Megan Chinburg, a 2003 graduate of the University of Oregon's Computer and Information Science Department, is vice president for engineering at Cedexis, Inc., a growing Portland-area Internet company.
She previously held technical and management positions at Lunar Logic and Jive Software. Chinburg was asked to share some lessons from her career so far.
Q: Tell us a little bit about what Cedexis does, and the challenges and rewards of your work.
A: Simply put, we're in the business of making the internet faster We're experts in multi-cloud, multi-provider solutions. We provide our customers with the ability to understand the real-time end-user experienced performance of their site (Radar). We also provide them with our hosted toolset that allows them to customize how their end user traffic is balanced across their data centers, cloud services providers or CDNs based on collected performance and usage data (Openmix).
A big piece of this traffic routing solution is the very large corpus of public end user generated measurements we collect every day. Right now, we collect over a billion measurements a day from over 32,000 networks. It's fascinating to have access to so much data, to be able to look at internet traffic patterns around the world, and moreover to be able to use that data to improve the internet performance for our customer's end users.
Q: Your current company has been in existence only since 2009, and the whole field of web analytics and optimization didn't exist when you were a college student. How should today's students prepare for successful careers in a field that changes so rapidly?
A: I believe a solid, well-rounded foundation of computer science studies is a great way to prepare for the ever changing field. Regardless of where or how the computation that drives the hardware and software occurs, break it down and it's still 0s and 1s. Understanding that the field will always grow and change and being able to grow and change with the advancements will be the key to success.
Q: You've risen from an entry level position in the software industry to senior technical management in a little less than a decade. If you could share a few bits of wisdom from the experience you have gained with the Megan Chinburg of 2003, what advice would you offer her?
A: There is a lot you don't know, there will always be a lot you don't know. Be confident that you will learn what ever it is you need to learn and don't be afraid take something on that feels over your head.
Q: What advice would you offer to high school students and new college students considering computer science as a field of study?
A: At this point in time, and this hasn't changed in the past 15 years, a CS degree is one of the fastest paths to high earning potential. Engineers, especially good ones, are hard to find. There are so many jobs for developers and other computer technologist, and the trend does not seem to be diminishing. There are many different directions you can go with a CS degree, and it provides you with such a great foundation for critical thinking and problem solving. You will be an asset to any company you join (or start).
Q: It's widely understood that the best, most productive and creative teams draw on a variety of perspectives and diverse backgrounds, and yet we have so far largely failed to diversify the software development work force. As a successful woman in a male-dominated field, what advice can you offer women considering a career in computing, and what advice might you offer to those of us in education and industry on how to better attract and retain women in computing?
A: The way computer science is presented to high school and college students need to change. It is not the case that women don't want to study CS, that they don't want to be software and hardware engineers, but many are chased out of the program before they even have a chance to know if they want to pursue it. Take a look at the intro to CS classes. These classes are full of students (often mostly men) who have spent years noodling with computers, already have a grasp of what 'programming' is, and to a student who has not spent their youth teaching themselves how to code, this is often very intimidating, she might decide that she has no business in this field, nor will she ever catch up. As someone who didn't know a println from a cout when I took my first CS class, it was a huge struggle to overcome the self-doubt that arose when I watched my peers fly through their assignments. I would suggest two intro tracks: one for student with prior programming experience, one for those without. Allow learning to take place in an environment where the pressure to 'catch up' is removed. The act of programming, is not the whole of computer science, yet the initial intro classes seem to suggest that if you're not already coding when you get to the door, you have no business going through. This needs to change.
[ed note: Subsequent to this exchange, we shared with Megan some recent revisions to the CIS curriculum at UO, with two entry paths as she suggested.]
Q: You're a musician and an accomplished bicycle racer, in a career field known for its intense demands. What is your secret to work-life balance?
A: I have learned how to prioritize what is truly important and also be extremely efficient with my time. You can squeeze a lot of work out of 8 or 9 hours if you avoid YouTube, Facebook, BuzzFeed, Reddit, etc. There will never be an end to the work that needs to be done every day. I could spend 24 hours a day at my job, and there would still be work left to do tomorrow and every tomorrow after that. This was an important lesson for me to learn.
I have made the choice to prioritize my family and my hobbies over working 80 hour weeks, and to be sure, there are environments that I would not be compatible with. Work-life balance doesn't fly for all employers ... but I wouldn't work for them.
- from the UO Department of Computer and Information Science