Thomas Duke helped reimagine a prototype for the Bank of the West mobile application while a student at Arizona State University. Through ASU's Luminosity Lab, he joined Bank of the West's Innovation Lab as a student. Duke received his bachelor's degree in computer systems engineering in 2020 and his master's in computer science in 2021. Now he is "living the dream" as a full-time software developer for the bank. Here he shares his professional journey and what drives his passion for digital innovation.
Learn more about ASU's partnership with Bank of the West
What was the most valuable aspect of your ASU experience?
The most valuable aspect of my ASU experience was being able to architect, design and implement my own engineering projects through ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program. The EPICS program allowed me to explore cutting-edge technologies, gain invaluable leadership experience and interact with a variety of individuals. These experiences taught me the importance of adapting to new technology, clear communication across different domains and putting the customer’s needs first — all of which have helped prepare me for a professional career in software engineering.
How did you initially get involved with Bank of the West?
I had my degree in computer engineering and was completing my master's in computer science when I saw an opening at the ASU Innovation Lab as a full-stack developer. I was really drawn to it because I wanted to go that direction professionally, so I applied. When I got in, I found out that my Innovation Lab project was working with Bank of the West. I met Raj Mahakul through the program, and I ended up here on his team with a full-time React Native developer position.
When you started at ASU, did you ever imagine that you would be working for a bank someday? How would you describe your journey so far?
Honestly, I did not think I was going to end up at a bank. I started as a computer engineer, so I was doing a lot of embedded software engineering during my undergrad years. But I wanted to go for something bigger — to work on a full mobile app that a lot of people use and interact with daily. Bank of the West was doing exactly that, so it was it was a perfect match.
What is one aspect of your Innovation Lab work that, in retrospect, you wished you’d known earlier or taken better advantage of?
As part of my work with the Innovation Lab, I was provisioning GraphQL cloud services in Amazon Web Services (AWS) to demo how easily a React Native mobile application can communicate with a cloud system. However, I did not know that the Innovation Lab could create AWS developer accounts for lab members to use until halfway through the school year. By creating these AWS developer accounts, the lab gives aspiring cloud service developers the opportunity to rapidly create real and complex cloud services as a team without needing to worry about personal account set up, administrative restrictions and billing — the Innovation Lab does this heavy lifting for its members.
How do the projects from the Innovation Lab relate to what you are you working on now?
At the Innovation Lab we tried out this new technology called React Native and created a "concept application." The bank decided to adopt the software based on the testing results, and now I get to use React Native to create individual features to integrate into our pre-existing app. For example, when a user presses "change username," the app will actually move to the React Native screens that we created rather than native screens.
You recently told a colleague you are "living the dream." What did you mean by that?
One of the things I really wanted to work on was full-stack software development ― working on the mobile app as well as services that connect data to the mobile app. I think it’s really exciting to see new technologies for creating, implementing, designing, and architecting those kinds of applications. I think all of that is really thrilling and really rewarding. And so, yeah, living the dream.
Has anything surprised you since starting your new role?
I'm really surprised, pleased and excited about the openness in adopting new technologies, especially because Bank of the West is going through a technology transformation. I’m able research something and then bring it up to my technical leads or manager and say, “Hey, I think this is something that could really benefit us.” If they really like the idea, I might get a couple of days to try out the new technology, and if we really like it then we may adopt it. So that open door communication about adopting new things and stretching my skills has been really exciting and awesome here.
What are you most looking forward to in your career with Bank of the West?
I'm looking forward to getting more into the design and the architecture ― how we create our services to connect users to data, how we present that data on the app and then how we push those designs forward to utilize the next-generation technology for software.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now I can see myself operating as a technical lead on a team ― I'd like to be able to work towards that goal. My current technical leads at the bank have been awesome about including me in some of the technical discussions that we are having with other teams. I think that puts me into the position to be more of a leader because I'll know how to coordinate with all of the adjacent teams, the product owners, our back-end services team, and my own team. That's been really helpful so far to get me to a technical lead place.
What's the most helpful or memorable piece of advice that you've received so far?
The best piece of advice actually came out of one of my internships, which was to put the customer first when creating software. It can be really easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae or really low-level technical things. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is make sure that the customer is going to be satisfied with your product. Focusing on that helps inform my decisions when working on software ― the goal is to make it better for somebody else. Maybe from a technical point of view, it's not exactly ideal on my end, but as long as it meets our customer's use cases, then it's good. And being able to get to those decisions faster is really important.
Do you have any tips that you would give to other recent graduates that are trying to get into the tech industry?
I think the biggest thing for students looking to go into the software industry is to really explore the upcoming technologies and be able to adapt and learn really quickly. In our world of ever-changing software, it's really important to be able to stay on top of the technology curve, and to be able to acquire those new skills and tools quickly. It’s going to be really valuable in the job market.
What keeps you motivated to keep learning and working on these technologies?
I think the excitement and the thrill of being able to do things in new ways, and in cleaner ways, that make our lives really easy. Being able to see and explore new features that can help us push our IT organization further ― that's been the biggest thing.
You just recently graduated from your master's program, and now you’re working full-time. Congratulations - that's a big accomplishment! What do you enjoy doing outside of work to keep life balanced?
My wife and I just got married at the end of July. We really like Tango and swing dancing.