Marie Hoeger: CS + Transition

Marie Hoeger, CS alumnaTwo years ago, Rice University alumna Marie Hoeger took a career detour and landed at Microsoft. She hasn’t looked back yet.

“I grew up in Colorado and finished high school in Chicago,” she said. “When I arrived at Rice, I didn’t know what I wanted to do –but I was passionate about environmental issues and wanted to do something about it, so I signed up for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“Then Josiah Grace told me ‘Take COMP 140, I think you’ll enjoy it,’ based on the ENGI 120 course we’d taken as freshmen. So I took COMP 140 with Rixner in the fall of my sophomore year and got tricked into thinking computer science was easy.”

She laughed and added that she thought she’d mastered CS in one semester based on the small scope of problems she’d done and was completely wrong. Then she met Luay Nakhleh, a professor in both CS and BioScience departments. “He showed me the tie between CS and computational biology, so it was natural that I’d be hooked.”

Hoeger may have double-majored in EEB and CS, but she said the biggest factor for going into industry was to beef up her software development skills so she could make more progress in her lab work.

“I did a little software development in the lab where I was working on data visualization, but I could tell I needed more programming experience.” She said, “I wrote a for-loop for the first time in my sophomore year and that blew my mind.

“At the beginning of my junior year, I realized I couldn’t learn what I needed fast enough in my remaining three semesters. I kept hearing the best place to learn is industry, where you code for 40+ hours a week. That was the biggest influencer on my career choice – to grow my knowledge and also get out of debt.”CS alumna Marie Hoeger

What she found instead was a career that feeds her passion for learning new things and solving new problems at the same time. Hoeger said that although there are a lot of good days spent on the approach to the problems, when she finally gets to the end of the solution it’s a great day.

She’s also making another transition. But instead of heading back to the lab, she’s changing teams within Microsoft. “It’s hard to determine the right time to make a move,” she said.

“I’m transitioning out of my old role as a front-end web developer, the first role I accepted right out of college. I‘m grateful for everything I learned on that team and I really like my team members, so the guilt of leaving them weighs on my mind.

“But I was also feeling comfortable in that part of the business and wondered if I needed to be challenged in a completely new area. Finally, the choice became clear to me that the change I need is a different problem set.”

Hoeger’s new role is more heavily involved in back-end development. She said the team also embraces more modern philosophies, like making code open source, which was part of the reason for her transition.

“I’m excited to be able to take the perspective gained from working on front-end Javascript and apply it to back-end work. There’s a lot to learn and I’m building context every day. It’s intimidating to feel like there’s so much I don’t know. And yet, it’s exciting. There’s so much to learn!”

Having recently dealt with her own transition, Hoeger has a lot of empathy for CS students nearing graduation. She visited Rice during the fall Career Expo to recruit interns and new hires for Microsoft and said she felt an almost tangible level of stress among the seniors.

“There seems to be some pressure in getting that new job, but there is a lot more to the transition itself. Finding and moving into your first job is hard, it is NOT a requirement that seniors have the rest of their lives figured out. Focus on less on the shiny label and feel confidence in what you’ve already accomplished.”

She was surprised when some Rice students asked her for advice on how to ‘trick’ a company into hiring them without exposing how little they really knew. Talking with the students further, Hoeger reminded them Rice had already given them everything they would need to get a job.

“Surrounded by all the other brilliant people at Rice, it’s hard not to judge yourself. But don’t think you don’t know what you are doing. That’s just not right. You DO have a lot to offer. Be confident of your skills and your approach to problems.

“Have confidence that Rice has prepared you well, even over-prepared you for a lot of industry jobs. Transitions are hard, but transitions are good.”

Marie Hoeger completed her B.A. in Computer Science and Evolutionary Biology in 2016.