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Pittsburgh-based UX Engineer Sarah Stanger has her hands full. As a mother of two working in tech, she always had a hard time finding a company with the right work-life balance. In her current role at software startup Rocana, Stanger works with both the Product and Engineering teams to translate high-level feature requirements into detailed designs that consider usability and aesthetics.

Learn more about how Stanger started her career in programming, what she looks for in an employer, and how she got her current job.

When and how did you get started programming?

Looking back, I was exposed to several computer games that taught programming basics without calling it “programming.” In high school, I made quite a few web pages, but I didn’t know anyone who did anything beyond basic HTML. I wanted to learn more, so I signed up for Intro to Programming classes at a local community college. They were teaching pretty outdated technologies, but it piqued my interest enough that I decided to major in Computer Science, despite not having much programming background.

In school, I was a member of RIT’s Computer Science House, and that was where I really learned to program. Having that peer support was invaluable for me to stick with Computer Science.

Tell us a little bit about your current role. What does a typical day look like for you?

My current role is UX Engineer at Rocana. When I first started, we only had three engineers, so I did both design and implementation of the UI. As we’ve hired more Front-End Application Engineers, I’ve transitioned to focus on the design aspect.

My typical day would include working on mockups of new features, discussions with the head of Product about requirements and scope of new features, and working closely with the application team to refine the designs and test out their usability.

Since we are a distributed company, I can work from different locations depending on what I plan to do that day. If I’m going to be on the phone a lot, I will work from home. If I am looking for creative inspiration, I might find a coffee shop or an outside space to work from.

What are the unique challenges you face as a UX Developer?

I’m part of the engineering team, but UX sits at a really interesting crossroads between Product and Engineering. I translate high-level feature requirements into detailed designs that consider usability and aesthetics. There are always things I want to make better, but in real life compromises and tradeoffs have to be made due to technology and schedules. Working with teams across the company to find the balance is probably the biggest challenge.

Tell us a bit about your previous roles and how they lead the path for where you are today.

My first job out of school was as a Software Engineer in a large corporate environment. I was very lucky that I was placed on a team that was mostly women. That was an amazing experience for me to build my confidence as an engineer and see role models for being a mother working in technology.

After a few years, I wanted to change my focus. I always had an interest in UI/UX and went back to school part-time and got a Masters in Human-Centered Computing. At the same time, I transitioned to a position doing UI and web development work.

I left that position two years ago to come to Rocana. Switching from a big corporate environment to a very early stage distributed startup was a big change, but it has been very exciting to see how the company has grown.


What’s your favorite part of being a developer?

I love the feeling that you get when you are debugging, and everything snaps into place and the code you have been banging your head against works. I love seeing the things that I’ve created help people solve their problems.

What has been your experience applying for jobs, interviewing, and working with recruiters?

I haven’t dealt with recruiters very much. I found my first “real” job through an on-campus job fair. I put in a resume for an intern position and was accepted. After graduating, I converted to a full-time employee and held a number of different positions for the same employer. All of my interviews were for internal positions that I applied for through an internal jobs system.

I sort of fell into my current position at Rocana as I wasn’t really searching for a job but a friend recommended I talk to the co-founders. It sounded like a really exciting opportunity and their emphasis on creating a good company culture really appealed to me. Plus the ability to work from anywhere made it a great fit for my life at that point.

What’s something you wish employers knew about developers?

You can be a successful developer without eating/sleeping/breathing code. There are so many successful developers who don’t have six different side projects going that they contribute to on their off time. If that is something that makes you happy, then that’s awesome. But if you have other time commitments in your life or just aren’t interested that’s awesome too.

Where do you see the world of technology in 10 years?

I am really excited to see what happens in the world of big data. I want to see more analytics and more interactive exploratory visualizations that will help users explore and understand their data.

To keep up with Sarah, you can follow her on Twitter. To learn more about Rocana, check out their Twitter, too.

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