Noella D’sa, Principal Engineer at Warby Parker: Explore as Much as Possible
Written by Jiaqi Liu
Jiaqi Liu, Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub and Leadership Fellow for Women Who Code, interviews Noella D’sa, a Principal Engineer at Warby Parker. They discuss her career journey in tech, her experiences at Warby Parker, how she approaches collaboration at work, and her tips for finding success in the industry.
Tell us about your career journey.
I went to engineering school ages ago and received a degree in computer science. In India, if you wanted to get a job that paid well, you would go to engineering school. It was too theoretical to me and was not fun. Once I started my work, I actually liked computer science. It was not in engineering school where I started enjoying programming, but at my first job. My first job was writing software for TV stations. It was a small company in India that did work for TV stations in Australia, Germany, and other countries.
I did that for a few years with the same company but changed my role. We were doing more exploratory work. I was working on adapting the standard called DLNA, which is a standard to allow devices that you use within your home to talk to each other. After that, I actually took a break. I was working for seven years, and a bit bored with the work. I wasn’t really sure I was going to stay in tech because of boredom. I was also dating someone in the States. We got married, I moved here, and did not have a work visa. I couldn’t work for a while.
I did a bit of volunteer web design for a nonprofit choir group. I got my work permit and was thinking about what I wanted to do, and whether I really want to go into tech. I was looking at product management roles along with tech roles. I knew I didn’t want to work on Microsoft technologies anymore.
I applied to the Recurse Center with the general goal to get into the tech network and try out a different language. I had worked in Python. When I first got out of college, I had one small gig where their preferred language was Python and I enjoyed it.
Tell me more about the Recurse Center.
The Recurse Center, as a first participant, can be an extremely overwhelming place. You are meeting a lot of new people. You are asking a lot of questions on a day-to-day basis, and pairing with people. At the same time, it was a fantastic place to get an immersive experience into what was being used in the industry.
What did you feel like you took away from the experience? And are you still involved with that community today?
I’m not personally involved with that community, I do have a lot of colleagues who came to Warby Parker from the Recurse Center. The one thing that really struck me was that people at the Recurse Center were very willing to redefine themselves in some ways. We had people who were in very traditionally high positions go back to programming because that’s what they liked. I really appreciated the fearlessness of it all.
At your current role at Warby Parker, what is your day-to-day like? And how did you end up in your position?
I’ve been in this role for the last eight months. It’s changed significantly from when I was a senior engineer. I was a senior engineer, then I became a principal engineer. Essentially, I have a team of eight other engineers. We have our morning stand-ups where everyone talks about their work. Engineers mention any blocks for me to help them with. During the day it’s meetings with the business or individual engineers on projects. Our team works on supply chain features, so we build new things as well as have to maintain our production system.
How do you feel like your current role meets your interest and expertise?
Warby Parker has been a very quickly growing company. We had a lot of work that happened over a short period of time, and for me, that was a lot of fun. Turnaround time as well as the nature of the work was exciting for me. Also, the community around you makes it worthwhile and engaging. I’d say both needs were fulfilled.
What does it mean to be a principal engineer at Warby Parker? How is it different from being a senior engineer?
I have been doing more collaborative work with a wide variety of engineers. It is on me to make sure that no one is blocked. That is essentially my role as compared to when I was a senior engineer and an individual contributor where I was pretty much heads down and working. There’s a little more contribution in terms of what has to go into our roadmaps along with our engineering manager and our product manager. I cannot say that this is exactly what a principal engineer is at Warby Parker but this is what I do on our supply chain team.
How would you describe Warby Parker’s culture?
We have core values, which are kept upfront and centre. There are many which are essentially about being a good human being in the workplace. Be approachable and welcoming. Improvement is supposed to be a day-to-day focus and people should not be concerned about asking questions.
Can you share with us any career tips or pro tips you may have for our audience?
Try to explore as much as possible in terms of technologies and domains. That is when you discover what you’re interested in. Be thoughtful about your value. Make sure that you have your own evaluation of your skills and capabilities. Don’t always expect the external world to say that you are ready for a senior, but know you might be ready for a senior.
Any closing thoughts that you want to share with the audience?
I’d say for anyone who has not worked in tech, don’t think of programming as a daunting career, essentially, anyone can do it.