Employee Spotlight: Laura Pfister on finding her passion in engineering
At AppLovin, collaboration is our lifeblood and we wouldn’t be where we are without our amazing team. In our Employee Spotlight series, we’ll highlight the people who make AppLovin what it is today.
I recently got a chance to sit down with one of our software engineers, Laura Pfister, to talk about her unique path to engineering. A Bay Area native, Laura graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in psychology. “Psychology was something I found really interesting,” she says. “The brain is such a huge puzzle and complex, and that’s what drew me to psychology.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Laura continued working on campus in the library but wasn’t satisfied with her work. “I found I was hitting a wall. I had done a lot of analytical work and tried to find as much fun as possible,” says Laura. She was bored and realized she wasn’t going anywhere in her current position.
When she began talking to people about her dilemma, someone mentioned that her interests aligned with computer science. Laura’s penchant for solving puzzles made up the foundation of a good software engineer. “I always loved building things,” says Laura. “My favorite toys growing up were Tinkertoys and Legos.”
Laura was determined to teach herself computer programming and began researching. She started looking at online resources and found that universities had a lot of free classes. MIT and her alma mater, UC Berkeley, offer free online classes anyone can take. She also used the site Codecademy and began learning Python. “I fell in love with it and took online classes every evening after work,” she says.
Eventually Laura reached the limit of what she could learn with free online classes. She realized that she had to go back to school. “I realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t get a degree,” says Laura. She eventually found Oregon State offered an online degree and got her B.S. in Computer Science in 2015.
After graduating, Laura received a message from Amery Zhen, AppLovin’s Lead Recruiter. It just so happened that Amery and Laura went to the same high school, and Amery urged Laura to apply. Laura did, and got a job doing back end engineering on AppLovin’s ad servers.
When asked what advice Laura had for others transitioning from another field to computer programming, here’s what she had to say: “One of the most important things is figuring out what part of programming makes you the happiest. If front end is your passion, do that. But it’s also about persistence. You really have to believe in yourself and the self-doubt is so much stronger when it’s not your background.”
But a degree isn’t everything. It doesn’t matter what your background is as long as you can prove yourself in a job. What a degree is good for is to show that you know the fundamentals and are committed to the field.
On the flip side, there are those who get into computer science because they want the stability and salary, but don’t have passion for it. “Listen to yourself and what you like,” says Laura. “Computer science is lucrative but if you hate it, it’s compromising long-term happiness.”
“A turning point for me was when I took a class on human happiness when I was getting my psychology degree,” recalls Laura. “We went over the concept of flow, the concept when you’re so engrossed in a task that you get satisfaction from it. I hope everyone can find that in whatever they’re doing.”