Career Story: Software Engineer

Ram is a senior software engineer at a company that makes ads for apps. He talks about career development and the tradeoffs of working at large and small companies.

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My name is Ram Kandasamy.
RAM KANDASAMY, 29
SENIOR SOFTWARE ENGINEER, APPLOVIN

I'm a senior software engineer,
and I work at AppLovin.

I make $160,000 a year.

I am Bhavna Muthangi.
BHAVNA MUTHANGI, 30
SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

I'm a senior product manager,
and I make $160,000 a year.

I feel financially secure now.

I think I've felt that way
for about a year and a half.

The reason why I didn't
feel secure before that

is because I had $110,000
in student loans

that I was still working on paying off.

We also had
a $250,000 mortgage.

I think for me the biggest part
of feeling financially secure

was just knowing
that we had paid off all of our debt.

It's a great feeling, knowing that
you don't really owe anyone anything,

and I think it's very freeing.

To tell you the truth, I only felt,

I felt very financially secure
very recently,

only because Bhavna
did some calculations on–

'cause we were basically
trying to determine

at what point we could be
financially independent,

and it turns out that
we're well on our way to doing that.

I come from a first
generation immigrant family.

We actually both do.

While I think some people would argue

that you should
put that money towards,

into the market, where
you're getting a higher return

than the interest that
you are paying on your mortgage,

from our mentality, our culture
really values paying off debt,

so that you feel secure,

so I think that really,
it was just a matter of feeling safe

and knowing that
this house belongs to us.

I was very fortunate,
my parents saved a lot of money

so that they could pay
for my college education,

so I pretty much just had
to focus on my studies,

and I'm very grateful for that.

For me, I was lucky enough
to have my family

be able to pay for part of college,

but I also received
some financial aid,

and I was able to pay
for about 25% of my tuition

with a work study program,
FOR ELIGIBLE STUDENTS,
WORK-STUDY IS A GREAT
WAY TO GAIN MONEY FOR
COLLEGE WHILE ALSO
BUILDING PROFESSIONAL
EXPERIENCE.

so I worked in our IT center
when I was in college.

When I went to business school,
I actually earned a lot less
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WORK-STUDY
VISIT STUDNTAID.ED.GOV

than my peers at that time,

so I was able to get a lot of
financial aid for business school.

In total, between college
and business school,

I still had about $110,000 in debt.

I guess growing up, my parents,
especially my mom, she kind of

made it sound like having bad credit
was a character flaw,

so it was something that I desperately
just wanted to avoid at all costs.

I make sure every month,

near the end of the month, to make sure
I've paid off my credit card debt.

I actually grew up in a household
that was exactly the opposite of his.

We had a ton of credit card debt
when I was growing up,

and I really saw how stressed
my family was because of it,

and we actually would sometimes

move balances
from credit card to credit card,

and at one point,
we were actually getting rejected

for credit cards because
our credit score was so low.

I decided that when I became an adult

I really did not want to live
with that kind of stress.

The Bay Area actually
is a very expensive place to live,

in terms of cost of living.

The primary cost for most
people though is housing.

We actually have a big
advantage on that front,

just because we were able
to buy property at a pretty low price.

Basically, we had the whole
housing crisis in 2008, 2009,

and the housing market
was pretty depressed

for the next three years or so,

and so we were able to buy this house
when the prices were very low.

This was also a foreclosed house,

so it was much cheaper than other
houses in the Bay Area at the time.

I just looked for houses
that met my parameters,

two bedroom, two bath, and then

I was just looking for the cheapest one
I could find, really,

because housing is so expensive.

I was just looking for something
that would be a good value.

I'm a pretty simple guy; I don't really
need a really fancy house.

I just want a place where I can live,

and that could potentially
also increase in value over time.

I think we'll definitely
live here for a while.

We actually, for two years,
we actually had roommates,

and our roommate and his girlfriend
were living in the second bedroom,

so this house can fit
up to four people,

so I think we'll stay in this house
for our whole life.

We each earn
$160,000 a year annually.
RAM AND BHAVNA’S BUDGET:

Our combined monthly gross is 26,667.
COMBINED MONTHLY SALARY $26,667

Now, federal and state taxes
take out a good chunk of that.

We pay about $10,198
TAXES $10,198

each month in just taxes.

After that,
we contribute pre-tax money

to 401(k) retirement accounts,

and also to something called
an employee stock purchase plan.

