• Natalie Wild

Women of Tech Meets: Molly - Lead Site Reliability Engineer

Molly's other passion is horses, and she is a living example that you can get that work - life balance on lock down.

Today I caught up with Molly.

Molly is currently the Lead Site Reliability Engineer at Kenna Security. She describes her job as “improving the code so that it works well with all the other backend and third party systems like Redis, MySQL, and Elasticsearch - we make sure that the code is optimised as we scale up those services so that as we scale up those services don’t drop in performance.

Molly described herself as having an analytical brain that was able to problem solve in high

functioning environments. She has been working at Kenna for nearly 4 years now (at the time of writing). Molly told me she is really enjoying her work, evident by the smiles and enthusiasm when talking about it. “Every optimization we make isn’t for a single client, it’s something all our clients are using simultaneously, so when we change something to make it better, it’s super rewarding and has a large impact.

How was it that you got into Site Reliability, Molly?

When I initially joined Kenna, I was a general Software Engineer working on features. At the time, our team was very small. Back then, Kenna was a 30 person company, and there were only about 7 of us on the tech team at the time. As we grew as a company (we’re now at over 120 employees), the tech team also grew; it now has over 30 people.

We’d reached the point as a tech team that we had to start breaking the development team down into smaller teams. We’d hired someone who was a Site Reliability Engineer in their previous job and I had been working a lot with Elasticsearch, which was kind of my foot in the door. Early on, we had a Senior Developer leave, and he was the Elasticsearch guy. I thought, here’s my opportunity, I’m going to try and own Elasticsearch. I learned everything that I could and, in the end, took ownership of Elasticsearch.

When the Development Team started to split, as I’d already been working with optimizing Elasticsearch, it was a natural fit to move into Site Reliability Engineering. They made a Site Reliability Team and I was offered a spot on it.

It was really awesome to have my efforts recognized. Something that I tell to juniors who ask me how to get to the senior level is, find something that you can really own and then master it. The definition of Senior Engineer where I work is, amongst other things, someone who has good communication skills, but also someone who has mastered some part of the tech stack. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the frontend or backend, but master and own something so that people go to you for guidance and look up to you for whatever you own.

Had you always known you wanted to work in tech or was there something in particular that had sparked your interest?

I was always technically focused, I loved Math and Science in school. I’m quite a logical person and so I gravitated towards those subjects. When I went to college, I thought I wanted to do something in Biology, then realised that’s not what I wanted, so went for a Software Engineering Degree.

In the first two weeks, I was immersing myself in my coding and there was this guy who lived next to me. He was in the aerospace intro class and nearly every day he’d be telling me about how they were building a parachute, or they were building a rocket and it sounded so interesting! So I switched and ended up with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, no regrets - I loved it.

Luckily, with most engineering degrees, you still get that basic understanding for problem solving and a little bit of coding. After college, I went to work in trading, making bets on the stock market, and whilst I was doing that I saw all these cool tech start-ups, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. really changing the landscape of the internet.

I decided to quit my job, and took 3 months to teach myself web development. It was a little isolating after a while, so eventually I went and found an internship. I joined a really small tech startup doing grocery coupons called ‘Aisle 50’ - and that really laid the foundation for my development career. The rest is history after that. I was hooked!

What is it that you enjoy the most?

The problems. You’re challenged every day with new problems to solve. Plus, I get to build stuff. You have the tools available to build anything you want, and you can solve a lot of problems. It’s awesome to have that power. I think as an Engineer you just want to build things.

What do you think are your proudest moments so far?

Owning Elasticsearch, then becoming Senior, and now leading a team. I’m proud of them all. I also recently, in the last 6 months, have started speaking at technical conferences and I am thoroughly enjoying it! I recently spoke at RubyConf and loved it! I will be speaking at two more conferences soon.

I’ve found speaking at conferences has really boosted my confidence in myself and my abilities. My presentations have been really well received and I’ve had some really great feedback.

I also started mentoring about 6 months ago. I’d done some teaching before, but never mentored. A colleague of mine emailed me asking if I’d like to mentor a female engineer coming into the field. It freaked me out initially because I didn’t think that I had the know how to be able to mentor. But I did it. I gave advice and it was impactful, it made a big difference. In doing that it made me realise that I do have knowledge and insight that can help people. Networking, sharing knowledge, and supporting people is what I like to do now.

Would you say that you’ve experienced any workplace challenges in relation to being a women working in tech?

I think I’ve been really lucky, because I’ve not faced any external challenges. I seem to have stumbled into really supportive environments, but I have spoken to people who have not been so lucky.

Is there anything in particular that you think is a deters women from joining the tech workforce?

Not having that supportive environment can really be a killer. Unfortunately, one bad egg can spoil the bunch.

Say you’re on a team of 5, and 4 people are really supportive and great to work with, but maybe one isn’t as polite or respectful. That one person can rip away at you. It can only take one person to make you want to leave somewhere. Everyone needs to be allies to each other and build each other up.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in their career?

“I would tell them that the people are the most important part when it comes to your job. When you’re looking for your first developer job it can be easy to just take the first job offered because you really want a job. I think sometimes companies can take advantage of that.

Make sure when you’re in the interview, you are interviewing the company as well. The company has got to be good for you - I got lucky. The people around you are more important than you think, so make sure you find a place that supports you and will help you to grow, that’s going to lay your foundation.

If you go somewhere that kills your confidence, that can be so hard to come back from. It can be easy to forget that interviews are also for you to find out about the company.

For you, what is it that you love the most about the tech industry?

The online communities! I only recently discovered them in the last 6 months or so as I have come out of my shell a bit more. I love #CodeNewbie - I never had things like that when I was starting out.

I think the barrier to entry is being broken down and people are feeling more able to make the switch and do something more fulfilling. As more people join tech, it makes me wonder where tech will be in 5, 10, 50 years from now! It’s exciting how quickly it is evolving!”

Do you have any dislikes about the tech industry?

I dislike the stereotype that anyone working in tech does tech 24/7. It creates an expectation that to be a good programmer you need to code all day at work, and then go home and work on even more projects to learn.

Having that work life balance is SO important. I find balance through riding horses, they’re my other passion in life. When I’m not in the office, I am with my horses; training, competing in shows, or just out for a leisurely hack. Having that time and space enables me to think better. I think there’s a bit of stigma that those who do tech outside of work are better than those who don’t. Hopefully that’s something that changes. It’s almost a standard interview question now ‘do you have any side projects’ - if someone answers no, does that impact them negatively in the interview?! It shouldn’t.

Do you have any tips for people out there who are going through that job hunting process right now?

You can look at job boards, but sometimes you just need to call or email companies directly.

Don’t be limited by what’s in front of you, reach out to companies that you’d love to work for. You should also utilize your connections. By interacting with people around you, you might end up hearing about a job you otherwise would not have. The application process can be so dehumanised, a personal connection can go a long way.

I found Molly to be a lady that I could relate to, her insights made a lot of sense to me and she has given some really good advice. Molly has gone from strength to strength in her abilities and accomplishments, gaining confidence in the process. Good luck with the remainder of your competing season Molly!