Success in the tech industry and PensionBee’s approach to software delivery

Davinder Kaur

by , Software Engineer

20 Aug 2020 /  

20
Aug 2020

Laptop screen with coding with cup of coffee next to it

This blog piece started its life very differently. It was supposed to be an insight into Software Delivery at PensionBee - every other fintech publishes blog pieces around life behind-the-scenes so why should we not also do the same thing? Also, given I’ve been a huge part of setting up some of the practices that we have in place now, it should be relatively simple to write about. But it hasn’t been easy to write about because it involves looking at my own achievements - something that’s quite difficult to do when you’re full of critical self evaluation and believe that nothing’s ever enough.

The interlinking of performance with a sense of self is common in the tech industry. The industry is full of knowledgeable, skilled and driven people. Some view those people as someone they can aspire to be - they are optimistic of their own skills and ability to advance themselves. Others, however, find it very daunting: we will never be as intelligent and as perfect as those people. They seem to know everything, or understand things easily, and they rarely seem to ask for help or make mistakes. Whereas our experiences are the exact opposite - things are difficult or confusing and if we ask for help, we worry that people will think we are dumb. And so we feel like we don’t belong in this role or industry.

In researching these feelings, I found that Imposter Syndrome, Perfectionism and Anxiety are very common in the tech industry. There are many tips on how to overcome these feelings - common to all content is the importance of talking about the feelings. Makes sense, right? It’s our shared experiences that connect us as people and these help us build relationships. So this is me, sharing my experience, in the hope that it will resonate with someone and stop them being a blocker to their own achievements.

PensionBee anniversaries are always very special days, where cohorts of NewBees remember joining the company, reminiscing over when friendships began and journeys that have been taken together. For me, my PensionBee anniversary is a super-special day for so many reasons. But one reason always feels a little more important than the others: “I have luckily, somehow, made it another year here”. My journey to PensionBee will help you understand why I feel this way.

About three years ago, I made a fairly risky decision to quit my job as a Release Manager in Financial Services, and enrol in a coding bootcamp to retrain as a Software Engineer. Half way through the course (I remember the day very vividly), I had the realisation that no matter how much the course taught me, I would never know enough to be the perfect Software Engineer that all companies seem to want. But no matter, I had started down this path and so would deal with that after graduation - more on a British Asian girl’s need to achieve, later. Job hunting as a Junior Software Engineer is tricky to say the least - “I really don’t know enough, nor have enough experience, so how do I get someone to hire me” - but when you are a career-changer, trying to find a place (if at all) for your previous skills, feels like a bit of a confusing mess. PensionBee saw through my disarray and hired me as the fourth person in the tech team (employee number 19).

I’d like to say that my fears were all nonsense and that there was sunshine and rainbows and beautiful code everywhere. But alas, I spent the first few months (at least!) trying to use what felt like a “starter” toolkit to tackle some really heavy-duty real world challenges. And when the tech got too difficult to understand or I got frustrated with having to ask for help all the time, I fell back into doing what I knew I was good at: software delivery. So that’s all the stuff that goes around the code writing bit: analysing bugs and issues, pseudo coding out solutions, pulling together feature walkthroughs, post-launch support etc. It took about six months for me to work out a very basic, lightweight project delivery methodology for PensionBee. Called the Project Scoping Document, it was simply a list of questions to ensure that there was some structure around project delivery. Sounds a little win-win, right? PensionBee needed a process for delivering software and I had the knowledge and skills. But there was very little about it that felt like progress or achievement, for me personally. Deep down, I was hiding behind the procedural aspect of being a Software Engineer because I felt like I just wasn’t good enough at writing code: I was too scared to start a feature, I would just write and rewrite code, I feared code review. I just felt so out of my depth. I felt like a fraud - trying to build software despite not really knowing as much as everyone else in the team.

How did I get past this? My one hot tip? By finding some love and compassion for myself. Being brought up in British Asian household, there was always a hard push to become more accomplished. As a girl, I was always encouraged to prove myself as at least equal to a male counterpart. This resulted in a very very strong determination to succeed at everything that I do, in a way that doesn’t allow for mistakes and failures. But that approach doesn’t work when changing careers - especially given, it in itself feels like failure. And it most certainly doesn’t apply when you are a Software Engineer - so much of the role is about trying out solutions and “learning on the job” and learning from others. This truth has been coached into me through Weekly Feedback and Quarterly Reviews, and it has helped me treat myself more kindly.

Whilst these sessions are normal practices at PensionBee, my meetings are effective because of the work that my manager, Jonathan, does with me. I have often been told that as a “Woman in Tech“ I need to have only female role models and mentors, but I don’t believe this is correct. Finding a person who understands me and will champion me and my progression, is far more important to me than the gender of the person I ask for advice. And that is what I get in Jonathan. He has taken the time to understand me and what I want for my career, he then works with me to keep me focussed on this path highlighting where I am progressing and where I can push myself more. His logical and structured input helps me find clarity when my own thoughts fail me. And this is why it is important to talk.

Every quarter, I take the chance to reflect on the progress I have made personally and professionally: I celebrate my successes with Jonathan, and work with him to set goals that stretch me in a way that will help me recognise my own achievement in retrospect. But I have to do both. Because in doing so, I feel more empowered as a Software Engineer at PensionBee - I realise I rightfully belong here.

Both PensionBee and I have matured a lot in the last three years - the company is bigger, the tech team is bigger, we have multidisciplinary project teams, we have better structures in place for delivering software - based on my knowledge and experiences, and improved through constant trial and improvement (we love a project retro at PensionBee!). I have learned to make peace with my past and my desire for my future: focussing on both my technical upskilling (the whole challenging reason for becoming a Software Engineer!) and on embedding delivery Best Practises (something I know that I can do!). But it is something that I have to work on every day - I guess a little daily self-improvement never hurt anyone!

And if decision paralysis doesn’t get the better of me, I might actually get round to building the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery pipelines to support some of the Best Practices that we have in place.

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