An employee stock purchase plan
is offered by a lot of companies

as a benefit to their employees.

What it means is that employees
can purchase company stock,

usually at a 15% discount,

and so basically when
the employees sell the stock,

they're automatically
getting a 15% return.

We contribute $4,267 each month
RETIREMENT & STOCK PURCHASE $4,267

to our 401(k)s and my employer's
employee stock purchase plan.

That leaves us with $12,202.
NET TAKE HOME INCOME $12,202

Okay, so now moving
to our monthly expenses,

first we start off with
the Homeowners Association bill

and our annual property tax.

When you become a property owner,

you have to pay the Homeowners
Association bill monthly,

and basically what this is

it encompasses a bunch of improvements

and fixtures for the whole community,

'cause we live in a condo complex.

For example, it covers
our garbage, our water,

and things like that.

In terms of property tax,

that's just 1%
of our total property value,

and if you calculate that monthly,
it comes out to $756.
HOUSING COSTS $756

Next on the list is gas and electric.
That's $70 a month for us.
GAS & ELECTRIC $70

Then, internet and streaming services.

In terms of streaming, we pay
for Netflix, and we pay for Hulu,

so that comes out to $95 a month.
INTERNET & STREAMING $95

For both of us combined for our phones,
we pay $80 a month.
PHONE $80

The reason for why
it's so low is because

our family lives here, and so
we're part of a big family plan,

and so we're able
to get a discount there.

In terms of our cars,

we pay insurance,

for insurance, maintenance,
and gas for our cars,

and if you kind of calculate that
annually and divide it by 12,

it comes out to $650.
CAR EXPENSES $650

In terms of student loans,

we actually don't have any student
loans, so we're happy about that.

For food and groceries,
we spend $450 a month.
GROCERIES $450

For our gym membership,
we spend $120 a month.
GYM $120

For restaurants and entertainment,
we spend $377 a month.
RESTAURANTS & ENTERTAINMENT $377

Another line item is just
for miscellaneous expenses,

like Amazon books and clothing.

That comes up to about $300 a month.
MISCELLANEOUS $300

Although it could be a lot less if we
just used our library subscription

to get more books, rather
than getting them from Amazon.

That's probably true.
I do buy a lot of books on Amazon.

After you take out
all of our expenses,

we have 9,339 left,

and from that, we take $1,000,

and we contribute it
to our vacation fund each year.
VACATION FUND $1000

Normally,
we take two international trips

and one or two
domestic trips each year.

We try to travel pretty frugally.

Traveling is one
of our great passions.

We've gone to Europe,
we've gone to Asia,

and we've gone to South America.

After that,
the vacation fund is taken out,

we have $8,339 left.
-$8300

Over the years, we've already
built up an emergency fund

of one year's worth of expenses.

Now, all of this money is going into

very low-cost investments.
INVESTMENTS  ̴ $8300

Investing was really something
I had to learn on my own.

I'm from a first generation
immigrant family,

and when I was a child, we were just
trying to keep our heads above water.

There really wasn't as much
of a focus on investing

and building wealth for the future.

Once I went to business school,

and I saw what a lot
of my classmates were doing,

I started reading
a lot of literature on it.

I think one of my biggest regrets

is that I didn't invest
for a very long time,

so I feel like a lot of millennials
think this way, because

we had the recession in 2001,

and then we also had
another recession in 2007,

so they came pretty
quickly after one another,

so I think a lot of my generation
holds off on investing,

and unfortunately, I did that as well.

I really wish that
I had maxed out my 401(k)s

to their annual limit in my early 20s

so that I could've seen
those gains compound over time.

I wish I had participated
in my employer’s stock purchase plan

and gotten these discounted stocks.

I think those are
the biggest things I learned.

I feel like I had a pretty late
start to programming
RAM, 29
SENIOR SOFTWARE ENGINEER, APPLOVIN

compared to other people
I met in college, for example.

I was really into math.

When I was in high school,
I did a lot of math competitions,

and I really enjoyed that,
and Chess and things like that.

I really only got into programming
when I started college,

so I was kind of a late bloomer,

but I feel like as long as you
spend the time in college

to really learn the material,

it doesn't mean
that you're behind in any way.

To become a software engineer,

I would say 95% of the people
who are software engineers

have a degree
in computer science currently.

Maybe with the advent
of boot camps and such,

maybe that number will go down,

but it's definitely
highly recommended that,

if you can, that you major
in computer science,

yeah, in college.

