“I would encourage people to apply even if they don’t think they’re qualified, because you’re not really going to understand how you can improve until you get feedback ultimately.“
While a Computer Science undergraduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Patrick Costello decided to investigate some of the job openings with local tech companies in NL. A random application in January 2020 lead Patrick to becoming a Full Stack Developer with totaliQ, while still a student yet to receive their degree. Patrick’s story shows that while you may think you’re not qualified enough for a position, there’s truly only one way to find out.
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techNL: Let’s just start things off nice and easy. Please to tell me a little bit about yourself!
Patrick Costello: I won’t like age myself or anything, but I’ve been a Full Stack Developer at totaliQ for almost a year and a quarter now. There’s been a lot of changes [since I started] and I’ve gone from a junior developer to having a bunch of other responsibilities really fast as I transitioned into a mentoring role on the team. I’m currently still at the tail end of my Computer Science degree at Memorial University, and heading back part-time to finish up once and for all.
I’ve been living in Newfoundland for the past five years with family here and in New Brunswick.
Any other interests or hobbies?
Haha I’m going to make myself sound boring right now… I’ve played video games all my life, I did graphic design for a few years, and I like to get out and enjoy events as they come up in town.
We’re all kinda boring right now, don’t worry. Let’s focus on something more interesting- what does a typical workday look like for you as a Full Stack Developer?
Right now, given our team’s been growing, I’ve taken a lot of administrative tasks onto my plate. Generally, day to day I try to focus on building features for our application. There’s also a lot of delegating what tasks are next for everybody, such as reviewing code. I’m also dealing with funding through techNL or Memorial University and keeping an eye out for potential hiring opportunities. At the same time, I’m trying to keep my development cycle working. I like to have a ton on my plate because I feel like the pressure makes me work a little harder, but that’s a drawback sometimes. We have a flat development team structure, but delegating work on the dev team is what eats up a lot of my time lately. We have a new hire on the team who’s pumping out code like nobody’s business and they’ve given me a lot of extra work to do in the past couple days, which is great, and I definitely won’t complain about a growing dev team.
Our two recent hires have had exceptionally fast onboardings, they’re learning at such an accelerated rate that we’re scrambling to find what they should be working on next that’s both challenging for them and providing value to the application.
That’s awesome. I’d love to even just take a step back now and talk about what were you doing immediately before you started in this role.
Unfortunately, I was actually off work before starting with totaliQ. I was working at Stapes as a sales representative, but when COVID-19 hit I had to take some time off. I just stayed home, which was so boring. MUN’s academic semester was also cut short, so there wasn’t even school to occupy my time.
Previously I had completed an internship at the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship at MUN. I was trying to get my own little business going in the pharmaceutical industry, and it was great exposure to what a startup is and how much effort it actually takes to get a business going and to the tech ecosystem here in Newfoundland. Prior to that, I honestly had no idea what Genesis was or some of the smaller companies in town like Clockwork Fox Studios and Mysa. I met a lot of people and had a good experience even if I eventually dropped the start-up.
In your own words, how did you “get the job” with totaliQ and what was the job search like?
Throughout while I was in school, even pre-pandemic, I was always poking around and applying to random software jobs because I know some places don’t really mind if you have a degree or not. I think it was in January 2020 that I applied to totaliQ for a Full Stack Developer position, and I didn’t hear anything back from them. COVID hit, five months passed and businesses were hit, and the company didn’t end up hiring for the role at the time. Instead of reposting the job ad later, totaliQ sent messages to people who already applied for it. So, I responded and went through the interview process and here we are just out of sheer luck. I’m super thankful for it, and it was an unexpected email to receive.
I must have impressed enough in the interview to actually get the job of course, but at the same time I was just as a student applying to random full stack and web builder jobs. I wasn’t looking at co-ops or anything [at the time] because I’m a transfer student and didn’t qualify for them, so I didn’t have that avenue.
Do you think a lot of students don’t know that they can be looking at jobs and applying while an undergrad student?
Yeah, I would encourage people to apply even if they’re not finished or don’t think they’re qualified because you’re not really going to understand how you can improve until you get feedback ultimately.
Coming back to being prepared for this role, what education/work experience do you think best prepared you for it?
