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In the Spotlight 14: Mairead Buchan

Time for Spotlight number 14 and this week I’m introducing you to Mairead Buchan! She’ s a creative web developer, based in London, specialising in exciting interactive experiences. Interested in any technology that pushes the boundaries of web development and always looking for new ideas to harness what the internet can do for us.

Name:  Mairead Buchan
Job: Freelance front end developer
Favorite website, app or gadget: Favourite gadget right now is the Google Cardboard. Favourite website is probably http://playlists.net. It lets you search other people’s Spotify playlists by musical genre. I get all my new music from here.
Twitter: @tiny_m
Site: http://www.emdeebeebee.com

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I kind of fell into it. I studied Multimedia technology at University and there were a couple of modules in C and Web programming. I made a game in Lingo which is the language baked into Macromedia Director (a precursor to Flash) and loved it and ended up getting a work placement with a company in Leeds to make Flash websites with Actionscript. Then when I left I got a graduate placement to work as a web developer because I knew a bit of HTML, CSS and Javascript. I specialised in front end development in the end because it’s the interaction coding that I really enjoy. Making games is still the bit I enjoy the most.

What does your working day look like?
At the moment I’m working for myself so I work in my kitchen in my pyjamas. I spend a lot of time on Slack and Twitter for human interaction because working on your own without boundaries is weird.

That’s not typical though. Normally I’m in my client’s office, which tends to be a digital agency, working in an agile team with designers and other developers. We start with a daily scrum. Then we pick a feature to work on between 2 or 3 of us and we either spend time prototyping and discussing with designers or we spend time coding and deploying to QA to get the feature into the code base. I’d say its 50% talking, 50% coding. You can work remotely but I’ve found I get way better results from working face to face with designers, especially as a front end developer because so much of what I do is based on bringing their sketches to life.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The one I’m working on at the moment. It’s a prototype for a piece of rehabilitation software. I think its exciting because it involves motion sensing technology using the Leap motion and VR using a Google Cardboard device. It’s great to be doing web development that is outside the usual channels using new and ground breaking technology. It’s also aimed at the Health industry so it’s for a good cause and its nice to do something that you think might help someone one day.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
The person I’ve most enjoyed working with in a long career is my old boss Dave Hrycyszyn. He is the Head of Development at a digital innovation agency called Head. He’s inspiring as a developer because he is never afraid of new challenges. He also encourages the people around him to be courageous. He seems to know the answer to everything, which is like a magic super power. He is a great person to have on a team because he brings a lot of positive energy to a project. These are the people I love working with the most.

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
It changes constantly and you have to keep on your toes but that means you never get bored. There is always something new you could be learning. I also love how open people are about sharing their work and their knowledge. There is always a great atmosphere of collaboration at tech meetups and I don’t know many industries that offer that sort of community support.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
Yes and no. I have a BSc in Multimedia Technology which contained aspects of engineering and computing but I started off life as a graphic designer at art college. They tried to teach me physics, electronics and Unix in my first year of university which I couldn’t understand and mostly ignored. I regret that now because when I came to play around with Arduinos I knew I’d missed out on useful knowledge. The same with using the command line which I use every day and still have to google basic commands for. If only I knew then what I know now I would have paid closer attention. I’m struggling a lot with the mathematical structure of working with 3D applications right now. I was good at Maths but have forgotten it all. I’d say that’s pretty niche for IT though. I don’t believe you need a Computer science degree to do my job.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Don’t be scared off if you don’t understand something. That is a normal part of the learning process. Its also a constant part of working as a developer. Any time you have to write code you have never written before you will have to learn something new. You have to embrace that feeling of uncertainty. Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking you can’t do something. You can. It might take you longer than you’d hoped but you will get there.

Also on a downside, the tech industry can attract a sort of smug know it all type because there is a misconception you have to be clever to write code. Ignore those people. Seek out the nice ones and work with them instead. There’s lots of great interesting positive people out there.

Extra question from Morena: What’s the one thing you would change about the Tech industry?

I think this is an obvious answer but I’d like to see more women at tech events. I’d also like to feel that if I showed up dressed in a more feminine way that I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. In short I’d like to see more high heels and lipstick.

Also I guess I’m new to this because I’m having a baby in July but making tech industry events more friendly to new parents with young children. I hear a lot of parents complaining about evening and weekends which they can’t attend. It’s very exclusionary to them and really only geared towards young men who can stay out drinking all evening. I’ve really noticed how much closer the people who go out drinking together afterwards are. I think that has to affect how people network.
Thank you Mairead! Do you also know someone who really deserves a place in the spotlight? Get in touch!