Cool Job: I’m A Front-End Software Engineer at iHeartRadio

6 minutes

As a classically-trained pianist in Nashville, Sarah O’Keefe always imagined working in the music industry. After getting a degree in music business and enrolling in law school to become an entertainment lawyer, she discovered another passion: coding.

“All the times when I probably should have had my nose in a law textbook, I was teaching myself how to code,” Sarah says. In 2016, Sarah left law school to pursue coding; and in March 2020, she was hired as a Front-End Software Engineer at iHeartRadio in Nashville.

Turns out, learning how to code is not a far cry from mastering a piece of music. “Having a music background really helps with learning to code and just in my day-to-day job,” Sarah says. “If I’m going to try and learn a musical composition, it’s a very similar skill set to teaching yourself a new coding language.”

In addition to her iHeartRadio job, Sarah started Codecademy’s Nashville Chapter, where she hosts meetups, study sessions, and Discord events for other Music City tech professionals and code enthusiasts. (Pro tip: You can join a local Codecademy Chapter to grow your network and stay motivated throughout your coding journey.)

Read on to learn more about Sarah’s journey to tech (including her tips for networking on LinkedIn) and what it’s like to be a Front-End Software Engineer at iHeartRadio.

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What got me interested in the job

“I originally went to school for music business with the intention of becoming an entertainment lawyer. I went to law school and then quit after finishing my first year. I realized that was not the path for me. I found coding really exciting: I liked solving all the puzzles and just figuring out solutions for quirky problems you have.

I started looking for free online resources for teaching myself how to code. I had some friends who were Software Engineers and their jobs sounded awesome, so I started using Codecademy to learn JavaScript. When I was spending probably too much time in law school doing that, I realized I should take a better look into that career path. I eventually went to a coding bootcamp, and got my first job doing full-stack development.”

How I got in the door

“Around February of 2020 I was working as a Junior Full-Stack Developer for a startup that had just gone under. So we were all looking for jobs, not knowing the pandemic was about to happen.

I had a friend who worked in the marketing department at iHeartRadio who had no connection to the digital side at all. I asked him what it was like working for iHeart and what kind of a company it was. They had a whole bunch of openings for Junior Developers, so I applied online and then reached out on LinkedIn to a couple of different people on the web team.

Any time I’ve applied for jobs, usually how I get my foot in the door for the interview is by reaching out to people on LinkedIn and being like, Hey, can I buy you a coffee? I’d love to talk about your experience. I guess it’s like the squeaky wheel theory.

Once I got to the interview, it was a 3-step process: First I talked to a recruiter, and the second one was a language-agnostic technical interview, which we did on CoderPad. At that time, they were also in the middle of figuring out how to do virtual interviews. The final interview was like a 5-hour meeting with seven different people from the team and more technical questions.”

What I actually do every day

“We are working on some really cool new features for the iHeartRadio web application. What I’m personally working on is building out a component library for the rest of the company to use. I’m primarily just using React at iHeartRadio, with a couple of different frameworks and libraries.

Right now, all of our code is written differently, so we’re trying to have a single component library that all the teams can pull from. That way, we can all build things the same way; we’ll have fewer bugs; and it’ll be a lot easier for new people to come in and be able to read the code.

Most of my time is building components, which on the surface might sound boring, but it’s a lot of working back and forth with our UX and product team. It’s been really exciting getting to work a lot closer with people that aren’t directly like my co-workers on the web team.

I’m currently planning our internal HackWeek 2022 and have rented a house outside of Nashville for everyone to stay. Everyone gets into teams of up to four people, and you get to work on whatever project you come up with, as long as it’s related to making iHeartRadio better.

Working at iHeartRadio is really cool because we’re not necessarily a tech-first company. Before there were applications, it was a radio company, so there’s still such an emphasis on music and entertainment in the company. At the New York office, they’ve had tons of artists come in to do little live shows, and that’s the plan for the Nashville office — we’ve got a really sick stage setup for local musicians to come through.”

Here’s what you need to get started

Sarah’s advice for folks who are looking for ways to break into tech is to recognize that the future of every industry — from music to sports and everything in between— is going to involve software. “Your favorite company that does artsy things probably needs software developers if they don’t already have them,” she says.

When it comes time to actually start applying for positions, don’t be intimidated if you don’t meet every single one of the bullet points and experience requirements on a job listing. For example, Sarah didn’t know React prior to starting at iHeartRadio, but talked about her past experience as a JavaScript developer and law student to illustrate that she’s a quick and capable learner.

“If you’re getting your first job as a developer, people are looking for a hunger to learn and the ability to kind of mold you into a Software Engineer that works well on their team,” Sarah says. “Having humility and proving that you’re able to learn quickly are the two most important tips.” (That said, if you want to learn React, check out our beginner-friendly Learn React course.)

And no matter where you are in your coding journey, “try to jump in at Codecademy meetups,” Sarah says. Beginners and seasoned engineers can use these events to find support, get answers to common questions, and network with other people who are learning with Codecademy. Learn more about local Codecademy Chapters on our community page.

Find Sarah on Instagram and TikTok @sarahmorrisokeefe, and Twitter @sarahmokeefe. You can also read Sarah’s blog about the intersection of tech and community on Medium.

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