Katherine is currently working as a Software Development Team Lead at Domain where she draws on her ten years of software development experience to mentor and grow her team.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
Even though my father was a software developer, I’ve never really thought about a career in tech. Back in those days computers were rare and I didn’t have access to one whilst growing up. I have always been interested in maths and this led to my parents suggestion I study computer science at university. I still wasn’t keen and applied to study international relations instead, unfortunately I didn’t get the scholarship and therefore couldn’t afford the course. Plan B was computer science which I did get accepted into and that was the beginning of my journey.
Beginning in computer science was hard. A lot of the students had come from specialised backgrounds and had previous knowledge of computer science. I on the other hand was starting at ground zero. My stubbornness to succeed pushed me through a lot of that degree. I pushed myself extremely hard because I was adamant I didn’t want to fail. At times I felt like I didn’t belong and wasn’t supposed to be there. But it was still immensely interesting, so it helped me to overcome my insecurities. My hard work paid off when I caught up and even passed some of the students. That was an amazing feeling!
Leaving university I began my career at a large corporation as a junior software developer. I started with smaller tasks before moving onto bigger challenges. I was gradually promoted to mid, then to senior developer and then to a team lead.
In Belarus where I am from, having children is a big decision. There is no child care for children under 2 years old, and the expectation is that they stay at home with the mum until then. So all women who decide to have a child also know they will need to take 2-3 years off work. Naturally, you miss out on a lot of things during those years, especially in technology! So many things have changed in that time, a lot of your old skills are not needed any more and you sometimes feel like you start from scratch. I did it twice, and the second time was even harder since it was in a different country. I coped with it in my usual way - a lot of studying and pushing myself even harder.
What are the key things that allowed you to get where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
There are three key things that come to mind and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
I’m quite a perfectionist and I strive to do everything as best as possible. Also I’m ambitious and can’t stand being behind, so I’m ready to spend as much time and effort as it takes to become better at something. I’m used to working hard when I want to achieve something, since it proved to be effective every time I did it. It is reflected in my previous experiences - I studied so hard at uni as I was initially one of the weakest students and it was unbearable for my self-esteem; when I decided to move to Australia, I spent a lot of time preparing for the English test, as I was worried my level of English wasn’t good enough to live in a country where so many people spoke it as their first language; when I was returning to work after my second maternity leave in a new country, I spent numerous hours solving programming exercises and brushing up on my skills, as I wanted to be up to the standards after a long break.
I was lucky to have had the support of amazing colleagues and managers. A special mention to my first manager in Australia, who took a chance on someone who had an unusual background and gave me the opportunity to get my foot in the door within a new market.
Finally my husband, who encouraged and believed in me to reach my goals. I am constantly grateful for his never ending support, especially after we became parents.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
The most valuable advice I have ever received is to be genuinely interested in people and don’t be afraid to show that you care. When I first started my career and especially my transition into a team lead, I was reluctant to show interest in other people as I thought at the time it was not welcome by them. However I realised after reading “Captivate: The science of succeeding with people” by Vanessa Edwards that connecting and communicating with people is made much easier when they feel you care.
The second piece of advice that I think is vital to women in tech is how important your personal branding is. This is something I’m still working towards, I must admit, but even being aware of it makes a difference and lets you notice and leverage the opportunities you would’ve otherwise missed.
As you transitioned to more senior and leadership roles what was the shift you needed to make?
The biggest shift I made upon taking a leadership role was moving the focus from myself and my individual achievements to celebrating and working towards the goals of my team. It took a while to start feeling efficient and productive when you don’t directly contribute as much as you did before, but I realised that I can use my experience and knowledge to help others to become more productive, and hence achieve a better outcome for the entire team.
Leading a team also made me realise that anyone can learn anything, no one is limited if they have the passion and perseverance to keep going. I used to think that if someone didn’t have the skill now then they may never have it, but I’ve changed my mind with time. The book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck really explains it well from a scientific point of view. I now look for attitude, dedication and passion in all my team members because that is what keeps people learning and growing in the long term.
What was the most challenging situation you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Easily the most challenging experience I faced in my career was moving to Australia from Belarus whilst returning back to work after having my second child. I was in a brand new country very different from my home country, with English not being my native language and having had a long maternity break. I coped with it in my usual way - a lot of studying and pushing myself harder.
My husband was also very important in my successful transition back to work, he had an unweaving confidence that I once again could upskill and revise the new trends and allowed me the chance to take time for myself in order to study. I am also thankful for my first boss in Australia who saw my potential and took a chance on me.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in technology?
My biggest piece of advice for any female considering a move into the tech industry is to just give it a try even if you have doubts. The world of technology is such an exciting one, and with the speed it’s evolving there’s a place for everyone. We desperately need more women in tech, because women bring new opinions and perspectives, because women deserve to be in interesting and higher-paid jobs, and because it will make it easier for other women to join us in the future. And don’t give up if you don’t succeed straight away. Impostor syndrome is very real, pretty much everyone experiences it from time to time, but women tend to be much more prone to it. Be aware of it and not let it discourage you. As long as you enjoy the learning and keep moving ahead - you’re on the right track and you will
I think another really worthwhile point is that you don’t need to be a maths genius to be successful in tech. If you like solving problems it is the industry for you. There is always space for creative and innovative individuals as well even if they feel they don’t fit into the very narrow cliche determined by society of what it is to be a developer in tech.
The impact of COVID-19 and ongoing quarantine measures have been felt globally adversely affecting most individuals and organisations. From your perspective what have been the impacts of COVID-19 within the tech industry?
The impact of COVID-19 on the technology industry can be clearly seen with both positives and negatives. The flexibility and remote working environment has been pushed forward at least 10 years giving all employees the opportunity to design their own working day. This would never have been possible 10 or even 5 years ago.
However I also think it is worth mentioning the emotional and social effects that working remotely has; the constant zoom meetings and phone calls are draining to most individuals. I think the mental health side effects of the pandemic will be around for a long time to come. I can see that once you remove the social and in person contact it can potentially reduce an individual to feel like they are nothing more than a cog in their organisation. This leads to fears rising on replacement and offshoring which I think is important for every organisation to push against this creating a renewed sense of job security and appreciation for the individual.