In terms of getting a job,
I would say there's two hurdles.

The first hurdle is just
getting an interview.

In terms of that,

it really helps to have a name
like Caltech on your resume.

It opens a lot of doors in that way.

You can get interviews fairly quickly.

If you don't have a big
name college on your resume,

or like a big accomplishment
on your resume,

my advice would be
to reach out to contacts

who are
in the software engineering field

because it's a lot easier to get a job
if you get a referral through someone.

So, that's the first step,
right, getting the interview.

The second step is actually
passing the interview,

and the interview
is kind of interesting.

It's not really exactly like what
you study in college by any means.

It's often times, kind of common set
of problem-solving questions

that you can solve within a half hour,

and it's usually,
you write code on a whiteboard,

and you kind of
talk about your approaches

to a problem to the interviewer.

I think it's definitely something that
preparation makes a huge deal,

like, there's plenty of books,

for example, one book
is Cracking the Coding Interview.

There's plenty
of other resources online,

and I definitely recommend
that you prepare for interviews

before you do them because

it really does go a long way
towards getting the job.

After college, I started
my first job at Oracle.

I was there for two and a half years.

I feel like it was largely
a beneficial experience for me

'cause, you know, it's my first job.

Oracle's a pretty safe place
to work in terms of like,

you're able to get good experience,

but I found that after a while,

working at a large company, it's
a little bit limiting on your growth

just because
projects move more slowly,

and ultimately as an engineer,
you want to work on

fast-moving things, so that way

you get the experience.

Another disadvantage
of a big company is that

usually a big company has maybe
one or two really big revenue streams,

so, for example,
Oracle would be like databases,

and ultimately, you want
to work on high-impact projects,

and there's only so many spots

to work on those
high-impact projects at big companies.

Whereas, if you work
at a smaller company,

often times you're going to be
working on mission critical stuff,

and I think it's important
to work on stuff like that,

at least to get that exposure,
because then

that basically challenges you
to write really good code

that doesn't break in production,

and you start to experience
all the different failures

that can potentially
happen out in the wild,

and that experience is very valuable,

and that allows you
to continue to build

more challenging things
with other companies,

or even start your own company.

I think ultimately
I want to just continue

working as an engineer 'cause
I really enjoy writing code,

but I would say up to this point,

my primary focus in terms
of like picking my jobs

has been purely just monetary,

which it makes a lot of sense 'cause

when you are coming out of college,

you want to make sure you have
enough savings and all of that

to support your family and all that.

So ideally, my next
and possibly future jobs

I would like to write code
for companies

or causes that really seek
to kind of improve

people's lives, basically.

It's a powerful profession because

you're able to do something
and make something automated,

and in effect

that can kind of do the work
of many people, basically.

So, if you're in high school,
I think, yeah,

just any idea that you have,
just feel free to just code it.

Just translate ideas into code.

I think I can't emphasize that enough.

So for example, let's say you're into
poker or something like that.

Then why not just build a poker app,

and if you're interested
in the various strategies of poker,

you could build the app
and maybe kind of think about

how you could automate
your own way of playing poker,

like you're own strategy,

like would you maybe
like 50% of the time fold or raise?

Just start thinking about how you
would automate things basically,

and just go through the mental exercise
of thinking about how you would do it,

and then, for the projects
you really care about,

just go ahead and just code it.

I'm Ram Kandasamy. I'm 29 years old.
RAM, 29
SENIOR SOFTWARE ENGINEER, APPLOVIN

I'm a senior software
engineer at Applovin

and I make
160 thousand dollars a year.

Let's say you're playing
a game on your phone

and then you're interrupted by an ad.

That ad is what Applovin does.

We serve ads.
I work on the platform team.

The primary responsibility
of the platform team

is to build the infrastructure

that allows us to serve
these ads at scale.

Specifically what I do,
I have two main responsibilities.

The first is to work
on the big data cluster.

This big data cluster
basically stores all of our data.

My main responsibility there
is to build tools

that'll help other teams
within the company

access the data
and run numbers on the data

in a very fast and efficient manner.

My second responsibility is to

also make use of this cluster
to do some production use cases

on user and fraud analysis.

When you're starting out
as a software engineer

almost everything
you do it's, kind of,

do this, do that.
It's very much like, "Here's a task.

"Here's how you should code it.
Go ahead and do it."

But, as you spend
more years in industry,

you're kind of expected almost to

think of different ways
to optimize your own product.

