Jeffrey Decker ‘12 got his dream job offer from Pandora while studying for his final exams in Addlestone Library. He didn’t stay in the library much longer.
Decker, a computer science major, had begun applying for developer positions a few months before his December 2012 graduation, and by January 2013 he had relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to work as a Pandora Device Engineer. What is a Device Engineer exactly? We’ll let him explain.
Q: What do you do at Pandora?
A: I work with partner businesses and organizations to integrate Pandora into their devices. So my team will work with car companies like Ford or GM to integrate the Pandora button in their cars. We also do the same for consumer electronics companies, so anyone who wants to have Pandora on their TV or any other audio-capable device, like Chromecast, works with us. Once we have a prototype we’ll keep working with them through any demos and launch to make sure we’ve addressed any bugs and usability issues.
Q: How did you hear about this position?
A: I applied to Pandora online for a completely different position. I applied to be an entry-level developer, but the recruiter for the team I work on now saw my resume and cover letter and she thought I’d be a good fit with her team.
Q: What was the interview process like?
A: After the recruiter contacted me I had a half-hour phone interview scheduled with my current manager. It turned out to be an hour-and-a-half long, we just talked about different things and got along. Then they flew me out to their office for a whole day of interviews. I got the call about a week later.
Q: What do you think made you stand out through the application and interview process?
Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A: I like getting to work on so many different platforms, and I love being able to work with all this new technology before it’s even released. We’ll typically get a device months before it comes out, so I get to work on all these cool, new technologies all the time. Because we work on them as they emerge, we get to help drive where some of these technologies go. For me over the last year, this has really meant figuring out the 2nd screen experience, where you generally have a 1st screen like a TV and a 2nd like your phone to control that experience. This can translate in to smart devices like speakers that don’t necessarily have a screen, but are responsible for playing the music while the phone controls the user interaction.
Working on Pandora for Chromecast was our first big step toward this, and because of that project we’ve been able to explore other devices that provide similar experiences. This applies to many other areas too. My team is usually working on three or four big tasks every week, most of which I can’t talk about, so we have to be ready to drop everything and pick up somewhere else at any time. I am never bored.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
A: I would still like to be at Pandora. It’s a really fun, friendly work environment and people respect your judgment and work ethic – so if you’re sick, you’re sick. There are no sick days, you can work from home if you feel like it but for the most part people expect you to get the work done when you can, and they trust you to do a great job.
Q: How do you like living in California?
A: I was born in New Jersey and I grew up in Myrtle Beach, so it’s very different from those places. I like the Bay Area a lot, in some ways it’s more laid back than South Carolina and in some ways it’s much faster paced.
There are a lot of different kinds of people here, and I really like living in a place where there’s so much creative and technological work going on all the time. It’s also great because it’s one of the few places where you can be at the beach one day and drive a few hours to be skiing in the mountains the next day.
Q: How did the College help you prepare for work in your industry?
A: My computer science classes obviously helped a lot. We had more open-ended projects in my major, and we were encouraged to practice what we learned outside of class. So I would practice in my free time, I also took internships in school and participated in Dr. Starr’s [chair and associate professor of computer science] Software Innovations Lab, so I worked with real-live clients to hone my skills.
I also think being in college in general helped me prepare for my job, in terms of working with and being around so many different people. In my position, I don’t just work with developers, I also work with project managers and business development at our partner companies, not to mention all the different people who work at Pandora.
Q: What advice would you give to current students interested in development or engineering at a company like Pandora?
A: I would tell them to figure out what kinds of things in their field they like to work on – so working on mobile apps versus web apps, or emerging software, focusing on different coding languages, things like that. Once you know, just keep practicing and getting better at those things. It’ll really help to be able to talk about what you’re passionate about in a job interview with some authority.