An interview with Yocheved M., Software Engineer/ Data Scientist – Jerusalem, Israel
Tell us a little bit about your background and your life.
I am from Chicago and grew up in the suburbs. I always had a wide variety of interests but was particularly interested in both creative endeavors and STEM. Being the only girl in the family, I’m sure my more male dominated family contributed to my developing these interests.
When I was choosing what to study in college, I started out doing a Bachelors in Science with a minor in teaching. As I took more courses, thought about my future, interests, and goals I realized that I wanted to get a degree which would enable me to live in Eretz Yisrael and support my husband in learning. After taking an initial required course in Computer Science I realized that CS is sort of like the secret ‘everything degree’ I had jokingly said I was looking for. Because technology is used in most fields of life, computer science is broad. I also took the opportunity to take some teaching courses in college and served as a student instructor in chemistry and math.
After graduating, I moved to E”Y and got my first full-time job at a start-up in Tel Aviv. The whole process was hashgacha and I was thankful for the position as first jobs are hard to find, especially for an American moving to Israel. Since the pandemic, I’ve switched to working for a company in Jerusalem.
Where do you live?
I live in Jerusalem, Israel.
What field of technology do you work in?
Data Science/ Software Engineering (Fintech)
What got you interested in technology?
I was always interested in math. My father being a former SW Engineer and math teacher contributed to my fascination. In high school, I started learning how to code on my own and created some front-end websites and small programs. From there on, I was not so active in coding until I reached college and took my first required CS course for my Bachelor of Science major. That and the intro to Object Oriented Programming courses got me excited and hooked. I couldn’t wait to learn more and ask questions
I remember using the UI from my first course to create an app mock-up/demo and using Java to create a calculator to do my math homework.
Were your family and friends supportive?
It was definitely a bit more ‘new’ at the time. B”H my family was very supportive, and my friends were as well. It was hard being in college without too many friends. (I started out in a frum college, then transferred because computer science was not a possible degree at the time.) To keep up friendships, I had to call friends and schedule time to get together versus having it as a given.
Did you attend a college or study program? If yes, which one and why did you choose that specific program?
I attended college, Illinois Institute of Technology. I started off at a frum college but at the time, unless I wanted to dorm away from home, there was no option to study computer science. I consulted my Rav and he gave me the OK to go forward. I chose IIT because it has a good CS program, was within commuting distance, and was a good fit for other practical reasons.
What were 3 things you were looking for in a study program?
Did your study program accommodate your religious lifestyle?
B”H yes. There were times when I had to email professors with holiday descriptions, go in on erev Yom Tov, or make up a lot of work. But I can’t recall any bad experiences where they weren’t able to accommodate me for missing for a holiday.
Did your study program allow you to have a flexible study schedule?
Somewhat. I had classes usually 4-5 days a week depending on the semester. There was usually at least 1 half-day and there were also usually a couple of each course offered. The deciding factors were my personal preference, Shabbos/Yom Tov, and who the professors were.
In what way has your degree/study helped you in your life?
B”H I’ve seen it to be very helpful. I’ve been in E”Y a little over 2 years and have used my degree to work in my profession. I have seen the hashgocha when applying for jobs here; having the skills and the degree have been irreplaceable.
Describe a day in your life.
It varies by the day but some days I have a morning check in on a project, either with team-mates or my manager. Then I will usually continue with the project I was working on the day before unless I am starting something new.
My projects are a combination of data science, analytics, and software engineering. Some projects, like the one I am working on now, include small programs which will all be run on the data. So, I will usually check the assignment statuses, see what I have assigned to me, and then begin coding. Next comes testing, debugging, and coming up with test cases. Sometimes there is a loop with business input or teammate input in between to direct how to proceed. After I’m satisfied with performance, I’ll send it for peer review and testing. Sometimes other programmer’s coding gets sent to me as well.
At sporadic points during the day, I will meet with people on my team to discuss the logic, considerations, problems, fixes, documentation, and progress.
We also sometimes have larger meetings to chat, play a game, or hear from the business side, to keep us sane and in the loop during this period of always working from home.
How do you straddle the work/life balance?
It’s definitely tough! It also takes time to learn and adjust. In the beginning, especially when I was going to Tel Aviv twice a week, I would come home totally spent. In general, the advice is to try to start early and to make boundaries. It is important to take time in the evenings both for running the home and for personal time (shiurim, exercise, activities, etc.).
One idea I’ve found to be useful is not to aim for perfection. The goal should be to focus on what needs to get done, and to keep the house running while maintaining a happy atmosphere. I try to use Fridays, the off day in E”Y, to work on tidying/organizing. I recently started ordering groceries which is helpful. There are shops which will save an editable grocery list. I am still trying to improve in this area as well!
What challenges did you face when you first entered the tech world?
The first thing was finding a job as a new graduate. Companies like to hire people with experience. When a recruiter told me the salary difference between the US and Israel, it was also hard to swallow. I’ve found that the rules are not 100% and that changing jobs after having some experience can help.
Coming from a girl’s only Bais Yaakov environment, the culture both in college and in the secular workplace was starkly different. I mostly kept to myself and avoided discussing politics.
What lessons have you learned?
What advice & tips would you offer for those entering the tech field?
I think I already mentioned some but here are some more: