Women engineers on the skills they need to succeed in tech

Helen Tabunshchyk, Director of WWCode London, and Global Relay’s Maribel Dapeton (pictured) and Bhavani Magam talk motivation, creativity among technologies and how to triumph in tech.

Helen Tabunshchyk, Director of WWCode London, sat down with Global Relay development engineers Maribel Dapeton and Bhavani Magam to discuss the future of tech, automation, and essential non-technical skills.

Helen Tubunshchyk: “With so many women leaving their careers mid-way, it’s empowering to meet truly senior technical women who come from traditional technical backgrounds with over 15 years of industry experience. Bhavani, can you share with us what keeps you motivated to achieve your goals within the industry?”

Bhavani Magam (Lead, software development engineer in test): “I’ve always been career-oriented. I was only doing manual testing when I began working in India, but I started learning automation and other new technologies when I moved to the UK. Learning and keeping up with the latest developments is very motivating for me.

“I believe it’s essential to have women in the industry. Many women are apprehensive about pursuing technology careers for various reasons, so managing both my home life and career successfully encourages me to stay and keep pursuing my goals.”

HT: “It’s unfortunate but true. Every word of that resonates with me. What about you, Maribel?”

Bhavani Magam.
Photo: Private

Maribel Dapeton (Team lead): “My technology career started in an unconventional way. I moved from the Philippines, and the first experience I remember nudging me towards technology and IT was in high school. My family had come from a relatively poor background, and our high school didn’t offer comprehensive IT or related courses. We had one brief class that merely highlighted how to code using a very simple language – goto syntax – to turn pixels on or off to draw a picture on screen. I enjoyed that class a lot, and it sparked my interest in computers.

“When I would think of my career, I leaned more toward the arts or accounting. However, right before I started university, I received a scholarship from the government of the Philippines. They provide people with a few options for their studies, and it just so happens that one of them was computer science. I went with it because I enjoyed that IT class in high school.

“To this day, I still feel that original joy whenever I begin a project and see it work. Coding has always been a creative process for me, and that keeps me motivated.”

HT: “That’s a fascinating story. I also agree that programming is a creative process. You both mentioned that you are non-native Londoners. Can you share with us what prompted you to move to London and how the tech scene there is different from the places you have worked previously?”

MD: “My husband and I moved to the UK 10 years ago for his job. Beforehand, I was working as a developer right out of university.

“While in school, I worked for a consulting company with primarily Japanese clients, so we adopted a Japanese style of working. This methodology included lots of long hours – it’s a very top-down approach that often treats developers as if they’re at the bottom of the ladder. They tell you what technology you are going to use and what processes you will follow, and your technology stack was dependent on what your clients required.

“What I see in the UK is a very different process. I’ve worked with several start-ups here, and they often tried to change their tech stack to attract more talent. Expertise determines what languages people will use more than anything else.”

HT: “That’s understandable. Bhavani?”

BM: “Similarly to Maribel, my husband needed to move to London for work, but I had only worked as a QA for nine months before leaving India.

“It’s traditional to use QTP in India, and most of the testing is manual. When I moved to London, I discovered that many companies would claim to use agile ways of working even if they didn’t follow through, but I eventually found organizations that follow agile practices rather strictly.

“I always try to learn new skills at every company I work for. For example, I learned the automation technologies that my first company in the UK used and started implementing the frameworks myself after nine months of working there.

“I didn’t code much when I lived in India. I knew the basics of Java upon arriving in London and took on new roles that required coding on automation frameworks. Something I’ve noticed about working here compared to India is that developers understand the perspective from QA. They don’t take it personally when we bring bugs to their attention.”

Maribel Dapeton. Photo: Private

HT: “Having relocated to London myself, I want to add that I also noticed how receptive the environment is and how people work toward a common goal.

“Your company, Global Relay, has grown quickly over the past few years. The latest data I have indicates that you have 23,000 customers in 90 countries, which is a massive scope. In your opinion, Maribel, how does the choice of technology contribute to your product’s success and your company’s growth?”

MD: “The first step for companies to grow is to identify their technologies and find developers who have expertise in that related language. Many technologists stick to a particular language and work to master it. Companies that align their goals regarding where they want to focus their technology and incorporate popular languages will, ultimately, attract more talent.

“Once you have a core team and infrastructure in place, it becomes much easier to grow and change your product offerings because your talent can turn to new languages that will help improve your ecosystem.”

HT: “Global Relay is a pioneer in cloud solutions. Do you think the future looks like cloud?”

MD: “I think so! I joined the team because I wanted to be more exposed to cloud technology and work with technologies other than Java in my day-to-day.

“For example, Kubernetes are very popular now, so the knowledge I glean here will expand my industry experience. The team’s cloud expertise certainly attracted me.”

HT: “You just confirmed your points that the right technology can attract the right talent!

“When researching Global Relay, I saw that you have your own green data center. Current predictions are that, by 2025, data centers’ carbon footprint will reach 5.5% globally, which is enormous. It’s inspiring that your team is thinking in an environmentally-friendly way.

“How does it feel to work in a place that is conscious of how our world will look tomorrow?”

BM: “The company definitely touts social responsibility. It invites employees to visit the green data center in Canada. It’s really amazing when you think about it — a data center with no air conditioning.

“It’s invaluable, really. We’re really invested in the space. Another benefit of operating your own data center is security. It’s great to know we’re protecting customer data and the environment.”

HT: “Given that Global Relay provides a compliant messaging platform, there are numerous security implications that can have direct legal consequences.

“As a lead engineer in test with significant experience in the field, where do you think automated testing’s place is to ensure consistent quality and a lack of regressions in the freshly delivered product?”

BM: “Automation is part and parcel of development. With the projects I lead, we always come up with the automated test well ahead of the development phase.

“Let’s say we’re developing a feature in the next sprint. In the current sprint, we will try to finish all the functional tests required for that feature so that, by the time a developer starts working on a feature, they already know what test cases we are capturing for. Even product managers are aware of what we’re testing at this point. By the time they’ve completed the story, they need to make sure those tests have passed before they can merge their code to master.

“Automation is always there with the development. It’s spread from the start of the development phase to delivery to production.”

HT: “Those processes sound like a nice addition to engineers’ emotional experience. It helps them be more confident in their products.”

BM: “Exactly! It helps prevent sleepless nights. Automation tests help provide work-life balance as well.”

HT: “So, the conclusion here is that automation testing benefits your health more than anything.” 

BM: “Definitely! Imagine going into a release one hour before the actual cut-off, and then they go, “I’m heading over to do QA.

“A release was like a ceremony at one of the companies I worked for. Six to seven people would come to the release to make sure they are doing smoke tests across different workflows. The release had to be done at midnight, and we had to announce an outage for six to eight hours to allow time for all kinds of smoke tests in production. Those kinds of ceremonies are unnecessary if you have an automated testing place.”

HT: “Based on the way your careers have progressed, it’s not a stretch to guess that you both have outstanding negotiation skills. How does it help you to collaborate with other teams and stakeholders?”

BM: “From a testing perspective, we conduct negotiations around product delivery. There may be instances where a developer does want to release the following day, but you know my team is unable to automate a particular task. We often collaborate and convince people in the planning phase. It’s important for us to provide realistic expectations.

“Communication skills are especially important for career growth. You can often find yourself needing to simplify extremely technical things to other teams so that you can collaborate successfully.”

MD: “I totally agree with Bhavani. To be successful, you can’t put yourself on an island. You need to collaborate with people from the initial stages. When product managers want something done, we developers figure out how we can realize that vision.

“As a developer, I find there is a misconception that we’re tucked away doing things alone. It’s not like that at all. You have to communicate clearly with product managers about what exactly they want to ensure that whatever we develop is the solution they’re looking for. Otherwise, the product will fail from the beginning.

“Collaboration also extends to the development team. You have to work with everyone across different technical levels to get on the same page and devise the right solution. It’s essential to balance technical requirements along project requirements, timelines, and scope.

“It can be difficult at times because you have to reach an agreement across teams. That’s where negotiating skills become quite important to progress in tech.”

HT: “What I’m taking from this is: the better your communication skills are, the higher you can proceed in your career.”

MD: “The better your communication skills, the more likely it is that managers will consider you for promotions. Thanks to my ability to communicate clearly and collaborate with other teams, I’ve been offered some promotions with more responsibilities. The thing is, you have to be comfortable with being less hands-on with the day-to-day coding. That’s difficult for me because I enjoy that aspect so much.”

HT: “What non-technical experience has contributed to your success in tech, other than your communication skills?”

BM: “Self-confidence. I think we all struggle with that from time to time, but we need to believe in ourselves as women. As women, we tend to be managers of our homes, but we can do the same at work. I feel the planning and strategizing I do for my family translates to my job well.”

HT: “There’s also nothing we can’t learn. The information is all out there, we just have to be confident in our abilities to master it.”

MD: “Definitely! I’ve found that confidence builds over time. There are little things that you can do, like avoiding self-detrimental language. For example, remove phrases like “I’m sorry” or “I don’t think my idea is good” from your vocabulary.

“As far as a non-technical experience, I grew up enjoying art and drawing, so I see applications as a creative output. When I see a really nice application, it motivates me to create my own as a side project. That drive fuels my perseverance.

“As women, some of us fear being presented with a challenge and not overcoming it, so perseverance is essential. It will be rewarding at the end. I go through those emotions at work myself. There will always be challenges, but how you proceed and react to them influences your career’s success.”

HT: “Yes! Research shows that women tend to underestimate their knowledge, while men tend to overestimate their knowledge. However, if you look at women’s communication skills, most would agree that women tend to succeed in that regard. And as Richard Feynman said, “If you can’t explain it in simple terms, then you don’t understand it.” Women can explain it! So, we must be more confident about our knowledge because we are really great!

“That leads me to my last question: what advice would you give to our community members, both beginners and experienced, in one sentence?”

MD and BM in unison: “Be confident!”

You can read the article on the Women Who Code website at https://www.womenwhocode.com/blog/engineer-to-engineer-tech-and-non-tech-skills-women-need-to-succeed-in-tech. Please consider supporting Women Who Code. A $27 donation allows them to provide programming support to a member for an entire year.