This month we catch up with John Sangki Lee, a software engineering manager at Google, as he shares his involvement in various innovative software, and how he helps others pursue a career in the software industry.
What year did you graduate from St. John’s School?
Class of 1998
What did you do the year following High School graduation?
I went to Michigan State University to study Computer Science & Engineering.
Can you tell us about the career path you chose after college?
In 2003, I obtained my dream job working as a software engineer at Boeing Defense, Space & Security. I developed military avionics software for the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle where I specialized in data communications. Currently, I am a software engineering manager at Google. I lead a team of software engineers developing streaming systems for Google Search, Maps, Cloud, Android, Chrome, and YouTube.
Outside of work, what other activities/organizations are you involved in?
I volunteer at the Ada Developer Academy as an industry mentor. At Ada, I help women and gender-expansive adults pursue a career in the software industry. I am continuing to further my leadership skills through Pathwise Leadership. While I was at Boeing, I was one of the founders of the Boeing Asian American Professional Association (BAAPA), St. Louis Chapter.
What do you enjoy most about your current career position?
Working at Google, I enjoy being at the center of technology innovation. Also, I enjoy providing technical leadership, mentoring, and career development for the engineers on my teams. Finally, the Google campuses are epic; it is like a Disney World with lots of places to relax, have fun, and eat great food.
How did you become interested in your field of study or work?
SJS was an early adopter of computers and technology in education. Mrs. Siegrist encouraged me to take advantage of all the software tools our computers had to offer.
How has attending St. John’s prepared you for success in college and in the workplace?
Growing up, I had very little confidence in myself and didn’t expect much out of my life. I was extremely shy and socially awkward. Initially, I found school work to be very difficult. However, my teachers and classmates always encouraged me to better myself and take on new challenges. They taught me that with hard work, I could reinvent myself and accomplish anything. After SJS, I learned to enjoy academia so much that I earned a Masters in Software Management at Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. At Google, I work with and lead the brightest minds in the software industry. My current team has been pioneering innovations in the data analytics domain for the last decade.
Do you still keep in touch with your St. John’s School friends?
I still meet up with some SJS friends regularly in Seattle. I keep in touch with others on social media.
What experiences from St. John’s are the most memorable? Do you have a favorite teacher, mentor or counselor?
My favorite teachers were Ms. Petra, Mrs. Siegrist, and Mr. Reichert. Ms. Petra provided psychological safety, empathy, and encouragement during my teenage years when everything was so emotional and confusing. Mrs. Siegrist encouraged me to stay curious, explore the sciences, and embrace my passion for computers. Mr. Reichert unlocked my ability to brainstorm, outline my thoughts, and communicate clearly through writing. That skill has allowed me to be successful in writing software programs as well.
What would you say to a prospective family who is considering St. John’s School?
As SJS follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, graduating students will be prepared to take on university-level courses. After SJS, I had the writing, math, and science skills, study habits, and time management to excel in any undergraduate or graduate course. SJS requires student involvement in extracurricular activities; I appreciate that I was able to build teamwork and other soft skills necessary to succeed outside of school. Finally, attending school with other students that are hard working and take their academics seriously is contagious and serves as a positive influence.
Anything else you would like to add?
When planning for college, choosing the right major (and respective career) is often overlooked in favor of getting into the best school possible. After college, what types of problems do you want to solve? Explore companies or organizations that are solving those types of problems. On their career website, which jobs interest you? What skills or degrees do they require? How will your college education help you get job offers at these companies or organizations?
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