitated a fair amount of new infrastructure. Furthermore, this project was a very performance-centric project. The manner in which the software performs both during periods of high load and periods of reprieve was important to document and evaluate. We not only needed to develop the testing necessary to measure these scenarios, but we also needed to come to conclusions regarding what constituted "acceptable" performance in each scenario.
The second class of challenges we tackled while working on this project was the challenge of collaborating with a large number of people. I worked directly with one other engineer during the project, but there were also many external stakeholders to the project with whom I regularly communicated. Through these experiences, I was able to manage the opinions of many people (sometimes 15 or more) during meetings, find solutions that satisfied a lot of diverse opinions, and still make sure my own voice was heard. I am proud that I was able to run and be part of such a complex project while coordinating the efforts of so many team members.
Lastly, this project was a great learning experience for me because it was the longest-running project I had ever managed. It really made me appreciate the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality. Although it was a bit disappointing that our first two attempts at implementing this algorithm were not viable solutions, I knew it was important to take a step back and consider that we still laid valuable groundwork for the solution we eventually did choose. We gathered a set of test cases that we would eventually use to measure the success of our final solution, and we obtained key data points on what implementation paths we needed to eliminate for this particular algorithm.
JK: Based on your experiences, what is it like to work at MongoDB?
MVK: MongoDB allows me to develop exciting technologies, make a meaningful impact both during and outside of my daily work tasks, and grow as a person, an engineer, and a leader. I'm grateful for what I've learned thus far and am excited to continue my adventure here.
Interested in pursuing a career in engineering at MongoDB? We have several open roles on our teams across the globe, and would love for you to build your career with us!
💎Want to know what engineering teams are like at Workiva? Watch the video to the end to find out!
📼 Engineering teams at Workiva are constantly hiring. Marie Yue, Senior Engineering Manager at the company, tells you what they look for in a candidate and what the dynamics of teamwork are like.
📼 The typical path in the engineering teams at Workiva is that you grow into a senior, and then you move into a lead role. From there, there are a few different tracks that you can take depending on your interest. You can become a staff engineer, an architect, or even an engineering manager. What are you waiting for to apply?
📼In the engineering teams at Workiva every member should feel empowered to do their job effectively. For this, each has to understand how the work they do day to day solves customers’ problems. Managers will always seek to be aware of members’ career path aspirations so that they can look for opportunities and projects to help each person reach the next step in their career.
Engineering Teams At Workiva: A Safe Space
Marie Yue’s team is a safe space for people to make mistakes and ask for help, and each member feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. She wants to make sure that everyone is individually empowered to lead and make decisions. For this, the team has regular meetings where they do fun things like play virtual games or eat lunch together, and they also like to re-review and add to their team working agreement once a quarter.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Marie Yue
If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Marie Yue on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
Joseph Arquillo doesn’t work in Human Resources — he works in People Operations. And the distinction matters.
“It was named ‘human resources’ because it saw humans as resources, utilized for certain tasks or behaviors. But that’s not really what it’s about,” says Joseph, who is a Senior Manager of People Ops at Clyde.
“Calling it ‘people ops’ adds back what you lose with ‘HR.’ My philosophy is that I am there to support you. I am there to work with you, empower you, and enable you so you can be your best self.”
For Joseph, a key element of helping employees become their best selves is making sure that the workplace, whether in-person or virtual, is an inclusive space for all. That doesn’t happen by accident — it requires a dedicated DEIB strategy and leaders who are committed to asking hard questions of themselves and others.
We sat down with Joseph to hear more about his professional journey, and the practices of leaders who create environments where everyone feels included.
More Than Just a Number
As a college freshman, Joseph planned on sticking with liberal arts when it came to choosing a major. But then he took a class in Boston College’s School of Education, and loved its holistic approach to applied psychology.
This inspired him to switch his major to psychology and human development, and select minors in political science, and management and leadership, where he enjoyed learning about organizational psychology.
After graduation, he explored the consulting space to put theory into practice, but found out during an internship at a multinational consulting firm that finance or accounting weren’t the places he wanted to build his career.
“Since Big Four companies have 250,000 employees, you become just a number,” he says of the experience. “It wasn’t my cup of tea. Too corporatized.”
That kicked off Joseph’s interest in startups.
“It’s always fun to get in the weeds! One thing that’s very interesting to me is a challenge,” he says. “When you’re helping a company like Clyde grow and scale, joining when they’re at a Series B and helping them get to the next level, you really get to focus on the interaction between people, process, and product,” explains Joseph. “You need to hire the right people to work towards increasing efficiencies in all areas, but also make sure that we’re enabling them to create a strong product.”
