WWCode Conversations 50: Sara Jacks, Software Engineering Manager at Capital One
Written by WWCode HQ
Women Who Code Conversations 50 | Spotify — iTunes — Google — YouTube — Text
Camille Clayton, Women Who Code DC Director, interviews Sara Jacks, Software Engineering Manager at Capital One. They discuss Sara’s tech journey, her role at Capital One, the challenges she’s overcome, and the role that mentorship plays in her leadership.
Hello, I’m Camille Clayton, I’m a Director of Women Who Code’s DC Chapter, and am pleased to introduce Sara Jacks, our guest on the podcast today.
Sara is a manager at Capital One who works to architect reliable solutions for customers and employees alike. She is passionate about mentorship and helping others realize their full potential. She hails from a small town in Louisiana, where coding wasn’t even on her radar until college where she found her growing passion for Computer Science.
How did you get into tech?
I didn’t get into tech until college. My freshman-year roommate was a computer science major, and that’s when I started learning more. I started going to club meetings with her and started getting interested in front-end development. In my sophomore year, I was an undeclared engineering major and was required to take a CS class. I was taking a MATLAB-based class with all engineers. It was something simple, like getting numbers to form a box in increasing order. As soon as it happened on my screen was the moment that I knew that I was going to be a computer scientist. I made my way into a CS career at Georgia Tech, which is where I went to college. Eventually, I got an internship at Capital One. I worked on various teams in the credit card space, which is where I am now, from acquisitions of new credit card customers to their actual management once they become customers.
Were there any challenges that you faced that you can share?
Coming from a space where technology is not really known to the majority of the population, getting my family and friends on board was a little tough. Their mindset was that it was more of an IT role. Growing up and through college, up until my senior year, I was introverted. I hated getting up, and presenting. After my internship, I realized the only way that I was going to be able to get ahead in the workplace was to push past my comfort zone. Another one that I think will relate to a lot of women is, once you’re to that point where you can voice your opinions, having your thoughts and opinions questioned.
Are there any favorite moments or highlights in your career that you want to share?
One that sticks out to me, in particular, is at Georgia Tech, was this program going to underprivileged schools and teaching them coding. We were teaching these kids how to build Lego robots, which was awesome. The look on their face when they got it working was fantastic. Also, I attended Grace Hopper. That is one of my all-time favorite conferences. That’s one of the coolest parts about having a career in tech, the opportunities to go to these conferences, and the continuous learning.
You’ve recently moved from being an individual contributor to being a full-time manager of an engineering team, how’s that change been?
It’s definitely been a change. It’s tough in some areas but fulfilling in others. I first knew when I came to Capital One, my first year I was going to be a manager. I started team-building events with contractors and associates, things that they could both contribute to and participate in. One day, coming home from one of the events, one of the contractors turned to me and said, “You’re the reason I like coming in to work now, I enjoy coming to work because before it was hard, we didn’t have any cohesion in the team, nothing, but now I feel like I’m connected.” So that just touched my heart, and I knew that’s what I was going to chase for the rest of my career, is the feeling of having the people find their place at work, whether it be inclusion such as this, or maybe what they want to do with their life.
How has mentorship helped you to become a leader?
Mentorship is one of my biggest passions. I’ve seen different styles of mentorship in my time at Capital One. New people entering the company sometimes don’t get the support they need and they struggle. Sometimes on a team, you work in silos because you don’t really have that cohesion that mentorship can bring. I want to always be available for questions and to talk to. I’ve seen it when talking to my leaders, the higher you get, the less likely people are to talk to you. I never want to be in that position. I want people to always feel like whatever they say to me is important.
What makes your current workplace special?
We’re still remote, going to hybrid soon. What’s going to bring me into the office is person-to-person interaction. I’ve made lots of friends over my five years at Capital One, people who I enjoy talking to. I think with remote work, you can talk to people, but they generally are people on your team. They’re not going to be people who you happen to pass by at the desk. Capital One has events to bring people together, we have holiday parties and fun events for the team. My team is going to a Nets game, that’s what I think is special. People say the culture of their company is fantastic. I think every person who you ask at Capital One believes that. We feel at home.
What then gives you energy and makes you happy outside of work?
Something on the creative side with my crafts. I sew, I crochet, basically any craft that you can think of. I moderate for a Twitch streamer. I love to learn, so depending on what my team is doing or something that I find interesting for the day, I might crack open O’Reilly books online and find a textbook to read or go to Educative and just start learning.
Are there any tips that you want to share with other women in tech?
There’s a high likelihood that in your career, you will hear that you’re not technical enough. Pull yourself back up and show them that you are. You wouldn’t be in this position and have gotten this job if you weren’t. Don’t be afraid of those words, just use them to fuel your fire.