This is What a Technologist Looks Like
Ivan was a professional actor who has worked for all the major theatre companies in Australia and now he is a Consultant Developer at Thoughtworks. We can't wait to explore the journey between these two career paths.
Hi there, I'm Gretchen. You're listening to This is What a Technologist Looks Like. So we're running a series of talks that go over six weeks, and the idea is to show you what opportunities are available in the technology industry, what the people in the industry are like, and how they got to be where they are.
So, sorry, excuse me, our guest today has gone from theatre, like actual proper theatre to, I don't know, in some ways in my mind, you're still in theatre.
So he's gone from theatre as an actor and is now a consultant developer at ThoughtWorks.
Good morning, Ivan.
Good morning, Gretchen. How are you doing? Pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for having me on board.
Very excited to have a chat. I'm glad you got up bright and early and are putting up with me.
Tell me about your current role. I mean, we've talked to a lot of people in the series who have, I guess, developer roles or engineering roles or even BA roles.
What is a consultant developer as opposed to a developer developer?
Yeah. So, I mean, that's something that I didn't know before I joined ThoughtWorks as well, you know, so I was very curious about that.
I guess I also didn't know what a developer was sort of two years ago. So there's a lot of learning being involved for me the past two years, but I guess a consultant at its most basic is like a person who has a level of expertise in a particular area, and they use that experience, that expertise in order to kind of help their clients solve their business problems.
Essentially, that's kind of the nut of it.
And I would argue that a lot of the skills and attributes of like a consultant would be present in all developers, not necessarily just consultant developers.
I guess the differentiation between that is that we're an outside entity that comes in and we help our clients sort of solve their business problems.
So that's sort of the importance of like building relationships, the importance of building trust with a client, guidance, all that sort of stuff, I think is really sort of like an emphasis for us, because, you know, we might have to do that on a constant basis throughout the year with multiple projects, as opposed to someone who's a developer for an organization, they might be at that organization for multiple years.
And so they don't have to do that on a constant basis.
And so for us, it might be more of an emphasis. But yeah, that's kind of it's very similar.
There's a lot of overlap, but that might be the little difference between them.
I like that, because in theory, an in-house developer by rights should be doing exactly the same thing.
They should be building the relationships, asking the questions, and trying to fix a business problem, right?
So if we were to round out a week, an average week for you at the moment, what would a day look like?
Or maybe give me a Monday and a Wednesday kind of day, what do they look like?
Monday, well, Mondays are very slow.
I think that, again, I've worked at a couple of organizations before I started at ThoughtWorks, and as I said, the overlap is kind of the same.
And maybe particularly because I'm at an early part of my career, there might not be sort of that sort of like need to influence stakeholders at a higher level.
So it's much more kind of on a team basis. But it's very much the same, trying to guide our clients into best practices using Agile, obviously, and trying to find ways to make the team more efficient, deliver more.
And so I think, yeah, having that slight experience of different things before I started at ThoughtWorks and sort of comparing the two, I think there's quite a lot of overlap.
And that kind of consultant developer thing, even as you asked the question, even for me before I started, I was like, oh, what's this other thing that's kind of stuck in front of it?
What makes it different? And I think it's that, is that particularly, yeah, that there is that focus on how do we build trust?
How do we build relationships? What are the kinds of things that we can do in order to kind of gain that trust and build that relationship?
And how can we kind of influence certain decisions?
You know, obviously, for the benefit of the client, like there's that famous quote, what is it?
It's that consulting is the art of influencing people at their own request.
It's kind of like, you know, we're hired, obviously, to come in and go, hey, you know, this situation that you might be in, there might be some other things that you might need to look at in order to kind of make it more efficient, better, whatever it might be.
So, yeah. Yeah, the art of influencing.
And it is indeed an art, isn't it? It takes. And I guess that's what I was kind of alluding to when I said you've gone from theatre to theatre, really.
It's kind of crazy in many ways. I think that there is, again, I don't want to say it again, but there are so many similarities between the two.
And I'd never expected it to be the case.
You know, I thought tech was like people sort of stuck in a room coding for, well, at least from the developer side, I thought it was people in a room sort of 10 hours in a day, not talking to anyone.
You know, yeah, that's right.
