In this episode, I talk to myself. Yeah, to celebrate the one year anniversary of the podcast, I tell you about my own journey into tech, and my experiences working at Microsoft and Microsoft Research. I share with you the turning points in my career and also how and why I started my own business.

I talk about:

  • how I got into tech without any previous computer knowledge, 
  • how my dream of becoming a researcher in the industry became true,
  • and why I transitioned to remote work.
  • Finally, I talk about starting my own business because of the need for more flexibility to combine family and work.

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Links:

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today is a special episode. Yeah, the software engineering unlocked podcast turned one. And to celebrate the one year anniversary – and can you imagine it’s already one year – I thought I will tell you a little bit about myself.

I will very inline with the theme of the show, I will tell you a little bit about how I came into tech, a little bit about my experiences with different companies. And also I will tell you about my favorite topic code review. So yeah, let’s see how that goes. I’m a little bit nervous because it’s first not interview-style podcast episode. So it means that I don’t have another person interviewing me and asking me questions. So it will be all me talking. And I hope that this goes well, I don’t know. So yeah, about me. Well, where should I start? Maybe really from the beginning, like I do with my guests. So how did I actually come into tech?

You know, that’s  quite a strange story, because I went to a high school, that was all about art. And while it’s way back then a computer were already a thing. I’m not that old, but, uh, at my school, we didn’t have laptops in our class. We didn’t write on a word for example, or some, um, word processor or something.

We rode really still with pencil on paper. And especially when I graduated the time were already advanced. So in other school, people were using computers and programs to type, and our school was an art school. And so we were not very progressed. Uh, our teachers also thought, you know, it’s, it’s not a good thing.

You know, writers write on paper. So even though when I graduated, I was still writing most of my stuff. Oh, really with pen and paper. And I had little to no exposure to computers. We had a computer at home, but because it’s, um, it was something expensive and it was something, you know, that also my parents were maybe a little bit afraid of, we were not allowed to just go and play with the computer or try things out.

So I really have to say my exposure to computers were really, it was really, really limited. Never ever would I have starting this year that I will study computer science, but I’m in the lab last year before graduating and before starting a university, I actually attended a few lectures at the university and I attended lectures in different areas.

So I was in one lecture about psychology. I was in an, um, lecture about physics and I was in the left. Sure. About algorithms. And somehow I was really hooked. I never, I actually thought I will study math. This is what I thought that I will go on. But then when, when I was in this lecture and this professor talked about distributed systems and threading problems, and he also were talking about cash machines.

And so I really could see the application of what very much looked like math to me and logic. But I could see really the impact that it has on the real world. Yeah. And so I think I was hooked. So I got a first book about it. And during the summer break, before starting university, I read this book, it was about really fundamentals.

What is an algorithm and what is computer science still? I didn’t touch any computers. Right. It was really theoretical knowledge about, you know, what computer science is all about. And there was really, really fascinating. I thought, this is what I want to do. And so when I made the decision and I said, I’m going to apply, my parents were not thrilled.

They were like, this is not for girls. And this is not for you. And you’re coming from an art background, which was very true. Right. I was mainly painting pictures. I drew, I had paintings and things like that, architecture, but, um, I was always good at math and. I decided, even though they weren’t happy and actually even said, they’re not going to really support me doing that.

I went ahead, add end. I’m enrolled. And the enrollment was actually online and yeah, mr. We failed to be honest. Yeah. I really failed to create an account. You know, dad. This was the current state that I was in. Right. So I got a little bit worried about, um, if I’m not even able to in role, because I had so little exposure to computers and internet and things like that.

We didn’t have internet at home. Um, How I’m gonna deal with that. But yeah, there was an it department, so they helped me actually enroll when I told them that I, they, I need some assistance with that and that I actually want to study computer science. They were also not super thrilled and I laughed a little bit about me, uh, but I managed to get the thing done with a little bit of help.

And, and then it was. It was really intense. I would say her first year, especially the first half year, really intense. Most of my, um, classmates, my colleagues at university had a lot of knowledge already became, um, most of them actually came from high schools that had like, uh, Focused on computers, even new houses program.

