Starting Your Software Engineering Career at Sigma: Meet Alexis Johnson
Data Evangelist, Sigma
It’s called post-graduation anxiety — that period of stress and worry where new grads ask themselves that critical question, “What do I do now?”
As if it wasn’t difficult enough to answer on its own, it’s been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As it stands now, more than half of new graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Even students that managed to secure post-graduation internships are finding themselves in dire straits. 38% of post-graduate work opportunities have been canceled or postponed. And with several major industries in a state of flux, even people with decades of experience are feeling unsure about their professional futures.
It was in this tumultuous environment that Alexis Johnson found herself during her last few months of college. Even though she had secured an entry-level role at a travel company, the restrictions around travel and the general uncertainty in that industry caused the company to rescind the offer. With graduation day fast approaching and job opportunities limited, Alexis hit Linkedin to figure out what she was going to do next.
Fortunately for us, Alexis found Sigma. After dazzling us with her talent and grit, we quickly brought her on to our software engineering team where she works on new product features, mentors interns, and assists in our engineering recruiting efforts.
— Why did you get into software engineering? How did you decide it was for you?
Most people are exposed to programming pretty early these days, but I didn’t encounter coding in highschool or in my childhood at all. I went into college undecided because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked to solve problems, loved physics and was good at math.
A friend suggested that I take a programming class but I thought it wasn’t for me. I had all these misconceptions about what programming is and who could be a programmer, but I thought I would give it a try anyway. Three weeks into the class I changed my major to computer science. It was incredibly rewarding to solve problems and see the solutions appear on the screen.
“I had such a positive experience during the interview process. It felt more like talking to colleagues than being interviewed. I could tell they were incredibly smart yet they were so easy to talk to and get along with.”
Software Engineer, Sigma
— What was it like to begin your career in the middle of a global pandemic?
It was really stressful. I had a job offer with a company in the travel industry at the beginning of my last year of college so I thought I had it all figured out. But when the pandemic hit, my offer was rescinded. It was so jarring to have a plan, and then see that plan go up in smoke six weeks before graduation.
Fortunately for me, I came across Sigma on Linkedin. Sigma was everything I was looking for. I had such a positive experience during the interview process. It felt more like talking to colleagues than being interviewed. I could tell they were incredibly smart yet they were so easy to talk to and get along with. What won me over was the sheer potential of the opportunity. It was definitely scary to join a company in the middle of a pandemic but I was totally sold on the vision.
— What were you looking for in your first full-time software engineering role?
I wanted to find a place where I would learn and grow. During my internship experiences, I always felt like the training wheels were on. It never really felt like I was doing work that actually mattered. But during my first conversations with the team at Sigma, it was obvious that I would be put on important projects from the start and be given the help and support I would need to be successful.
“That’s the beauty of working at a startup. Not only can you take initiative and try different things but people give you their full support so you can be successful.”
Software Engineer, Sigma
— What does your role at Sigma encompass?
During my first six months here, I spent my time working on customer requests — taking a feature customers want and building it into the product. Over the last couple months I’ve been working on Sigma Workbooks which has been really rewarding. I’m learning how to quickly iterate — leave things behind when they don’t work and build on things when they do. Outside of coding, I do some interviewing of junior candidates. I helped design the interview process for our interns so we can hire the right people for our current and future needs. That’s the beauty of working at a startup. Not only can you take initiative and try different things but people give you their full support so you can be successful.
— What was it like to start at Sigma without meeting any of the team in person?
At that point, everyone was adjusting to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. The team did a great job of setting up virtual coffees and lunches so I could get to know people better. Then and now, people are so responsive and willing to help. You can put a question on Slack and immediately get answers.
What has been most surprising is what I’ve been able to do. During my internships in college, the scope of work I was allowed to take on was very narrow. But my first project here was a highly requested feature: conditional scheduling. Very quickly after joining, I was able to have real impact, review other people’s code, and have my ideas heard.
Sigma’s value of “assume best intent” really came to life for me. I was allowed to jump into things, even crash and burn a few times, but always had the support of the team. My coworkers are really smart people, but they also have a ton of humility. People are willing to give and accept feedback and build on each other’s ideas. It was the perfect opportunity for a new grad like me.
“Sigma’s value of “assume best intent” really came to life for me. I was allowed to jump into things, even crash and burn a few times, but always had the support of the team.”
Software Engineer, Sigma
— What are you looking forward to now? Anything you’re excited to learn or build?
Over the last six months, so much of my energy was focused on Workbooks. Workbooks plays a huge role in our vision of making data accessible to everyone. I am excited to see how customers use this product and use their feedback to iterate and make it even better.
I’m also looking forward to our interns starting this summer since I was part of the hiring process. People have a preconceived notion of what a programmer looks like and who will be able to succeed. I felt this a few times in college. But Sigma is committed to building a diverse team. It’s exciting to see more women, people of color, and others who are not fully represented in this industry joining the team and in leadership positions.
Alexis Johnson is a Software Engineer at Sigma Computing. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota, graduating with honors. At Sigma, Alexis turns customer requests into new features, helps onboard new engineering hires, and assists in our recruiting efforts.