Most people’s career paths are far from a straight line. PayScale’s Director of Software Engineering, Scott Pogue, began his career studying accounting, and started in his current profession as the result of a book recommendation.
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Scott about his career and current role at PayScale. It was fascinating to learn about Scott’s experience in the workforce and very helpful to hear his advice for people about to start their careers. I hope this post sheds light on some of the strategies that Scott has leveraged to advance his career.
After graduating from high school, Scott thought he wanted to go into accounting. However, after a year and a half at college, Scott decided that accounting was not for him and ended up leaving school and jumping headfirst into the workforce.
Scott had been working in a manufacturing facility that printed manuals for electronics for a couple of years when he happened to get connected with his friend’s brother-in-law who was a software test engineer at Microsoft. This contact recommended that Scott read a book about software testing. Scott picked up the book and was instantly hooked on software.
The brother-in-law gave him some advice on putting together a resume and Scott ended up landing a helpdesk/software testing job at a small local company. Scott worked there for six months and then jumped around to many jobs, picking up new skills and gaining experience in the software industry. In 2006 Scott joined PayScale as a software engineer and he has been here ever since!
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Scott’s Role at PayScale
After nearly 12 years at PayScale, Scott has risen through the ranks to his current role as Director of Software Engineering. This position demands a unique balance of excellent people-managing skills and technical aptitude. With each promotion, Scott found himself spending less time at the keyboard coding and more time managing the people working for him. Although he sometimes misses the satisfaction of writing code on a daily basis, he now gets his joy from the successes and triumphs of his team.
Scott’s transition to a managerial position was very natural; growing up Scott loved to play basketball and baseball, not because he was ever the star, but because it meant being part of a team. From his childhood sports teams to his first “real” job at the printing facility, Scott’s primary focus has been ensuring that his team is successful. Scott attributes much of his own success in managerial roles to his natural team-oriented personality.
What Can Young Professionals Learn from Scott?
Like many people, Scott took a while to find his career. Before settling down at PayScale, Scott jumped between many different roles, companies and industries. Some of these jobs he loved and some of them he didn’t — but every experience helped him learn what was important to him about a job.
His advice to students looking to find a job they love: “An interview should be as much for the candidate interviewing the employer as it is for the employer interviewing the candidate.”
Everyone will be looking for different things in a job and only through experience will people learn what type of companies, managers and directors they need to be happy and successful. This advice helped Scott find jobs that he enjoyed, thrived in, and would stay in for extended periods of time.
As someone without a formal education in software, Scott has always placed an importance on finding jobs where he can not only contribute but grow as an individual. When considering a job offer, Scott said he asked himself, “Can I continue building skills that I have personal joy and value in, and can I add to it in some interesting way or learn something new?”
Over the years, Scott noticed that the jobs he enjoyed least were the jobs where he just showed up to earn his paycheck and didn’t focus on what the job would provide him with in the long-term. Sometimes Scott picked up these skills on his own, but often Scott learned by simply watching and collaborating with managers and coworkers. By working jobs where he could learn new skills Scott was able to continually transition to more advanced roles.
In his time working in the software industry, Scott has worked with many people from a variety of different backgrounds. An important observation from his experience is that while a four-year degree is valuable for learning the fundamentals of computer science, it does not automatically prepare students for a career in software development. Other intangible qualities—such as work ethic and personality—are not taught in a formal education and are often just as important for a successful career.
Scott also stressed that having a college degree is not necessarily required to be successful in software. Anyone who is willing to work hard and learn some skills can start off in or switch to the software industry.
As someone who does not know exactly what my plans are after graduation in about a year, I found my conversation with Scott to be very comforting and eye-opening. In my experience at college I have noticed that many students—including myself—get wrapped up in trying to take as many classes as possible to learn hard skills “required” for their anticipated career after college.
Although picking up these hard skills can be important, it is also helpful to realize that learning does not have to stop when you are handed your diploma. Scott is a firm believer that college should primarily be a time where you learn who you are, because with motivation and drive there will always be time to pick up new skills.
Be on the lookout for next week’s post from my interview with another member of PayScale’s team: Alex Armstrong.
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