6 Keys To Building Inclusive Spaces as a Leader
Across the different industries and companies that Joseph has worked in, he’s identified the behaviors that create truly inclusive environments — as well as those that discourage them.
Here’s what he’s seen:
- First, recognize your own privilege. “If you’re a man, you have privilege, even if you’re a gay male. If you are a white woman, you have racial privilege. It’s really important that you’re cognizant while you interact with somebody how they might interpret the interaction based on your identity.”
- Leaders should always speak last. This is important always, but especially in in-person spaces, where it might seem even more nerve-wracking to speak up in a crowd, says Joseph. “You want to make sure you’re creating that space for employees who aren’t as senior to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts.”
- And, leaders should use check-ins liberally. “You need to ask yourself how you’re supporting your employees. Are you checking in on them as people before you ask about certain tasks? You want to foster a workplace where employees from all walks of life can feel supported,” he says.
- DEIB isn’t just about adding new initiatives — sometimes it’s about removing barriers. “You need to remove unnecessary bias,” explains Joseph. “That can mean making sure you have appropriate policies and practices that don’t hinder people depending on who they are or where they live.”
- Maximizing participation requires planning with a diversity lens. Joseph has helped the Clyde team gather together and bond as a group. Along the way, he’s been careful to consider physical and psychological safety for everyone involved. “For instance, if you’re doing an event, do you have someone who’s not drinking? Have you set up the environment for people who might have a physical disability, or carefully planned the flow of activities for people who might be neurodivergent?”
- Saying you want to be better isn’t enough — articulate actions you will take. “Pride is a great example,” explains Joseph. “Yes, June is a time to celebrate. But it’s also a time to march. And beyond that, how do you show up and celebrate with the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year?”
Embracing the Unknown
If you visit Joseph’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see his personal motto: “Without challenge, change, and a bunch of unknowns, it’s no fun.”
That belief has led him to study what he’s passionate about, to take on new and exciting roles at growing startups, and now, at Clyde, to help formalize what world-class people operations looks like at a fast-growing company.
“I view myself as a connector that really empowers people, challenges teams, and helps drive us towards what I consider to be an improved future,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be the chief advocate for each of our employees, and remove any barriers in the way of their growth.”
Insight from SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon and Chris Lecosia
SoftwareONE’s Jeff Cannon Business Development Executive US) and Christopher Lecosia (Senior Consultant) share a similar adventurous and brave spirit, which has led to a long trajectory of creative experiences for both of them. From taking care of two new puppies to backpacking across Europe — neither of them back down from a challenge.
As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Jeff and Chris spent a large portion of their careers fighting for inclusive workplaces where they feel a sense of belonging, and opportunities to use their experiences to serve people, no matter what career stage they’re in. And they’ve both recently found that in the global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions SoftwareONE.
We sat down with Jeff and Chris to hear their stories on how they navigated mid and late career changes and their journey to finding a company where they felt valued. Keep reading to the end for four major tips on how to successfully pivot careers.
The Journey to SoftwareONE
Jeff Cannon was born in Tacoma, Washington, but considers both Texas and Georgeia his home. After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in English and History, “I wanted to go to graduate school for history,” he explains. But upon arrival, he realized graduate school was not the right path for him, so he packed his backpack and set out for a trip through Europe instead.
This adventurous spirit led him back home to pursue exciting challenges, such as opening a hotel in Austin, working as a flight attendant in New York and Hawaii, and eventually pursuing a sales career at Dell. “I was an account executive for large university systems and large K-12 systems providing information technology to students to be able to further their education. It really fit in with my mantra around how important education is in society,” Jeff explains.”It's kind of my thing.” But after nearly 20 years at the company, he decided to look for new opportunities. “I was tired of doing the same thing all the time.” Enter SoftwareONE.
“This was an opportunity to do something completely different and take the information that I learned and use it to help build a practice that can accomplish some of the same things,” Jeff explains. He joined the company as a Business Development Executive Executive where he works to build the company’s education practice within the public sector in the United States.
SoftwareONE is a company where Jeff can thrive professionally and personally. He specifically cites the company to be people-first, which his coworker Christopher Lecosia agrees with. “SoftwareONE is a place where you can thrive as an employee, and where your creativity can flourish,” says Chris.