And for me, everything was new and I didn’t have really a computer and I didn’t have so much money. So I bought really a crappy computer and, um, it wasn’t good enough for, for example, the job compilers really run. So if I wanted to combine my hello world, the first program that I a road, it took several minutes, like 15 minutes.

It can you imagine? So. Um, I knew I had to do something else, so I try to collect a little bit more money and make more money. I worked on the side. And so, um, within the first two, three months I was able to buy a better computer. And, um, it wasn’t the best computer. Yeah. It was really nice. A nice laptop that, uh, got the job done.

Let’s put it that way. And also, I have to say that in my computer science education, especially at the beginning, we did again, a lot things on, um, Paper. I mean, we wrote Java programs on paper. Um, not always URI. I needed a computer and you were doing it at home, right? Well then transferring. Yeah. What you learned in class?

Um, To the computer. Uh, but yeah, so this is how I got started. And, um, I did the primer in programming that really helped a lot. It was very, very intense, but I, I studied a lot. Um, this is pure reality is that I really studied a lot and I really, you know, deep dive into that, I found it really also very, very fascinating.

So it wasn’t, wasn’t hard for me. And by the, by the end of the first year, I was one of the best in class. And, um, this was very encouraging as well. So I, I didn’t start really well. Uh, but yeah, based on learning a lot and really having an open mind and being so curious, I was able to, to level up. So is, it was really how I started.

Maybe I rambled a little bit too long, but hopefully found it interesting. And yeah, well I did then back then, actually, when I did my, my, my. Bachelor. There were no bachelor and masters in Austria. I did my, my, uh, university in Austria, but this was one five year program. And so in the middle of when I started, they actually changed the thing to master and bachelor, but because I already took master classes, um, in my bachelor’s, I then actually.

Uh, pursued the whole thing and did a bachelor in the master and the master. I did partly in London, in the vestments there university, and this was really one of my best times. It was the first time that I went away from home. And, uh, somehow I got a little bit hooked. I really left being away and learning about new cultures.

Um, having a complete different perspective on life, uh, through those travels through those months abroad. And so when I finished my masters, I knew that I’m not gonna stay. So I started actually as a lecturer, the university, and I teach the system security and complexity theory. Hmm. The algorithms. So something like that, introduction to algorithms.

Um, so, but I knew that I wanted something else. So I looked around and I found a PhD program. And I applied and it was actually in the Netherlands. And I also have to say that when I graduated, this was 2008, it was a regression. Right. So, uh, it wasn’t the best job market. And, uh, maybe, um, I don’t know if I would have done a PhD, if there would be a better job market I wanted to go into.

What I always wanted to do is industrial research. Right? So I wanted to be in industry and do the research side, but that bind, I think it was just not possible. There was no money and especially companies didn’t hire a lot of people into research, which somehow is not the most necessary thing. I think that if times are, you know, difficult, um, a lot of resources go away from, from research.

Anyway. So I went actually to the Netherlands and I did my PhD program there. Um, I was mainly looking at how people software system, so software comprehension, can we build models around. Large software systems, so that it’s easier to really know what’s happening here to get an overview. And I was also diving into testing.

So especially test systems when we are testing something, how do we know, how do we know what we should test? Which integrations for example, should we test? And I’m experimenting with things that help people really to understand their. Test suites, but another aspect of dad was God, more than more into qualitative studies.

So what I really enjoyed was doing this quantitative things. So like you’re looking at data you’re analyzing. Software repositories data that you’re getting from, uh, from what they, what the engineers produce. Right. So you’re looking at commits, you’re looking at the source code. You’re looking at, um, maybe interactions that engineers are having.

Right. But there’s in a, in a very quantitative way. Um, so you’re doing a lot of data mining there and, um, maybe. I have some algorithms around to extract entrance, interesting patterns, but then compliment that with a qualitative research. So instead of saying, well, we extracted, you know, let’s say to get history and then we saw, and we have some way to detect, let’s say some smells anti-patterns in the software.

And then we look over time, you know, did they increase or decrease? And we correlate that, for example, with different aspects of the, of the software system, like how much ownership. Does a person have, like, I did things like that. Right. And you can do that just with code. You can do that just with the artifacts that are there.

Yeah. But this is very, very little limited. I mean, the, the things that you’re seeing have to reflect on that and really ask the people behind. So, um, so I got more and more hooked into combining quantitative work with qualitative work, which means that you’re observing people that you’re talking to engineers.