You're chomping away at the keyboard and in darkness. And they'd come out and go, I'm finished with this and then move on to the next thing.
But it's so not that, you know, it's much more collaborative.
It's much more, even like with the kinds of sort of techniques and at least best practice notions that we have at ThoughtWorks, we're like, it's about pair programming, something like that.
I could never imagine before I started my career or my journey in tech that there was something that was so dynamic and so alive and so full of energy, such as pair programming.
Tell me more about how you do pair programming at ThoughtWorks.
How does that set up? Is there someone standing over your shoulder going, type faster?
As I was mentioning before, it's a highly collaborative thing. And I think that definitely it's something that sometimes we come across clients that there's an aversion towards something like that because they see two people at one screen and they go, oh, that's not very efficient.
We've got people working independently and working and doing more work.
But having now been at a couple of projects and using pairing, you can sort of see straight away the benefits of it.
And it might not necessarily be something that you do all the time.
You know, maybe when a team reaches a certain level of maturity that they might not need to pair anymore.
But especially when you're just starting out or you've got new people coming on board to the team.
Pairing is a fantastic tool that you can use. Knowledge sharing, reducing silos.
I mean, in previous sort of experiences, I've been in situations where there was one person who was an expert in a particular area, particular stack, whatever it might be within the team.
And then they leave. And then everyone just goes, well, all that knowledge has disappeared.
And, you know, no one knows how to do that thing that that person was here to do before.
And I think pairing is a great sort of tool to kind of assist in that in that instance, especially.
I'd also chime in that I think you alluded to maybe as the team's more mature, you don't need to.
But I would argue that you still need to do serious pair programming.
And there is the added benefit when you do it with someone relatively new to the team or the industry or the code base or whatever point of newness they're at.
They bring a different perspective. And it can often be the ultimate problem solver because they'll sit there and go, but why are we doing it like that?
And you get freedom with that and a new solution. I just find that it's such a beautiful thing to do.
Like, you know, you think of it being this. Again, we're working in tech, it's computers, whatever, you know, but adding that element of pairing makes it makes it a much more human experience, makes it much more sort of like personal experience.
And also, it really, I think, brings out a lot of questions, which are really important, you know, when you're depending on the dynamic and levels of experience or whatever.
But what's great about it is that people really have to kind of articulate what it is that they know or what they think they know.
And sometimes they might not necessarily know what they think they know very well.
And so they kind of go over that. And I think that's really in that way.
It's also very, very great. That, yeah, you get caught up. I know when I was teaching web development, you can think, you know, a concept really well.
And when someone actually asks you to explain it in a way that they can understand it, it's you go, oh, okay, yeah, I need to back up and do some more on this.
It's a great learning technique is teaching. And going back on that thing about the differentiation between maybe a consultant and a regular dev, there might be sort of there might not be that sort of necessity to be able to for a dev who works at an organization for that emphasis on communication or emphasis on like presenting ideas or articulating like concepts or whatever like that.
But for us, especially, it's all about that.
You know, we have to kind of make sure that we're communicating ideas or trying to decrypt certain things and make it easier, particularly for our clients to kind of understand the business problem or the business solution.
So I think that that maybe as well that focus on on the communication side, which for me, thankfully, there is, again, that that kind of similarity between what I used to do and what I do now that there's, you know, the talking part, which I really like.
I love that. And I like earlier you said, peer programming helps bring back the human side of tech.
And I'm a believer that, you know, tech is a tool and we use it to do human things.
So I don't know if I'm buying something online.
It's a human experience, not a tech experience. And tech can make it abysmal or it can make it spectacular.
And any part in between. I'm quite a believer that the wider range of people we have involved in the process of building tech and not just writing code, because I think there's a whole heap of other steps in there.
The better off the products we build are. Tell me your thoughts on that perspective.
I think we align a little. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it's in and I think it's incumbent on any industry and I hate to use the word industry, but it seems so like, yeah, like a gross word to say.
But I think on any kind of like group of people to incorporate as many different kinds of people from different backgrounds, because then you get more interesting conversations, more interesting ideas and different ideas.
You know, if we all kind of, you know, if we all went through the same pathway to get to the same endpoint, then we've all probably got the similar kind of experiences.
And so there's nothing to kind of like we all probably agree on the same thing.
