Meet our women in engineering (Part 2)

Posted by on May 23, 2023

The second of an occasional series, where we ask some of our women in engineering to share their experiences of working at FreeAgent:

What was your career journey like before coming to FreeAgent?

My academic background is in the Humanities, but I spent years working in web publishing. This work wasn’t particularly techy, as I was using a CMS to publish content to sites. I was curious about the stuff that went on in the layers beneath my work, so any time our tools failed us I’d learn just a bit more about what made it all tick. I finally decided to take the plunge and go all in, so I enrolled in a conversion MSc in Software Development and joined FreeAgent as a Junior Software Engineer shortly after graduating. – Katie Nelson (Software Engineer, Front end Architecture)

I’ve worked in a variety of technical roles throughout my working life, from pure hardware to pure software! My career has been very haphazard. My first tech job was as a PC maintenance teacher for a City and Guilds course in London. After that, I worked for quite a few years in end user support, and on-premise networks. A move to Scotland for my husband’s job coincided with the start of a family and so I decided to take a break from tech and focus on looking after the kids for a while. After what turned out to be 8 years and looking for more flexibility than a job in support would give, I taught myself how to build websites and worked as freelancer for 8 or 9 years. Finally, in 2019, ready for a bigger challenge, I joined the CodeClan software development course and became a full stack developer. FreeAgent is my second software engineering job. – Carme Mias (Software Engineer, Marketing Platform)

I studied chemical engineering and organic chemistry and then went on to have a successful career as a scientist for 11 years developing and commercialising diagnostic products. I got to the point where I was managing a lab and a lab team and decided I needed a new challenge. I went on to retrain as a data scientist and started my new career as a data scientist at FreeAgent in 2020 – Delphine Rabiller (Data Scientist)

What key challenge is your team working on?

Our team’s main mission is to help the rest of engineering transition our app away from outdated jQuery and onto the modern Rails front-end frameworks Stimulus and Turbo. In a nutshell, this will make the code easier to read, write, and maintain for everyone. We are tackling the legacy JavaScript code and making time for education and department outreach to help get everyone up to speed on new ways of doing things. It’s nice as a junior to have the opportunity to work on so many different areas of the product and get a wide base of experience on which to build my new career. – Katie

For the Marketing platform team, the main focus is the website and all its integrations with a myriad other systems, both internal and external to FreeAgent. Apart from our day-to-day tasks and responsibilities towards our stakeholders, our job involves constantly seeking to improve both from the end user’s point of view, in terms of website accessibility and performance, and from the engineering perspective, looking at ever more efficient and secure build and deployment systems and pipelines – Carme

The data science team’s main work is to help our customers nail their daily admin by using automations. We have a machine learning model, Banquo, that classifies our customer’s bank transactions. We work on continuously improving our automation performances. – Delphine

What is your greatest accomplishment as an engineer?

It honestly just feels surreal to have made it this far. Working as a Software Engineer is both way easier and way more challenging than I ever anticipated. Easier in that I used to think that software was basically magic, and thus impossible to just sit down and learn. It’s not. It’s absolutely learnable. The difficulty for me really springs out of moving away from spending my time doing work that I know like the back of my hand to having every problem I encounter feel brand new. But I get up and put myself in that space every day, and everyone here has been incredibly supportive and patient. It gets easier and more familiar every day and I’ve got zero regrets! – Katie

My greatest accomplishment has been managing to get back onto the tech treadmill after a 8-year stint as a full time mum! – Carme

I would say my greatest accomplishment is to finally call myself a data scientist. I went from not knowing how to write code to be part of a team that develops, deploys and maintains machine learning automation. – Delphine

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t get so caught up in all of that left-brain vs. right-brain, creative vs. logical personalities stuff. We’re all capable of all kinds of things and if you want to do something, just do it. This work is very creative, social, and communication-heavy. Sure, there is a lot of analysis and logic involved as well, but those skills can be improved over time with effort and patience (and you’re probably already better at those things than you think you are). Just get on with it. – Katie

Nobody’s born with all the knowledge. Stay curious, and take every chance to challenge yourself. Both at work and in life, treasure the golden nuggets learned from failures and mistakes – Carme

I would tell my younger self to stop doubting herself. You can do whatever you set yourself to achieve, regardless of what other people can tell you! And don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. – Delphine

Meet our women in engineering

Posted by on May 5, 2023

In the first of an occasional series, we asked some of our women in engineering to share their experiences of working at FreeAgent:

What was your career journey like before coming to FreeAgent?

