At the Intersection of Technical and Human Skills: Meet Jeannette

Technology is a field that’s defined by its constant evolution—an advantage for newcomers looking for learning opportunities. This was one theme that resonated in our chat with Jeannette, Senior Category Manager for Computer Science and Engineering at edX. In our latest edX Insider, she talks us through the rapidly changing field of computer science, the importance of communication skills in engineering, her best advice for learners, and more.

What are you most excited about as the new Sr. Category Manager for Computer Science & Engineering at edX?

Technology is always evolving. I’m excited to collaborate with edX’s community of academic and corporate partners to ensure that our computer science and engineering content portfolio fully reflects these rapidly changing technologies, as well as timeless/fundamental tools and concepts. I’m also excited to further edX’s mission and ensure that every learner, everywhere has access to the highest caliber of computer science and engineering curricula to support them at every stage of their career journey—whether they’re just getting started and want to explore IT project management, or a non-technical manager who wants to understand the business case for adopting a DevOps culture, or a seasoned engineer who wants to upskill on quantum sensors.

As David Joyner, PhD and executive director of online education for the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology (GTx) shares, “what makes computer science really interesting is the rate at which it changes means that no one’s ever really at a disadvantage.” Joyner teaches several edX courses and programs including an introduction to programming in Python and the fundamentals of human-computer interaction.

How was the experience of starting a new role remotely?

Surprisingly smooth! The recruiting team did a great job staying in touch with me regarding organizational updates and expectations prior to day one. The IT team also sent me my pre-configured laptop with a heads up that they’d do a deeper dive on day one and I received a fun box of edX-branded swag and snacks; all were welcoming gestures. On my actual day one, my manager walked me through a thoughtfully curated onboarding checklist of technical tools and internal artifacts that would be helpful to digest, as well as colleagues I should meet in my first 7, 14, and 30 days and why. Lastly, I was assigned two onboarding “buddies”—one within my nuclear team and one outside of my department—who I could meet with to answer any newbie questions, provide helpful context, and point me in the right direction when more information was warranted.

What is one goal you’ve set for yourself in 2020?

I set a goal at the start of 2020 to learn something new every month to spark inspiration and expand my knowledge and skill set. Once the pandemic struck, I had to re-assess this goal with my updated capacity and ended up recalibrating to learn something new at least once a quarter and prioritized books and online courses. On edX, I’ve completed Data Science: R Basics from HarvardX and am in the process of completing Unconscious Bias: From Awareness to Action from CatalystX. In books, I completed Samantha Power’s “The Education of an Idealist”, Marc Benioff’s “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change,” and am hoping to check out “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” by Harvard Political Philosophy Professor Michael J. Sandel before year end.

What is your best advice for those pursuing new career opportunities in computer science during the pandemic?

Strengthening your communication skill set (including, but not limited to, written, speaking, active listening, and executive presence) will pay dividends. If you have a career opportunity lined up, strong communication skills will serve you well as you onboard remotely and join team meetings via video and respond to shoulder taps through slack, messaging channels, or email. If you don’t have a job or internship lined up yet, focusing on strengthening your communication skills will prepare you to stand out during virtual interactions with hiring managers, recruiters, and alumni. Thoughtfully-written thank you and follow-up emails can also distinguish you from other strong technical candidates. A candidate might have a great digital portfolio and be a whiz at technical challenges, but if the candidate cannot communicate effectively how they arrived at a certain solution or articulate what makes them a team player, then someone who does demonstrate both technical acumen and communication savviness will likely hold the advantage. 

If you’re looking for some courses to brush up on your professional communication skills, edX has a variety of courses that can help including the following:

Don’t forget to set aside time for learning—edX’s VP of Learning Nina Huntemann shares, “This doesn’t mean you need to find four hour blocks, three days a week. Learning on edX is modular and flexible. You may find 15 minutes to watch a short video lecture and write a three-sentence reflection post. But of course, other learning activities will require more time. Be planful and dedicate time to learn as you would to exercise or see friends or spend time with loved ones.”

Read more online learning tips here. Good luck and never stop learning!