But if you have people who have different sort of backgrounds, different ideas, different perspectives, then your product, your experience is much more interesting, varied.
And, you know, there's obviously there's heaps of research to say that a diverse team, diverse organization is a much more successful one, obviously.
So there's the data that supports it.
But obviously, like even if you think about like conceptually, it makes much more sense if we all have the same group think, then obviously, you know, it's going to be the same kinds of products are going to kind of come out and the same sort of experience are going to be had.
So, yeah, for me, it's a big thing.
And I truly believe that, at least from the perspective of like tech, there's still a lot of work to be done in that space, because I feel like that, for example, we need to attract more people that have a completely sort of a non technical background to come in, because then you then you truly have like a proper diverse sort of group of people that have different kinds of thoughts, as opposed to people that yet might follow the traditional or even like, for example, for myself, like the coding boot camp.
Yeah, even that at one stage, that was kind of the interesting edgy sort of thing.
And now it's kind of much more sort of mainstream, right?
So so then we need to kind of find different people.
And the more that we can do that, I think the better off we'll be.
Absolutely. That's such a great perspective, because I know, personally, I went through this big phase of, we need more diverse people writing code like we, we just and I was very passionate about it and very active.
And and to be fair, I still am in that space.
But I had a point where I went, that's cool.
We've got a whole heap of people. And don't get me wrong, like, a whole heap more than there were not enough people that are different writing code.
But a lot of the personality types and life experiences were actually still similar.
It was just a different package of human on the outside, which made me go, ah, maybe it's not just the code writing part of this that's really important.
And, and my next kind of hot take on the world is, I would like to see technology and technologists who write code be more open to other skills having a huge amount of value in the industry.
So for example, sometimes there can be a bit of a dis I feel there's a disconnect between or a disdain for all the design people just want this.
And it's like, no, that's an actual, really cool profession with value and research and knowledge and ability.
I would like to see us bring non-code writing people into the design process way earlier on to get rid of our own privilege hazard.
Have you got any ideas on how that could happen? No, but I think that what you're onto something that's really important, which is that and I think that a lot of successful teams are a lot of really sort of forward thinking teams kind of do this already where you're swapping roles.
You should be swapping roles consistently.
So at least from, you had the perspective of someone else's role and what they might be doing.
Like the cool thing is again, like, and this is a, you know, again, the ThoughtWorks thing that we focus on, I think in really successful teams, but the QE is not just the QE, or at least they're not the only person that does the testing, for example, you know, if, if there's a need for a developer to do the testing, then the developer does the testing, you know, similarly, if we need to pair with a BA, we pair with a BA, but like able to sort of switch roles.
And I think that's what you're getting at that we're not sort of like, if I'm a developer, if I'm, I'm not just a web developer, you know, that you need to, that's right.
Yeah. And you need to kind of, like you say, you open your horizons a little bit, your peripheral vision to see that there are, I mean, I can't, I can't imagine being a developer.
And if I go to meetups to not understand that the communication of ideas is really crucial to this industry.
And I couldn't believe that before I started, before I started, again, I was imagining that really terrible film about hackers, you know, kind of drinking, I don't know, energy drinks and all that sort of stuff.
And the ID was black and the text was green and it went really fast.
Yeah, it always pops up and it's green. It's just a bit like, oh, really?
Okay, sure. But like, going to a meetup, you go, oh, of course, it's not just about, it's not just about that.
It's not, there's more stuff here to be, to be explored.
And I don't, I don't say that. Yeah, that's right. The pizza and the beer is great, but I can't say you can't go to those things and say, oh no, no, no, no, no.
I can't just sit at a computer and work on this particular story or whatever it might be.
There's much more interesting things to be, to be, and much more about me that I need to kind of expand and kind of explore, which I think is really, again, very surprising for me because coming from a different background, I was like, oh, you know, I had an idea of what it was.
And then kind of having that idea sort of smashed really in front of my face very early on was really great.
Yeah, big time. Hey, tell me about that. So you were, okay, first of all, I want to know, what is being an actor in theatre actually like?
What did you do there each day?
It's really, I mean, I was really lucky. I, when I look back, you know, I have, I have, depending on the day that you asked me, I have sort of different sort of, a different relationship to my past career.
