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

About the author…

Carly joined FreeAgent in November 2021 and is Group Engineering Manager for the Accounting and Growth group.

See all posts by Carly

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