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The Making of a Development Team: Tijana Milovanovic

One of the first things that I remember noticing when researching Detroit Labs was the focus on the people who work here. It is so true: people are everything here. I work for and with some incredible people who either develop, QA, design, lead, or sell beautiful and intuitive software.

For this series, I want to dig a little deeper and show what we are really made of. I rounded up 14 fellow Detroit Labbers to talk about what they do, what they love, how they got here, and what makes them tick.

I sat down with Tijana Milovanovic, who was an intern this past summer and has been hired on as a Junior Developer, to talk about development, getting her first post-college job, and the balancing act that any NCAA student-athlete must do.

What I remember about meeting Tijana in her initial interview is that she was like a duck on the water. In a situation where many are nervous, she exuded a quiet power and thoughtfulness. After interviewing her, it was very apparent that she is not, in fact, a duck. She is a badass.

Tell me a bit about yourself.
I was an international student (from Novi Sad, Serbia) at Eastern Michigan University. I came to the US in 2011, following my passion for rowing and learning, to join the EMU Women’s Rowing Team and study Computer Science. I finished Eastern with a major in CS and a minor in math. Now I am doing my OPT (Optional Practical Training).

Did you always know that you wanted to study CS and Math?
In a way. As a child I was always into arts (need I say I didn’t really like math?). So, I went to the general school and focused on the social sciences and languages that I was already good at, thinking that I would later choose a university that has a focus in that area. However, being exposed to informatics (of course, it was just the basic introduction to computers, Microsoft Office, simple algorithm drawing, some Basic and Microsoft Access databases), I realized that I really enjoyed it and I wanted to dive deeper. I wanted to be one of the people on the other side — not just the user. I wanted to be able to create as well.

Web Design, or more precisely my idea of what Web Design was, seemed as a perfect combo!

Coming to Eastern as an international student and a freshman, I had to declare a major before starting classes. Not knowing any difference between the various computer-related majors listed on Eastern’s website, I figured Computer Science sounded broad enough that I would probably be able to learn Web Design as well. If that weren’t the case, the plan was to simply change my major after the first semester or two.

In the second semester, I took my first programming class, Introduction to Programming (Java), and that class is the reason I now have a degree in Computer Science. I loved it!

And for math — after only 12 years of prior schooling, I decided that it was about time to make peace with it. After all, I was only going to have it every semester until I graduated. If I wanted to succeed, I needed to be comfortable and good at math as well.

I was in your interview for Labs, and I know you were an NCAA athlete for EMU, but I did not know about you being a captain your senior season. That’s exciting!

There was a need for people on the team who were willing to work harder to set an example for the rest of the team, and push for improvements in different areas. The whole team voted for three captains. I think my experience and self-motivation were the reason I had the honor to be one of the captains. Some of my duties were to be the voice of the team, where I would listen to any issues, or just be a person to talk to, and address any concerns, ideas, or issues with the coaching staff. I had to make decisions whether an issue could be addressed directly, or it needed to be brought to the coaching staff. And of course, pushing and challenging yourself, as that’s how you challenge your teammates to do the same, and ultimately the team gets better and stronger.

Tijana Milovanovic

What was your day like as a student-athlete when you were in season?

I had to take at least 15 credit hours each semester as part of the requirements for my academic scholarship. So, each semester I would usually take two CS classes, a math class, and two gen ed required classes. Each have a very different structure of the homework, and studying. Gen ed homework would usually be tedious reading assignments and essay writing. Math is all about doing the homework and understanding the practice problems. Computer science classes — everything…a lot of Google and figuring things out on your own, in my case with a very limited time.

Rowing practices were at 6:30am Monday through Saturday, about 15 minutes away from campus. After the morning practice, I would have a class (sometimes two if they were shorter), around noon three days a week was an hour-long weight-lifting session, and after that more classes. Junior year, I started working a 16-to17-hour campus job as well. In my senior year, the two-hour morning practice got split into two hour-and-a-half-long sessions for two out six days.

I think physically the most difficult semester for me was my sophomore or junior year (all a blur). I took Calculus 1, which I had every day for 50 minutes. The class went like this: everyone asking questions about homework the night before for 30 minutes (because no one knew what was going on), then 15 minutes of lesson, then the homework assignment was given at the end. The 75 problems assigned were over a lesson that we had only heard about ⅓ of. I had very little sleep that semester, which impacted my athletic performance as well. Many nights I would stay up working through homework until 3, 4, and even 5 a.m., take a power nap, and go to practice. It was very frustrating putting in so much work and in the end not getting the desired results.

