Justin Stringer, Solutions Engineer – Texas
Father. Husband. Programmer.
What did you do before BigPanda?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I went to work for the state. But before that, for about three and a half, four years, I was a full time stay at home dad. I took care of my older daughter, who is eight now and my younger daughter who’s about to turn four. My wife really wanted to go back to work and I really wanted to have a second child. And so as part of the negotiation, I stayed home. I’d been traveling every week for about a year so now it was my turn. I did everything for my kids, I took my daughter to baby classes and kept the home up while my wife traveled four days a week. It was a very stressful period. I grew a lot as a person and I felt like it was one of the most valuable times of my life.
What was that transition like?
At that time, I only had one daughter who was pretty independent. It was pretty easy to go from traveling every week to being at home all the time and taking care of all those household chores. I would just take her to school and pick her up. And then, we moved and we bought a house and I had to do a bunch of remodeling. And then our second daughter came and taking care of a baby is a completely different ball game. Being at home with a tiny, three month old child when my wife went back to work full time was terrifying. After a few months though you adapt. I really miss those times where my second daughter, Ponce is her name, was a baby and just like, cuddled on me all day. She would just nap in my arm, while we sat on the couch and watched documentaries. It was exhausting but at the same time, I enjoyed having more control over my schedule. It’s interesting, the bar for women is very high in terms of having a career and still being a good mom. But the bar for men, to be a full time dad is so low, it’s almost insulting. If the children are clean and healthy, we’re a good dad. But for women, the kids have to be dressed to the tee, the house has to be perfect and they have to have a full time career. It’s definitely a double standard.
In the beginning of 2020, I started to look for another job. I shaved my beard off and put on a suit. Then the pandemic hit. And I thought that was it, I’m not going back to work. I thought it was a sign to be home with the kids. And then about a month into the pandemic, I got a call from the company I interviewed with a few months back asking if I could start next week. Luckily, it was from home. But it was for the state of Texas, Department of Family protective services. And I did a lot of work with performance tests, engineering tools, and integrating them together and looking at data. Which is a lot of the work that I do right now at BigPanda.
What interested you about BigPanda?
I had an old coworker who had brought up BigPanda to me. At the time I wasn’t ready to start looking for another job. Finally, after him talking to me about it for a few months, I decided to do the research. I sat down and researched everything I could find about BigPanda on LinkedIn and Glassdoor and learned all about the Professional Services department. I had never really considered that role as a separate type of career from traditional software engineering. It really appealed to me. I set up a call with him the next day, and had him talk me through it. I remember thinking, why didn’t I consider this before?! I really got invested in it and talked to my wife about the career change. I wanted to work for a smaller organization and close knit company which seemed like BigPanda was by all accounts.
What do you enjoy most about Professional Services?
A few things. One of my favorite roles early in my career was a rep on a support team. I went from developer to developer all day and helped them one on one. I would sit down in their cubicle and work with them to solve code, environment, and tool issues and programmed with them. Since then, I always missed that aspect of it, the interaction with people. With Professional Services, I feel like I get a good balance between a fair amount of time to be customer facing and talking with our customers. Understanding what it is that they’re trying to accomplish, and then going back and having a half a day or a few hours to just program my heart out. I wouldn’t be happy if I was 100% coding all the time. But at the same time, if I don’t get a certain amount of programming time in, I’d miss it. I like the balance between customer interaction and deep technical work. BigPanda also has shorter projects, which is fun. I’ve worked with a lot of companies in the past where it can take years. That’s running to see it go into production or go live. But here, we have a kickoff, we meet the customers, we spend a lot of work upfront to understand what it is they’re trying to do. Then I go back, we do some programming and then once we get it going, I’m on to the next customer. It doesn’t allow me time to get bored with anything because within two to three months, I have additional customers and additional projects to work on. I like the fast pace and change.
How do you find balance between home and your professional life now?
I feel very supported at BigPanda. I’ve never had a job where so many people both at my level or the level that I report to, constantly check in to make sure I have the support that I need. BigPanda does a good job at saying: hey, we want to make sure that you’re challenged, but that you’re not frustrated.
For the home side, one thing I do every day is make my daughters’ meals for the day. My oldest daughter, who’s eight now, likes to get up with me and hang out in that hour or so that I make their food. We’ll either read a book (we’ve been reading Harry Potter recently) or sometimes we’ll do a chess game or puzzle. Sometimes, I try to make it a little educational. We’ve got this math book that we go through. We do that until about 6:45am and when I’m done making their lunches and breakfast, I always go for a run from about 6:50am to 7:15am. Now she rides her bike with me, so I’ll run and she’ll bike for about three miles every morning. I’m not sure how long this will last, she won’t be this age for very long, so I will take every minute of it. It’s very special. Just the two of us for an hour and a half before the rest of the family has woken up for the day.
What would you consider to be your superpower?
I think it’s finding a way to connect with somebody, no matter how you can achieve it. When I interviewed here, I stalked Ty (the recruiter) and found out he lived somewhere in the Bay Area. I used to live in Oakland. And so I was able to fit that into the conversation and then come to find out we lived within a couple blocks of each other. I mentioned this place called Homebrew, which is an excellent Mac and Cheese place. We realized, that’s like two blocks from his house and we were actually only living like three blocks from each other! I think it’s important to connect with others and realize we’re all just human beings.