Sometimes I was, it's like, oh, I should have done, should have gone into tech earlier, and I should have done this, I should have done that, shouldn't have stayed in as long.
But acting is a really, there's a, there's a, acting is an amazing thing.
I think there's a lot of really amazing skills that you pick up as an actor.
And there was always an argument when we were, when I was acting, obviously, other actors as well, that we believe that people should, should do an acting course as part of the university degree, only because it builds really fantastic.
First, the most important thing is it builds empathy.
Okay, which is that I need to understand what it's like for another person and their perspective and walking in their shoes.
That's the first most important thing about an actor. And so it forces you to kind of go, okay, in this situation, what I understand why this person did this particular thing.
So that's, that's the first key. I hadn't considered it from them.
Because when you talk about tech and building a product, or understanding other people's roles within your team, you do so with a whole heap of what I perceived was just natural empathy, but which I'm sure you've got, but you've honed in on those skills.
Yeah, I think in order to be a good actor, you have to have empathy. I mean, that's not to say that you can't be a great actor, be really nasty.
I'm sure that's true, too.
But I think, like, at least definitely seeing the someone else's perspective is really crucial to understand if you're going to play someone else.
And what that does is it makes it also makes you really, really aware of the dynamics of relationships, and social structures and all that sort of stuff.
Because actors are really good at kind of understanding the dynamics of a group and kind of fitting into almost like chameleons in many ways where they can kind of go on this, I can make myself into this person now, or I can make myself into this person now.
So I think that's kind of really, I feel like it's my superpower that I've picked up along the way, able to kind of like, yeah, really read the way, the tonality of voice, the way people use emphasis when they're speaking.
So I'm kind of hyper aware of that.
And but also the same, the dynamics of a group of people, like where people fit, like, I'm really conscious of that, too.
And trying to sort of find my way in, you know, wherever that might be.
And yeah. So having that consultant piece is good in development for you.
I feel like you've been practicing for this your whole life.
It's crazy. Yeah. Again, I can't believe that there was those skills like, you know, when I got my degree, I got a degree in acting, you know, it's a Bachelor of Dramatic Art.
It's just that the joke of it was, you know, whenever we got it, we're like, you know, what would we use this for?
Because when you think about it, like a lot of the way that you kind of get work as an actor is through knowing people and then, you know, seeing your work.
And no one goes, you know, where's your degree?
I've got a degree on the wall. Yeah.
So but yeah, it's just all those skills that, you know, at one point in time when I was going through my transition of kind of going, what do I do now?
Because I can't do this anymore. Because I got to a point where I was like, it wasn't the thing that I love to do.
I wasn't loving anymore. And it was really it was a tough period of my life because I identified as that thing, you know, as when you're an artist, you kind of are that thing.
And so when you kind of go, oh, this thing that I love to do, I don't necessarily love anymore.
It kind of I had like a little sort of mini crisis of like, what do I do?
I get that because that's how we introduce ourselves.
It's like, I'm Gretchen and I do X. And if you take away X, you're like, I'm Gretchen.
That's right. Nothing else. Yeah. And it's all I ever knew too.
I went straight from high school to drama school. So the only thing I wanted to do as a kid, as a child, and then I did it for 13 years.
And so that was, you know, and every time that someone's asked you, what, you know, what are you doing?
I'm like, I'm an actor. People go, oh, that's so interesting. Wow. That must be amazing.
And also something just like, oh, yeah, it is. And then when one day it wasn't.
Yeah. When you hit with that reality of like, oh, actually, this thing that I really love to do and I identify myself as I don't love anymore.
There's a whole world of stuff that goes on inside.
So how did you go from there to like, you must I'm assuming you went through 30 million different things you could have done at that point or went through that process of what do I love?
What do I hate?
What do I find interesting? What am I going to do with my life?
Is that what happened? Yeah. You know, I did the quintessential kind of thing where I went to, you know, what job is good in 15 years dot com was like, where do I where do I place myself?
Again, how can I use these skills, which at the time I thought were useless or at least weren't able to be sort of transferred across?
Yeah. How do I what industry? What what work? What can I do in order to kind of like and obviously you get all those lists.
And, you know, I even remember seeing sort of things like software engineer.
And as soon as I saw engineer, I just kind of, you know, I don't know.
I've been learning lines for 13 years and just saying to people, how can I say?
