Savanah Frisk: Ask Questions, and Don’t Let Things You Don’t Know Slip By
Written by Jo Chi Liu
Jiaqi Liu, Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub and Leadership Fellow for Women Who Code, interviews Savanah Frisk, Security Engineer at Snap. They discuss Imposter Syndrome, changing roles within a company, and preparing for new opportunities in new organizations.
Tell us about how you ended up in your current role.
I started out in the company as a security technical program manager, specifically working on our security awareness and education program. I studied cognitive science in college. It was a mix of psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and computer science. That’s when I started taking computer science classes. I wasn’t sure that it was for me, so when I got the opportunity to work at Snap in this security awareness, sort of technical but sort of program-focused role, I jumped at it. It seemed like a very interesting job. Security is absolutely critical to the functioning of tech companies. It wasn’t quite technical enough for me. I was in the role for about a year when I saw the engineering roles and I thought, “You know, I think I can definitely do that.” I have just enough engineering background, so I sort of convinced them to let me try it out. I elbowed my way into the role that I’m in now.
If you are looking for a different role within your same organization, what advice do you have for people who are interested in something like that?
It was very important for me to have a sponsor. I had multiple people on the engineering team who had small engineering projects that would probably have been more suited to an intern. I said, “Hey, I have some extra bandwidth. I think that these are the skills that I need to learn if I am going to change roles,” and I just started doing the work. Luckily, I had those people there who were willing to hand those projects off to me. They ended up being sort of the perfect size for me to get project-level experience as well as to prove that I did have the engineering skills.
Do you have any stories highlighting the importance of either networking or being a member of a community like this one?
I got my job because I attended RSA, which is a big security conference in San Francisco. I was attending to see a friend. I was mildly interested in security, so I thought it would be fun to stop by. While I was there, I was introduced to a woman who worked at Snapchat and she was currently looking for an intern. I kept in contact with her until I was ready school-wise for the timing to work. When the internship opened, I interviewed and got it.
I have a friend who was recently applying to a company and wasn’t certain if he was going to get the position. He found out, later, that he got the position at the higher level because someone that he had worked with in the past advocated for him internally. Put in the time to meet people and talk about what you do.
How do you combat Imposter Syndrome?
I am in a very technical role in a very niche field, where subject matter expertise is critical. I didn’t study it in college. I don’t have a hacker origin story, which a lot of people in security have. I think the thing that’s helped me through it is taking ownership of my own knowledge. I’ve taken two outside-of-work classes to become familiar with the subject matter. I ask a lot of questions to my peers. I do not let things that I don’t know slip by. If I’m in a meeting and someone talks about a concept that I don’t know what it is, I’ll make a note of it and ask about it later, or I’ll Google it or try and figure out the answer. That’s how I build up my domain knowledge.
How do you balance preparing for a job search with a full-time job? How do you build resilience in the interview process?
When I was preparing for technical interviews, I did a lot of interviews. It’s gated by how many jobs will give you an interview but only applying to jobs that you think you want to take limits yourself. Apply to all the jobs within reason that have an open position. You might get handed technical interviews that you don’t actually want the job. Use them to get the practice under your belt, doing the technical interviews where you are more relaxed. Having the ability to do the practice is critical. If you’re not getting that many interviews, ask a friend to do a little practice session with you.
How to make the best use of virtual career fairs. What advice would you give to people attending such career fairs?
The people that often stand out are the people who know about the company and know the roles that they’re interested in. If you don’t know what you’re asking for, then it’s hard to navigate conversation. Having a clear idea of who you are and what you’re asking for is crucial.
Any parting thoughts for our community members who are on the hunt for new jobs?
It is a wonderful time to try and get a role in tech. There are lots of opportunities all across the board. We have a program at Snap called The Snap Up Apprentice Program. It’s a really good place for someone who doesn’t have a ton of experience and is looking to get placed on several different engineering teams. It’s more of an apprenticeship than an internship, so it is for people who’ve already graduated college.