Quan Le loves being outdoors.
“I love climbing. My partner and my life goals revolve around it. We want to climb the hardest routes or the coolest mountains,” Quan shares with excitement.
Although Quan and their partner share this hobby, they also have their separate outdoor interests. “My partner likes to go backpacking and I prefer scuba diving,” they explain.
Quan enjoys the outdoors so much that you’ll only find them inside on two occasions. The first is to watch movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once, and the second is to work from home as a software engineer for CrowdStreet.
We sat down with Quan to learn more about their career journey from mechanical to software engineering and the lessons they learned along the way.
Starting out in Mechanical Engineering
When Quan got accepted into the University of California Irvine (UCI), they majored in biological sciences thinking they would fulfill their parents’ hopes of them becoming a doctor. However, they quickly became uninterested in the subject.
“I just didn't like it,” they admit. “So once I got to UCI, I struggled for a year to try to figure out what I wanted to do.” This temporary uncertainty led them to change their major to accounting because of their interest in money.
“Money is universal to everyone, especially in today's economy,” Quan says. “Knowing how to handle your money and how it flows between different accounts is very useful.”
Even though finance interested them, it wasn’t exactly the career field they wanted to be in.
“I realized early on that I like to be mentally stimulated. I like challenges. So, I switched to one of the hardest majors: mechanical engineering,” they explain.
With this new focus came a new career goal. “As cheesy and stereotypical as it is, I wanted to work for SpaceX and launch rockets to Jupiter or Pluto and things like that,” they admit.
However, Quan had to face the reality that there are limited career opportunities in space travel and more opportunities in software.
Pivoting to Software Engineering
Quan enjoyed the logical approach they learned in mechanical engineering, but there was one drawback.
“In the industry, unless you're doing research, which you'd have to get your PhD for, it's a lot of paperwork and documentation,” Quan says. “You're not doing formulas or looking up series anymore.”
“I don't think people should derive their happiness from work, but I don't think you should be miserable from work either,” they explain. With this realization, Quan determined to make a career shift .
In search of something more fulfilling, Quan made a career change and shifted into the world of software by attending a coding bootcamp. This helped them build a foundation in coding, and smoothly transition into software engineering.
However, a relatively seamless transition didn’t mean a career without challenges.
“With software engineering, you're going to come across problems with your code,” Quan shares. “It's not going to work and you're not going to understand why.”
In these moments of frustration, Quan learned how to deal with these challenges without getting overwhelmed.
“When I feel like banging my head on the wall because of a problem, I go lay down," they explain. “I go sit somewhere, look at my phone, text my friend, or go on a short run.”
Learning to navigate these stressors has helped Quan produce influential work.
The Advantages of Working in the Startup Culture
As the tech industry boomed, Quan saw the allure of wanting to work for big companies.
“I realized there's a lot of talk about joining big companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” they share. “But at the same time, when you're at a big company you can feel like a cog in the machine. To see one small change, you're probably going to be working on it for years.”
With this in mind, Quan focused on working at start-ups, where they even saw one of their inventions come to life.
“At my former job, I started an app with my teammate,” they explain. “We went from nothing to creating a product that the stakeholders wanted and enjoyed.”
In just three months, they created an app that allows you to upload a file, be it a pdf or video, and have it translated into another language.
“I thought it was an important thing to have because there's lots of great literature and video content in different languages, but we can't access them because not everyone can speak 10 languages.”
Being able to see the results of their hard work is something that Quan appreciates about working with start-ups. This, along with the remote freedom and supportive work culture that comes with it.
Remote Freedom at CrowdStreet
Soon after creating the app for their former employer, the pandemic hit, which temporarily forced Quan to work remotely. Fortunately, this allowed them to support their partner who was working in the ICU at the time.
“I wanted to find a remote solution so that I could be home to support him,” they share. “After a 12-hour shift, the last thing you want to think about is cooking dinner or a two-hour commute.”
In search of a company that would allow them to work fully remotely, they found CrowdStreet, one of the leading real estate investing platforms.
At CrowdStreet, Quan not only gets the freedom to work from anywhere they want, but they also reap the benefits of a dynamic and supportive work environment.
“Sometimes during our stand-up meetings, we talk about coding or our weekend,” they say. “We don’t only talk about work.”
CrowdStreet’s ‘stand-up’ meetings provide space for daily check-ins and help build comradery. They also have ‘retro’ meetings, which focus on long-term plans.
“In retro planning, we talk about our goals for the next brand and what we want to accomplish,” Quan explains.
Within the team, everyone has a say. “It does feel very democratic,” Quan shares. “The product manager can present the needs and concerns of the stakeholders, but we have the opportunity to push back. For example, the customers may care about this, but we need to fix this major bug right now.”
“The culture of collaboration within the company makes you feel like you're not just a cog in the machine, that your opinion does matter,” Quan comments.
3 Points for Pivoting Careers
From biology major to mechanical engineer to software engineer, Quan has a lot of advice to offer about shifting career paths. Here are their top 3 points:
- Switch to a field you are genuinely interested in. Some careers may look appealing from the outside, but may not be what truly interests you. “I love puzzles,” Quan shares. “I can get lost in them. Software engineering is like a giant never-ending puzzle.” If you switch careers based on appearances, popularity, or salary, you will ultimately get burnt out. “Ignore what's portrayed in the media about how great software engineering is and find out what you like about it.”
- Find what you like doing outside of work. Having hobbies outside of work is just as important as doing work that you enjoy. “All my friends who are software engineers like what they do, but they are the happiest people because they have something else outside of work that they love,” Quan explains.
- Keep on learning. Quan suggests taking your learning outside of the office. “You don't always have to be learning about your work,” they advise. “It's hard to do that all the time. Learn how to build a bookshelf, go read a book, or try a new crocheting technique.” Quan encourages you to study what interests you in addition to your professional needs.