Personal photo of Eann Tuan; all rights reserved.
ArcVida's guidance is geared toward guiding and supporting clients until they find their ideal career fit. The journey calls for a combination of passion, practicality, and a hint of serendipity. Our Career Spotlight subject Eann Tuan, Sr. Software Engineer and Product Leader at female-founded fitness startup Struct Club, represents this reality well.
An MIT grad and daughter of immigrants, Eann owes her success to the invaluable allies and experiences she's amassed throughout her academic, personal, and professional endeavors. We reached out to Eann to learn how her interests, education, and relationships have helped her find the road to long-term career satisfaction.
What sparked your interest in programming in general and in iOS engineering specifically?
I never intended to be a software developer! In fact, I entered college wanting to be a biological engineer, but after barely passing freshman biology with a C-, I thought it would be wise to reconsider. I noticed that a majority of the companies at the career fair were looking for Computer Science majors, and at the very least, I figured I would graduate with a job if I majored in Computer Science.
Fast forward to my graduate year at MIT when I was job searching, I found a group within Oracle in Cambridge, MA that was hiring iOS developers. Although I didn't know any iOS development at the time, my manager was extremely gracious in hiring me with the expectation that I would learn on the job. The summer prior to starting my first full time job out of grad school, I taught myself Swift by watching iTunes University's free Intro to Swift class. I spent the next two and a half years learning iOS development under a great team. When looking for my current job, I knew that I wanted to continue improving my proficiency in Swift, especially as I was seeing a greater and greater need for mobile developers.
What was your undergraduate experience like?
Honestly, it was brutal at the time, yet amazing when I look back at it — with rose-tinted goggles, of course. Imagine gathering the top students around the world and sticking them together on a campus. While the learning environment at MIT is extremely collaborative, naturally, the students are competitive, high-achieving, and extremely, extremely smart. Paired with the societal pressures of job searching and getting involved in extra-curricular activities, MIT was a really tough time for myself and many of my peers. We struggled through finishing our physics problem sets at 4 in the morning, trying to balance life as student athletes, and managing the pressure of getting that dream job.
Yet, this experience bonded us together in a way that I hadn't experienced before. Many of my closest friends are from my time at MIT — we are all diverse in race and ethnicity, yet unified in our formative years as young adults. I often wonder what it would look like for me to go back as a student - I think I would've learned more, cared less about my grades, and tried to enjoy the experience as much as I could.
What did you do after graduating?
To everyone's surprise, including myself, I decided to stay at MIT and get my Masters degree in Computer Science. Ironically, that fifth year at MIT was almost a second chance at redeeming my undergrad years and appreciating the opportunity to learn, the abundant resources, and the city of Boston. I grew to love the city so much that I finally bought a winter coat because I knew I wanted to stay after I graduated. After I got my Masters degree, I ended up working at Oracle in Cambridge, MA — just across the street from MIT — as an iOS Engineer developing mobile applications for Cloud Commerce.
When and how did decide to join Struct Club? How did you know you'd found a great fit?
I had been living in Boston for about 8 years and was starting to want more sunshine in my life. Since I had interned at Boeing in Los Angeles during college, I had some idea of what my life in LA could look like and ultimately wanted to end up there. Someone I had worked with in the past reached out to me via LinkedIn to tell me that he had a job in LA at a "small startup" that I might be interested in. When I asked how small, and he said "one person," I immediately dismissed it. Going from a company with over 130,000 employees to being the first employee seemed unfathomable. I would be giving up immense job security, invested stocks, the comfort of abundant corporate resources, and so much more.
However, something about this job led me to at least have a conversation with the founder. After all, it was a fitness tech company, and fitness is a huge aspect of my life: I was a collegiate swimmer, CrossFit coach, and fitness enthusiast. A job that allowed me to code and be immersed in the fitness world seemed like an opportunity worth looking into. One conversation led to another, and before I knew it, I was seriously considering leaving Oracle, moving to LA, and becoming the first employee at a small company called Struct Club. After consulting with as many people as I could, both professionally and personally, I had pretty good reason to believe that this move would be a positive one. It'd be risky, too, but I was at a time in my life where I could take risks. At the very least, I would have much better weather!
