Cloudflare TV

📺 CFTV Anniversary: This is What a Technologist Looks Like

Presented by Gretchen Scott, Nicola Smyth
Originally aired on 

From studying Italian at University, to business and economics guru and now onto software development... join us to learn about Nicola's journey into the tech scene.

CFTV Anniversary

Transcript (Beta)

Hi there, I'm Gretchen, and you're listening to This is What a Technologist Looks Like.

So it's a series of talks that go over six weeks, and we're hoping to show you what opportunities are available in the technology industry, what the people in the industry are actually like and how they kind of got into the role they're in.

And this week is really fabulous for us at Cloudflare because it's our first anniversary of having Cloudflare TV.

It's been such a great initiative and we get to have so much fun with it, like running these segments.

So today's guest speaks Italian, has a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and a Master in Business and Economics.

For some reason, with all these skills and qualifications and amazingness, she works at Australia Post.

I would really like to welcome Nicola to the stage.

And also, I love Australia Post. I was just getting a little niggle in there.

Nicola, welcome. Thank you. Yeah, that's you're really selling me better than I can.

So thank you, Gretch. Well, it's been amazing. One of the beautiful things about what I get to do here is I've met you before and I know you and I know you as I met you in that little snapshot of time.

But I get to kind of dig into your past and figure out where you came from and what you did.

And it's just amazing, your history.

I'm a bit blown away. So now you're at Australia Post with these phenomenal qualifications.

What's your current job title? What do you do? So at the moment, I work in an application team and I'm in the lodgements area.

So all of your business parcels are going through there.

And I work essentially as a software developer.

My actual title is technical associate. So I associate with technology, I assume.

That's what that means. I'm somewhere in the realm of technology.

But day to day, I would say I'm a software developer. Yeah. What does an application team mean that you build apps?

Well, we maintain them as well. I don't know if my team calls themselves an application team, but that's how I would describe it.

So they maintain and build different applications that support the lodgement function.

Yeah. And so that's I mean, given Australia's lockdown and how we are at the moment, Australia Post is a busy, busy, busy place.

So part of what you do is make sure the parcels aren't getting lost.

Is that what applications exist in your world?

Yeah. So it was a really interesting time to move into that team.

So I changed teams last year, maybe in about August, September. So very, very busy time to move.

And yeah, so any parcels that are being lodged, the application that our team maintains and I feel like I'm in a job interview.

Sorry, I'm just really interested in how it actually works, because it's so complex.

And all of a sudden we went from kind of using parcel staff to being in lockdown.

And the only way you could share physical goods with people was Oh yeah, it was a massive change.

Like the loads going through all the applications just sort of doubled.

And I was talking to someone and they said, oh, yeah, you know, when when we design these applications, we weren't necessarily anticipating the volume.

So lots of because, you know, five years ago, you didn't anticipate a lockdown.

So lots of testing, performance testing, make sure making sure, you know, it can cope with the loads.

And people have done a really good job. I think when when you actually look at the stats of the number of parcels going through, yeah, we're some really, really good people in that area.

So I'd agree. It does kind of feel like the ultimate testing and production because no one saw it coming.

Yeah, as you went. So how much on a day to day?

Let's I mean, I've stolen some of your work time now. How much time in a day do you spend writing code?

And it depends on the day and it depends on the project.

And so at the moment, quite a lot. But I do still do a lot of pairing with people, a lot of collaboration, which I really enjoy doing.

I think you get a lot of good ideas.

I learn a lot because I'm still relatively new to the industry.

I've only been like in a development role for about a year. So I think pairing is has been the best way that I've learned.

And when you get someone really good that you can work with, who's supports you rather than takes over, it's it's a really, really fun experience as well.

I think during lockdown to gosh, if I didn't have that collaborative aspect to my work, it'd be really rough.

Like I don't think I'm someone that can just sit like headphones on you know, code eight hours a day.

You know, it wouldn't have been a great experience.

I don't know who can focus for that long, even like it's, you know, it can be pretty draining.

So especially if you get lost with where you're going or, you know, stuff on something for sure.

Always do when you're coding, right? Hey, so let's go back in time a little bit.