I’m a career switcher, from children’s book publishing to software development. My first tech job in 2015 was a junior-friendly place where I learned TSQL on the job. Then, my second dev job was back in publishing, where I could use my existing business knowledge while I learned to work on a Rails monolith. And then I came to FreeAgent to learn yet another platform: Ruby and Javascript with static site generator Netlify. – Sara O’Connor (Senior Software Engineer, Marketing Platform)

From working at a start-up with less than 10 employees, to agencies, the BBC, banking and energy, I’ve worked through very varied environments. Front-end has always been my focus but my journey to management has been a slower one. Learning what management can be like when it’s done really well has inspired me to be the manager that my junior engineering self would have wanted. – Lea Bialachowski (Engineering Manager, Design System)

I went back to Uni after getting a bachelors in Medical Science to study for an MSc in Computer Science.  Once I’d graduated I followed a fairly traditional career path, starting on a graduate training scheme and then moving around a number of different companies. I progressed ‘up the ladder’ into team leading and ended up as a development manager in charge of a number of development teams.  Having children made me realise that I really didn’t enjoy being in management and I wanted to find a job that was compatible with the family life I wanted, so I applied to FreeAgent for a developer role after seeing their remote friendly job ads and reading their glowing Glassdoor reviews.  I now work remotely and on part-time school hours, so I have the perfect work/life balance!  – Angela Todd (Principal Software Engineer, Practices)

Before getting into software engineering, I worked on my own startup (a failed one but a great experience), worked as a business consultant, and was briefly in the legal industry. I didn’t know what I wanted for my career so I went for the good old trial and error approach and picked up nuggets of wisdom from people I met. Each of the experiences seem unrelated but I got so much out of them (and the people I met). After years, the pattern emerged and here I am now – loving every aspect of working as a software engineer. – Julia Chan (Software Engineer, Tax engineering)

What key challenge is your team working on?

Our team has the challenge of balance, ensuring we are supporting product teams, leading by example in accessibility & quality of code, communicating clearly with the other teams and carefully planning where we want to be in the future – Lea 

I work in a team that focuses on providing features and functionality for accountants and bookkeepers. Sometimes this involves developing features in the practice dashboard area of the site, which is where bookkeepers and accountancy practices can manage and monitor their clients accounts, but more often we develop accountancy focused features in the client facing area of the site, to enable account managers and their clients to correctly manage aspects of accounting that are more complicated than the normal daily admin. – Angela

What is your greatest accomplishment as an engineer?

I’m most proud of using my two careers together to set up a website where children’s book authors and illustrators can connect to schools in the UK by writing the children postcards with book recommendations and writing and illustrating tips. – Sara

I am proud of taking the leap and ‘going back’ to development after realising I’d blindly followed a path into management.  I hadn’t coded in anger for several years before moving to FreeAgent and was completely new to Ruby, so it was a daunting move, but FreeAgent supported me with mentoring when I started and got me up to speed really quickly. I’ve been here for over 5 years now and I’m still loving it.  My biggest development achievement is probably the most recent project I led, which adds support for using the cash basis of accounting when recording income and expenses. I found it challenging both technically and from a domain knowledge perspective. It was incredibly rewarding after we went live with it to watch the growing number of customers choosing to use the new accounting method. – Angela

Picking up Ruby on Rails on the job, thanks to FreeAgent’s supportive environment. I worried before joining as I had not coded in Ruby before, and I remember asking about if FreeAgent would expect me to know Ruby before I started. The answer I received was that FreeAgent is happy for me to learn on the job. And they mean it. There is still much to learn in the Rails and web dev world, but I’m proud that I have picked up the language and started doing it, even though I needed lots of help along the way. Each step counts! – Julia 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

The advice I would give to my younger self is keep trying and don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing great. – Sara

There is a strength to all those soft-skills that you should explore, not every technical person is built the same and we bring different strengths to a team. – Lea

Sometimes it’s good to step out of your bubble and think boldly what are the bigger changes you want to make in your life. I think when I was younger I was so fixated on the smaller problems within the pre-defined (or self-defined) limitations, and I wish I would step back and think about the bigger picture and wider possibilities earlier on.  – Julia