Many career paths begin as childhood dreams. Others follow a period of intense reflection and internal debate. But sometimes those that are the most rewarding start with a simple, “That sounds interesting.”
For Erika Hamby, it was the latter. The career option that eventually sparked her interest was software engineering.
Despite that natural gravitation toward computer science — and frequently being called upon as her family’s IT help — the Johnson City native was unsure of what she wanted to pursue after high school.
“At that point, the closest I’d come to writing code was trying to edit a MySpace page,” Erika admits with a laugh.
She enrolled at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in her hometown and took general education classes and electives her first year.
“When I’d come home, my mom always had a new ‘top 10 list of jobs’ to review with me,” Erika recalls. “I’d say, ‘OK, I’m not going to be a doctor, a lawyer,’ that kind of stuff. But one day software engineer was on her list, and I thought, ‘That sounds interesting.’”
From there, she began taking computer science classes at ETSU — not exactly a hard sell, given her proficiency from a young age. They also allowed her to home in on what became a selfless passion for problem-solving.
“My head’s always in a place of working every angle of a problem to help someone come to a solution,” Erika says. “I always knew that no matter what my job turned out to be, I’d be doing something in that vein. I just ended up in the technical aspect of it.”
A footprint in the tech field
Erika found a way to put those skills to use for the benefit of countless Tennesseans.
After graduating from ETSU in 2010 and working for an Atlanta startup for a year, Erika moved to Chattanooga and joined BlueCross as an applications systems analyst specialist. The role is similar to software engineer.
“Coming here is really a testament to BlueCross and its environment,” she says. “The culture is very different and more refreshing than anything I’ve experienced. Even though we’re a large company, we’re not confining in the ways that many corporate organizations tend to be.”
As an analyst on the application systems team, Erika deals primarily with member claims and supports the audit recovery area.
For example, when you go the doctor, a claim gets created and your insurance company gets billed. BlueCross auditors review the claim and determine if the claim can be approved, if medical records are necessary to adjust the claim further, or if a member has overpaid. Application systems keeps this process running smoothly, and because there’s personal health information (PHI) involved, there are high levels of trust and responsibility required for analysts to support these efforts.
“Ultimately, the work I do benefits members by ensuring the data flows with no interruption, allowing their claims to be processed quickly using the software we have in place,” Erika says. “Anything that makes auditors’ jobs harder or take longer affects those claims getting adjusted. It’s a domino effect, and members, providers and hospitals can be impacted. So we’re constantly evaluating and enhancing what we have in place to prevent those difficulties.”
“The smallest impact that you feel can grow and make a bigger impact for others elsewhere.”
Supporting opportunities for others
Erika channels that passion for big impacts as a champion for the BlueSky Tennessee Institute, a partnership between BlueCross and ETSU.
The program offers eligible high school graduates in Tennessee the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Science in Computing, Concentration in Information Systems from ETSU in just over two years. At the same time, they gain hands-on, real-world experience by learning and working as an intern at the BlueCross headquarters in Chattanooga.
“Having graduated from ETSU, I have a unique perspective that I’m hoping to share with the inaugural class,” Erika says. “These students will work with mentors at BlueCross, which will work out for everyone.”
“Technology’s not going away, and the demand for graduates with this knowledge is only growing.”
Erika is excited for her alma mater to be taking part in the BlueSky Institute — and has words of wisdom to impart to the incoming class.
“ETSU’s program is hard, but worth it,” she says. “For anybody considering computer science and worried about working for a small company vs. large company, just know it may take some time to find what’s comfortable for you. Don’t shy away from BlueCross just because it’s a big company. I think the BlueSky Institute will help you figure out how much you enjoy the corporate structure and security compared to a startup environment. That comfort level can certainly change across your life; it has with mine.”
What matters most
Erika continues to be driven by what sounds interesting. Those interests now include hiking and exploring Chattanooga, and spending time with Toby, a “character and super-mutt” she adopted three years ago.
“I’m also still my family’s IT help,” she says. “Some things never change. But now they watch my dog, I fix their WiFi.”
While providing free tech support has its perks, Erika finds greater rewards in who she helps as an analyst.
“At the end of the day, I experience that personal achievement of, ‘I created something, or fixed something, or made a process and someone’s life easier,’” she says. “Their satisfaction benefits the company as a whole. We can be very spread out in what we do, but we work together for the benefit of others, and I like that sense of accomplishment.”