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Alumni Spotlight: Steven Zheng on other career paths into tech

Britt Lee-Still

Apr 16, 2024

Rithm graduate, Steven Zheng
Rithm graduate and Solutions Engineer, Steven Zheng

Sophie: Tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to attend Rithm.

I have a background in real estate. I graduated with a BS in finance and I started my career with an internship in property management in SF. My goal at the time was to work at a startup in real estate, and that’s kind of where everything changed for me. I started out as a closing advisor, then I got promoted to product manager. As a PM I got to learn automations and started to build various tools, and that’s how I realized that I wanted to get more technical. I unfortunately got laid off, but I saw this as an opportunity to focus on upskilling, so I taught myself Python first, and JavaScript.  

I knew I wanted to be really good, and that I had the time to go and do a bootcamp. And so I did my research and looked at Hack Reactor, App Academy, and Rithm School, and I chose Rithm because of the candidness and honesty about how difficult the job market has been. I love that because I think it helps anyone thinking about making that change to plan accordingly. We know it’s hard and it can take up to six months or more.

In addition I asked a few software engineers I know to take a look at Rithm’s curriculum and they all told me it was very up to date and relevant.

Finally, alumni feedback was helpful in making that decision. I reached out to a lot of alumni pre-Rithm and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  

Sophie: What was your overall experience of the job search? 

I graduated in July. It took me four to five months post graduation to get an offer. The interview process for my role lasted three months: two panel interviews, one tech screen, four behavioral interviews, and one rescinded offer! More to come on this later.   

It was a lot of work behind it, a lot of prep and things I had to research since the role included skills not taught at Rithm.  

Sophie: Tell me a bit more about your application routines. Did you send a lot of applications? How much were you hearing back? 

I aimed for 25 apps a week. The first couple of weeks were a bit tough, since I had to settle into new routines and understand what worked and what didn’t work.  So I think my application count was in the five hundreds before I got my role.

For me personally, cold applying didn’t yield much. From the 500 apps I think I got two phone screens. The rest was through referrals and networking.  

Sophie: What was challenging?

Cold applying. You don’t see the yield, so you’re not motivated.  

Reaching out to people was hard too, even though it did yield results for me. It was hard for me to reach out to random people on the internet. 

Sophie: How did you reach out?

With my close circle, I texted people. I would say, Hey, I saw this opening at your company. Could you refer me? 

With people I didn’t know, I did my outreach on LinkedIn, and in this case my messages were always personalized. I was looking for mutual interests or experiences, which showed that I had done my research.

Sophie: What was important in this job search?

Networking, and building. 

Coffee chats were extremely helpful. Just genuinely wanting to know the person you are interviewing and what they do. I reached out to software engineers, staff engineers, etc. 

I was really “shameless” in my outreach attempts too, which meant that I could talk to a lot of different people. 

Also it’s really important to be able to build projects that you’re passionate about, so that when you are talking about that project, people know you’re really motivated and interested. Especially when you get into the nitty gritty of understanding the problems you had to overcome. It will also set you apart from other people. That’s most likely what got me to these interviews at Mulesoft. 

Sophie: Tell us more about the interview process for your current position.

First I had a recruiter screen, to gauge my interest in the position and introduce myself.

I then had a behavioral interview with a Senior Director. During that call I had an opportunity to talk more about my background, my motivation, and my values. 

And then after that, it was the technical screen with a Principal Solutions Engineer. This was a system design to make sure that I understood the high overview concepts of integration.

After that, it was a panel interview, but I also got a coach to coach me on how to say what to say, what to anticipate, and how to anticipate pushback. I did not end up receiving an offer for this position, but my recruiter really supported my application and scheduled another interview for another team, with a different hiring manager. So I had another behavioral, another panel, and another coach! They told me I would get an offer, but it was only ever a verbal offer, which they “verbally” rescinded.

At the end of this, I had another 30 minute behavioral and that’s what got me the job. 

Sophie: Why was the offer rescinded right before you received the written offer? 

The hiring manager wanted to send me an offer, but the problem came from higher up. The VP stepped in and said “Maybe you should look a little bit further.” That job had only been open for 2 days and I guess they wanted to interview more people.  

Sophie: What do you do in your current role as an Account Solutions Engineer?

I’m under the Sales org. My role is to help customers understand the technical aspects of our product and help them get a technical win when selling.   

I work hand-in-hand with account executives to really understand the customer’s business goals, whether that’s driving lower response times on tickets, driving higher customer satisfaction, etc. 

As a Solutions Engineer, my job is to understand how our product is going to plug into our customers’ existing systems and how to broaden the scope so that ultimately the customer buys more. At the same time, my role is to ensure that the customer succeeds. 

Sophie: When did you start and what has it been like since you started?

I’ve just started and so far it’s been mostly training. Mulesoft is one of the most technical projects Salesforce has. First I have to get a certification, which luckily I did get during the interview process. Onboarding focuses mostly on understanding the product, the pricing scheme.

There’s been a lot of shadowing as well, to understand the motions and plays that we have to go through so that the customers are getting value. 

Sophie: Why were you interested in this position in the first place?

It was a role that I think really fit me and my situation. I come from a product manager background, where I as a product manager really need to understand the business, like understanding where our product fits within the business and how they connect.

After going through Rithm I had the technical foundations to understand how integration works. When I found out about these Solutions Engineer roles, I realized this was the perfect blend, where I could leverage my product manager experience, and also my software engineering experience. It’s also a great way to work on my communication skills.

Sophie: Where do you think you’ll take your career next? 

I’ll focus on climbing the ladder and staying at Salesforce for as long as I can. I want to be a senior, lead, principal, and eventually manager one day. Everyone I have interacted with here is so smart. They are approachable and at the same time when you get into the nitty gritty there’s a lot of expertise, and I want to emulate that.   

I want to stay with the company as long as I can.

Sophie: Any words of wisdom for our current and future grads and students? 

If you are a career switcher make sure you have plenty of runway. 

Prep for behavioral interviews, since 9 times out of 10 it will be a behavioral conversation.   

Find a support group, because it can be very lonely. Rely on Career Services and don’t be afraid to fail. Pick yourself up and try again. 

Network, network and network. 

Build projects that help set yourself apart.

Keep your coding skills sharp, through building and coding challenges. Make sure you maintain these skills.  

Don’t be afraid to broaden your search. I know most people want to become software engineers, but there are a lot of fulfilling roles that can bring a lot of value for your career. 

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