[Career Pathways] Embracing discomfort is the best way to grow
By Pam Rucinque
In our new series ‘Career Pathways’, we’ll share inspiring, real-life stories from our ThoughtWorkers based in Australia on how they began their careers in technology, their learnings, and how their journey at ThoughtWorks has continued to enable their career as technologists.
Name: Pam Rucinque
Joined ThoughtWorks: 2015
Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
I ended up huddled under a conference room table during a client meeting in New Zealand because of a magnitude 6.2 earthquake. I have a fear of earthquakes. I used to live in Medellin, Colombia which is prone to them. I even had an emergency kit inside my closet that had water bottles, canned tuna and a whistle. My friends used to make fun of me, and I can see why. When I moved to Melbourne, my fear went away. One more reason to love Melbourne! Fair to say, that night, I just laid on my 14th level hotel room bed, waiting for the aftershocks.
What was your pathway into a tech career?
When I finished school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally, so I studied graphic design at university because I enjoyed playing with design software at school. However, I struggled to come up with new ideas for my design projects, and that became really stressful. I later decided to switch my studies to systems engineering because “I liked computers”. I found the new subjects easy to understand, especially algorithms — it was like solving a puzzle, which was always fun. When I finished university, I took a role as a developer and I loved it. I was fortunate enough to land a project where I could talk directly with the users and then make the necessary tweaks in the code to give them what they wanted. It was a fast feedback loop and I fell in love with solving users’ problems.
What has your journey been like at TW?
I remember on my first project at ThoughtWorks, one of the many things I did was to pair up with a UX designer to go to our client’s shop and ask their customers to use our prototype so that we could test whether the design was intuitive enough. Since then, I’ve done a bit of everything. I like the consulting side of my work and I always try to get involved in different types of projects. I have done technical assessments of existing systems through to delivery processes. I have worked on projects where we have built mobile applications, features in a web application, and APIs from the ground up. I would say though, the highlight has been being a trainer at ThoughtWorks University. Training people just starting their careers in software, in such an incredible environment, is truly rewarding. My role says I am a developer but I haven’t been bound to it.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m in between projects which has given me the opportunity to work on a couple of skills I wanted to improve: sales and account management. I am trying to get involved in as much pre-sales work as I can to understand what goes into signing new work for ThoughtWorks. As for the second skill, I was given the opportunity to work with a principal consultant who is part of the team that runs one of the largest accounts in Australia. I am enjoying every moment I get to work on very specific skills that are usually not part of my day-to-day job, such as responding to requests for proposals or how to manage the relationship with the client’s executives during the COVID-19 crisis.
How has your technical expertise evolved throughout your career?
When I started my career I was a perfectionist. I wanted my code to be shiny and as perfect as it could be. With time I’ve learnt to focus on delivering software that is useful, recognise when the code is good enough, and think of technology as a medium to help achieve business outcomes, and not a goal. Also my career at ThoughtWorks has taught me to be adaptable. The breadth of the challenges, domains and tools I’ve experienced during the different projects have helped improve my ability to recognize when it is time to step back and think in a different way to solve a problem.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I’m proud of how I deliberately sign up for things that make me nervous or are way out of my comfort zone. My favorite one is when I first moved to Australia, the thought of public speaking in English (I am a native Spanish speaker) used to make me dizzy. That is why talking in a tech conference became my personal goal.
I started by giving a talk at a local meetup that was run in a pub. I was extremely nervous, almost to the point of being sick, but after giving the talk, the sense of accomplishment was great. After a few local talks, I was invited to present at a conference. I have to say though, I dreaded every minute before the conference. I prepared for months in advance. I read a book on presenting, recorded myself over and over, redid the slides way more than I should have. The talk went well, I can’t remember much of it except that I answered a few questions on stage and then I chatted with people after the talk, which is usually a good sign. When I look back at it now and it doesn’t seem that big of an accomplishment anymore, survival bias I guess? I have done a few more talks after that, but doing that first one was so nerve-wracking that I’m really fond of it.
What unique opportunities do technologists have when it comes to advocating for positive and social change?
Software runs the world now and we, techies, know how it is built. When it comes to social change, there are two things that are particularly important to me: digital privacy and inclusivity.
I believe that as technologists our biggest challenge is to create incredible tools that also protect people’s privacy. We have to build software in an ethical way, thinking of the implications when we decide what personal data we capture, how we use it, who we give access to it and how we protect it. I have been actively involved in activities that teach fellow techies how to apply a security mindset to their projects, or activities that educate the broader community on how to look after their own personal information.
What is the one trend in recent technology that has captured your interest the most?
This one is an oldie but a goodie. ‘Domain Driven Design’ is the one trend that came and stayed. I keep deriving value from it. The technology landscape is different from when I started and, with all the constant changes, is difficult to keep up with. However, the DDD principles are an anchor. We can design systems that are reliable and can be modified when needed if we focus on the domain and closely collaborate with the domain experts.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
“When you are stuck on something, get up and go for a walk.” It is unbelievable the amount of times that, when I have been stuck on a problem, this trick has worked. It could be either debugging, discussing something with someone, writing, anything! Just getting up, taking a break, and letting that other part of your brain do the work in the background works wonders.
What’s next for your career?
Right now, I am working towards becoming a Technology Principal. I like the challenge of working to solve systemic problems and aligning different teams, stakeholders and systems to tackle them.
I also just came back from parental leave and my perspective on work-life balance has changed, which is why I feel really motivated to build high-performing teams where individuals can find a sustainable balance between work and life.
Originally published at https://www.thoughtworks.com on June 8, 2020.