A few years ago, it doesn't sound given what you've studied, which is crazy and cool, and I didn't know all these things about you.

And I'm really excited by them. It doesn't sound like when you were at high school, you went, I know I'm going to write code for a living.

Yeah, definitely. I was thinking about it the other day, and I there was one semester where they made me do two IT subjects, and I just thought that was the worst thing in the world.

And I tried to get out of them, like desperately, desperately didn't want to do them.

I went to the coordinators like, I just can't. IT isn't my thing. I've almost made it.

And he's like, no, you have to do them. So I had like hours of IT every week.

And look, to be fair, it was like making flash animations or something. So it ended up being quite fun.

But I would not have thought I'd be working in IT. We like my family didn't have a computer at home until I was maybe late high school.

So it wasn't something I really tooled around with at all.

So it just wasn't on my radar, really.

And no one in my family works in the industry. So, yeah, it wasn't an option.

Yeah, it wasn't really an option. And, you know, you go to an all girl school as well.

So there aren't a lot of people necessarily an option or less visible.

Well, I think that's changed a little bit now. And I think the whole thing.

But yeah, I'm really intrigued by the fact that you were forced to do these IT courses during like a science degree in essence, wasn't it?

And they said, you need to have some technology skills.

I know. So that was in that was in high school where I was.

Oh, yeah. So I had to get out of it. So I left high school, went to went to uni and not not so much forced to do it there.

Certainly some IT skills were a bit helpful.

But even then in like Bachelor of Science, I probably would have said, yeah, I can use word, you know, a little bit of Excel.

I'm a champion like. Oh, my gosh.

So you went you wanted to study science that was that a passion for you or did you do that?

Oh, as well, because I've got the grades and I go, yeah, it's kind of I thought it would be like a sensible option to study science.

And my sister had studied art.

So that was off the table because, you know, you don't want to do the same thing as your sister.

Awesome, great decision making going on, you know.

And I thought, yeah, I'll do a diploma of Italian as well. So that, of course, because, you know, just to keep things interesting.

I love that. Yeah. So then when you finish that degree, what did you do next?

Did you go out into the workforce?

So it was interesting. I kind of I, you know, I didn't feel like I'd loved my degree.

I really enjoyed Italian. But I mean, unless you want to go be a translator, an Italian teacher, which I didn't.

Yeah. You know, it's not it's not the most useful language, but it was great going to Italy and I really love Italy.

And, you know, I wouldn't not study that if I if I got the opportunity to redo things.

But I kind of left and I was in two minds about what I wanted to do. I didn't really want to go into research.

I hadn't heard positive things about, you know, being a researcher because, you know, it can be quite precarious.

And unless you're really passionate and love being in the lab, which I didn't.

I thought there weren't a lot of opportunities for one here.

Yeah, I think if I really tried, maybe I would have stumbled across like I knew someone who went and became like a science writer, which I thought was really cool.

Yeah. I was like, that's a really useful way to use your degree.

But, you know, you can't have thousands of them.

So I ended up I ended up actually just working for a bit, trying to think, oh, what would I like to do?

Postgrad and worked for a small business.

And I thought, oh, I could just stay here. You know, you know how you fall into things.

And it gets comfortable for a moment. Yeah. Yeah. And you're not 100% sure what track you want to go on.

And so I ended up managing there. And I and I said, oh, you know, you can do that if you if you're interested in doing your business degree.

So I thought, oh, it suits me at the time. Yeah. Yeah, that's how I ended up doing that.

I love this. Every time a door has opened for you, you've walked through it, right?

You've not turned down opportunities. You've gone, oh, yeah, that sounds like something that works for me right now.

And off you've gone.

And that's such a skill. I love it. That's brilliant. I like that really positive way of looking at it.

I'm going to take that from this talk. First, I think my parents are like, what's she doing?

Another degree that she's not going to use.

That's a great point, right? You've got this brain is fabulous, is filled with all this knowledge and these qualifications and education is not the cheapest thing in the universe.

Yeah. And ended up at Australia Post. What was what happened there?

How did that go? Well, I actually heard about it through my last degree, so I wouldn't have probably ended up there if it hadn't if I hadn't been at uni.

