Future Leaders: Jermila Dhas, Senior Engineer

‘Future Leaders’ is a series of blog posts by the Financial Times in which we interview our team members and ask them how they got into technology, what they are working on and what they want to do in the future. Everyone has a different perspective, story and experience to share. This series will feature colleagues working in our Product & Technology teams. You can also connect with us on Twitter at @lifeatFT.

Jermila Dhas

Hi Jermila, what is your current role at the FT and what do you spend most of your time doing at work?
I’m currently in the FT’s Content team. Right now we have a transition taking place but back when we were a smaller team, our responsibilities were to look after Content’s Infrastructure, maintain it, monitor and make sure it was healthy so that we can best serve our customers (FT readers). We use AWS heavily and we develop tools to enable our developers to do their own deployment or deploy things as easily as possible into production. Right now, I help to transition knowledge to Sofia (where the FT Content team is now based) and on a day to day basis my responsibility is to help the team over there with any questions they may have.

So, as your team is in this transition stage that must mean you are too. What do you predict you’ll be doing after this?
I think what I learned that I really liked was the people aspect of things. When you get to interact with people on a daily basis, now I’m in the position of teaching people, this is something I want to do throughout my career. I want to be hands on but I also want to teach people things to get them up to speed. When I joined the FT I had a ‘buddy’, but my buddy was way more senior than me, by about five years. It meant that the person struggled to put themselves in my shoes. That’s one thing I wanted when I was a junior, for someone to come down to my position and try to explain things at my level in a way I could understand. I want to be able to do that for our junior engineers. I like talking to juniors. In the longer term I want to help them to get the right help they need in order to progress in their careers. I think they need a person to talk to and relate to at that stage.

The UK Content team go for lunch

Where did it begin for you and how did you get into the technology industry?
So, I wanted to be a doctor. Well, actually, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. I got into an IT company but tech wasn’t really my preference back then, but now I love it! I like the problem solving and creative ways of trying to approach a problem from different angles to figure out the best solution aspect of IT. I didn’t set out to be in tech though, but I ended up really enjoying what I was doing.

Did you take a technical degree?
I did but it wasn’t a computer science degree, it was ‘Electronics and Communications’, which involved me tinkering with all things electronics on a day to day basis but I ended up getting a job in an IT company because I did my bachelor’s degree in India where, no matter what your degree is, you can get a job in both IT and what your degree was based on. So I started in IT with a company called Infosys, back in India. I worked there for a year and they taught me a lot of programming which I really enjoyed. Then to improve my skills I did another course on software engineering. The course was part time on Saturdays and Sundays, alongside my job on Monday to Fridays because I really enjoyed programming. I learned Java, C#, C++ and other languages I would need as a developer at an IT company. That’s how I went further into IT. The projects I did in the course were programming and developing websites, front end, back end, working with databases and that was very interesting. That was why I’ve stayed in tech until now.

The FT’s Integration Engineering Team Christmas outing

What is the project you’ve worked on that you are most proud of at the FT?
I think it was the Kubernetes migration that we did last year. I’m really proud because I was involved in that project from day one until the final day. When I moved teams, Kubernetes was a brand new technology that a lot of companies were starting to adopt. At that point I was a mid level engineer and I knew nothing about Kubernetes, meanwhile the team I joined were using it everyday. I enjoyed learning it, it was quite challenging and there were a lot of expectations. As a mid level engineer, people don’t expect you to know everything but they expect you to learn things quickly. Learning a brand new technology in a short period and completing the migration in six months, was very challenging. I really enjoy stressful situations. That was both stressful and challenging, and I really, really enjoyed it. The learning aspect and watching it through to the end of the migration, watching my changes being deployed, watching my work that made other’s jobs easier was very rewarding.

Another project I’m proud of is the whole transition we are currently doing. There was a lot of unknowns when we started; we didn’t know what the expectations were, what we’d be responsible for. But right now we are in a position where we can agree we’ve done our level best to upskill the teams in Sofia and we are doing this on a day to day basis. I think, as a whole, my team has done a very good job to help the team is Sofia to learn our massive, complicated platform within a short span of time. I remember, during a short but stressful period, everybody was trying to do three or four people’s jobs. It was a bit of a dark time but now the team in Sofia can deal with production issues, they can handle questions and have began working on solutions. The team in London have put in a lot of time and effort to teach them about our systems, that’s one thing my team are really proud of right now.