Um, that are, are doing some surveys, for example, survey research. And I really found it extremely, really powerful if you have both worlds together. So this was mainly what I did at my PhD. So I’m looking for example, how are people testing, blogging software, right? Plugging systems. I worked a lot with the eclipse community and, uh, based on that, I.

Still had this dream of becoming, you know, a researcher in industry. And somehow, uh, at the conference, I came in contact with people from Microsoft research and I always admired them. And this was definitely where I wanted to be. This is, yeah, this was my dream. And. Yeah. Luckily I got the opportunity to do an interview and so they liked my work and they invited me and thought it’s very similar to what they want to do.

And, uh, yeah. And then I had a full blown interview. It was probably my most. Advanced interviewed that I ever had. It was, um, first it was like, I had to, well, first there were like this discussions during the conferences. Right. And then I had like a screening interview and then we just talk about, you know, what I like and, you know, just, you know, get to meet each other.

And then I had like a, um, at home assignment, like homework, more or less, I had to think of some kind of calculated at the head to program and then send them over. And they looked at the code and then based on that they would schedule the next interview. And so then I had an interview with two people via, um, phone or video conference, and this was really, really stressful because on that day, My, uh, my internet connection was so poor and I could barely hear what they were talking and yeah, I was in a student housing, so, um, the walls are really thin.

And so if other people talk in my, my flag, right. Um, it was super loud and they were talking and they were, they were not, I mean, the new that I am going to have an interview, but they were not paying any attention probably for God. And then their internet connection was so bad. And I barely heard when people were saying, and I was too afraid to say, um, it’s not working right.

Or can we reschedule? Like I dare to ask. Probably to repeat a couple of things. But even that, I mean, if you ask seven times or could you please repeat, or I couldn’t hear you, um, it gets really bad. Right? And so. I actually thought I blew that this interview. I was very sad on that day and it took quite a while for them to get back to me, to tell me, you know, if I pass or if I didn’t pass.

But you know, when they did, um, they came back and said, yeah, the interviews went well. And, um, and then they, they said, well, I should come for an onsite interview. And at that time I was living in the Netherlands. So, and this meant that I have to fly to Seattle. And so I was super, super excited. Yeah. I was super excited.

And the, yeah, I think within two weeks, um, they, they flew me over before that. I really practiced some algorithms and, um, you know, Everything again, just to refresh my mind. I’m also a person that’s very, very nervous during interviews. And so sometimes I’m a little bit better because of that. Sometimes I’m worse because of that, because of my anxiety a little bit, but yeah, so they flew me over.

It was very interesting experience, uh, to be, to be in Seattle. I’ve never been there before. And then I had a whole day of interviews, like it started. I can’t completely recall, but I think around nine in the advent on until really late in the evening. And the only thing that I knew is that that’s a good sign.

So what I heard about the interviews is the longer you last write the better. So if let’s say you have two interviews and it’s, they’re stopping after that, that’s not a good sign. I don’t know. Maybe if you’re having really a lot of interviews, that’s also not a good time. I don’t know. But. Well, what I can say is that I actually performed very well during these interviews from my perspective.

So I had, it was very, very classical interview, like white boarding exercises, all over traversing trees doing some design work, as well as some architecture work. And, um, I was also talking about, um, my research was probably the easiest and most fun part of the whole interview. Uh, one thing that I didn’t like was that the interview, I mean, it was, people were going with lunch with me.

Right. But it’s still an interview, right. It was still somehow in interview. And this was really uncomfortable for me. I would read, I have had my break by myself, like recharging a little bit because I was with, you know, People that I don’t know the whole day. And so even after, or during lunch, while I’m chewing, you know, my sandwich for while I still have to talk and like, this was, um, this was probably the part that I didn’t didn’t enjoy so much, but I know that it was, it was a nice kind of intention, right.

That I don’t have to go by myself or having lunch. Um, but also discussion was about work. So. I would still say this was interview you drink lunch with yeah, it was stressful. Just put it that way. Anyway, in general, there was a very positive interview experience. I had worse. Interview experiences. I’m like, I didn’t feel like judged or I didn’t feel like people have an immediate bias when they see me, because sometimes, uh, in previous interviews I had that, like they were saying, I was interviewing for software engineer and he was saying, Oh, you’re here for the PM position.

