When Caroline Amaba first arrived at Stevens Institute of Technology as a freshman in 2008, a career in tech and media may never have entered her mind. But her choice to work towards two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and visual arts and technology allowed her to lead the way down her own impressive career path.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have a B.S. in computer science, and a B.A. in visual arts and technology (granted the "visual" part was added after I graduated in 2012)! I am currently a Software Engineer part of the Ads Group at BuzzFeed.
Where did your career take you before BuzzFeed?
In January 2012, while just starting my last semester at Stevens, I got a part-time internship at VaynerMedia doing graphic design and some web development work. My schedule worked out that I went in twice a week, one day for a half day after morning classes, and then fully on another day (I also had to plan my schedule well during that semester because I was working on two senior capstone projects: my senior design with my computer science group, and my thesis for visual arts and tech). VaynerMedia didn't have a full tech team at the time, and was slowly building one while I was part-time there. Eventually, they offered me a full-time position, I was employee <40, and was there from the start of the tech team. Since then, that company has grown enormously, and I was there for five years doing web development, social media and digital advertising. I still have many friends at VaynerMedia, and even fellow art & tech alumnus Zak Moy still works there as a Creative Director.
How did your Visual Arts & Technology degree help you transition into a career in the tech/media space?
A lot of employers liked my experience with computer science but with the design background I got from visual arts & technology. I also was originally applying to jobs as a UX/UI Designer. Web development and front-end develeopment work just sort of found me during my time at VaynerMedia (I always liked coding). My digital design experience though helped me to bridge the gap between our designers and our developers, and those merged sets of skills became very key in building that bridge. I never just did "tech speak" -- I could also talk design and visuals as well and find a happy medium between the two. Also, my more technical thinking from my computer science degree informed how I went about some graphic/visual design problems; likewise, the visual/design thinking helped me think holistically about my code choices and software engineering.
What’s one achievement you’re really proud of that you feel Stevens helped prepared you to tackle?
At Stevens, both in classes and a number of my extracurriculars, I made a good number of presentations. Also, while graphic design was always a hobby of mine, the design skills I learned in my visual arts & technology classes refined my work for making good-looking graphics and presentations. I recently gave my first talk at a tech meetup (Queens JS), which was a big step for me. There's something about presenting in front of your peers at college, but another in front of total strangers. Either way, I had enough confidence in my skills and abilities, and everything I learned while working, to make a great presentation. I got a lot of great feedback after the talk, too—people told me they didn't think it was my first talk (in a way, it wasn't, but at as a meetup-talk it was).
What advice would you give to current Stevens students?
Learning never ends. Surround yourself with people smarter than you (my first three months interning at VaynerMedia I learned the most amazing amount). If you have the chance for internships, even part-time, do it (though, don't do anything for free—you’re worth it)! Also, there's a lot of value in having a personal brand and knowing what you're about. I know a lot of people in the tech field are freelancing, so if you decide you want to go this route, keep that in mind and be really good at managing your time: your skills aren't just how good you are at designing or executing on a project, it can also be about how you manage the whole thing.
What else do you do outside of work you might like to talk about?
It's crazy how outside interests get you noticed or make great interview starters. My resume has that I'm a Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master (i.e., I run the game for players), and it has been quite the conversation starter (also, being a DM has a lot of transferrable skills to the real world, like scheduling, conflict management, and working well under pressure). Also, I love having other passions aside from programming that help to foil the experience of sitting in front of a computer all day, so I recently took up climbing. Aside from the gym, I've gone outdoor bouldering in Central Park and the British Virgin Islands (travel opportunities!) - I got to reconnect with some fellow alums this way!
To learn more about Caroline, visit her website here.