Yeah. Yeah. So that was difficult. And I think that's that's a that's a truism as well of like the world.
People see tech and they go, oh, no, I could never do that.
But, you know, immediately they go, oh, no, I'm not smart enough or I don't have the qualifications or what.
And the wonderful thing about the Internet, you know, for all the bad things as well that it does is that there's all this amazing free content.
Yeah. If you really know where to look and you really know what to look for, you could do so much stuff and you can learn so much just there.
It's just there for free. I couldn't believe it. How would you say, though, to someone who said who saw software engineer as a potential job role and their gut reaction was, oh, engineer, I can't do that.
What would you say to them?
I would say something that I have to attribute this to a thought worker, Teresa Cunnington.
I remember her. She said to me, I remember she was presenting something.
She said that you could teach a monkey how to write code, I think is what I'm paraphrasing.
But I guess I'd say something similar to that, which is that any to any sort of like the amount of dedication you can learn essentially anything.
I think you can teach anything to anyone if you apply yourself, if you kind of like really work hard and at the same time, it's essentially at one point you're going to learn that skill anyway.
So I'd say anyone can learn how to write code or anyone can learn the skills to be involved in tech.
It's not sort of like exclusive and shouldn't be exclusive.
People shouldn't feel excluded out of that because you can't.
And at least if I can say I'm an example of that, you know, like I used to sit around talking about what my character would do in this particular situation for a living and then kind of talk in front of people and get paid to do that.
Completely non-technical, not even close. I had a laptop.
That was about it. That's as technical as I got. You know, yeah. But I did Hotmail for a very long time.
It took me a long time. I know it was. And now, yeah.
But I would say, yeah, it's it's completely it. Yes. If and again, you have to like it.
And that's not to say that everyone should do it because, you know, whatever.
But if you don't like it, then I'm always always about sort of follow your dreams kind of person.
That's because of my first career. And even with this, I was very lucky to have been able to kind of go, actually, I really enjoy this.
Even early on, I was like, this is interesting.
This feedback, you know, I can write some stuff and then run it.
And there's like this immediate feedback. I'm like, this is cool.
And to me, it's gamified the situation. You know, I was like, oh, OK, this is my target or this is what my goal is.
How do I get to that goal? And I think there's different there's way different flavors of getting that feedback, right?
There's writing code.
To solve a technical problem or like that, that more ABCD step, there's writing code to generate art and do crazy cool stuff.
There's which also it's the same feedback loop.
It's instant, right? And then there's things like Sonic Pi that a fabulous man in the UK wrote.
It's Sam Aaron. He was commissioned by the education department to write a curriculum for I'm probably going to get this wrong, like maybe 10 to 15 year olds.
And he's got a passion for music. And he was like, why can't we make?
Why is tech not fun? Like imagine if the English language was only used for writing legal documents.
In many ways with code, we've started down that same pathway, right?
We've said, you write code and it has a business case that end.
And he's kind of flipped it on his head and gone, hey, you can write code and make music and it's crazy fun.
And I'm taking away some of the roadblocks. So I think, because when I first started writing code, it was very much math based and optimization based.
And it wasn't, I mean, it was cool because I like solving a problem, but it wasn't fun.
And along the way and over the years, I've found the fun bits.
And I think if I found them earlier, I probably would have spent more time doing it.
So find the free stuff online, but find the thing, the flavor that works for you, right?
I feel like that. Yeah, we're definitely getting better and better at that.
I think that, yeah, if you go back sort of 10, 15 years, 20 years, you know, it's these kind of like huge thick textbooks of X equals whatever.
Yeah. I remember seeing X equals something and going on.
And it's funny when I show people that are very close to me, it's something that I've done or whatever, or like just an example of it.
They straight away think that's, they see X equals or whatever, or something equals something.
And they think, oh, algebra, maths. No, it's not for me.
Yeah, exactly. And I think that it really is about, again, I've made a sort of like a mini mission of mine and only within sort of the acting fraternity, wherever I see an actor, I kind of go, hey, by the way, you know, have you ever thought of tech?
I mention it all the time, because I feel like in many ways, it's the world, it's kind of the world's best kept secret.
It's like, yeah, people really care about your, you know, if you're a great company, one of the premier companies, you care about keeping the best people.