Interesting. I know. Yeah, yeah. And I just read advertising at that time. I'd had a friend.

And was it just a job or was what did you see advertised? So it's a program to get people who weren't in technology into working in the industry and IT and to upskill them.

So I thought I could do that. Yeah.

Friends of mine, one in particular, had sort of gone into the industry without studying computer science.

And I spoke to her and she said, well, you know, you might as well give it a go.

I think you'll be fine. So because I had really been in two minds about doing it, I thought it might not be for me.

Yeah, I didn't think I'd be able to do it because I didn't have that sort of background.

As I said, I was you know, I knew how to use Microsoft Word.

I was interested at that stage, more interested than I had been because of things I've had to do at work.

And you're sort of bringing in new technologies into the office and you think, oh, yeah, you know, it's an interesting space to be in.

And so it sort of went from there. I didn't think I would go in and be like a developer.

I thought I might work on the business side of things.

And then I got in and I really enjoyed the actual coding. I thought, yeah, this is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

That's brilliant. And it's actually just as a bit of a backstory for anyone watching, Australia Post recognize that there's a shortage in Australia of technologists at all different levels.

And there's a lot of organizations here that are paying a lot for senior developers.

And my take is that there's a culture of kind of poaching senior devs from other organizations.

And that doesn't seem to be the most sustainable model.

So they actually ran. I'm going to call it kind of like a trial run to see if they could create some of their own as well.

So they built up this program that went for three months, I think, and a whole curriculum and brought people in that were really competent and smart and willing to learn and train them up themselves in-house and then put them through the different teams so they could be onboarded, which I think is just a quite a genius solution to a, oh, my gosh, we're struggling to find technologists.

Well, why don't we make some and see how that goes?

But what I don't think you've acknowledged technically is there was a really competitive process to get into the program at the start.

There was only 20 people accepted.

And I think there was a few thousand that that applied for that first round.

How did you was there an interview process? Did it go through different steps?

What was that like? Yeah, there was an interview process. It was quite long.

As a whole way, I thought, oh, you know. Good luck. It was kind of like a graduate intake as well, but people were all different ages and different backgrounds, which was what they wanted in that program.

So, yeah, I'm not entirely sure the criteria that I what you meant.

Yeah, I was like, well, I met something. So that will do.

But yeah, so there's quite an I would describe it like a graduate type process where you have like a you're sending a video and you answer a range of different questions and they sort of do some aptitude testing.

Then you go in and there were group interviews and sort of speed, speed dating interviews with people.

I probably shouldn't use the word dating in that context. You get the idea.

Yeah. Yeah. So it was pretty full on and it was a relief to have spent all that time and then to have gotten the job.

You get through the whole interview process and then you run through a training program.

And what happened at the end of the training program?

We kind of you alluded to kind of a grad program set up where you popped around different teams and to see what it was you liked.

Yeah. Yeah.

So I went into three different teams. So I was in like the cloud services team for a bit, working with AWS in the systems team and now in the management space.

And now I'm permanent in in the space that I am. So you could kind of select where you wanted to go and and give things a go, which I did appreciate.

You know, at the start, I thought, you know, this could go two ways.

If you find something you absolutely love off the bat, that would be fantastic, because then you spend two years really honing that that skill and you can really dive deep and come out at the end of that two years feeling really, you know, competent, capable, whereas you could then spend time rotating around and get sort of a variety of skills and sort of fundamentals in different areas.

But you wouldn't necessarily have that deeper knowledge in one space.

So I think I had to weigh it up a bit.

But I think as someone who didn't have a background at all in technology, it was a good thing to be able to move around and sort of see different areas because you get to work with a lot of different people.

You sort of. Get some of those little bits of knowledge that some people, you know, you have collected at uni or they've collected just from years of working and.

Whereas you I've come in. You had nothing.

And they're like, I'm like, what's the network? So. Yeah. So it sounds like what would have accidentally come with that as well as you would have started to understand like the interplay between the different teams and the personalities in the teams.

And it would make you quite an influential person having different knowledge around how things work out.

Influential is a true strong word.

But it has been helpful. It also it's also been helpful just in like a business context, because, you know, people in different areas and, you know, people in different teams that you wouldn't have met otherwise.

