One of our valued Montash candidates is Suzanne Holtham, who works at Shawbrook Bank as an SQL Developer. We took 5 minutes with Suzanne to gain an insight into her experience as a developer, her passion for tech, working as a woman in the industry and what advice she has for budding young developers with a tech career on the horizon.
DESCRIBE IN ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS THE ROLE OF AN SQL DEVELOPER?
In a nutshell it is creating and maintaining databases, database objects and automated jobs to generate reports, extracts and batch loads. Beyond the nutshell, it is also likely to include elements of analysis and investigation, testing, documentation and support.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN SQL DEVELOPER?
I’m implementation-focussed, so I always enjoy creating a solution to a problem/requirement and seeing that project through to go-live. The project length can vary from a 2-hour emergency ticket or a project over 2 years. The reward at the end is solving the problem and delivering the solution.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WORK IN TECH?
I was a good all-rounder at school and didn’t have any firm ideas at the time of any specific careers to go into. Having said that, tech has always been a strong influence in my life as my father had a long career working for an early computing firm and by best friend also was into computing. I remember my Dad bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128K one Christmas as a child. He had me typing in programs from the manual on Christmas day. I was hooked. It was around the time of selecting university courses that I realised I could select a course in something I not only enjoyed but would also lead to a fruitful career. The girls 6th form I studied at did not offer IT at A-level at the time though, so it was a bit of a leap of faith. Thankfully, I landed on my feet, working on my passion.
HOW HAS THE TECH INDUSTRY CHANGED?
Specialisation and outsourcing.
Early IT job adverts would specify “programmer wanted”, then you would learn whatever programming language was required on the job. Now, as the amount of different technologies in the market has grown, it is common for job specs to require the candidate to be trained in a string of specific technologies and to have substantial commercial experience in the particular business sector. Competition has tightened up and not just locally. Globalisation means that outsourcing companies are able to provide services from lower cost locations and compete with the local market place. As the economy has peaked and troughed and conditions have tightened I have known friends who have been made redundant multiple times and also kept their job multiple times.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
Pressure and stress.
There have been various stories in the media of IT projects that over-run or fail to deliver altogether. We hear about live systems that crash, causing chaos, reputational damage and financial loss. There is a constant pressure to deliver on time or fix a critical problem, and quite often those times are when your laptop will crash or an even more urgent problem that needs your attention will crop up. It can be a very stressful job.
HOW HAS AUTOMATION CHANGED YOUR ROLE?
It is quite common now for desk-based office roles to have an element of remote working in them. Companies are quick to realise that office space costs can be reduced if hot desking and remote working is embraced. In addition, this removes the commuting element for workers and can help with work-life balance e.g. personal appointments are more easily fitted in without losing half a day of productivity.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN STARTING OUT IN TECH?
You will face challenges, and they will not necessarily be technical. Be flexible, be open to learning new skills and find out who your customers are – the project sponsor, the person who signs off your timesheet or completes your performance review at the end of the year. Work hard to build relationships within the business and with stakeholders, but also accept that you can’t please everyone all of the time. Have the confidence to say no. The very nature of the work you are doing may put you at odds with some people. This is OK. Try to handle it professionally, you’ll thank yourself afterwards.
When I first started my career I would frequently hear the comment, “You don’t look like you work in IT”. It was a comment based on my looks, gender and a preconceived stereotyped image of a techie. I would take it as a compliment though, and I think it helps to try and find the positive in these experiences, even if it is just a takeaway of a life learning experience.
WHAT ARE THE SOFT SKILLS THAT MATTER THE MOST?
Good team fit, flexibility, ability to manage stress / pressure, even if that is by not working late most of the time! Always look to increase your knowledge to become more valuable.
WHAT OTHER SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT IN YOUR ROLE?
Listening, take notes (you won’t remember everything) and learn from others. Soak up everything you can. You cannot solve a problem if you don’t understand it.
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