I’m like, no, I’m here for the software engineering position. Oh. So, but I think you want to do the PM. Product manager position? No, no. I want to be a software engineer here and things like that. Right. Or one company. Um, I was, again, interviewing to be at software engineering day. They always try to put me into the tester area, which is fine if you want to be a tester, but I didn’t.

And so, um, so I expected something like this to be hard to happen, but no, it was really, they, I felt like they take this. Interview also very serious. And they, they didn’t, you know, I didn’t have to earn kind of level of trust. Uh, but there was some kind of trust, like you pass already things and we know your credentials.

And so, um, now we just make sure that, uh, you, you really can do what we want you to do if something like that. Right. So it was very challenging, but I didn’t feel like. Um, there was a negative bias against me. Well, I’m rambling. I don’t know. Is that going well, is this first episode me telling you is things are going well, I don’t know.

Anyway, so this is how I started actually then, uh, at Microsoft. So they didn’t tell me immediately. I think I actually can’t completely recall, but I knew that because I, it was not only the head of this department, but also the head of the division that interviewed me on that day. And I heard that. He wants to interview you then more or less, you know?

You pass if he’s happy. So I was very confident then actually I really got an offer into, I got sort of my dream job then I, yeah, I’d rammed off for, for many years. And it was like this, it was really like this. So I first moved to Atlanta. Um, I joined Microsoft research in the UK and then a little bit later I joined actually Microsoft corporation.

Um, in, in Seattle, in Redmond and I was part of a really amazing team. Um, at that point it was called tools for software engineers. Now it’s called one. Yes. And they were looking at improving, you know, the stuff, engineering practices of the 40,000 engineers that there are at Microsoft. And so, I mean, this was, this was the best.

You have all, you have this responsibility to really make an impact, but also you have like all these data available. So we were building a platform to extract engineering data and yeah. So. I was really happy at that point. It was very overwhelming beginning to learn everything and to know how engineers at Microsoft tick and then, you know, you have a lot of divisions.

So culturally, um, engineering teams are also very different at Microsoft. It’s not like one. One thing. Uh, and so I had to learn a lot and also get used to, you know, the new country, the new continent, even right. To get settled. And so, and it was really, really bad. Beautiful. And I really enjoyed it, but life didn’t really.

You know, from a professional perspective, things went really, really well. And I also enjoyed Seattle. I really loved the West coast, but from a personal side, things didn’t call so well, my husband didn’t get a visa. And so we had to stay separated. He was actually living in at the beginning in Europe. That was really hard.

And then he moved to Vancouver and so he was working for a software company there. And so we traveled back and forth. It was four hours. Uh, if everything goes mousse and we did it for quite some time, but at one point, you know, after several years I was. Well, we missed our time together. And so even though I love this, this job, I took a really big risk.

I have to move, I have to move to a place where my husband can also work and where we can stay together. Yeah. And, um, luckily my team was actually agreeing that I could the work remote than, so this is how I actually started working remote. And I have to say I’m a big remote fan. It was. It was really cool to work remote and it was really awesome fitting to my personality probably.

Right. So I’m very organized and I can, I can motivate myself very well. And, um, so yeah, so I actually moved back to Europe, uh, with my husband and we moved in together, which was beautiful. And that was very, very grateful that yeah, I could continue with my team and, um, with my job. To be fair Europe and America it’s quite different, right?

From a, from a time perspective. And because my team wasn’t remote first was not even remote. Right. Uh, it was, it was a little bit challenging too to work. I mainly worked their hours, right. So I came in very late. And I tried that I have a lot of over a lave in their working hours with the Seattle Pacific time.

So, and that’s not, not the easiest if you are in central European time zone, but without family, it was definitely manageable. But at one point they wanted to have more flexibility also, um, regarding my family life. So, because I actually became a mother in this time, actually, when, when max was really little, it was still very cool because like good take care of him during the day and then work in the night.

Uh, but it was very, very exhausting. And so I actually knew that something has to change. And so slowly I transitioned to my own business to start my own business, to start my own thing. So I knew that I wanted to do something very similar working with teams, helping them improve their software engineering practices.