In effect, you're supposed to own a
product or own an area of the company.

Your primary goal
should be to implement

what management deems is the goals

for the organization.

A secondary responsibility
for yourself should be to

figure out what are the weaknesses
of the product?

How could I use
my engineering knowledge to

make those weaknesses better?

I would say
my favorite day at the office

was probably the day
that I finished my first project.

Coming into Applovin,
it's a little bit intimidating

because they continue to be
a very successful company.

When you first start at a company,
you're eager to prove yourself

and to prove that you belong.

The first project I did,

they wanted it done very quickly.

So, I had to learn all about
their programming stack

and how they structure
their code and everything

in addition to actually
solving the problem

that I was faced with.

To be able to figure all
of that stuff out within a week,

which was their deadline
that they had established,

it was definitely a relief.

I felt great after doing that.

My name is Ram Kandasamy.
RAM KANDASAMY, 29
SENIOR SOFTWARE ENGINEER, APPLOVIN

I'm a senior software engineer,
and I work at AppLovin.

I make $160,000 a year.

I am Bhavna Muthangi.
BHAVNA MUTHANGI, 30
SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

I'm a senior product manager,
and I make $160,000 a year.

I feel financially secure now.

I think I've felt that way
for about a year and a half.

The reason why I didn't
feel secure before that

is because I had $110,000
in student loans

that I was still working on paying off.

We also had
a $250,000 mortgage.

I think for me the biggest part
of feeling financially secure

was just knowing
that we had paid off all of our debt.

It's a great feeling, knowing that
you don't really owe anyone anything,

and I think it's very freeing.

To tell you the truth, I only felt,

I felt very financially secure
very recently,

only because Bhavna
did some calculations on–

'cause we were basically
trying to determine

at what point we could be
financially independent,

and it turns out that
we're well on our way to doing that.

I come from a first
generation immigrant family.

We actually both do.

While I think some people would argue

that you should
put that money towards,

into the market, where
you're getting a higher return

than the interest that
you are paying on your mortgage,

from our mentality, our culture
really values paying off debt,

so that you feel secure,

so I think that really,
it was just a matter of feeling safe

and knowing that
this house belongs to us.

I was very fortunate,
my parents saved a lot of money

so that they could pay
for my college education,

so I pretty much just had
to focus on my studies,

and I'm very grateful for that.

For me, I was lucky enough
to have my family

be able to pay for part of college,

but I also received
some financial aid,

and I was able to pay
for about 25% of my tuition

with a work study program,
FOR ELIGIBLE STUDENTS,
WORK-STUDY IS A GREAT
WAY TO GAIN MONEY FOR
COLLEGE WHILE ALSO
BUILDING PROFESSIONAL
EXPERIENCE.

so I worked in our IT center
when I was in college.

When I went to business school,
I actually earned a lot less
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WORK-STUDY
VISIT STUDNTAID.ED.GOV

than my peers at that time,

so I was able to get a lot of
financial aid for business school.

In total, between college
and business school,

I still had about $110,000 in debt.

I guess growing up, my parents,
especially my mom, she kind of

made it sound like having bad credit
was a character flaw,

so it was something that I desperately
just wanted to avoid at all costs.

I make sure every month,

near the end of the month, to make sure
I've paid off my credit card debt.

I actually grew up in a household
that was exactly the opposite of his.

We had a ton of credit card debt
when I was growing up,

and I really saw how stressed
my family was because of it,

and we actually would sometimes

move balances
from credit card to credit card,

and at one point,
we were actually getting rejected

for credit cards because
our credit score was so low.

I decided that when I became an adult

I really did not want to live
with that kind of stress.

The Bay Area actually
is a very expensive place to live,

in terms of cost of living.

The primary cost for most
people though is housing.

We actually have a big
advantage on that front,

just because we were able
to buy property at a pretty low price.

Basically, we had the whole
housing crisis in 2008, 2009,

and the housing market
was pretty depressed

for the next three years or so,

and so we were able to buy this house
when the prices were very low.

This was also a foreclosed house,

so it was much cheaper than other
houses in the Bay Area at the time.

I just looked for houses
that met my parameters,

two bedroom, two bath, and then

I was just looking for the cheapest one
I could find, really,

because housing is so expensive.

I was just looking for something
that would be a good value.

I'm a pretty simple guy; I don't really
need a really fancy house.