So I think in that regard, from certainly from Australia Post perspective, it's a positive thing to have people rotating around and knowing different people in the organization.

So it's come in handy occasionally.

I'm sure. And it would have been. I can only imagine how intense the volume of knowledge that was imparted on you during that training program was.

Did it make your cohort of students? I'm calling you students. That's not even the right word.

But did you did it force you to kind of be quite close and supportive of one of one another?

Yes and no.

I think I think it's interesting because now that I'm two years away from that.

Yeah, it could be quite an intense situation at, you know, when we were initially learning and like in some ways, it was nice to have a cohort to go through that with.

In other ways, it could be more stressful because we've got a bunch of people who are really stressed and you end up like that's depending on your temperament.

It's a little bad. And I think now that we're not in that like close knit group, I think it is handy.

Like you've got this cohort of people who've had a similar experience to you who, you know, work in different areas.

Some people aren't at Australia Post, so they're getting experience elsewhere.

And, you know, essentially it's a creating a network for you in an industry where you're really new to.

So it's nice. It's nice to have that sort of ready made network.

Yeah, because it's hard. It's hard to do that sort of stuff. And it's hard to like even the other day, I was thinking, I'd be really good if I knew someone who had knowledge in like.

This sort of area, but I don't because I haven't been in the industry that long and I probably need to make more of an effort to go to meetups and things like that.

But yeah, I think that's the sort of stuff you develop over time.

You do. And it's a space thing, too. When you're really new at a job, so much time and energy and effort goes into learning that.

It's it's hard to do all the other stuff as well.

Yeah. Yeah. It's hard to go out and have the energy to do that, to be honest.

Well, just a slight change of tact. You've got and I keep talking about your education, which just blows me away because I'm a secret learner.

I love continually figuring out new things and signing up for new courses.

And I don't know, I feel like I should have a PhD. Just I need to stop at some point.

But do you think that any of the things you did were a waste of time?

Yeah, I. I had to some. This is a hard question for me, because sometimes. Like sometimes I feel exasperated and I feel that it is, but I think it's also a really unhelpful way to look at it, because I've done it and like those decisions that I made and what I studied ultimately did lead to me where I am at the moment.

So it's not helpful to say, oh, I should have gone and I should have done computer science right out of.

You know, school, because if you if you throw an 18 year old Nicola into a computer science degree, that wouldn't have gone well.

That would have been awful. That would have been I would have dropped out in six months.

I reckon I would have found it extremely intimidating. I wouldn't have had the confidence to to try something that new to me in like a university context.

And I look at the degrees that I've done and, you know, different parts of them were really helpful.

Like, as I said, I loved studying Italian and I just did that because I love Italian, not because I thought it would be of any use to me.

And yeah, I think I look at it and I think.

No, like I got something out of all of them, maybe if if I did, if I, you know, if I did a cost benefit analysis and my only criteria was like, did I get, you know, did I get a vacation at the end of it?

That's, you know, paying X amount of dollars. Well, then maybe by those criteria, some of you would argue it wasn't that helpful.

But. Yeah, I think in terms of the experience and.

Yeah, as I said, like if I hadn't done the business degree, I wouldn't have seen that course, so I might not have.

You wouldn't have applied to it.

Yeah, I wouldn't have applied. So. Hey, you said something earlier around 18 year old, you would have found a computer science degree really intimidating.

And that would intimidating is something I've heard a lot by people that are looking at getting into the industry.

What what about it do you think is intimidating?

And what because I think there's a whole way of gatekeeping that goes on with getting into technology.

And I don't I don't think it's intentional, but I think there are barriers.

What did you find intimidating about it? I think for me, like even applying for this program that was designed for someone like me, and I still had thoughts of, oh, like it's not the space for me to be in.

I think there are certainly stereotypes around people who work in I.T.

And, you know, there's the whiz kid and, you know, guys who spend all their time coding and you know, I think anyone who works anyone who doesn't work in the industry knows those stereotypes.

It's like what comes to mind when you think of someone who works in I.T.

And I very much had those in place. And it was only through meeting people who worked in the industry that I thought.

Oh, like, you know, all of your hobbies don't have to be, you know, designing stuff outside of work.

