By LEE XIE
John Wang’s typical day starts with a bus ride to work, a short distance from his recently purchased apartment in downtown Seattle, Washington. It may be surprising that he has landed a piece of prime real estate at only 26 years of age, but Wang holds a secure job as a software developer at NBC News Digital, where he has been working for the past four years.
Often dressed in a plaid button-down and jeans, Wang’s style choices echo his preference for his work life: casual in an urban setting. The NBC News office, located in the Columbia Tower, one of the city’s standout high-rises, is his haunt for developing mobile and television apps that share online content across new platforms. Having just wrapped up an election-related update for the NBC News app (making results more accessible for curious millennial voters), we spoke to Wang over Skype about his professional path, the apartment that came with it, the all-important “corporate culture” at his gig, making sure his voice is heard, and why Seattle is the place to be.
Q: Let’s start with some background. This software development job is the first for you post-college. How did you get here?
A: I got my current job right after graduating from the University of Washington in 2011 with a degree in computer science. During the summer of my junior year, I interned at MSNBC Interactive (since renamed NBC News Digital) and continued my internship part-time during my senior year. I got the full-time offer then, so interning during college definitely paid off for me.
Q: Some students are wary of taking a tech industry job because of horror stories about long hours. What is your daily routine like? Do you find that you have a good work-life balance?
A: My daily grind is probably split about 70 percent coding, 15 percent attending meetings and 15 percent answering emails or communicating with coworkers.
Work-life balance is pretty good. About eight-hour workdays, with very little overtime necessary. Things do get a little hectic during times when we’re about to release apps and major updates, which happens about three times a year. But having studied computer science, I am used to and expected the workload when accepting the job. Software development was a natural progression after college for me.
Q: Not many millennials can afford to purchase an apartment in the downtown area of a major city. Working in technology must help, but how did you plan up to this all-important purchase?
A: I lived at home for about a year after graduating to save up some money, rented an apartment for a year, went back home for two months because I couldn’t find a place that was selling, then finally landed an offer and got my place. It’s a luck of the draw that most college grads going into tech, which happens to be booming right now, are paid six-figure salaries or near six figures right off the bat. I also feel fortunate that tech grads can jump right into the industry without having to go to graduate school. But it did take me a while to lock down a place because there was very little new construction downtown after the market tanked in 2008. Riding that out and choosing to live at home while I apartment hunted ended up being a smart decision.
Q: Software development, with its strict deadlines and constant need for updates, must be stressful at times. What do you do to wind down?
A: I only work on the weekdays, which is extremely helpful to my mental health. During my spare time, I game, hang out with buddies, go on hikes, and do a bit of studying on software development things. As with most things in life, the learning never ends!
Q: For millennials, corporate culture in the workplace is becoming more and more important. How do you find the culture at work?
A: Our work culture is pretty relaxed; we’ve got a swanky office in the heart of downtown Seattle with lots of open and collaborative spaces. But we don’t have “fun things” like ping-pong tables and free food, so it’s not quite Google-fun!
On the negative side, after MSNBC was bought out by NBCUniversal, quite a few people left the company either because their positions were restructured or they didn’t like the new corporate structures. Everyone was pretty bummed about the personnel changes at the time. There’s nothing really positive for employees in having people leave or get relocated. But in the end, it’s just business.
Q: At a large company, software developers often feel like cogs in a machine that do not make a real impact. Do you feel like you are making a difference?
A: Our team has experienced tremendous growth and has had more opportunities to take on new projects under our supportive VP. We started off doing just Android and iOS development, and now we’ve added platforms like Android TV, Fire TV (Amazon’s portable media player), Roku, and Apple TV to our portfolio. Our NBC News for Fire TV app, something we turned from literally nothing to a sleek and fully functioning app in just a few months, received recognition from within the company. So yes, I do feel like I’m making a difference in this job. Corporate puts its trust into our team—we were given mostly free reign to create the Fire TV app in our vision—and I think that made it the coolest project we did this past year.
Q: After graduation, many students choose to relocate to a big city like New York or Los Angeles. Others in technology have left their corporate jobs to pursue life at a start-up in Silicon Valley. What has drawn you into staying in Seattle?
A: Regarding startups, a lot of developers do go to startups, but I find that most of them burn out quickly due to the hours and workload. They are paid well, but they have to really love the product and be dedicated to want to stay.
I’m currently thinking about pursuing a managerial track at NBC. More importantly, I’ve stayed in Seattle because it’s a growing hub for all kinds of businesses. It’s seen a tremendous amount of growth in recent years as big companies like Amazon open new offices and startups pop up constantly. The next decade or so should be pretty exciting, and I don’t mind being here for all of it.