A few years ago, Winnie Chou decided she was ready for a career change after working in private equity. Her reason? “I had the desire to effect change from the ground level,” she says. “I spent almost a decade in banking, but—to put it quite simply—I wanted to build products and put them into the hands of the user.”
This led Chou down the path of becoming a software engineer, and her first step was enrolling in a programming bootcamp. From there, she says, “I was determined to leverage my background in finance and new skills in software engineering, which naturally led me to focus on fintech.”
Chou created a list of companies that could meet her needs at this pivotal point in her career. At the top was Carta, a fintech software company where she felt she could thrive.
“Carta’s mission statement to create more owners truly resonated with me,” she says. “Additionally, I had experienced the business pain points that Carta was solving for in the private markets.”
Here, Chou shares how her experience in banking is helping her succeed as an engineer, why she loved Carta's onboarding process, and tips for others looking to make a career switch.
Tell us about your career journey. What inspired you to pivot from banking to software engineering?
There are many similarities between banking and software engineering. The most important is the regular challenges and uncapped potential to learn and grow from highly motivated and intelligent individuals. I’ve always admired the transparency in the tech industry to share approaches and learn out in the open. Additionally, I had past exposure to programming so I knew I had a baseline aptitude for it. Finally, I was very purposeful about ensuring I found the right fit to foster growth in a fun and rewarding context.
How did you know Carta would be a good fit?
I read as much as I could about the company. There were many posts written by Henry Ward, the CEO, plus blog articles by the engineering team. I got a taste of the hard problems Carta was solving as well as the onboarding process. I was able to glean insight into the culture and since then, it has exceeded my expectations!
What was the interview and onboarding process like at Carta? How did the company help you acclimate to your new position?
The interview process was one of the best that I had during my job hunt. I had fantastic interactions with my future manager and the recruiter. The team was very transparent about what the process looked like and the timeline.
The interviewers were diverse and almost all from the future team that I would be joining. This helped me understand what it would be like day-to-day. Everyone was kind and collaborative, and we had a lot of fun! I was encouraged to ask hard questions, which were answered directly and thoughtfully. I’ve never left an interview process so energized, and I could really see myself as a fellow Cartan.
Once I joined, the onboarding process was exceptional. The team that leads this focuses on cultivating the unique Carta culture from day one. In addition, the engineering onboarding process includes workshops to expose engineers to different tooling, business domains, and teams within the organization. I was also paired with a buddy, and everyone—not just those on my direct team—was helpful, approachable, and responsive.
What is the biggest challenge you faced when changing careers, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest professional challenge was my lack of experience in software engineering. Understandably, this can be seen as a risk for potential employers since my programming skills were unproven. I was able to mitigate this by focusing on fintech, and leveraging my business domain knowledge and track record of success operating in a high-pressure, competitive industry. I was also thoughtful about reaching out to engineers at target companies to understand their internal hiring process and willingness to recruit bootcamp grads.
My biggest personal challenge was embracing the humility of starting over. It’s incredibly humbling to learn a new skill and it’s important to give yourself the time to truly build a strong foundation. I’ve learned to build a trusted community for feedback loops so that I can manage the uncertainty of a new field. As a result, I’ve been able to develop a different type of confidence in my abilities.
What are some lessons or skills that you learned while working in banking that you apply in your current role?
Both my hard and soft skills from banking have translated surprisingly well. Since software engineering is also an analytical field, the scientific process, problem solving skills, and results-oriented approach that I had cultivated facilitated my transition.
Given the complex domain of financial services, I’ve also leveraged my communication skills. This is important for sharing knowledge across teams and in an asynchronous, scalable manner. My presentation skills from banking have transferred since it’s helpful for live meetings and collaborating across teams to organize and synthesize information.
Unexpectedly, the high-pressure environment from banking has helped me to apply a similar methodical and composed approach to engineering service requests or issues that arise requiring immediate action. I also believe banking is useful in its training as it encourages individuals to strive for high accuracy and consistency.
What are you working on now that’s particularly exciting or interesting?
I’m excited to be part of the continued growth at Carta and building financial infrastructure. Having been in the financial services industry and continuing to grow my understanding of what software can do, I see so many opportunities and I’m particularly interested in solutions that scale.
The company’s focus is definitely on continued growth—and growing globally! Thinking through how to build software solutions that can scale across geographies is really exciting to me. I’m looking forward to digging in and learning from the talented engineers at Carta to build solutions and deliver value to users worldwide.
How does Carta encourage professional growth and development?
Carta’s culture is focused on learning with a bias to action. We’re supported by tools and apps that help with our development, but in my opinion, the learning and growth comes from interactions with fellow Cartans. Through workshops, “show and tell” presentations, and dedicated Slack channels, we are constantly sharing our passions, interests, and latest findings. If there’s something you want to learn, you can find or build a community to learn with you.
There are also internal mentorship programs, which is a great way to meet other Cartans and gain insight and advice to unlock specific career development goals. This, coupled with exceptional managers I’ve had at Carta, has allowed me to find new opportunities and demonstrate what I’m capable of.
What advice do you have for others starting out early in their software engineering careers?
Be purposeful in your career, and take ownership of your direction. You are in the driver’s seat!
Having made the decision to switch careers, I’m mindful of the direction that I want to take and that’s encouraged at Carta. I collaborate with my manager on what I want to learn and they help identify opportunities to achieve my career objectives. My manager and I regularly check in to evaluate and take in feedback to recalibrate, ensuring I’m continuously challenged and pushed outside of my comfort zone.
What advice do you have for others who are thinking about changing careers?
Believe in yourself and do as much research as possible. Try to connect with people working in that field and find ways to engage with others who work in similar industries. There’s always more than one path and it’s figuring out what works for you, while managing your expectations against a reasonable timeline. Be flexible as there are always unknowns and external market factors.
Lastly, outside of work and engineering, what are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I believe in fully experiencing as much of life as possible and have a thirst for adventure, challenges, and new experiences.
Prior to the pandemic, I took an ambitious solo trip once a year. I’m still dipping my toes into more rough and tumble environments. I hope to pick this back up soon.
During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time running and completed two marathons, in Berlin and New York City. I want to complete more marathons and maybe even an Ironman or ultramarathon in the future.
Lastly, I absolutely love the arts! In New York City, you’ll see me indulging my creative side by supporting artists at awe-inspiring institutions like the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall as well as at contemporary art galleries and off-Broadway plays.