Alumni Stories

Susan LoVaglio: From Navy Jet Mechanic to Spotify iOS Engineer

Josh Hirshfeld / 9 November 2017

With a longtime commitment to providing programming education to those who have served our country, Flatiron School has been honored to teach a number of military veterans how to code over the years. Today, ahead of Veterans Day, we’re profiling a few of these inspiring members of our community. Read on to meet Susan LoVaglio – a jet mechanic for the navy turned iOS Engineer at Spotify.

Thanks for being willing to chat up with us! First, can you share a bit about your background and your career prior to pursuing coding?

After graduating high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted. So I got a job, moved out of my parent’s place, but I still felt lost. I wasn’t interested in college so I joined the military. I spent just over ten years working as a jet engine mechanic and working in logistics/operating equipment. While I was serving, I did some college and studied accounting, but I realized it bored me. I dropped out of college and fell into office management and bookkeeping.

How did you then discover programming? What drew you to it?

I worked for a startup for five years and I thought it would last forever. I was laid off when the company had to file for bankruptcy, but I was given severance so I didn’t need to get another job immediately. I decided to use this time to consider if admin/finance was going to be something I wanted to go all the way with – or if I could get serious about a career change. I ended up running into a former coworker on the street who said he was looking into coding bootcamps. I had no idea they existed. From that point, I wanted to see if programming was for me. I took a free seven day HTML & CSS online course with Skillcrush and it was incredibly powerful to come away having built a webpage from scratch. I knew this was something I could be serious about.

What was your favorite part of the Flatiron School experience?

It definitely has to be when my team was notified that Apple had accepted my our iOS app into the App Store. I posted it on my Facebook and everyone I knew downloaded it. We had a bottle of champagne in the fridge to celebrate.

After you graduated from Flatiron School, you worked with us as a teacher. What was the most important thing you learned while attending the program that you integrated into your approach to teaching?

That you don’t have to have all the answers. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, you can look it up. Sure, it’s important for students to learn concepts and basics, but save the complicated/edge cases for Google. When I was a student, I learned a lot watching my instructors search for answers online and I’m sure some of the students I helped learned from watching me.

Tell me about your work now at Spotify. What’s an average day for you? What’s your favorite part of the job?

I work on the team responsible for advertisements. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but innovating around how we can make the experience better is challenging and interesting work. We typically have standup in the morning to talk about what we accomplished the day before and what we’ll work on that day. I have wire frames for designs to follow and I take the next steps for wherever I am in the project. I’m junior, so I spend almost all of my day coding or in training.

Do you feel your time in the Navy uniquely prepared for you learning how to code?

I think it gave me the drive to never stop. We weren’t allowed to give up in the military – people’s lives depended on it. So once I start something, I want to see it through.

Do you see coding and technology as a way to improve the lives of veterans or those currently enlisted? If so, how?

I think this is a great time to get involved with technology, especially with the progress in getting the GI Bill to pay for bootcamps. But even if you’re currently enlisted or don’t want to commit to paying for school yet, there are tons of free classes with all the MOOCs out there.

Any coding tips you’d like to share with newer programming students?

More than likely, a coding challenge you’re facing has been had by someone before you. Sharpen those research skills, they’ll come in handy for your entire career. If you can’t find the answer, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone or make a post online. Asking questions is a big part of programming.

Finally: send us your go-to Spotify playlist that you listen to while coding!

I can’t listen to music with words while working – I’ll want to sing along. There’s a section in Spotify where you can choose playlists based on moods and my go-to for coding is under the Focus section. It’s called Deep Focus. It’s pretty chill but it provides the right amount of background noise.

Inspired to pursue your own programming career? Explore our program scholarships.
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