A New Beginning: From New York Sociology Graduate to Austin Software Engineer

Get to Know Selin Cetinkaya

Originally from Brooklyn, Selin moved to Austin, Texas, for a change of pace. With a sociology degree from Hunter College, she shifted from the service industry and real estate to software engineering during the pandemic. After a challenging boot camp, she began her tech career, eventually joining RealWork Labs as a Front-End Developer. Skilled in React and JavaScript, Selin contributes significantly to team planning and developing the company’s web application.

Why did you move from New York?

“It was right before the pandemic, and I lived with my fiance in an apartment. We had been living together for a few years, and the cost of living was crazy, and it became an overwhelming place to live. So, we started researching other cities that had a tech scene. Austin was obviously on that list, and we visited and immediately fell in love with the city. It was an experience that we hadn’t had in any other cities that we visited. So we were just like, this is it. We found it.”

What an intense transition across the country.

“Yeah, it was wild. It was great, though; now I have a yard. The quality of life just immediately improved. It was really nice, but actually physically moving was really stressful. But we have two cats, and that was a whole ordeal. I’m so happy that we made the jump and actually moved. I’m really enjoying living in Austin.”

How did you get into what you do now if you studied sociology?

“I chose to major in sociology because I was uncertain about my career path. I was drawn to sociology classes, which naturally aligned with my interests. This was a good choice, providing a solid foundation for any future direction, something I’m truly grateful for. My journey into software engineering began with a long-standing interest despite the perceived high barriers of cost and effort. It remained a background consideration until the pandemic, encouraging me to reassess my career. I decided to dive in, fully committing to this new path. Although it was challenging and costly, as expected, the decision has been incredibly rewarding. I’m delighted I took the plunge.”

Describe your current role and responsibilities for your job today.

“I mainly work on the front-end parts of our web app, building and testing features, making things look how design wants them to look, how they’re supposed to function, and working on some of the feedback items we’ve received from our customers. I also run some of our weekly meetings, so I get to be part of the planning and ensuring that everything is on track, which is a cool kind of newer thing I get to do, which I enjoy.”

Have you previously worked on a web app?

“There are all kinds of different languages and frameworks you need to be familiar with. Mobile apps tend to be separate; they’re generally separate in the background knowledge you have to have to master those skills. I am much more proficient in web apps, like the specific types of languages and frameworks you need to know, but there is some overlap.”

What kind of languages do you know?

“I mainly focused on React, Javascript, and similar languages in my boot camp. In my previous role, I was using an older, less popular, and efficient language. So I love that I get to build up my skills on very valuable, cool, and modern languages.”

Where were you before joining RealWork Labs?

“I was doing contract work. My first job after boot camp was very entry-level; I worked on some minor bug fixes for a company for about six months while applying for jobs. This contract job was more of a foot-in-the-door kind of position. It served me well, which I’m very grateful for.”

So you did boot camp in three months and then got that job for six months and now you’re here?

“It was an absolute roller coaster. I did the boot camp and then six months later I got that role and then six months after that I got this role, and now I’m just a software engineer.”

What inspired you to pursue your current profession role?

“After graduating college, I jumped around a bit in terms of what I was doing for work. I did mostly service industry stuff for a while When I was living in New York, just coffee shops and things. I even worked at a fish market for a bit. After moving to Texas, I didn’t want to work in the service industry anymore, so I got into real estate. I was a realtor for two years, which was really cool, but it ended up being too cutthroat for me, especially in a city like Austin. I was like, “I’m not aggressive enough in the right way for that.” 

Then Covid hit, and I couldn’t really do anything. So that’s when I decided to do software engineering. I wanted to focus less on interacting daily with customers or clients. Instead, I wanted to interact daily with a team and to be part of a group of people working towards the same goal, whereas working in real estate can be really isolating. I knew that software engineering could be done fully remote, and you could still have that community and team of people you talk to daily. So, it all culminated in the nudge I needed to commit to the boot camp.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“We have daily morning meetings called standups, a common practice in many tech teams. During these sessions, each team member takes turns discussing their activities from the previous day, their plans for the day, any obstacles they face, important updates, and any questions they may have. These meetings are crucial for ensuring everyone is aligned and clarifying any potential confusion, especially since many of us work remotely. It’s a valuable time when we all come together, as it’s the only time of day we’re all in sync.

