Beyond the conference: Q&A with The Guardian’s Maria-Livia Chiorean

Arriving at her first Scala eXchange with only a few months of Scala under her belt, Maria-Livia Chiorean was surprised to see a mix of those in a similar position to her as well as those who had been working with Scala for years and who were driving its development in new directions. Inspired by the exchange of ideas, Maria saw that there could be a spot for her on the program one day. A year later, Maria was giving her own talk at Scala eXchange 2017. In anticipation for Scala eXchange 2018, we asked her how she went from attendee to speaker and how it has helped in her work at The Guardian.

Thanks for speaking to us, Maria. To start things off, you have spoken twice now at Skills Matter events. What inspired you to get up in front of an audience?

Giving a talk had been in the back of my mind for a year or so. I used to think I was not at that level yet, but after attending a couple of conferences as a beginner I got more confident and realized you don’t have to be an expert to give a talk. Also, remember that there are always other beginners that would be interested in your successes and failures. My colleagues played a big role in my decision to get out there and in front of an audience. They recognized the potential in my work and encouraged me to do it.

Did you find speaking to a workshop at Skills Matter prepared you for your talk?

Yes! That was the first time I spoke in front of an audience outside of work. I was originally planning to use the opportunity as practice for another conference, Scala Swarm. A couple of months later Scala eXchange popped up.

How did you approach it?

I remember feeling so nervous just before it, but then I looked at the audience and saw the familiar faces that came to support me and I relaxed. A bit. For people interested in getting into public speaking I’d recommend starting with small events like meetups. It helps you get used to using a microphone, you learn how to best sync your slides with your notes, and you get a small, friendly audience.

Was Scala eXchange what you thought it would be the first time you went to it?

I attended my first Scala eXchange only three months after I started learning Scala. It felt overwhelming and I remember struggling to follow the talks through to the end. But it gave me an idea of how many interesting things there are to learn and got me excited for the months to come.

Scala eXchange was the first conference I’ve ever attended and the first time I felt I was part of a community!

Audiences at Scala eXchange 2017

How did it help in your work with The Guardian?

I think the great thing about attending Scala eXchange is being exposed to so many different topics for so many different levels. Attending has helped me in more than one way. There’s always that aha moment of “Oh, so that’s what type classes are!” or there’s the realization that you could be on the stage next time because you’ve just thought of something you could share with the community. Or you’re in the office a couple of months later struggling to understand monads and you remember you’ve seen a talk about monads that you could rewatch. I’ve definitely been in all these situations.

What made you return to Scala after you worked on apps with Swift?

After six months of Scala and backend development, moving to the Apps team was a big change. And I don’t necessarily mean in terms of the programming language. When you’re doing iOS development you don’t have continuous deployment, the work is more user-driven, and you have stricter deadlines because of how the release process works. There were parts I enjoyed (the team was amazing) but at the end of the day for me, it came down to personal preference. Scala left me wanting to know more and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to move to a team that allowed me to do just that.

There were quite a few Guardian developers at your talk at last year’s Scala eXchange, can you talk about how The Guardian incorporates new knowledge acquired by its developers?

We try to give our developers as many opportunities as possible to share their knowledge and learnings. We run a series of events that facilitate that: Friday evening tech times, lunchtime learning groups run twice a week, Scala School that starts every fall and runs for about 10 weeks. These are just a couple of examples of events we organize that are opened to the entire Digital department. Also, devs who attend conferences are encouraged to share the talks they liked with their colleagues, and, in general, teams are open to new and exciting technologies and always keen to try them out on Hack Days or Innovation Weeks.

Having worked on such projects as The Guardian’s Atoms architecture, how do you see tech’s relationship with the media continuing?

I think the relationship between tech and media has become much stronger in the past few years and it’s going to improve in the near future. Media is turning to tech for help with finding new and exciting ways to tell stories, engage new audiences, and allow people to contribute to stories.

The Guardian’s atoms came as a solution to content that you need to create once, embed in many places and update quickly, like videos or timelines. It’s a nice example of how digital and editorial worked together to create something that is not only helping the user to understand the story better but also reduces the time the journalists are spending creating and updating this type of content.

I think going forward we need to encourage both sides to build relationships, talk about the pain points they have, and really focus on how we can put the best, most informative story out there in front of the public. And we need to do all of the above while keeping in mind that people consume news in different ways, on different platforms all over the world. It’s a challenge, but also an exciting time to work in media.

Are you still working with Scala or are you onto new languages in your current work?

Scala is still my language of choice. I’m trying to focus on learning more about functional programming at the moment as it is such a complex topic. I’m definitely considering picking up another language in the near future, but I can’t make up my mind about which one.

Thanks so much, Maria! Do you think there is more you can get from Scala eXchange in the future?

Definitely! I’ve attended for 3 years in a row and I always found something that interested me. The line up is always great and I find it a good place to meet with old friends and make new ones — as what we do is not only about the talks, it’s also about being part of a community.

Interested in attending Scala eXchange this year? Don’t miss out on tickets for Scala eXchange 2018, held over December 13–14th. With well over 40 speakers, it is Europe’s largest Scala conference and a great place to meet other members of the Scala community and exchange ideas.