And so you really do a good job of attracting them to your company and keeping them there.
And so they really take care of people.
And I think that if I was sort of an outsider looking in and seeing that the way people are treated, the kind of benefits that you get, all that sort of stuff, I'd be like, yeah, this sounds like a really good idea.
And if there was a barrier kind of going, oh, no, X equals something is a barrier to me, then yeah, breaking down that barrier, I think is crucial.
Because as we know, it's not, working in tech is not X equals anything.
It can be, it can be, but a lot of the time, it's not.
No. And if it's getting into that really heavy mathematical stuff, odds are you're importing a library from someone way smarter than you who wrote it already.
Not reinventing that thing that someone did really well previously.
So I agree that math, the idea that math owns this space. And if you're not a math genius, you don't belong here.
It's quite pervasive. I love that you're smashing it down one actor at a time.
You'll teach them. Yeah, that's right.
I'm trying to recruit as many actors as I can. Just, yeah, it's funny. My partner always is like, why do you keep talking about that?
You know, why do you keep like that?
You just keep whatever I mean. By the way, you know, you should think about tech.
Tech's really great. I love tech, tech, tech, tech, tech. If someone wanted to get into tech right now, would you tell them to play online for a little bit?
Or would you say go to a bootcamp? Or would you say drop everything and get a computer science degree?
Or would you say study till 3am at night by yourself?
What would your advice be? That's a great question. I would, I'd probably, I'd probably suggest to them maybe five or six different sort of resources that I found helpful.
They're online and that are for free. Because I think it's really important that you find something within that, within tech, within whatever it is, whether it's you're doing, you know, UX, UI, whether it's, you know, you're doing coding, whether it is that you're learning about sort of agile, whatever it might be, that you find something within that interests you, that kind of lights that fire for you.
Because it is kind of like a fast moving industry. And you don't have that sort of internal spark, sometimes you can feel like completely overwhelmed, or you can feel like you might be left behind.
Or I think that that that curiosity, I think, is really crucial, too.
So I kind of get them to do a couple things.
And then and then say, yeah, you know, it's highly dependent on where you are in, I think, in your life.
If I had time, I would have probably gone to do a computer science degree, potentially, if I was straight out of high school, potentially, I'd do that.
Although some experiences that I've had, you heard some people have that, potentially, that might not have been very good for me, because it might have been very sort of heavy handed, you know, X equals.
It might have been really, for me, it might have been a huge shock, because that might not necessarily be the way that I learn.
And there are some things, some sort of some experiences that I've, friends might have had, that have done computer science or are doing it, but I go, oh, that's a really interesting way to teach that I might not necessarily have taught it that way.
And it seems like it's really sort of obtuse about it.
So I think that, yeah, I try, I try stuff, there's so much stuff that you can try, you can buy a Udemy course for $10, for goodness sake, and then just kind of go through it.
Oh, it does this interest me? Does this kind of is this interesting enough to keep that?
Is there something can even for me, it was, I felt every, every month, every other moment that I wasn't doing it, I was thinking about it, it was kind of interesting in that.
So for me, it was really sort of, I really want to do this.
Solve this problem, right? Yeah, kind of that sort of lying awake at night.
But yeah, there's so many different ways that you can, and that's probably the only thing I'd say is that there is no right way.
There is no one way that you can get to wherever you want to get to. Also, you don't even know where you're going.
And that's a wonderful thing, particularly. There's so many options, isn't there?
Yeah, absolutely. And the great thing about being at a place like ThoughtWorks is that you can, there are multiple projects that you're involved in.
And so you can kind of see, so for example, the first project I was involved in was dealt with identity services and authorization authentication.
That's kind of working with the client to do that. And now I'm working on a project where we're building a mobile app.
So you kind of get a whole cross section of different kinds of things, which for me is really good.
Yeah. And also, I don't even know what I like, really.
Like it's something that I'm like, yeah, I'm completely wide eyed and open to anything and everything.
Yeah, just throw me something.
Throw it at me. Hey, I really appreciate all your insights today. I've learned so much and that transferable skill set you have and your mission to bring one actor at a time over.
It's just fabulous. I hope everyone can join us tomorrow.
We're going to catch up with Linda from Zendesk. Enjoy the rest of your day.