Good question. I was for fortunate enough that during the year leading up to this, MUN introduced a lot of new, hands-on courses on web development and game design and whatnot which were not previously offered. Traditionally, a CS course will focus on data structures and algorithms, which is great for critical thinking, but I think getting some React experience in school and a little more introduction to a larger code base was definitely beneficial in my understanding of and ability to keep up with new technologies. Critical thinking courses like algorithms are very important, just not necessarily as job applicable. Getting exposed to all these different thought processes is very important at the end of the day.
My technical interview [with totaliQ] was pretty rough, I’m not going to lie, because I wasn’t up to date with a lot of technology. I think the biggest reason I was selected, and [my manager] told me this as well, was because I was actually motivated to have the job. How I showed that, not really sure, but I think motivation is definitely a key in getting a job.
I love hearing the other side of these hiring situations, things worked out for you despite, as you said, not having the best technical interview. You were able to get a job through motivation and being in the right place at the right time.
Timing’s key to everything and nobody has control over that. I do think my experience with MCE definitely helped. I could leverage my view on what a small startup like totaliQ was facing at the time, [and I] had a better understanding of the risk and how things operated. I think that helped me in the process to an extent.
What would you say to a current computer science student interested in working in a similar position to the one you have today?
I think it’s important to understand what the current technologies are. Technology is always changing, and knowing what tech stacks are often used in tech companies is pretty important. I wouldn’t recommend going out and learning how to use every AWS tool, but just being familiar with the language and how things actually operate from a technical standpoint is definitely going to give you a lot of leverage when speaking to somebody. Ultimately, in an interview, nobody’s going to ask you to build Facebook, you don’t need to know how to do that, but if you understand the lingo and not necessarily “fake it till you make it,” but show that you have an interest in the technologies and a bit of a baseline understanding, it’s going to show that you’re easily teachable.
To be quite honest, I think that’s probably what most people are looking for, someone who’s going to be a smooth transition onto their team.
What would you say to someone outside the tech industry interested in working in a similar position to the one you have today?
For somebody transitioning into software development from another industry… good question. I wouldn’t necessarily say, “go get a whole other degree on it.” You definitely could if you wanted to, but Udemy is a great resource for just learning basic React and other languages. Maybe you’re really interested in Python, you could make a little GitHub project based on Python to show you’re interested in it and that you do have an understanding of it. That goes for students as well.
GitHub is a pretty strong tool to show that you can do work, but I also don’t believe you should be expected to come home from school and all you do is code in your spare time. That’s just no way to live. There’s definitely a fine balance that’s more personal. If I see you have 100 projects in your GitHub, I’ll be impressed, but I know it would have been painful. [laughs]
I’d love to know more about the culture at your current employer. What is the culture like and what’s your favorite part of working there?
It’s a very small team, sub 20 employees, so it’s very collaborative and that’s important for any small startup. If there’s no collaboration, it’s not going to go well pretty fast.
It’s a very collaborative approach especially, like I said before, we don’t have a lead developer on the team per se, so feature discussions are always kind of a communal discussion that we take away as a dev team, or with the business team as well. We present ideas back and forth, because ultimately it’s the business teams who’s interacting with the customers, so they channel that information through. I don’t think feels like they’re on different levels of the team, like co-op students are right here next to the full times. It’s just a flat structure, which has been working phenomenal for us. It’s a great experiment and I think this is going to be our path moving forward too.
What are you working on this week?
We just had a huge product update, we launched totaliQ 2.0 a little while ago now, so we’re doing some refinements on our processes at the moment. My main focus starting tomorrow is looking at integrations to help our customers use the platform better. A variety of different integration requests have come in over the past year or so, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, SharePoint [or any of] these other things, we just have to figure out what’s possible and best suited for our customers. Soon enough someone will become the integration person and I think it’s going to be me. [laughs]
Anything else you want to touch on?
totaliQ’s a great company, self-plug, but on a serious note- I think from an industry standpoint right now Newfoundland is set up to skyrocket at some point in terms of presence globally hopefully, but at least in Canada. There’s a lot of recognition right now from the federal government and provincial government, and we’re still like a fairly small community. We do have one unicorn in town, Verafin, thankfully, but once we get a couple more unicorn companies coming out of Newfoundland I think it’ll be like a pretty substantial spot on the technology map. I can’t wait for that.
Thank you Patrick!
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