ALUMNI PROFILE: WESLEY TO, PRODUCT ENGINEER @ ASANA

Wesley To

AGE: 29
INTERESTS: Building stuff, playing guitar, music in general

Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:

Originally, I’m from Santa Ana, which is in Orange County, California. When I was young, I was really into building things. When I went to college I started as a math major before I became a computer science major. I accidentally discovered computers and hardware stuff after I broke one of my computers and started researching how to fix it. That process took me down the rabbit hole and got me interested in hardware and architecture. I earned my degree in CS from UC Berkeley and after that had to take some time off for personal family issues. I was looking to get back into the industry and 42 seemed like a great way to do that.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Yes. Python, Java, and C, with a little bit of C++ and Ruby. I started basically when I switched majors in college, at this point I have close to 7 years of experience. My first day of programming was an Intro to Programming course at Berkeley. It was a trial by fire situation so in hindsight that experience prepared me for the piscine.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

I like the freedom of being able to choose which path you want to go down. It was nice to have a big community of people you interact with every day. I met people who are like-minded, who were working towards the same goals. In the end, we got the same result which was to find a job in tech.

I was part of the Robotics Lab while at 42, and I like how it is outside of the regular curriculum. Everything we were doing was new and novel, it hadn’t been done by anyone else in the school and it was exciting. That is what got me into tech in the first place; I enjoy solving problems that haven’t been solved before or coming up with solutions that people haven’t done before. That process of discovery was fun, and being able to have the opportunity to do that in the Robotics lab was great.

Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

I am currently an infrastructure and software engineer. In the 42 curriculum there is some infrastructure and DevOps stuff, I never had experience with that in a traditional undergraduate program. Even having a little bit of exposure to that helped me ease into my job a little bit faster. A good thing about 42’s curriculum is that even if you are not going down one particular path, it still provides you with exposure to new things. You also have opportunities to talk to people who have done these projects before. In a traditional CS program, all of your friends are taking the same classes, you aren’t exposed to new concepts.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

It was actually through a hiring event at 42. Someone from Asana gave a talk and offered to do interviews with feedback. I signed up for that and eventually followed through the entire interview process, and I got the job. 

Describe what you do at Asana:

I am on the revenue infrastructure team, it is a combination of both product engineering and regular infrastructure. We are building an internal service at Asana that deals with how we bill our customers. So my day to day can be a combination of web development, backend engineering, or infrastructure stuff with Docker or Kubernetes. It is a fairly unique position which drew me to choose this particular team in the first place.

What does your typical workday look like?

I usually come in at 10:30 am, depending on when meetings are scheduled. On average I have an hour to an hour and a half of meetings per day that are spread out. I will do program work, or do AoRs (areas of responsibility) which means I am responsible for certain parts of the codebase or company operations outside of my usual duties. My AoR is the revenue infrastructure; it might involve people outside of the team coming in and asking how do we do things with the service. My job is to consult and distribute knowledge of what our service currently does or I can take that feedback back to the team. That is 10% of my day, the other 20% are meetings, and the other 70% is engineering work in general. And I end my day at around 6 pm.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

I would because I like that it is accelerated, it is a faster pace than what I did as an undergrad. The curriculum introduces important concepts early on, which is useful when you are trying to find a job. It is also good to have exposure to people within the industry. I wouldn’t have the job I have now without 42. Actually, I know this for a fact because I applied to the same company before 42 and wasn’t able to get in. With 42 I was able to get myself in front of a person during a hiring event and get the job.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

Get started on the fundamentals very early on. Data structures, algorithms and practice interviews are super important. Don’t wait for the curriculum to introduce the topics to you because, by the time you’re applying for jobs, it’s usually too little, too late. Starting your first month, you should set aside a small amount of time every day devoted to these topics. It is easy when you are in a bubble of tech people to just assume people will know what you are saying. But when you are interviewing or working with a customer you can’t assume that. You need to know how to convey ideas in ways that anyone can understand. So in addition to technical skills, you need to work on your communication skills as well.

Connect with Wesley on LinkedIn
Interview by: Stacey Faucett
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