6 Things to Focus on in Your Tech Career

David Rice, SVP of Product & Engineering at Cox, recommends you consider these focus areas as you look for your next career move.

Want to read more about David Rice and why he’s motivated to help early career developers? Check out his blog story.

What I Wish I Had Known In My Early Career

Up Close Interview with David Rice, Senior Vice President of Product & Engineering

David Rice is a Senior Vice President of Product & Engineering at Cox Automotive and works in Austin, TX. We chatted with David about his story, his passion for cultivating early-career talent, and his advice to software developers.

Q: Hi David! Tell us about your Cox career story, and tell us what you do.

A: I was part of vAuto when it was acquired by Autotrader in 2010; at the time, I was a senior software engineer. After joining Cox, I became a product engineering leader and at some point or another, I’ve have worked on almost every retail software product.

Before vAuto, I worked for a start-up called Digital Motorworks. I got really good at fixing problems, and that was where I first got to see the effect of systems thinking: seeing how complex systems get put together. And you can put that same thinking into understanding how an organization should flow and interconnect, and how to fix its problems. For the past 10 years, I’ve been applying that same thought process: ‘how do I get the system working, and what are its breakages?’

Q: It sounds like you’ve had the opportunity to impact many projects and witness a lot of change. What have you learned from those experiences that you would share with early-career professionals?

A: All the change has led me to understand is that it’s okay not to perfectly understand everything. You know, coming from a software engineering background, I always want stuff to be binary/black and white. And the reality is, sometimes the complexity is just too high. You’re not always going to understand, and you only sometimes have the time to break things down into the smallest parts to fully understand. Accept that some level of inability to understand is okay and learn when to make decisions with incomplete knowledge.

Q: You’ve given presentations to students at the University of Texas about the things you wish you had known at the start of your career. Tell us about the backstory of those presentations.

A: When I was in college, a friend’s dad gave me a call while I was working in a non-computer science-related job. He gave me a summer job in Computer Science (CS) and fundamentally, what he said to me was: ‘I want you to come in because I think you’re going to cause trouble with the team. You don’t know what you can’t do, so you’re going to go down paths that the team has dismissed. They are moving too slow and taking too long.’ So, I got to experience that as a young professional, and it challenged me because I wanted to go in and prove myself.

I’ve seen that pattern with people who are fresh out of school. They bring new learnings and they come from places of new perspectives. At vAuto, I wanted to bring in students because I thought they provided a sense of exuberance and energy. Knowing that, I decided to go to the University of Texas to talk to some of these students and see if we could bring them on board.

Q: What was the main thing you wanted students to take away from your presentation?

A: I was told that I’d be doing an “info-session,” where I would essentially come in and talk to the students about what my company does. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that – that’s so boring!’ So instead, I wanted to take a perspective of “what I wish I knew.”

When you start in tech, the thing you’re most interested in is writing code and creating cool things. But the reality is, there are a whole bunch of facets of the field that you don’t figure out until later. You don’t necessarily know the right questions to ask to get you to the answers. So that’s what I wanted to talk to them about. We got great feedback from the students and my team. I’ve done the presentation about four times now. And I’ve been able to push for a lot of early-career hires at Cox. Want to know David’s top questions to ask? Check out our helpful guide.

Q: What other advice would you give to early-career developers?

A: The key is a diversity of skills. Make sure you’ve looked at different data constructs, programs, and programming languages. Having diversity of skills means that you can learn. You need to be able to demonstrate that. If you show me that you can learn skills and talk intelligently about them, that’s what I look for in hires.

One of my favorite interview questions is “how do you use software to solve problems around you that aren’t work-related?” A common behavior I’ve seen with great software developers is that they do stuff with the software even outside of their jobs. They solve real problems with it. For example, one of my early-career hires, Stacy, was active in collecting anime merchandise and she wrote a program to store her entire collection in a database. Those kinds of behaviors, that kind of passion…you can’t teach that, so I hone in on those kinds of questions in the interview process.

Q: If you could go back in time to the early stages of your career, what would you tell yourself?

A: Three things. First, I would tell myself not to get so stuck on closing doors to certain things. When I was in my early career, I was determined that I wouldn’t be in management. There was a lot of binary thought in that way. So, I would tell myself to get over myself a bit, and that it’s okay to look at other options.

Secondly, I’d ask myself: whom do I want to work with? These are people that you’re going to spend a lot of time with. Are these people that you can learn with and hang out with? Make sure they are.  You spend more waking time at work than with your family.

Special thanks to David for sharing his story and insights. To learn more about vAuto, visit the company’s website. To learn more about a technology career at Cox, visit our technology page.

daisy hibbard photo

The phone call that changed her life

During the fall of 2018, Daisy Hibbard, Scrum Master for Dealertrack, a Cox Automotive brand, received a phone call that dramatically changed her life. Never backing down from a challenge, Daisy fought for her health and her family and came out on top!