SoftwareONE is a leading global provider of end-to-end software and cloud technology solutions, with headquarters in Switzerland. The company itself prioritizes people as their “greatest asset” and advocates for life-work harmony. Their company’s core values are Employee Satisfaction, Customer Focused, Speed, Passionate, Integrity, Humble and Discipline, to name a few, and they ensure that they have “a welcoming – and constantly evolving – work environment for all”, no matter the racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other preferences.
Christopher works as Senior Consultant for SoftwareONE. He entered the field of IT in 1974. “Back then it was called data processing,” he jokes. “But I kind of fell into IT consulting.” He enrolled in college as an accounting major, but quickly realized that was not the path for him. “I drove into the parking lot of this college for the first day and I got very scared,” explains Chris. “I turned around and went home and I found a job.” And he was able to pursue jobs that allowed him room to change and grow with the market. He began as a systems programer and, progressively, he scaled to managerial data processing roles at multiple software companies, including IBM. He played a key role in leading and growing software asset management programs, directing support for configuration and asset management, and serving as a senior project manager for multiple teams in his previous companies.
His successful 40+ year-long career led to the start of a well-deserved retirement. “I turned 65 last October, and I thought, ‘okay, I think I’ve had enough,’ and I decided to retire in full.” But his retirement was short-lived. “A few months before I retired, [my company] had put out an RFP to the street, which SoftwareONE responded to, and I'll never forget,” says Chris. “I was hearing them respond to me and I thought, ‘Wow, these people know what they're talking about. They're really sharp and I really believed in the value that they could bring.’” So when he was offered a position as a Senior Consultant, he didn’t think twice about coming out of retirement. “In November, a recruiter from SoftwareONE called, and I started in January of 2022.”
Changing jobs after working for a company long-term can be risky, especially later in your career. But both Jeff and Chris agree that the benefits of working at a company like SoftwareONE are well worth the risk. And for the first time, they’ve felt like they can show up as their full, authentic selves at work.
Jeff recalls past workplaces that, when push came to shove, “had an undercurrent of non-acceptance.” This undercurrent brought many challenges, but he credits them for his confidence today. “I have no issues whatsoever showing up originally as myself. And at SoftwareONE, everybody's been really lovely.” Even remotely, he finds ways to connect with his coworkers, and he feels like he can do so authentically.
Chris reiterates this in his own trajectory at SoftwareONE. “When I started, my Regional VP asked me for a bio. In my bio, I talked about my husband and my two dogs and how long we've been together. That got sent out to everybody in the organization. So when I onboarded, everybody already knew,” he explains. “It was the first time in 65 years that, right from the get go, there was no pretense at all as to being something different than I am. And that's how I came out at SoftwareONE. It was good to do that. I feel truly authentic.”
Advice for Mid-Career Pivoters
Both Jeff and Chris have successfully pivoted roles and companies later in their careers. They offer four tips to consider before making the jump to a new role or joining a new company.
1. Find a place that values service to the client. “Have the mindset of service,” says Chris. “ I'm a service oriented person and part of being of service is to share my experience, strengths, and hope with other people. Whether that's on a, social, spiritual, mental level, or on a professional technical level, this helps bring growth to you, and to the company you’ll work for.” Jeff shares that, “with this mindset, we see the challenges that customers face, so we're able to better articulate to customers what our value proposition is. We can help clients achieve their goals, and everything comes a lot more easily and naturally.”
2. Believe in what you have to offer. Chris and Jeff share that aligning with the company’s mission is another key aspect to consider before changing companies. “I never thought that anybody would want to hire me at 65 years old,” Chris shares. “I had been in my former job where I saw many opportunities that I thought I was perfect for, in terms of advancement, but I wasn't given those opportunities because of my age. I started to feel dried up a little bit. When I got the offer at SoftwareONE, I felt I really wanted to come back, be of service, keep my brain sharp, and do something. I do believe I have something to offer to many clients, as well as colleagues. And that's what made me make the move.”
3. Think of the experiences you bring to the table. Jeff shares how he transferred his knowledge to his new role. “I was able to take everything that I had learned about building an organization and bring it over to a company that needed that expertise specific to the United States. Being able to have the opportunity to do some of that background work and build on alliances has been, and continues to be, a great opportunity.”
4. Find a workplace that prioritizes diversity. “Each one of us brings a certain set of characteristics with us that sit well with our clients,” explains Chris. “The diversity we bring to the company — whether it be age, gender, color, educational background, intellectual capacity — all of that color makes us more relatable to our clients and our customers.” This leads to the company’s overall success.
SoftwareONE is constantly looking for dynamic employees like Chris and Jeff. Check out their company page to find out more about their roles!