You know, that sounds silly.

But my my impression was that people who worked in I.T. like there's a there's a Venn diagram of their personal interests and their job, and they're just like overlap.

And and, you know, you live and breathe I.T. And I thought, oh, that's not me at all.

You know, on the weekend, I'm going to have a conversation.

My sister's in medicine. And when she was doing her surgical training, I was doing I.T.

training. And she was talking about in her weekends, all she does is study.

And I said, oh, there's people I am training with. And all they do in the weekend is more build more stuff with code.

And she goes, oh, oh, she goes, imagine if I went around every weekend cutting people open, practicing my surgery.

She goes, I think we need some balance here. And it was such a ridiculous statement around.

You know, no one would interview her and say, how many surgeries did you do in your spare time?

But I was like, yeah, sometimes what we do in tech is also a bit bonkers.

And maybe if we think that is what you have to do to be here, then you're excluding a whole heap of people.

Just yeah, I kind of I kind of felt that, you know, from the outside looking in, that was the sort of person who works in tech.

And look, you know, if that's what your interest is and and you're one of those fortunate people where your personal interests align with like economic gain and and being really, really good at your job, then that's great for you.

And that's not to say I don't do some extra study. And because, you know, if I find an area I'm interested in or there's something that, you know, I enjoy doing, I'll do it.

But I don't like to do it out of this sense of obligation that, you know, I have to do it to keep up and I have to do it to, you know, match what some people do outside of work.

I think, you know, they do it because they like it. You know, a lot of people.

So but I think, you know, working in the industry, there are plenty of people who don't do that at all.

And I think, oh, OK, it's like any job.

You know, there are some people who. I'm going to put in those crazy, crazy hours and excel and or have a, you know, they've just always had a passion for it.

And then there are other people who it's a job and, you know, you enjoy doing your job and you put in effort and you learn and you can, you know, you continue to grow in that.

But it's not, you know, everything. Yeah. You can still get a mountain bike on the side.

Exactly, exactly. Would you have advice for anyone who is interested in a career in technology now?

Let's pretend it's a high school person, someone later high school years saying text kind of a thing, isn't it?

What do I do, Jack? What would you say to them? Yeah, I would encourage people in high school to to come into the tech industry.

I think.

I think you don't have to be a developer to be in technology as as you are clearly not a developer, but I'm working in the industry.

I think there's a lot of roles that are just kind of hard to be there.

But I was like, what is that role?

You know, iteration manager, you know, product manager, all these sorts of roles I'd never heard of before.

I went into technology and I'm like, oh, there's lots of like people, business people working into like and you need a lot of technical knowledge, but you're not necessarily, you know, actually coding.

I think.

I think it's hard because until you kind of are exposed to it, you don't know that these roles are there.

So I guess you I'd say try and talk to people in the industry, try and talk to different people in different roles, because.

Yeah, I think that's how I really ended up working here.

It's because I had friends who were doing it.

Friends in tech. It's like everyone. Yeah, that's like I would not I wouldn't have applied if I hadn't met if I didn't know people who said, yeah, you know, this is this is how we feel about it.

And this is what we think the industry looks like. And we've done it.

So you can, too, I think. I think that otherwise I wouldn't. I would have thought that's not for me.

I can't do it studying something else. Hey, one.

Yeah, I'm going to a PhD. I don't know if they're ever studying the academic.

Just a quick take. What do you think the biggest myth in technology is at the moment?

Whoa. And no pressure, but you've got about 25 seconds.

OK, I think I have to go back to, you know, my feelings around the stereotypes of who who is in tech.

I think it's a lot more diverse and has the potential to be a lot more diverse than than a lot of, you know, external perception would suggest.

So we need to get rid of some of these stereotypes.

And I think chatting with you today. Yeah, that is not, you know, you're not the kind of tech wearing a hoodie in the corner.

And I love that.

Hey, I'd like to take my hoodie off. I'd like to thank everyone for listening.

And please join us again on Thursday when we talk to Lily Malloy, who's a technical lead for Marketplacer.

See ya.

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This is What a Technologist Looks Like
What does a technologist actually look like? And, what is it they actually do?
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