Tijana - Team sport

To recap, you balanced a full CS degree, a math minor, a full NCAA athletic schedule, and a job? Incredibly impressive. What was the most challenging part of that?

Limited time. I wanted it all — to be as best athlete as I could, to grow and do well in class, and later on I wanted to get some job experience to get me started. I put rowing first because it was my passion and if it weren’t for it I wouldn’t have even been here in the first place. CS was next because I loved it and I knew it was my future. With school, you just also have to do well. For my scholarship, I had to get the grade, and student-athletes, they have the stigma that they are dumb and I wanted to prove wrong. In order to do all these things, and do them well, I had to prioritize and plan out my entire days.

When you interviewed here, you didn’t have any practical professional programming experience (like an internship). What was it about your experience working/playing as a student-athlete that you think best prepared you?

I think working a campus job for two years was beneficial as I didn’t have a car, or even time to take on an internship or a part-time job in my field. The campus job was a way to gain some work experience and get me through my final year of schooling.

Having to show up at practice and perform every morning, and keep working to achieve your goals and try to do better than you did before, is I think what really got me prepared not just for the job but life in general.

In rowing, there aren’t many shortcuts. You may be lucky to be tall and athletic, but if you don’t have your mind right and are not willing to put in the work day in and day out, you are not going to make it. Rowing is a beautiful sport, but there are a lot of hard days.

In season, we would travel to compete almost every weekend — this means Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The only way you can get any of your work done is doing your work on the bus. If you are not one of the people who can keep up with this pace, you are going to have a very rough time. And teachers were not very forgiving or understanding, at least in my case, so something had to give. In my case, it was sleep.

You were just hired on as a full-time Detroit Labs employee. What was the first grown-up thing you bought?
I bought dinner from CK Mediterranean Grille for my boyfriend’s family for a celebration dinner.

What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned since joining as an intern?

I was really interested in learning mobile, so getting to work on an Android app was awesome! Very cool to hack around to write something and see it on your phone.

I think the client interactions are so interesting. I don’t think some people see, or fully understand, how much effort it takes or how hard it can get.

I’ve also learned a lot more than I ever thought I would about time zones and time travel. The project I am currently on requires us to handle those in frontend and backend, and we had to keep in mind the user’s local time and timezone, facility’s local time and timezone, as well as the way the data was stored in the database — it was challenging, but fun. It’s funny listening and participating in a discussion where you are not quite sure how time zones work, only for someone else to try to explain it to you, and then you both end up even more confused than you were before.

Where do you want to be in a year?

I want to know React better. I also want to better understand middleware, as I’ve mainly worked on the frontend. That would be the realistic goal. But ideally, I would also like to get more experience with Android and find more opportunities to work on Android as well.

What advice do you have for other NCAA student-athletes who are interested in CS or Engineering?
Do it. Know that is going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be so worth it at the end. There are so many opportunities and possibilities in this field, demand as well — so it’s really up to you what you want to do, and what your interests are.

Talk to your classmates — you’ll be sharing almost all your future classes as the concepts get harder, as well as collaborate on some of the projects. Eventually, some of them will become your great friends as well.

Be a part of the campus CS organization. I was a part of the Women in Computer Science club at EMU, and through that I met many amazing and really smart people. Some of the best quality friends I made at EMU were actually my WiCS friends.


What did you eat for breakfast today?

Oatmeal and peanut butter.

What was the last movie you saw?

50 First Dates.

If you had one item in the zombie apocalypse what would it be?

A really fast mile run time… Oh item! Fast running muscles.

Best decision you ever made?

Deciding to go on the adventure of coming to the US even though I was doing it all by myself.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

I found this answer on Quora some time ago, and it really speaks to me as I’ve always rushed to “grow up” and be independent and in doing so I’ve always been setting the expectations for myself high.

“When I was 17 years old an old guy told me: Divide your life into four periods, from 0 to 15 is time to grow physically, from 16 to 30 time to grow in education, from 31 to 45 time to grow economically. 46 to 60 is time to enjoy all your growth. After 60 is a gift. I am 50 now and it’s been about right for me.”

Tune in next week for my interview with Josh Diskin!