That’s impressive because that combines both passing on the technical knowledge but also it’s a completely different culture, dealing with the people side of things, that all meshes together and must create a whole new challenge?
Yeah, it teaches you a lot when you work with a team from a different country. Language is a barrier, definitely, because English isn’t everybody’s first language so when they try to explain things to you, one thing I’ve noticed is that someone may come off as blunt or rude but it is probably just a language and communication barrier. Trying to find ways to work around that is what you learn when you’re put in that situation.

When you’re a junior or mid level engineer your manager is there to protect you and translate everything so that you can understand. When you come into a more senior position with more responsibilities, you have to make the extra effort to be more understanding rather than relying on others in those situations. The more senior you get, the more you have to understand how people work and that people are different, you have to understand personality differences and that communication barriers are going to exist when working with teams from different countries. It’s not going to be ‘rosy and cosy’ all the time, if you have the skills to put yourselves in other’s shoes and see why they are behaving or communicating in that way, that’s an important skill to have.

Jermila speaking at Velocity London

Most definitely! That leads nicely into our next question.. What is the biggest lesson you have learned in recent years?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is to have patience when working with people. I am very short tempered and impatient, I get annoyed if people do not behave the way I want them to. I expect people to behave the way I do because I think, “If I can be that way, why can’t you be that way? If it works for me, it works for you”, but what I’ve learned to realise is that you have to be patient and understand personality differences. Having been given the responsibility of leading a team with a lot of different people means my leadership style has to adapt to fit my team, rather than my team adapting to fit me. I’ve realised that if I want to have a great team environment, I have to be patient and understand personality differences, and be patient about individual circumstances. This is quite well known but I would say I was oblivious to this when I was in the first few years of my working life. It’s a lot easier and you can have a lot more fun when you accept people for who they are, rather than trying to make them change, you have to learn how to deal with different people to be happy.

That’s a great answer. Onto our final question, what would you like to do in the future?
I want to be a Principal Engineer because I feel they are responsible for architecting a product and I like the aspect of feeling like I designed a product that people are using. It’s about job satisfaction and what motivates me. I want to be hands on but at the same time I want to mentor and line manage people. I already mentor a few junior engineers but I want to move to line managing people. I’ve learned a lot from all the people who have line managed me up until now. They’ve all looked after me both professionally and personally. The person I am now is purely because of all the managers I’ve had. I used to be this shy, naive girl who used to just sit in a corner and not want to talk to people and shy away from problems but the ones who’ve helped me, built my confidence and brought me out of my comfort zone and pushed me into situations I’d never wanted to be in which has helped me grow as a person. I feel as if I need to return that favour to somebody, so I definitely want to manage people and try to be technical in the future.

Jermila speaking at an AWS user group meetup

Are there any particular projects you’d like to tackle next?
I quite enjoy working with AWS. The thing I like about AWS is that whenever you have a problem, AWS provides the products to solve it. The pace at which things change and the creative tools they bring out on a yearly basis is really interesting. For example, you’re using product A for a solution, and suddenly there’s a better product that comes out. I like that change and creative aspect AWS provides for engineers. I would want to work in a team that heavily works with AWS which is what I’m doing after the Sofia transition work is finished. I’m going to move to a team called, ‘Cloud Enablement’ who work on AWS on a day to day basis.

You mentioned mentoring and juniors and helping others. Is there any one piece of advice you’d give someone just starting off their career, or maybe yourself if you could go back in time?
As a junior I thought I was stupid for asking very basic questions. I used to beat myself up for not knowing all the answers. If I could say one thing to my younger self it would be, there are no such things as ‘stupid questions’, you ask questions to learn and if you didn’t ask questions you would never learn. So don’t feel scared about asking questions, be vocal about everything and ask more questions. If you want to grow and develop, you can’t shy away from things. You have to put yourself out there and that’s how you’ll grow!

Very wise words. Thanks, Jermila!

Jermila’s fave GIF

Interviewee: Jermila Dhas
Interviewer: Georgina Murray