Julia Hayward has worked at Redgate in two separate stints!
We caught up with her to find out about her own career journey as part of #NewJobJune
I’ve been a software engineer now for about 26 years. That wasn’t my plan, though — it would be fair to say I fell into the profession almost by accident.
As a student I had to choose between my two loves, music and maths — I chose the latter as probably the more reliable as a career path, expecting to end up in something like accountancy, but as my degree progressed I was convinced that would be rather a boring outcome.
Abstract problem-solving was far more to my taste! I took a summer job as a lab assistant for a researcher in fluid mechanics, and that led to a Masters studying ocean modelling problems. When that ended I looked around for related jobs rather unsuccessfully, until I interviewed at a small hydromechanics consultancy in Guildford. They, like many before them, turned me down, but as I got ready to leave the interviewer called me back. His wife ran a small software company doing some rather unconventional but innovative work; would I be up for learning the job rapidly and taking a bit of a chance on it working out?
At that point my exposure to computing was doing numerical analysis exercises in BBC Basic and playing fairly primitive games, but something in me decided to dive into the unknown. Two weeks later I was knee-deep in tutorials and helping a company of just seven people write an intelligent factory scheduler in an obscure dialect of Prolog, the project worked out well, and I’ve never looked back.
That experience left a deep impression. I turned up on day one not knowing the language I would be working in (no-one ever did there!), with little experience of Unix, not knowing much about the problem we were taking on — or even if it was even soluble. But they were happy to give me the space to do a lot of learning, trusting just that I was good at general problem-solving and would throw myself in at the deep end wholeheartedly. It wasn’t long before I was doing site visits, probing how our client’s business actually worked from the people on the ground that really knew, and fusing that understanding with the technical expertise back in our office.
One of the most satisfying discoveries in my early career was that a piece of software was never “finished” — there were always more subtleties and nuances in the problems we faced, if we searched for them, and we could always refine, enhance and extend what we had.
Three children and a relocation intervened, and my subsequent jobs were scattered around various domains — cartography, flight safety, online mapping, social media analysis, economic planning — before arriving at Redgate in 2015. The only thing in common was that each one was a jump into the unknown, meaning that thinking on my feet would play a large part in the role. Over that time very little technical knowledge stayed static; the languages and tools I used evolved beyond recognition, good practices came and went, and each solution created new problems in its wake. To be too much of an expert was to be stuck in the past.
Now, as a regular interviewer myself, I remember the faith that was put in me. I have learnt what to really value in the candidates I meet — tenacity, curiosity, a willingness to stray out of the comfort zone, good humor, and a love of thinking in abstract terms.
The basics of programming are of course important, but I know that I can share my technical knowledge with you when you’re actually here — though of course I don’t know it all either and it will all probably be out of date soon anyway! What I want to find is someone who’s ready to go on a journey of discovery with us. I hope that an interview with me will be a relaxed and enjoyable experience for us all — talking about what you do and what really fires you up, and solving a couple of problems together with plenty of scope to follow up on interesting tangents. No trick questions, no egos, and definitely no whiteboards, unless you really want to use one!