Dustin Hooten (PhD ’15, French Literature)

What did you study at Yale, and what is your current profession/job?

I’m working as a software engineer for CA Technologies (formerly Rally Software). My team’s job is to improve the performance and scalability of some of the core services of our product (called Agile Central).

I studied French literature at Yale. My dissertation was about representations of animals in nineteenth-century French fiction. I graduated in May 2015.

What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/ or rewarding?

I like the environment. My colleagues are smart, interesting, friendly, and funny. We all trust and respect one another (this is a key part of our culture). The mentors on my team challenge and encourage me. The work/life balance is also excellent.

The most rewarding thing is writing good code (well-designed, performant).

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?

When I started graduate school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or even what I liked to do. The frustrations I experienced while researching for and writing my dissertation led me to do some soul-searching. It was at that point that I started exploring other interests in my free time (see my response below).

What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?

At Yale, I learned how to teach myself anything I want to know. Software engineers need to be good at learning things because technologies often change and new problems constantly arise.

Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school?

During graduate school, I learned some things about computer science, first as a hobby. I completed about a dozen so-called Massive Open Online Courses (via Coursera, edX, etc.) in computer science, worked through several math and computer science books, and did some small coding projects in my free time. I eventually realized that I wanted to do my hobby professionally.

I should also mention that I do have a B.S. in Applied Math from UCLA, which helps when learning about computer science.

What advice would you offer humanities PhDs who are interested in your line of work?

You can teach yourself all the skills you will need. Open-source software, open online courses, and library books are free or cheap. And learning a new skill in your free time is a great way to stay sane while writing your dissertation. Lastly, software engineers will take you seriously if you have the necessary skills (that is, degrees are less important in software engineering than in other fields).