Oliwia Kotowska, from Gdansk in Poland, is an Opencast software developer working on HMRC live services. In our second ‘career pathways into tech’ post, Oliwia shares her career journey and explains what a day in her working life looks like.
What does a software developer do?
“A software developer primarily writes, tests and maintains code, which allows for the development of new features for a product or service.”
Why were you drawn to the technology industry?
“Working in tech allows you to keep learning and evolving while you work, which keeps things interesting. When I started, I knew I wouldn't ever feel like I was stuck because I could always change and evolve with the job.”
How did you start your career?
“I studied biomedical engineering at Gdansk University of Technology, which didn't directly get me into software development – that came at a later stage. The course I did was multidisciplinary and involved chemistry, physics, electronics and IT. I found that I really enjoyed IT and was drawn towards it. I chose to specialise in IT for medicine first then looked for internships. Luckily, I got an internship with Opencast, which led to my permanent role – after I finished my studies. I really enjoyed my time as an intern and was delighted they offered me the chance to come back full time. I also learned a lot during my months as an intern, particularly around working with C# and automated testing.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the tech sector?
“The gender imbalance in tech was definitely visible at university and later on in the workplace. There aren’t many female software developers, but it's never been something that has discouraged me or stopped me from doing anything. Just because there is an imbalance doesn't mean that the experience is going to be negative. I've never encountered sexism of any sort in my workplace. My work is valued just the same as anyone else's. I think it's important to have some representation. Women are definitely in the minority in the sector, especially among software developers, but that doesn't mean we aren't there. Women can definitely succeed and thrive as developers.”
What do you enjoy the most about being a software developer?
“The job is particularly satisfying because you have that final goal in mind and you keep building, then you see the final product come together. It also involves a lot of problem solving and encourages you to be creative and to explore things, which is very interesting.”
Thinking about your own example, if someone is studying on a course they’re not enjoying, what advice would you give them?
“First, if you don't like your course, you can always change it. Secondly, it’s important not to dismiss something and think ‘it’s not for me’. You're not losing anything by trying – you’re gaining because even if it turns out it's not for you at least you know that.”
A day in the life
“At the moment I’m working from home and get behind my computer about 9am. I clear my emails and finish any outstanding work from the day before.
“At 9.30am our team has a stand-up, going over work from the previous day and discussing our work plans for that day. I recently joined the Opencast team working on HMRC live services, and the meeting is with other members and a scrum master.
“As I only joined the HMRC team in April I’ve been paired with another developer from the team. We start working through the tickets together, alternating who writes the code needed. Occasionally we’ll talk to the design team and get their input.
“Depending on how the work is going, we’ll break for lunch anytime between 12 and 1pm. I’ll often go for a walk to clear my head.
“After lunch we’ll continue working through the tickets, although we often have afternoon meetings. Every fortnight we’ll have separate demo and retro meetings. The demo meeting is with stakeholders and looks at the product or service we’re working on and the progress we’re making. The retro meeting is to get our thoughts about the previous fortnight and suggest how we can improve our ways of working. We also have an elaboration meeting every two weeks where we plan the next two weeks of work.
“Every day at 3.15pm we have a stand-down meeting. This is usually just a chat where we get to know each other a bit better. We often play online games and once a fortnight one of the team will set a quiz – our most recent was about the TV series Friends.
“Twenty or 30 minutes later we’ll get going again until we finish at about 5pm.
“Every two weeks we have ‘learning Friday’, which is a team coding session and/or a bit of individual studying. The two teams in HMRC’s Newcastle live services centre will come together to develop our coding knowledge. At the last session we looked at functional programming and test-driven development exercises.
“Outside of work I enjoy walking and watercolour painting, and I’ve recently joined the Opencast chess club, which meets every Thursday. There are about six of us and we spend an hour playing a game or talking tactics.”
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Oliwia was talking at Opencast’s recent ‘Exploring career pathways into tech’ webinar, as part of its OpenForum initiative. Watch our YouTubes from the session here.