What are some typical daily tasks in your job?
As a Code for America software engineer I plan new feature development, build new features, make enhancements and fixes to the product, discuss product roadmap and user needs.
Where do you live (city/state)?
San Francisco, CA
Where did you grow up?
As a kid, what was your dream job?
I wanted to be a video game designer!
When did you get switched on to computer science, and how?
I wanted to make video games, and I realized that they were powered by code, so I taught myself as much as I could figure out and made some rudimentary text-based adventures and Mad Libs games. By the time I got to high school, I was tinkering with HTML and CSS (the MySpace era was a fun one!) and I realized that I enjoyed spending time on coding that wasn’t limited to games.
Did you have a mentor?
No, not until I was significantly further along in my career (I sought people out then).
What training in computer science do you have?
I’m primarily self-taught, but I took several graduate courses in Software Engineering to learn more about systems, architecture, and algorithms.
Describe the computer science you use in your job and how it relates to society’s needs/interests/issues?
Working as a Code for America software engineer means I make web applications that help people access government services without having to go to an office in person, or fill out paperwork. This breaks down some barriers that people face while trying to receive these services, and is ultimately a social good!
What do your friends/family think about computer science?
Many of my friends work in tech, so they tend to be fans of using it! My parents are scientists, and they encouraged me to pursue STEM education.
Has your perception of CS changed since you started working in CS? If so, how?
It has! I think when I first started, I saw CS as something finite — something that could be memorized or mastered. As my career has progressed, I’ve realized that there’s always something new to learn, and that a bigger part of the job is figuring out how to adapt to new situations rather than recalling memorized facts.
What is your X-factor or passion? What is it you love to do, or want to change, or get really excited about?
I love politics! I can’t get enough of political news (even when it’s frustrating). My side project is a tool that helps people connect with their elected officials with simple text messages.
Does or could CS play a role in this?
Yes! I think politics is becoming increasingly tech-aware and tech-driven, from campaigns to communication and beyond.
What message do you have for kids today who are interested in CS?
Follow your passion! I don’t just mean CS – I think the best way to keep that energy alive and feel connected to your projects is to find uses for tech that line up with your interests. I love sports, and I spent quite a lot of time in university making websites for sports teams; a friend of mine used to make fan pages for her favorite celebrities. You’re more likely to stick with a project and push yourself to learn new things if it makes you happy.
What’s your dream career path?
I’m on it! Making tech for social good is a dream. I think outside of STEM, if I had to make a career change, I’d be interested in running for office and extending that work so I can help government serve people in more ways.
Do you use CS in your downtime? How do you kick back and relax?
I do! I have a side project that I work on, it’s meant to help citizens participate more actively in democracy (that’s not just a once-every-four-years thing!). I kick back and relax by cooking and watching Star Trek.
What is something interesting, surprising or quirky about you that not many people know about?
I was a Jeopardy! contestant once. I didn’t win, but it was probably the most fun day of my life.
If you could do anything in the world with CS, what would it be?
I think what I’m doing is my favorite thing! Reducing barriers to access, especially in government service delivery, is so meaningful.
We’d love for you to add any other comments you might have.
I’m so glad this magazine exists! I wish there had been something like this when I was younger 🙂
Jens’s path to working as a Code for America software engineer
>> Finished a Master of Science in Software Engineering, DePaul University
>> Completed a Bachelor of arts in Economics and International Studies, University of Dayton
>> Worked as a Developer-in- Residence/Full-time Instructor, General Assembly
>> Loves her work as a Software Engineer, Code for America
Read about how you can work on amazing social good projects in computer science.