A female-founded company, Struct Club truly operates on three values: authenticity, impact, and inclusion. From our very first conversation, I could immediately tell that Amira — the Founder and CEO — was not only looking for talented engineers to help her develop the product, but also partners to carry her vision and walk alongside her. She was looking for teammates in stepping up to embody the "wolf pack" brand and vision. While I was scared out of my mind and unsure if I was truly a person that she could lean on — after all, I really only had about 2.5 years of experience — I felt just confident enough to take the leap. I'm proud to say it was a great decision, and I haven't looked back.
What unique challenges does your work involve?
There's always so much work to be done, and prioritizing is often the most challenging part for me. We have all these ideas to execute, campaigns to create, customers to support, and features to implement in the pipeline, but only 4 people! At any given point, there might be a bug that needs to be fixed, a build that needs to be tested, and emails to respond to. It can often feel like there are so many things to work on but not enough time, which can lead to analysis paralysis if I don't prioritize well.
Work-life balance is also a difficult aspect at a startup. I find that I am always thinking about work: that one issue a customer was having, or that one bug that I was in the middle of fixing. Although my boss does a great job making sure we try to have that balance so we can be better employees in the office, an advantage of startups is speed, and we try to take advantage of that. That might look like responding to emails after work hours or attending fitness expos on the weekends, but as long as you're interested in the work and the people, the choice will be easier to make.
Who was instrumental in helping you get where you are today?
My former boss at Oracle, Edel, was an amazing mentor, leader, and communicator. She taught me how to think for myself, ask for help when needed, and how to build relationships. I watched her lead a team of sixteen engineers as one of the few female managers in our organization while also creating healthy boundaries so she could go home and spend time with her family. Much of what I learned and brought with me to Struct Club is by watching Edel carry herself in the workplace, her managing style, and her willingness to take on responsibility for the betterment of the team.
My parents are also a huge reason for my success. They immigrated from Taiwan to the US and worked tirelessly to make sure that my brother and I had an excellent education. They're the reason that I went to MIT and stayed for my Master's degree. Without their support and decades of grit, I wouldn't be where I am today.
What are some key personal lessons about creating your own career path that you'd like to share?
While I don't feel like I've got it all figured out, or even remotely figured out, here are a few things that I would tell my younger self:
- Just take the next right step. As much as we try to plan for it, it's impossible to predict your future. There are so many factors you can't control, but what you can control is what you do with the information you have. For example, when I was job searching while in school, I felt this immense pressure that my first job out of college was going to determine my future. I had one shot to get that dream job, and I either got it, or my years of studying would be for nothing. However, looking back, I would've told myself to take the pressure off. Choose a job that you are interested in, with a manager you respect and want to learn from, and with a team that you could see yourself spending 40+ hours a week with. You might find that your initial assessment of a job changes a year in, and that's okay! You can still pivot and make adjustments along the way.
- It's not only important to be good at your job from a technical sense, but also to be an employee that others want to work with. This includes your integrity, being on time to meetings, proactively communicating your status and work progress, asking for help when appropriate, but first taking the time to problem solve by yourself. It looks like being a team player to help promote the vision of the company. Essentially, when you're getting hired, your character is just as important as your qualifications.
- Gather people around you to form a personal and professional support network. I wouldn't have been able to make my decision to join Struct Club without my network. One classmate from MIT, who was also a Computer Science major with me, walked me through my fears of being the only engineer to remind me that I am capable, smart, and that I could take the leap and succeed. I also had an unbiased recruiter who talked me through the professional aspects and risks of joining a startup. He reminded me that any recruiter who looks at your resume and sees a failed startup does not see failure or red flags — that it wouldn't taint my career if it didn't end up working out. My financial advisor and I planned out my strategy for not having a 401(k) anymore, managing moving expenses, and earning equity in a company. We made sure that I was set financially and de-risked the decision from a money perspective. These are just a few of the people who helped me make this decision, and I lean on their advice to this day. Form an unofficial "board of advisors" for your own life. They will be invaluable to you!
If you've been successful in your education and career, but are ready to make a change - meet new mentors, expand your network, and build your own board of advisors, ArcVida can help you start off on the right foot. Schedule a free strategy call to share your situation and continue on your road to long-term career satisfaction!
Published on 3/30/2020