your daily code for breakfast

Spotlight 24: Stephanie Hurlburt

Time for Spotlight number 24! I’m going to introduce to you: Stephanie Hurlburt. Stephanie is a Graphics Programmer at Unity Technologies. She loves making accessible tools for artists as well as optimizing graphics code. I think she works on some amazing projects and has some great advice for new-coders: enjoy reading!

Name: Stephanie Hurlburt
Job: Graphics Programmer
Favorite website, app or gadget: Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, and too many games to name!
Twitter: @sehurlburt

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I’ve always loved mathematics, and also loved a wide variety of other subjects– art, science, games, economics, history. I first stumbled into programming when I had to use it to create models in science and economics classes in college and loved it. I felt that computer science allowed me to learn a tool that used my love of mathematics and systems and allowed me to apply it to other fields and help others.

What does your working day look like?
I’m typically at work at around 9 or 10. I like to start by looking at my to-do list and jotting down what to prioritize that day while catching up on e-mail and having a cup of coffee. From there, it really varies. I might spend time looking at reported bugs and trying to track them down, or continuing work on a project I’ve started. I really enjoy pair programming on large projects– it’s really enjoyable to work with someone else on code and both be able to bring different viewpoints and styles to the project to make it even better. I try to always leave room for learning, research, connecting with colleagues, and thinking about future work and possible good collaborations with others.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Ah, that’s really hard!

As a creative coder, I really enjoyed a lot of creative installations, but my favorite might be one I did in London. It was a tall sculpture made out of rectangular cuboids, and each side of the cuboid had a monitor with black glass layered on top of it. At the edges of the sculpture were small programmable LED strips. It was 5 monitors tall! When the screens were turned on, you could subtly see the content– when they were off, it just looked like a cool sculpture. I led development on the application that ran on that– I had to work with our designer to think of something that’d look amazing on this 19-screen array, and also think about how to make it optimized and customizable via a CMS. Really fun.

In my current position, my favorite work is a combination of working with UX to try to think of how to make my graphics engine work even more accessible to game developers and artists, as well as digging into low-level graphics code and working on optimization projects. I really, really love that challenge.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
There are a lot of people who inspire me! I’m always inspired by seeing mathematicians, scientists, or coders who love collaborating with others, because sometimes these subjects can be seen as solitary endeavors but I feel very strongly that collaboration is important and rewarding. I also am inspired by the people in my life who’ve acted as mentors and taken the time to teach me what they knew– I try to do that for others as well whenever I can. I’m inspired by people who do what they do out of sheer joy for learning and out of passion to help others.

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
I love that the work itself is engaging and challenging, and requires me to solve hard problems by thinking about systems and mathematics. I love that by doing this, I can make products that help others.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I do have a degree in Computer Science. I think the courses I’m most thankful for are my mathematics courses– I wish I’d taken even more! I was also very impacted by some of my other courses– philosophy, ethics, history, economics. In terms of computer science, I’m happy I got to learn about things like hardware architecture and the theory of programming language and compiler design. I learned most of what I do today on the job– I didn’t have an especially strong focus on C++ or computer graphics in college. I think it’s really valuable to learn a wide variety of different subjects, even if you don’t think you’ll use them in your day-to-day career. It is also possible to pick up programming quickly and start building things to show you can do the work.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
I think everyone learns differently, but if I was to try to give advice:

Start building things with code as soon as possible, but also feel free to dive into the theory behind algorithms and computer architecture and take time to learn all about that. But don’t be afraid to just dive right in and start coding– often, that’s the best way to learn. I’d also say to keep in mind that computer science is a field where you’ll always be learning and running into things you don’t understand. Get comfortable with understanding small portions of systems and working your way up to understanding more and more.

Don’t be afraid to be passionate about a lot of different subjects and figure out how to connect the dots later

Figure out what kinds of problems you like to solve as well as what end products you like to build. Coding can be seen as a tool– sometimes, the end product that you build is what can be really exciting and sometimes using the tool itself is rewarding and exciting.

Don’t be afraid to be passionate about a lot of different subjects and figure out how to connect the dots later. This is true of everything, but definitely computer science. Seek to be happy in life– make sure you balance your work with time with family and rest. That’s important for creativity, too.

Coding’s also about working with people! I’ve had incredible experiences connecting with communities of coders, both locally and online. Find people you can learn from, find people you love working with, and connect with others in your community.

Extra question from Nell: What command line tool or other technical shortcut can you not live without?
Good question! I don’t know if I can’t live without it, but I’ve grown rather fond of using Visual Assist in Visual Studio. :)

Thank you Stephanie for taking the time to share your story :)