Following the standup, I typically work on my daily tasks and reach out to colleagues when I need assistance or offer help when they need it. Beyond the regular meetings, the work is quite independent, but our team maintains excellent communication, even in a fully remote setting, which is something I truly appreciate.”

What do you like the most about specifically the work we do here?

“The tech industry is truly fascinating as it spans every other industry, making it all-encompassing. Home service businesses are often underestimated in terms of benefiting from new and exciting technology. RealWork Labs is dedicated to changing this perspective, affirming that home service businesses should have a place in the current tech landscape. They deserve access to the same technology that other brands and industries fully leverage. Many home service businesses may not be aware of these opportunities, and I appreciate that RealWork Labs dedicates its efforts to shine a light on these often overlooked entities in the tech world.”

What's different about our culture here from other places you've worked at?

“I’ve never worked somewhere where I felt that everyone around me was genuinely invested in my success. It’s not just within the engineering team; it’s the entire company culture that’s excited about everyone’s wins. The level of support and encouragement is remarkable, as everyone ensures that others are happy, performing at their best, and thriving. Such a culture is rare in companies; here, everyone genuinely wants each other to succeed.”

What's one thing that surprised you the most about your current role?

“There are many things to consider. This is my first full-time nine-to-five job, so there are countless aspects to it. One thing that initially concerned me was the potential of feeling isolated while working remotely. I was excited to learn that we also had a physical office. I still enjoy coming into the office and seeing everyone, but I was also surprised by how well people stay in touch, even when working remote. In every meeting, everyone has their cameras on, and we openly share parts of our personal lives. We maintain a friendly atmosphere, and I was initially nervous that such a sense of community wouldn’t exist in the remote world. However, even as I entered the field of software engineering, particularly at this company, I’ve discovered that the sense of community remains strong, even in a remote environment.”

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

“I’m still pretty new to the industry, so breaking into my first role is something I’m still amazed at. I’m still so happy that RealWork Labs took a chance on someone with limited experience. During the interview process, I jelled and got along with everyone I spoke to, and it took so long and so many applications to land this job. So even just breaking into this competitive industry and being here and every day learning and growing and being in an environment where I’m encouraged to learn and grow is definitely something I’m very proud of.”

Are there any mentors that have influenced your career journey?

“I don’t have any specific mentors. I love being able to talk and learn from anyone with more experience than I do, especially those who have decades of experience. It’s incredibly valuable, given how early I am in my career, to hear how individuals further along in their careers reflect on their early days. Learning something new can be challenging, and it’s easy to become stuck or plagued by imposter syndrome, fearing that I’m not doing things correctly. When you’re new to something and still learning, it’s easy to get inside your head. It’s reassuring to hear from those with more experience and how they view their early career days. It reminds me that one day, I’ll be decades into my career, reflecting on this time.

There’s ample time to learn, grow, and evolve. Nothing remains the same forever. It’s crucial to remember that both success and failure are merely moments in your journey. You’ll learn from them, whether they’re challenging lessons or exciting ones. It’s all part of the continuous learning process.”

Do you have any hobbies or interests?

“It’s not a surprising fact or anything, but outside of work, I’m a real homebody. I genuinely enjoy my space at home. I have two cats; I love hanging out with them, and I do a lot of cooking. It’s a fun way to distract myself from anything that’s bothering me or to try something new. It’s a safe space to experiment, whether I fail or succeed. Additionally, I love sharing meals with the people around me because I grew up in a household where my mom cooked dinner every night. I have a bunch of siblings, and we would all sit down to dinner together every night. Food symbolizes love and community, which is true for many people. If I have a day off or a Sunday with nothing going on, I’ll take on a cooking project.”

What kind of things do you like to cook?

“I love making focaccia; it’s one of those recipes that’s really easy, and the payoff is substantial. I’ve also brought Baklava to the team several times, and it received great reviews. My dad is from Turkey, so Turkish cuisine is one of my favorites, and I’ve been working on learning more about cooking Turkish dishes. Since there isn’t much Turkish food in Austin, I’ve been looking up recipes to prepare on weeknights to incorporate it into my routine more. I don’t have the opportunity to eat it often, but I love it so much.”