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Sarah is a 2007 graduate of the University of Idaho receiving a BS degree in Computer Science. She was also the recipient of the Computer Science Outstanding Senior Award for 2006-2007. Originally from Rathdrum, ID Sarah is now a software developer for Chief Architect in Coeur d'Alene, ID. Chief Architect is a a small, but established and growing software company with less than 100 employees. They develop, market and support architectural home design software. Their two categories of products are focused towards professional and consumer users, with the consumer products retailing through outlets such as Best Buy, Costco, and a variety of other stores under the Better Homes and Gardens name.
Sarah's father worked in the software industry and as a result she grew up with computers, but it wasn't until the 9th grade when she took an experimental programming course, offered as a substitute for the required keyboarding class, that computer science became an interest. She continued to take computer science courses through high school, working on programming projects that ranged from command line, to windows applications, to animation. As a result she developed expertise in the QBASIC, Visual Basic and C++ languages.
"Student activities are an important compliment to traditional academic endeavors."
While a student in the University of Idaho Computer Science program, Sarah was active in many things besides traditional academics and found that the program had a lot to offer its students. "In addition to an excellent curriculum, there are a variety of student groups (ACM, SWE, IEEE, and Linux Users Group to name a few), research opportunities and internships, mentoring, tutoring, and teaching opportunities available to students."
In addition to completing the required Computer Science courses, Sarah rounded out her background with a few courses that had a hardware focus. "I find the hardware-software transition fascinating. Compilers, digital logic, and computer architecture were among my top favorite classes of all time." She never really narrowed her interest to one specific area of Computer Science but rather chose to get a broad background. "I find nearly all aspects of the field exciting. Consequentially, I'm still searching for a specific road to travel; however, I would like to try all 31 flavors before making a commitment to one specific topic."
"I learned how to learn; and in a rapidly changing field like Computer Science, it's the one skill you need the most."
As an undergraduate, Sarah complemented her classroom activities with participation in a cryptography research project, studying set theoretic estimation and how it applies to message decryption. She worked closely with a Computer Science faculty members and a graduate student working in the same research area. "I discovered research through the McNair Scholars Program as well as through Dr. Hiromoto (CS Department Professor) and Al Carlson (CS PhD Candidate). I did my research during the summer of 2005. I was exposed to possible avenues of application for my degree and gained valuable experience, both in research and skills that I apply daily. They taught me more about life and learning than any class could offer. I learned about cryptography, probability, and statistics. I learned how to communicate my ideas and teach. But, most importantly, I learned how to learn; and in a rapidly changing field like Computer Science, it's the one skill you need the most."
"College isn't just about going to class, it's about perusing your dreams."
As a final though about her college experience, Sarah had this to say, "College isn't just about going to class, it's about perusing your dreams. The Computer Science Department at the University of Idaho does an excellent job providing resources for students to utilize and grow in their profession."
After graduation in 2007, Sarah joined Chief Architect, a small, but established and growing company with about 100 employees. Sarah expressed the appeal of a small company this way, "Product developers make up less than one-third of our company which means that I have a lot of opportunities and responsibility. My job as a Software Engineer isn't just coding all day. I'm responsible for documenting features I add to the software. I'm responsible for fixing and documenting bugs. I communicate with the other members of my team on a daily basis, ensuring that they know what I'm doing and I know what they're doing. I also get to interact with our users on a daily basis." In addition to her product development responsibilities, Sarah is encouraged to participate in trade shows, recruiting events at universities, and interviews of prospective new employees.
"For the features I'm working on I'm responsible for everything: researching requirements, designing the interface, implementing the feature, preliminary testing, and providing preliminary documentation."
A small company also provides a wide variety of experiences and freedom with regards to projects, but it also comes with added responsibilities. "As a team, there is a set of features we must implement for the next update or upgrade. However, as an individual developer (interns included), I have the opportunity to pick which features I implement. Implementing features isn't just writing the code, either. I'm responsible for everything: researching requirements, designing the interface, implementing the feature, preliminary testing, and providing preliminary documentation about the feature to the technical writing team so they can put the right information in the final documentation."
For Sarah, a day at work is likely to present significant variety in what she's asked to do. "Writing code is not what I do the entire day, however, it's not uncommon to spend a large majority of the day coding. If I averaged my days together, a typical day involves interacting with the customers, either through Technical Support or on our user forums, testing changes I've made to the code, reviewing code changes made by other developers, discussing problems or ideas about the software, writing and reviewing documentation, communicating with the development team about my projects, exploring new technologies, reading technical books and papers, learning building terminology and standards, and learning to use the product."
Sarah was quick to recognize that not all small companies are the same and that meeting their customer's needs is important to survival. "One benefit I find unique at Chief Architect is that the Development Team is not exclusively the people who write the software. The Development Team includes all of Chief Architect's employees AND our users. Another unique thing about us is that we don't outsource our Technical Support activities. In fact, Technical Support is located immediately adjacent to the developers. This enables our support professionals to work with the developers to solve problems quickly."
The views expressed on this page are those of the individual being profiled and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Idaho or the employer. References to specific companies or organizations does not constitute endorsement of their products or services by the University of Idaho.
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