your daily code for breakfast

Spotlight 51: Introducing senior consultant Silvia

Spotlight Friday! This week, interview number 51 with Silvia Schreier. Silvia is a senior consultant at innoQ with a strong background on RESTful architectures. She is coauthor of the German book “Rest und HTTP“. She enjoys diving into new technologies especially into functional programming languages and NoSQL databases. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also a coach at Rails Girls workshops and other initiatives and tries to show how much fun computer science can be. Want to learn more about Silvia? 

NameSilvia Schreier
Job: IT consultant at innoQ
Favorite website, app or gadget: 
I do not really have one, but I like Google Maps for planning trips.
Favorite book: I enjoy reading novels and thrillers a lot but I don’t have any particular favorite.
Twitter: @aivlis_s

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
Both my Mum and my Dad are electrical engineers and my Mum even studied computer science for some terms. So I had the opportunity to get into a lot of technology when I was younger and mathematics was always one of my favorite school subjects. So I got into contact with computers quite early. First, as a normal user, I was drawing pictures and playing some games. Later, when I was around eleven, my Dad introduced me to programming BASIC which I really enjoyed and I wrote a little quiz as my first program. We also had some years of computer science in school which I enjoyed as well. So when I got older and had to choose a subject of study it was obvious that I would choose something with mathematics, technology, or natural science. After one semester of computational engineering, a mixture of mathematics, computer science and physics, I realized that I enjoy coding the most so I switched to computer science.

What does your working day look like?
That differs from day-to-day. There are many days with a lot of programming and/or bugfixing in different languages but also days with writing articles, preparing talks/trainings and giving them. On the other hand, there are days with a lot of meetings, discussions or interviews, analyzing software and writing documentation as in my current project. Another part I really enjoy is coaching our interns and students or preparing events like the GirlsDay.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I think I am not really good in naming favorites ;) I did a lot of interesting things and enjoy to get to know so many different domains because today you can find IT nearly everywhere. For example I got into contact with CNC-machines, e-learning, and banking software. I think you can and should find something special and challenging in every project.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
I am not a person who likes idolizing because I think the content and not the person should matter. That does not mean that there aren’t a lot of smart people you can learn a lot from but I have the feeling that too much idolizing is not helping us and can result in missing other excellent people because we are listening only to the famous ones which also makes it hard to increase the diversity.

Regarding teaching, my hero is one of my professors who was really great in sharing his enthusiasm on the lecture’s topic. Furthermore he ensured that the students were able to understand the contents and was caring about how to improve the lecture. In my opinion these elements are important for the success of teaching. So I hope that whenever I am talking about a topic the people can feel that I find these topics interesting and important.

Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
One the one hand because it never gets boring – every day is different – perhaps even more because it is such a creative job where you are building new things most of the time. A lot of people do not think of IT if you ask them for creative jobs but it really is. You are also able to build fun or really helpful things without needing much equipment. So nearly everyone can build cool software.

Furthermore, analyzing things can be real fun. It is a lot of detective work when you try to understand how a really big system is working. Another underestimated part of our job which I enjoy is communicating with people. If you want to build software that fulfills the need of the users, you need to be able to understand what people (often without technical background) really want. Additionally, you need to be able to describe your ideas and understandings in a way that they can grasp what you mean.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
Yes, I hold a Diplom in computer science from the University of Erlangen which is equivalent to a master. Of course you cannot learn everything at the university because on the one hand a lot of the work in our job is based on experience and on the other hand there is so much change in IT that you need to keep on learning the rest of your life. But the lectures should teach you the theoretical and practical foundations and therefore give you the ability to learn later on everything you need. As I enjoy programming a lot I am very thankful for the many different programming languages and paradigms they taught us at the university. Most new languages are just a mixture of the features you have seen in some of them already. This makes learning a new language much easier.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
I think there are some important things you need to know: it can be really frustrating if you are searching for a bug for several hours or days but the feeling when you have solved it is priceless.

On the other hand you will have the feeling that all the other people know everything but that is simply not true. Of course there will be people with more experience but you should accept that everyone knows different things in this huge field of IT and nobody knows everything.

Try to collaborate, ask questions and become even better by learning from each other instead of trying to pretend to know everything.

And last but not least: try to figure out what area of IT you enjoy most. There are so many different things to explore beyond coding!

One more advice to the younger and especially female ones: If you have the feeling you belong to a minority because you are interested in tech, be sure that there is a big world of mostly very nice and helpful people who are interested in the same things as you!

If you have the feeling you belong to a minority because you are interested in tech, be sure that there is a big world of mostly very nice and helpful people who are interested in the same things as you!

Extra question from Indu: How can you make your workplace more friendly for the women in tech and other minorities?
For me it is important that you have an environment where you can and really should ask questions and where people are collaborating instead of competing. I think that a lot of other women are feeling the same.

On the other hand it could be helpful to increase the visibility of minorities, e.g., with let them give talks and including them in discussions. So that others from the same minority become aware of the fact that they are not the only “black sheep” out there. Of course nobody wants to be the person fulfilling a quota but apart from that we should realize that we are there because we have something to contribute. In particular because people from the majority usually will not assume that they are just there because they belong to the majority.