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In the Spotlight 3: Trisha Gee

It’s Spotlight Friday! This week I had the honour to interview Trisha Gee. You might know her from conferences, from her work at LMAX or from her evangelist positions at either MongoDB or JetBrains and I’ve to admit, I’m quite jealous of her job!

Name: Trisha Gee
Job: Technical Evangelist (This means I write code, and try to help other developers write interesting/better code).
Favourite website, app or gadget: Oooh.  Probably TripIt. But I travel a lot! Also I couldn’t function well without Dropbox and Evernote, I love being able to get my notes/files from all my gadgets
Twitter: @trisha_gee
Site: http://trishagee.com

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
Well, I was good at programming and  I enjoyed it! But until I was about eighteen I wanted to be all sorts of things, but I definitely did NOT want to sit behind a computer all day – I was a very active teenager and the thought of sitting down all day seemed like my idea of hell. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, or an astronaut, or a teacher, or an architect, or a journalist. But I’m colorblind, so I couldn’t become a pilot, I’m British so I couldn’t go into space, so I thought I’d be an astrophysicist. But at A Level (the subjects we study between 16 and 18) it turned out that maths gets very abstract, and physics didn’t interest me as much, but my third subject, computer science (which I selected for fun but not with a career in mind – I liked computers, my parents had always encouraged an interest in using and programming them) was interesting, logical, creative and I was good at it. I did an internship at Ford Motor Company when I was still at university (studying Computer Science), and I found out I could get a very good salary as a programmer, and it required a lot less studying than other engineering and science professions.

That’s all very positive, and I do love what I do now, but I do have a caveat that in my early career I also had a few boring jobs. But the good thing about this industry is that there are lots of different types of roles in lots of different types of companies, and that’s what has kept me in IT – the ability to move on, to change and to grow. Even if your job title stays the same, your job never does.

What does your working day look like?
The funny thing is that I’ve just changed jobs, and unlike previous job changes it hasn’t impacted my day-to-day very much. I work remotely, so it’s not like my commute or office environment has changed!

I have two different types of routine – one when I’m at home, and one for when I’m travelling.

The first, I tend to get up around 7, grab a coffee and sit in my home office either doing email or admin, or maybe working on that thing that just came to me when I woke up that morning. Sometimes I’ll have breakfast at my desk, sometimes we’ll go out and grab a tostada and coffee sat outside in the sun. My mornings tend to be a bit ad hoc, I don’t really hit my stride until after lunch, so I’ll work on whatever takes my fancy in the morning – code, a blog post, a screencast, planning travel, dealing with admin. I might go to the gym or go for a run in the mid-morning. We’ve got into the habit of cooking something healthy for lunch at home, then after lunch I prefer to do whatever it is that needs serious attention – coding, planning a presentation, putting together a demo. If I have meetings, which is only two or three times a week, they’re usually later in the day when Europe and the US are both awake.

Evenings, two or three times a month we have user groups that we host in Seville.

When I travel, I tend to go to the gym first thing, have a big breakfast in the hotel, then it’s either a conference for the whole day, or maybe visiting customers or potential customers, or giving a tutorial. The evenings tend to be packed with user groups, or conference networking events, or chances to catch up with friends, colleagues or family in whatever city I’m in.

I think it’s having access to both these worlds that makes me love this job.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
LMAX (http://www.lmax.com/careers) was a fantastic place to work – it was technically challenging, an interesting business problem, and I was pair programming every day with really smart people – some more experienced than me, some less, but I learnt a lot off all of them.

Sense (https://github.com/trishagee/sense) is a project I’m working on at the moment. It’s not a real project, in that it’s not going into production to be used by anyone, but that’s very liberating – I’m the only one coding on it, and I can use it to try out lots of things that interest me. I’m learning a lot, even though I’m on my own.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
Many! In Alphabetical Order, some that spring to mind: Dan North, Dave Farley, Eva Andreasson, Joel Spolsky, Martin Fowler, Martin Thomson, Martijn Verburg, Mazz Mosley, Simon Brown

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
I can work remotely! It’s still not super common to be able to work remotely, but it is possible. So I live in the south of Spain right now, which is a very nice change weather-wise from London.

I love that programming is both logical and creative, I love that you can create something just from the things you type into your computer

I love that you’re always learning – it can be a bit overwhelming the amount of change that happens in tech, but you can take advantage of the rate of change (if you like) to try new things.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
Yes, in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. The artificial intelligence stuff was the most interesting, and the “boring” topics (software engineering processes, databases) turned out to be by far the most applicable in real life. Although actually learning Java at university is probably the thing that had the most impact on my career (although I have also programmed in Pascal, BASIC, Perl, and Visual Basic).

Later in my career, once I worked at LMAX where performance was very important, the basic understanding of CPU architecture, assembler, data structures and the performance of algorithms finally became very useful. Now I’m more involved in conversations about the future of Java-the-language, I wish I’d taken courses in compilers – I chose AI subjects instead, because they interested me more at that time. But in the end, I’ve used very little of my AI knowledge. But that’s fine, because that was interesting, and you can always learn about other things later, you don’t stop learning once you leave university.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
That could be a whole book! It’s OK  not to know how to do stuff – you might meet people who seem to know everything, but they don’t. And if these people have an unhelpful attitude towards your learning, ignore them and find other people to give you support. Some people are just not useful, don’t waste time on them.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount there is to learn or the rate of change of technology – no one is staying up to date with everything (see: http://trishagee.github.io/post/staying_ahead_of_the_curve/). Decide if you want to be specialised and go deep, or have broad but less deep knowledge. Either is fine, and it’s OK to switch between both modes over time, but you can’t do both at the same time.

If you’re bored, stressed, or super unexcited about going in to work, change jobs. Every company is different, every role is different, every team is different. I tried leaving programming after a few jobs because I thought I didn’t like working in IT any more, but I found teams that gave me what I wanted from a job – sometimes I wanted technical mentoring, sometimes I wanted to learn different ways of working (like agile) sometimes I wanted to learn a different business domain, that’s all possible, and there’s a team where you’ll fit well.

Extra question from Felienne: Do you have a programming side project or hobby you can share?
I have some bits on Github (https://github.com/trishagee), some are demo programmes that might be useful to people, some are just me playing around, some are open source projects that get used by real businesses,

Thank you Trisha!