Two years ago, Daisy was the Manager of Internal Events and Community Relations for NextGear Capital, a Cox Automotive brand. However, little did she know that her position would be impacted after Cox Automotive announced a workforce reduction. She was devastated but determined to get back in the working world as soon as she could. Daisy was pleased with the way she was treated when she was laid off and was hopeful to return to Cox. Within 90 days, after earning her Professional Scrum Master certification she was hired as a Scrum Master for Dealertrack. Ironically, her new job was in the same building where she had started her career several years ago.

During a Monday morning team meeting, Daisy received an important phone call that would forever change her life—she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Immediately after her doctor called, she contacted her husband of 13 years, Brett, to share the news. Any person would have fallen apart upon receiving this news, but not Daisy. She kept her head high and willingly went back into the meeting staying calm and collected. Daisy explained, “I just kept repeating in my head, ‘No need to panic. I have the most curable kind of cancer. It’s going to be ok.’”

There are not many people in the world that can receive such traumatic information and keep level-headed in a meeting. Luckily, Daisy was able to maintain a positive attitude throughout the duration of her chemotherapy. She had a loving and supportive team at Cox who were her cheerleaders from the beginning, which helped her keep pushing through.

“I don’t think I could have done all this without the love and support from my coworkers. It made this whole process a lot easier and less painful.”

daisy hibbard photos

Not a worry in sight about stacks of bills and money, Daisy was able to focus on relaxing and doing the things she enjoys. She attributes this freedom to the Cox employee healthcare benefits.

“I will forever be grateful for Cox’s amazing healthcare benefits. Instead of having to stress about a mountain of hospital bills, my husband and I were able to stay on track with our goals of creating a garden and planting fruit trees. I don’t think I could have made it through chemotherapy without Cox’s short-term disability benefit.”

The process and several rounds of chemo is physically and emotionally draining, but Daisy didn’t let anything prevent her from doing the things she loves. After her final round of chemo, she and her husband planted six fruit trees and built five gardens. They also began composting and planting several flowers to attract honey bees. According to Daisy, she says; “my neighbors probably think cancer turned me into a ‘hippie,’ but cancer made me realize what’s most important in life: the small things.”

Thank you, Daisy, for sharing your story! If you want to read more articles like this one, view our open jobs or experience a day in the life at Cox? Venture over to our Careers page to learn more about our jobs in Tech.

photos of Matt Spurlock

Be on the Lookout for Your Next Job…Even When You Don’t Feel Ready

In a fast-paced organization, balancing multiple programs can a be a challenge. However behind every solution are some incredibly cool folks in product, engineering and operations making it happen. Our technology teams in Austin are no different and they make the product portfolio of vAuto possible!

Checking in from Austin is Product Marketing Manager Matt Spurlock who shares what it’s like to work alongside the product engineering teams there. Learn how he not only helps spotlight the products from our technology teams, but also how he works with those teams across vAuto to help them better understand the problem they’re solving and who they’re solving it for.

By: Matt Spurlock

As I sit here catching up on the veritable mountain of work this evening, I almost find it difficult to prioritize. Each activity is another exciting step in a slew of new product marketing projects and initiatives which all promise to lead vAuto and her brands to new heights. That said, it’s so exciting and interesting, I hardly mind the mountain!

It was one year ago when I submitted my application to a new position opening on the Product Marketing team. At the time, I had already been with Cox Automotive for 6 years as a Product Manager at vAuto but was looking to grow skills and broaden my career. All of a sudden, a friend came out of nowhere to let me know his team was looking to expand. After a long interview process, I was offered the job and with nervous excitement I accepted. It is difficult to express how happy I have been with my decision to make the leap into what was very unchartered territory. It was, and continues to be a steep learning curve, but through the process we’ve begun to make great pioneering strides in Product Marketing for vAuto and Cox Automotive.

In the Austin office I have pretty open access to our mobile and desktop developer teams, product, and operations. As a matter of fact, I have even had the privilege of training some of them on both the products themselves and the dealer market we work in!

To describe my role in better detail, it helps to understand the other main roles in the office, what we do and how we work together.

My job in product marketing is to support them all from both ends of the cycle.

On the front end, Product Marketing gets to help Product and Engineering better understand the market. Competitive analysis, Win/Loss Research, focus groups and survey feedback can all help feed the folks designing, building and prioritizing the next big thing with good solid facts instead of just using their gut.

As a product reaches the launch phase, I get to help tell the story to our marketing partners creating collateral and to those speaking directly to the dealers. I also gather information about how the product is received by our clients and feed that back into Product and Engineering. Thus, starting the whole cycle over again!

My experience and the relationships I have here allow me to both receive and provide valuable context across a broad spectrum. Having so many of these relationships in house is one of the things that makes working at the Austin office so special! Also making it special is the foundation and backing of Cox Automotive while maintaining the agile, startup spirit. What’s more is how many leaders we have that have been here since we actually were a startup! It’s truly a neat place to be. There’s been a great deal of growth, both from myself and vAuto over these seven years. With the camaraderie and support we give one another; I know I can look forward to the next seven and beyond!

Want to read more articles like this one, view job opportunities that speak to your passions and experience a day in the life at Cox? Venture over to our Technology Careers page to learn more.