I just want a place where I can live,

and that could potentially
also increase in value over time.

I think we'll definitely
live here for a while.

We actually, for two years,
we actually had roommates,

and our roommate and his girlfriend
were living in the second bedroom,

so this house can fit
up to four people,

so I think we'll stay in this house
for our whole life.

We each earn
$160,000 a year annually.
RAM AND BHAVNA’S BUDGET:

Our combined monthly gross is 26,667.
COMBINED MONTHLY SALARY $26,667

Now, federal and state taxes
take out a good chunk of that.

We pay about $10,198
TAXES $10,198

each month in just taxes.

After that,
we contribute pre-tax money

to 401(k) retirement accounts,

and also to something called
an employee stock purchase plan.

An employee stock purchase plan
is offered by a lot of companies

as a benefit to their employees.

What it means is that employees
can purchase company stock,

usually at a 15% discount,

and so basically when
the employees sell the stock,

they're automatically
getting a 15% return.

We contribute $4,267 each month
RETIREMENT & STOCK PURCHASE $4,267

to our 401(k)s and my employer's
employee stock purchase plan.

That leaves us with $12,202.
NET TAKE HOME INCOME $12,202

Okay, so now moving
to our monthly expenses,

first we start off with
the Homeowners Association bill

and our annual property tax.

When you become a property owner,

you have to pay the Homeowners
Association bill monthly,

and basically what this is

it encompasses a bunch of improvements

and fixtures for the whole community,

'cause we live in a condo complex.

For example, it covers
our garbage, our water,

and things like that.

In terms of property tax,

that's just 1%
of our total property value,

and if you calculate that monthly,
it comes out to $756.
HOUSING COSTS $756

Next on the list is gas and electric.
That's $70 a month for us.
GAS & ELECTRIC $70

Then, internet and streaming services.

In terms of streaming, we pay
for Netflix, and we pay for Hulu,

so that comes out to $95 a month.
INTERNET & STREAMING $95

For both of us combined for our phones,
we pay $80 a month.
PHONE $80

The reason for why
it's so low is because

our family lives here, and so
we're part of a big family plan,

and so we're able
to get a discount there.

In terms of our cars,

we pay insurance,

for insurance, maintenance,
and gas for our cars,

and if you kind of calculate that
annually and divide it by 12,

it comes out to $650.
CAR EXPENSES $650

In terms of student loans,

we actually don't have any student
loans, so we're happy about that.

For food and groceries,
we spend $450 a month.
GROCERIES $450

For our gym membership,
we spend $120 a month.
GYM $120

For restaurants and entertainment,
we spend $377 a month.
RESTAURANTS & ENTERTAINMENT $377

Another line item is just
for miscellaneous expenses,

like Amazon books and clothing.

That comes up to about $300 a month.
MISCELLANEOUS $300

Although it could be a lot less if we
just used our library subscription

to get more books, rather
than getting them from Amazon.

That's probably true.
I do buy a lot of books on Amazon.

After you take out
all of our expenses,

we have 9,339 left,

and from that, we take $1,000,

and we contribute it
to our vacation fund each year.
VACATION FUND $1000

Normally,
we take two international trips

and one or two
domestic trips each year.

We try to travel pretty frugally.

Traveling is one
of our great passions.

We've gone to Europe,
we've gone to Asia,

and we've gone to South America.

After that,
the vacation fund is taken out,

we have $8,339 left.
-$8300

Over the years, we've already
built up an emergency fund

of one year's worth of expenses.

Now, all of this money is going into

very low-cost investments.
INVESTMENTS  ̴ $8300

Investing was really something
I had to learn on my own.

I'm from a first generation
immigrant family,

and when I was a child, we were just
trying to keep our heads above water.

There really wasn't as much
of a focus on investing

and building wealth for the future.

Once I went to business school,

and I saw what a lot
of my classmates were doing,

I started reading
a lot of literature on it.

I think one of my biggest regrets

is that I didn't invest
for a very long time,

so I feel like a lot of millennials
think this way, because

we had the recession in 2001,

and then we also had
another recession in 2007,

so they came pretty
quickly after one another,

so I think a lot of my generation
holds off on investing,

and unfortunately, I did that as well.

I really wish that
I had maxed out my 401(k)s

to their annual limit in my early 20s

so that I could've seen
those gains compound over time.

I wish I had participated
in my employer’s stock purchase plan

and gotten these discounted stocks.

I think those are
the biggest things I learned.