February 03, 2015 - by Angie Chang

Engineering At Hulu: Hackbright Alumna Allison Deal Talks Work Culture And Full System Ownership

Hackbright alumna (class of Summer 2013) Allison Deal graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010 with a major in Systems Engineering and minor in Visual Communications. Here is her story.

Allison Deal
Hulu Software Engineer

I work on the Content Platform team at Hulu. We are responsible for developing the systems enabling the process of receiving files from content providers (like NBC, FOX, or Univision), transcoding these videos so they can be watched on different devices, and then building and maintaining the services for storing and serving these videos to the user. Specifically, I work on a system for continuously evaluating, monitoring, and improving the user video playback experience.

How Did You Get Your Job As A Software Engineer?

I'm interested in video streaming and processing (my Hackbright project was video-related) so I focused on applying to companies advancing this field.

I had a close friend who worked at Hulu, so I reached out and asked for specific information about what the each of the technology teams worked on, and was able to get in touch with a recruiter to go through the interview process.

To prepare for interviews, I spent many hours studying algorithms, data structures, databases, and doing practice problems.

Going through the process wasn't easy, but since I'd gone through tech interviews before, to get my first job after Hackbright, I had more realistic expectations of myself and a better idea of how to prepare.

What's Your Advice To Your Younger Self?

"My advice would be to not be so hard on myself during interviews!"

Approach the interview process as a learning opportunity, not as a verdict of whether or not you are good enough to be a software engineer.

I now understand that even the most experienced engineers have bad interviews and that passing interviews has more to do with how well you study than how smart you are.

Also, I now realize that it's important to not get down on myself, but to learn from my mistakes - figure out the answers to algorithm questions I missed and better understand concept questions I couldn't confidently respond to in order to improve myself as a stronger candidate along the way.

What's A Day In The Life Of A Hulu Software Engineer Like?

A typical day might consist of a morning of coding, a lunch break with my team at the food trucks down the street, and an afternoon of more coding, with maybe one meeting, brainstorming session, or tech talk.

My team mainly focuses on data processing and services, but we also develop internal apps, so it's important to be comfortable working with with databases, such as MySQL and MongoDB, as well as understand web frameworks and frontend development; most systems are written in Python.

Here is a helpful walk through of video encoding if you want to learn more about how it works.

"I really love the culture at Hulu. Most of my team's meetings happen around a ping pong table, we always ensure proper birthday celebrations, and laugh until we cry at team game nights. I feel so lucky to work with so many smart people who are great at what they do, but also never forget to have fun."

I'm definitely challenged and excited about the work I'm doing in my current position and definitely have a lot of room to grow. My favorite part of my job is learning something new every day.

My team really values full system ownership - if there's something you don't understand, don't give it to someone else to do, but ask questions until you learn how to do it so you can completely grasp how it works and solve the problem the next time around. This mentality is definitely challenging and sometimes intimidating, but is also the most rewarding.

On Fridays, we have team retros where we discuss what worked that week and what didn't.

What Attracted You To Software Engineering?

I had always preferred math and science classes in school and majored in non-CS engineering, but even as an engineer, I thought computer science was dorky and mysteriously confusing.

My ah-ha moment came one day when I was feeling especially confused about my career direction - I was chatting with some software developer friends about the kinds of problems they were working on, and everything sounded so interesting and exciting to me.

I realized that with some programming skills, I could apply my math background to do some really cool things. So, I signed up for an online Java course, and decided to attend Hackbright soon after.

Allison is a graduate of Hackbright Academy's Summer 2013 Engineering Fellowship.

Editor's note: Deadline to apply for Hackbright Academy's engineering fellowship for women (the Spring 2015 class) is Friday, February 6! For all session dates and deadlines to apply, click here.


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