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Zach Klippenstein Computer Science Alumni

Briefly, tell us about your job. What do you find most rewarding? What are your greatest challenges within this profession?

I am an android engineer for Square. I am currently a developer for the Square Register which is the Android point-of-sale app. Occasionally I also work on backend services and website development. I joined Square because I wanted to support people making a living by doing what they love and this is still my strongest motivator. The hardest part of my job is trying to distill a large and growing set of complex features into their simplest form without losing functionality for larger merchants. It’s very rewarding to see merchants figure out creative ways to compose separate well-engineered functionality to do things that none of the developers imagined.

What experiences and activities helped you to map out your career pathway?

My first job out of university was working on global payments infrastructure at Amazon. After a year and a half, I was fascinated with the scale of the technology but I didn’t feel fulfilled in my position. I wanted to work more closely with the people who actually relied on the technology every day. 

As a student, did you see yourself in your current career? What stayed the same and/or changed?

I have been interested in programming since middle school. I played with Android development for fun while I was studying at the University of Manitoba, but I never thought I would work on the platform professionally. I also never considered “payments” a field that I would identify with. Amazon was just a great opportunity to experience a new city and a technology stack bigger than anything I had worked on before. I have always been fascinated by how different systems are integrated together so, in hindsight, the highly complex payments industry is a natural fit for me.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a degree in computer science?

Enroll in the Co-operative Education Program. Having the opportunity to see how real systems are built and how real teams work is invaluable, even if you’re only planning to do computer science research. Choose a non-scientific field that interests you for your electives or minor. You can learn about esoteric APIs on the job, so take advantage of the breadth of subjects available to you while you can. If you are a white male, learn about things like hidden biases and take a gender studies course. A lot of technology culture ends up being toxic and discriminatory simply because of ignorance and I think a greater focus on humanities in engineering programs could help start to rectify that.

What job search advice do you have for students and recent graduates?

Again, do the Co-operative Education Program. If going for an interview makes you nervous, take an interview preparation workshop at Career Services and keep practicing your interview skills until you feel confident. Spread out your co-op work terms. It’s interesting seeing how different teams work. Networking is crucial. Especially in Silicon Valley, most hiring is done through referrals. Another advantage of the doing a co-op is the large group of alumni that are more than happy to chat with you, both in and outside of Winnipeg.

Tell us a fun fact about your career path. 

My team at Amazon was nicknamed “Beach” and as a joke we always had a collection of beach balls lying around. A few months after I started at Square, someone near my desk brought a giant beach ball and a bunch of mini ones and I still run into them on a regular basis.

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