"Building a Career in Tech"

Work-life is straight out of modern Silicon Valley—a fully remote global team, JIRA updates, code reviews, and demanding deadlines.

"Building a Career in Tech"

Below is an article originally written by Linda Hemerik, Senior Technology Program Manager at PowerToFly Partner Packet, and published on January 17, 2020. Go to Packet's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

A Need for Adventure

My engineering role at Packet is the latest chapter in my life as a Dutchwoman in New York. I was born in Belgium, but I grew up in the Netherlands, where there's plenty of charming countryside to love—complete with dairy cows, windmills, and bicycles. If you haven't spent time in the Netherlands, coming up with ingenious solutions for difficult problems is deeply rooted in the culture. Not for nothing, or so the saying goes: "God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland." Case in point: Almost half the country's land was repurposed using techniques now embraced around the world.

Even when I was young, I wanted to break free from the boundaries of the Dutch socio-cultural norm of "Doe normaal," which translates to "just be normal, already!" I yearned to see more of the world, and at 21, I set off for New Jersey working as a communications intern for Agfa as part of a global exchange program. I immediately felt at home in the U.S. and when my internship ended, I vowed I would return one day.

Fast forward some years, my husband at the time (also Dutch) and I had a family—four awesome kids born in different countries and we were living all around the world. As a full-time mom and the wife of a busy expat, there was little room for me to follow a traditional career path. Instead, I chose to seek out opportunities where I could give back to the communities I called home at that time. For instance, when living in Coahuila, Mexico, I volunteered and raised funds for an unsubsidized rehabilitation center serving patients with cerebral palsy. I was finding personal fulfillment with these experiences, developing a diverse skill set, and being a beacon for my growing family.

Shop til we drop, eh?

One might find it funny that my desire to shop online would result in a successful career venture. While living in India I tried to purchase items online from the U.S. and found that I was unable to do so without a U.S. credit card or mailing address. I assumed other expats were running into the same dilemma and I decided to develop a solution to mitigate this.

In 2008 we moved back to the U.S. and I started USUnlocked. Eighteen months after launching, we were profitable. Customers from over 200 countries were placing orders via U.S. websites using our service. When the company was acquired by Tern in 2015, I was in charge of rebuilding our software into the unique B2B "Fintech as a Service" platform that it still is using today. The original code was intended to solve one specific problem for one unique end-customer, however, we were really good at efficiently onboarding customers all over the world. As a result, we built a sophisticated back office for monitoring fund flows, and by retooling the software, we were able to build a SaaS product that allowed companies to launch payment products in a repeatable way.

I literally started at my kitchen table—receiving shipments, repackaging them, and shipping them from the local post office. It was slow going in the beginning, but in time I built up one of the largest re-packing and payments businesses targeting expats.

Pivot into Tech

I thought I was going into the shipping business when starting US Unlocked, yet in reality, it was the beginning of my tech career. I didn't have any experience building software, but I worked day and night over Skype with remote developers to translate my vision into code. This experience as a SaaS entrepreneur introduced me to people who were excited about using software to solve difficult problems in inventive ways, including Zachary Smith, Packet's co-founder and CEO who ended up offering me a job.

Linda can do It!

At the time, Packet was a small team (about 30) working to deliver the big promise of the cloud on bare metal. In those early days, as with any start up, it was important to roll-up-your-sleeves, dig in, and be nimble and flexible as my role and the company constantly evolved. The phrase "Linda can do it!," which is what the founders would say when a new challenge popped up was quickly embraced as my mantra. My Slack profile image, created by an engineer on my team, is still the embodiment of that spirit.

Stitching It All Together

My children, now grown, (three girls and one boy, now ages 20, 17, 15, and 13) have watched and supported my transformation from a " kitchen-table entrepreneur", to a business owner, to having a successful career in tech. When I reflect on my winding path, a few things come to mind:

  1. The widely-adopted culture of remote work helps many employees achieve a healthy work/life balance. I have been able to juggle the responsibilities of being a mom, community advocate, and professional with the flexibility my job offered.
  2. With so much to do (and very few people to do it) there are a lot of opportunities! As such, carving out a fulfilling career path is more attainable than ever. My journey demonstrates how it is possible to turn a good idea into a tangible business.
  3. As the tech world matures and expands, companies are seeing the huge value-add of being more inclusive. My varied perspectives, personality and diverse experiences are welcomed at Packet.

Tips on Jumpstarting Your Career

  1. Identify what you're good at. Some of the skills you take for granted are highly valuable. If you are unsure what those unique skills are, consult a professional network or consider working with an executive coach. If you're interested in the technical side, check out stellar programs like Pursuit or Recurse, or apply to a non-technical role as a starting point—the water cooler chat alone will teach you volumes.
  2. Take on new challenges. I have found it very rewarding to take ownership in areas where there is a need, adding value by applying my organization, communication, and team-building skills. This combination pairs nicely with any startup's drive to execute. Looking back, each of the roles I have stepped into at Packet was a direct result of the initiatives I took.
  3. Get organized. I have learned just how far you can go by setting daily goals and managing your time well. Looking at my career to date, I'm proud of just how far focus and working hard has taken me. Half-assedness is evidently not in my vocabulary!
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