“Having diversity of thought is what makes our tech sector a vibrant and exciting place to be.”

Erin Austin is a software developer at Enigma Interactive, a digital development agency partnering with national clients from their base in Newcastle upon Tyne. Erin retrained as a software developer post-pandemic; here she discusses what the life of a female software developer is really like and why she would encourage other women to explore a career in software development.

I was first introduced to the tech space from my role as a test engineer before moving into a product owner role. During these roles, I was always intrigued by the projects the software developers were working on but wasn’t sure if it was something I could do as I had a completely different skill set. It wasn’t until I started working more closely with the software development team that I was really inspired to just go for it.  After seeing first-hand the problem-solving they were involved in and the direct impact this was having, I signed up for a 3-month software development boot camp with Northcoders and landed my first role in software development at Enigma Interactive.

What do software developers do day-to-day?

The day-to-day tasks of a software developer are really varied but there is a lot of structure. We start every morning with a team stand-up where we check in on how projects are progressing discuss any blockers we might be having and how we can support each other. After that, I get stuck into problem-solving for clients; as a full-stack developer, I get to use several different languages and frameworks for each different project that we are working on which keeps it super interesting.

Client contact usually goes through my team’s digital producer, but there are opportunities for the developers to get out to meet clients and answer any particularly technical questions that they may have. Being a software developer can often be thought of as quite a solitary role, which didn’t initially appeal to me because I’m a pretty social person, but that is a total misconception as there are plenty of opportunities to come together as a team and be collaborative.

Full-stack? Front-end? Back-end?

Training as a full-stack developer, rather than focusing on either front-end or back-end, was the most appealing route to me because I get an overall view of how the systems need to work together. It also means I get access to a wider range of projects with a lot of variation, rather than working on a specific section of a single project for a whole year. This has been great for development and definitely keeps things interesting.

As a team, we are responsible for driving forward the creative and technical vision of how a project will come to life and I love being able to discuss what that looks like as we go. We also have our own development platform here at Enigma, and with every project, this platform is being refined so it’s great to see that the work we are doing has a  direct impact on not only our current and future clients but our software developers internally.

A cupboard full of wheels…

Working with Enigma’s own platform, and evolving it as we go, really frees up my role to be much more creative and really tap into the human side of the tech we are creating. As specialists we try to spend 80% of our time working on solutions grounded in the real world – as one of the senior software developers put it we don’t always need to reinvent the wheel; we have a cupboard full of wheels!

Endless lines of code (or not!)

People who aren’t familiar with software development often think of endless lines of code limited within a strict framework, but it really isn’t like that at all. There are often multiple ways to approach a problem and it is really all about working with the client, designers and producers to understand what the best solution for the end user will be. To address the elephant in the room – upcoming technologies like AI might be able to use programming techniques but what we are doing is one step further than that; we are driving the user experience forward with our ability to truly understand our end-users and connect with them.

Development: Where do you start?

Before delving into the development work, we spend a lot of time understanding who the end-users are and how they are going to interact with the solution we are creating for them; Enigma places a lot of focus on involving every member of the team in this process. A great example of this is a project my team worked on that was centred around how lung transplant patients receive and understand information pre and post-operation. Empathy and understanding of their needs were crucial to building something that was informative, useful and impactful. I think ultimately we bridge the gap between the tech and the human that is going to use it by putting ourselves in their shoes and understanding the bigger picture of our day-to-day work.

What about diversity, equity and inclusion?

I think having more diversity is only going to be a good thing for the sector. Any team in any industry benefits from having a wide range of personalities, backgrounds and perspectives. The software development sector has traditionally been very male, and it is refreshing to see that changing. I’m lucky at Enigma to work with a really diverse team, my producer is female and we have a lot of other women throughout the business in both managerial and development roles.

How to get started in your developer career

With any role, there are misconceptions about what you need to be like as a person to thrive and software developers are no different. As well as already being a minority in the field, I worried that my personality type didn’t fit the stereotypical traits often associated with a software developer role. Luckily, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Going into any role as a minority is daunting but the tech sector will only evolve if a wider range of personalities lends their skills and ideas to the conversation. Having diversity of thought is what makes our tech sector a vibrant and exciting place to be – if you are particularly introverted and want to pursue a career, great, equally if you are an extrovert and love being part of a team, there is a place for that too. Our differences are what drive us forward.