And so, yeah. It took me a little bit to figure out how I could actually bring this idea of this desire to live. Right. How can I leverage all the things that I did? The knowledge that I gained theoretically and practically working with engineering teams and how can I do that in an, in a very independent way?

So this was something that was in front of my mind for a couple of months, until a year almost. And so I slowly transitioned and started to work with customers, with the companies outside of Microsoft. And, um, the, the good thing is if you’re working in Europe, in Germany, it’s okay. If you have like, it’s, I think it’s moonlighting in English.

So you can and do that. Like, if you’re, if you’re transparent about it and you’re telling your manager, then you can do something outside of your regular work hours. And so this is what I. What I actually started, especially when I was on parental leave. There was more time to actually do something like that and transitioning away.

And so, yeah. And so this is actually how, how I started my training business. So I’m training and consulting business in the code review space. And I’m yes, I’m giving workshops or working with teams and to help them be productive, very efficient and effective with code reviews. And this is exactly, you know, it’s playing so much to my strengths and to the vision that I had that I want to do continue working with engineering teams.

Right. But now it’s not one company it’s really all over the world and it’s not like a large corporation. But I’m working. I work with different other large corporations, but I also work with really small companies or with smaller companies actually with companies of all sizes. And so for my curiosity of how things work, it’s very beneficial.

And maybe, yeah, what I haven’t talked with you about so much is, uh, white coat reviews, right? I actually probably am not going to talk about a lot about quarters in this episode. Time flies. I talked a lot about my journey. I will do saying no, no, our episode anyway. Um, why caught reviews? Well, yeah. Um, at Microsoft, we were lucky a tough engineering practices.

So we were not only looking at coteries, but also contributors. We were looking at how people are testing their system, how they are building. And we were also owning the code review tool, the internal code rate or code flow. And so we were also looking at. Um, how are our engineers actually doing code reviews?

Is that beneficial for them? Right. So what we saw is that the teams were spending a lot of time on code reviews, spending over six hours in this one back then now they’re even spending more. Right. But even back then, They were spending over six hours doing code review. So obviously we wanted to know, is that beneficial for them?

And so we were working with different teams and we could see that some teams are, you know, using coteries better than others. So we wanted to discuss the best practices that we can down, help other teams to adopt. Yeah. I’ve found this so fascinating when I was working at Microsoft because it’s really a socio-technical.

Practice. Right. So there’s a lot of social skills that people have to bring to the table, but there’s also a lot of technical skills that the makeup, the good code reviewer. And then there’s also this process perspective, like as an organization, as in team, how are you actually doing code reviews? And there’s, there’s so many unknowns, right?

A lot of people thinking about the testing strategy, a lot of people are engineers are thinking about, you know, how do you write code? They’re doing a lot of trainings in that area, but, but code reviews, I think is something that has picked up a lot of steam. Like a lot of companies adopted that practice, but there isn’t a lot of.

Information out there, there isn’t a lot of training out there that teaches people how to actually do reviews effectively. And there are things that you should know. Um, and so this is where I saw actually a little bit like a hole in the market, like a space that I could fill in. And that I had a lot of knowledge.

I had a lot of, um, passion also for this topic. And so this is actually how I came about during my code rule workshops and yeah. Writing my code rule book that, you know, I’m writing right now and what’s on my bucket list as well as I want to also develop a tool in that space. And, uh, I hope that end of this year, beginning of next year, I will really start with that idea.

And bring that to life and experimented with that. So this brings me to the end of this episode. Let me know if you enjoyed it next episode, if it’s, it’s just me talking again will not be about my journey, but I thought maybe, you know, Well code reviews could be one thing. Like I’m telling you my, my perspective on how you can do code reviews more effectively.

We can also talk about testing for example, or other engineering topics. So everything that actually interests me a lot, and I have a lot of passion for, and that I hope will bring you also some joy in some interesting perspectives. So have a good day and talk to you in two weeks. Bye bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the stuff engineering unlocked podcast.

Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talk to you again in two. Bye.

About the Author
Michaela is passionate about making the life of developers and engineers better. She hosts the SE Unlocked podcasts and also researches and helps to make software engineering processes and tools better. She writes about her work on https://www.michaelagreiler.com.

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