your daily code for breakfast

In the Spotlight 15: Katherine Daniels

My name is Katherine Daniels and I’m a web operations engineer living in Brooklyn, New York. When I’m not arguing with computers I enjoy homebrewing, rock climbing, playing various musical instruments variably well, and snuggling cats.

Name: Katherine Daniels
Job: Web operations engineer at Etsy
Favorite website, app or gadget: For gadgets, I’m really digging my OnePlus One and its excellent battery life. I also enjoy as a resource for finding images for slide decks.
Twitter: @beerops

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I actually started out in college studying graphic design and creative writing – my parents both worked in tech so even though I had an interest in computers and programming from a young age, studying art was one of my ways of rebelling. But I soon found that when I had to be creative I stopped enjoying it, so after a couple of years I switched to studying computer science. I’d started programming on TI-80 calculators when I was 11 or 12 and making various basic websites shortly after that, and hadn’t ever really stopped doing things with computers in my spare time, so it ended up being a pretty natural career choice.

What does your working day look like?
Our office is somewhat quieter in the mornings, so I’ll try to block off several hours in the morning to work on bigger projects. For lunch I’ll either grab Eatsy or head out for lunch with some of my teammates. Afternoons tend to get broken up by meetings, so in between those I’ll do work on smaller tickets. My day usually stops around 6pm, and I’ve been pretty good at not taking work home with me unless I’m on call.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My favorite projects are the ones where I get to learn new skills or technologies. Until I started at Etsy, I had been on one- (or one time two-) person teams, which meant I didn’t have time to really dig into things or necessarily choose what I wanted to work on – too often it was just slap a band-aid solution on and move on to fighting the next fire. Some awesome projects I’ve been working on recently have been building out our ELK cluster and writing some tooling around that, or refactoring and expanding some of the tools we use for server provisioning. Also of note was 7 or 8 years ago when I was working in workstation graphics and got to put together a setup of 6 42″ displays with 1/4″ bezels and then “had” to spend a few days playing video games on them to make sure there weren’t any bugs in the display drivers.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
Pretty much any woman who’s been in this industry, whether they stuck around or left to do their own thing, is an inspiration to me. This can be a tough field to be in, to be sure. Everyone who has ever gone out on a limb to try and improve this industry for others – it’s not easy to make yourself vulnerable like that and I greatly admire the people who do.

Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
I really love the problem-solving aspect of it – the complex systems that we work with are fascinating, and solving the puzzles that they provide is deeply challenging and rewarding. Technology has the potential to really improve peoples’ lives, and I love seeing more companies these days creating products and solutions that reach a wider audience than just those of us already in tech.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I have a degree in computer science, but not in IT specifically. I’ve found that working in ops, the courses I took on operating systems, computer architecture, and networking have been more useful to me than the ones on software development methodologies. Most of what I know about ops I’ve learned on the job though.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
First of all, nobody is born knowing all of this – everyone has to learn it at some point, and knowing how to learn and how to ask good questions are incredibly valuable skills. Beware of people who seem to have forgotten this and who look down on you for not knowing something.

Don’t assume that just because someone has been in this field/industry longer than you means they’re smarter or that they’re going to be right if they disagree with you on something. Being able to accurately assess your own knowledge levels, your own strengths and shortcomings, and realizing which sources of feedback to you are valuable or not is a necessity.

Finally, not all jobs, managers, and companies are going to be good for you – that’s okay! It is not your responsibility to fix a broken culture. You don’t have to stay at a place that’s making you unhappy just because their diversity numbers would be worse if you left. I think we’re really lucky in that so many places are hiring these days that there are options – don’t stay in a job that is hurting your physical or mental health. It’s not worth it.

Extra question from Mairead: If you have time to learn a new technology, framework or language what would you choose to work with next? Sometimes I think it would be fun to do more front-end work again – I haven’t touched javascript or css in over 10 years and I hear they’ve come a long way since then. I’d also really like to get some security knowledge – security might be even less appreciated than operations but it’s clearly becoming increasingly important (or perhaps it always has been and people are becoming more aware of it).
Thank you Katherine, I’m very happy to share your story! 
Do you also know someone who really deserves a place in the spotlight? Get in touch!