An interview with Elisheva Rom, Software Developer/BenManage – Jerusalem, Israel
By Devora Kaye
Tell us a little bit about your background and your life.
I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I went to Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. I was very fortunate that they offered a computer programming track and so I was able to take many programming classes throughout high school including AP Java. When I graduated high school, I enrolled in Maalot which is a combined seminary/degree granting program to earn my B.A. in Computer Science.
While I was still studying, I did an unpaid internship in Washington D.C at a startup called Babyscripts shadowing the lead developer. Babyscripts created an app for pregnant women so that they could measure their own vital signs and weight, eliminating the need for frequent doctor visits.
In the summer, I did a paid internship at a company called GP Strategies in Baltimore, MD. They ended up hiring me and I worked on adding new features, fixing bugs, and programming software.
I see programming like working on a puzzle. Many people say you have to have a mathematical brain, but I think it’s more about logical thinking. You’re assigned a project and you have to figure out how all the pieces of the puzzle will seamlessly work together.
Where do you live?
I live in Jerusalem, Israel
What field of technology do you work in?
Software Development and Integrations
Were your family and friends supportive?
Did you attend a college or study program? If yes, which one and why did you choose that specific program?
I chose Maalot because it was an all-frum environment with an excellent staff, close to home, and offered Jewish subject courses which I really enjoyed.
What were 3 things you were looking for in a study program?
I wanted a program that would be flexible and accommodating so that I could gain experience and work at a job while earning my degree.
What were 3 things you liked about your study program?
I enjoyed the Jewish studies classes which were very interactive and practical and really prepared me for life. The programming classes were great but rather abstract. Although school helps you master knowledge, there’s nothing like hands-on experience especially in programming. You learn way more on the job then you would ever grasp by just studying. In the beginning, it’s normal to feel lost. But if you’re working at a company with experienced developers, you’re bound to gain a lot. I have over three years experience working in the field and I’m still learning.
In what way has your degree/study helped you in your life?
It has helped me advance in my career.
Where do you work?
I work in Beitar Illit at a company called BenManage which services the insurance brokerage industry. There are seven programmers on staff. I’m grateful to be working in a frum, English speaking environment.
Describe a day in your life.
I leave at approximately 8:30am and get to work about an hour later. We do integrations, writing programs to help insurance and payroll work together. Programmers usually work in teams with a project manager. The work gets kind of different as your responsibilities change. Entry level programmers work under less pressure. Many times, they may not be programming but figuring out problems, testing, and making changes to existing code. My job has changed a lot now that I took over for our project manager who is on maternity leave. Although I’ve only been at the company a year and a half, I was the next senior person in line, so I was asked to temporarily take over.
Project managers do less hands-on coding and more coordination, management, and review. You usually need about 5-10 years experience to get to a managerial position. Sometimes, you’ll find managers sighing, “I wish I was programming again.” But that’s the reality. A promotion and raise in salary usually means assuming a senior level supervisor position.
There’s this misconception that programming is not a people friendly profession but from my experience, it’s really not like that. Everything you create and write has to be reviewed. You have to talk to other people on your team and explain how you worked out the coding and how you tested it. You might have to consult with them how to handle an issue or implement a new feature. You’re never really working on your own.
There’s another misconception that it’s easy to find remote programming positions. Most companies don’t allow it, although it became more accepted over the last year. During the height of the pandemic, BenManage put their two entry level programmers on unpaid leave and only allowed their more experienced programmers to continue working from home.
Most companies will be ok with it once in a while, but not on a daily basis. There’s the issue of trust (how do they know you’re really working?) and the issue of productivity. Additionally, fully remote jobs usually require 5-10 years experience as employers assume that entry level programmers will need more guidance in-office. It’s very hard to set boundaries when you’re not in an office. There’s also a lot of pressure to perform and deliver. If you’re working at a company, your supervisor sees you working, trying to figure out the coding and bug issues. If you’re working remotely, your manager is only seeing the outcomes, not the tens of hours you invested to get there.
How do you straddle the work/life balance?
Everyone does it differently. The reality is that it’s not easy being out of the house for 9 hours every day. You have to learn to let things go sometimes. My husband helps out a lot. I also have a babysitter that comes to my house every day for 2 hours before I get home. She watches my baby and helps with the housework. Programmers are usually paid well, so I can afford to do this.
What challenges did you face when you first entered the tech world?
It’s almost impossible to find an entry level programming job in Lakewood or Yerushalayim. There are so many girls graduating every year looking for programming positions that the market has become oversaturated. You have to be open to other options such as commuting (which I do). Getting a position at a secular workplace has its own challenges. I work in a frum environment and I think it’s a huge plus although the salary is a lot less vis a vis what a secular company would pay.
There’s a very steep learning curve when you first start. As much as you’ve studied, there’s so much more to learn on the job. There’s a lot of pressure and that overwhelming feeling of, “I don’t know anything,” at the beginning. It’s normal. Give yourself six months to a year to get comfortable at your job.
What lessons have you learned?
Most programmers feel lost at the beginning and are afraid to ask questions. If the company hired you, they trust you and will give you time to acclimate. If you’ve googled the question and can’t find an answer, don’t spend more time trying to figure things out yourself when you can easily ask an experienced programmer working with you.
What advice & tips would you offer for those entering the tech field?