Photos of Sabrina Johnson

How Cox Automotive allows me the luxury of simplicity

Meet Sabrina Johnson, Software Engineer Manager at Cox Automotive — a woman who has a knack for the arts and an appreciation of people. See how her small town upbringing has given her a simpler perspective on life, and how Cox allows her to incorporate this into her management style.

By Sabrina Johnson

I’ve never been too much of a city girl.

Braselton, Georgia has been my home for 13 years. It’s quiet. Serene. Wine country. It is definitely more my speed. This quaint town is about 45 miles outside of the bustling city of Atlanta. My commute to work is long, but I love where I live.

Autotrader, a Cox Automotive company, hired me in 2008 and I eventually assumed the position as a Senior User Interface Engineer. I led the Search Evolution Project, which was huge at the time.

The functionality of the project was to add filters to our Autotrader search results page and helping redesign the search funnel. It was a fast-paced environment that required a lot of time and focus.

Now I am a multi-discipline manager, a single mom, and an artist.

As a multi-discipline manager, my passion lies in making people feel valued. To me that is the most important duty as a manager to remind people that they matter to me. It was a time when the team was working on a ton of projects and team morale was low. The monotony of the work wasn’t fun for them and I wanted to give them a break and show my appreciation. That’s why I orchestrated a floor-wide Autotrader Olympics. We kicked it off with pizza and participated in events like, “office chair curling” and the “long jump.” We had a blast.

When contractors are converted to employees, I throw each of them their own dessert party because it’s a big deal to be a part of the Autotrader family! Every new employee should know they’re special. We want to let them know they are a part of the family now. Because that’s what this is, it’s family.

As a single mom, my life has a lot of moving parts to it. Yet, Cox Automotive lets life happen. On mornings where I need to avoid traffic by working from home, it’s no problem. If I need to go to a school function for my two kids, no questions asked. I know that my job supports me in the important things and I make sure to offer the same flexibility to my direct reports.

As an artist, I express myself through painting. Working at Cox, I can continue my love for the arts. Recently, I entered a plein air painting competition in Duluth. It was an entire weekend of painting and then the art was displayed and judged at the end of it all. My children and I also just traveled to Europe, where I got new inspiration for my paintings.

My adventure was not a burden to the company, it was encouraged.

When I think of my small town in Braselton, I think of home. I get to take a step back to enjoy what matters in life, without the noise. Without the hustle and bustle.

When I think of Cox Automotive, I think of family. Cox Automotive allows this same luxury, to value the important things in life without the noise and without the hustle and bustle. There is something special about a large company with a small feel and there’s something even more special about the people within it.

Special thanks to Sabrina for sharing her story! If you would like to build a career in technology with a promising balance of work-life and family, learn moreabout current opportunities with Cox Automotive.

Summer Social Team photo

Want to know about the Cox SUMMER SOCIAL?

The 2019 Cox Summer Social was sizzling this year as we got a crash course in esports and welcomed players, the head coach, costumed fans and the general manager from the Atlanta Reign.

Our President and CEO Alex Taylor kicked off the Cox Summer Social with the introduction of our special guests the Overwatch League’s Atlanta Reign team, our company’s most recent investment. He shared how the team came about and admitted that he wasn’t sold initially on the idea of people watching other people play video games. But the more he learned about it, the more convinced he became that esports was on its way to becoming a booming industry. In fact, esports are predicted to have more viewers than every professional sports league but the NFL by 2021 — surpassing the MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS.

An Esports Overview

Soe Gschwind-Penski, a commentator, host and international celebrity in the gaming community, provided a quick overview of esports before hosting a brief discussion with our Chief Financial Officer Dallas Clement and our special guest, the President and CEO of Atlanta Esports Ventures Paul Hamilton. The discussion was about the journey of owning and operating our first esports team and our partnership with Province Inc. to form Atlanta Esports Ventures.

Esports Photo

Raving Fans

Our event was decked out with vintage arcade games, while employees enjoyed ice cream on the outdoor lawn and more games under the tent. While others scored some free swag items, souvenirs and peeked inside the Atlanta Reign’s official team van. Fans also got a chance to meet Atlanta Reign players Babybay, Kodak and Gator, head coach Brad Rajani, and take pictures with cosplayers (costumed characters) from the Overwatch game.

  • “My favorite part about working at Cox is the incredible events they put on. I think they are such a great way to increase exposure to the company as well as the culture.” Sam Jobson, Cox Communications,
  • “During my time here at Cox, I have been lucky enough to encounter some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.” Shujan Valiani, Cox Communications
  • “I like working at Cox because it’s family oriented, and they think of their employees. I tell other people to come and work at Cox because of the culture, we are so tight knit, and we try to make employees feel like family. I think it trickles down, which is so cool.” Mirlene Jean Simon, Manager of Economic & Industry Insights
  • “At Cox we are really good at building relationships, the comradery is what makes the company so great.” Karen Bass, Manager of Technology

We couldn’t be more thrilled to kick off the summer in a big way for our employees and learn and celebrate our newest investments together.

If you want to read more articles like this one, view our open jobs or experience a day in the life at Cox? Venture over to our Careers page to learn more.

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