A career in Software Engineering with Stephanie Buttigieg
What a pleasure it was to sit down with Stephanie Buttigieg, Senior Consultant and Technical Team Lead at Retail Directions. Read on for inspiring insights into Steph's career journey, continued education, and memories of what sparked her passion for Software Engineering when she was just 9 years old.
What does your role at Retail Directions involve?
I’ve been working with Retail Directions for just over 9 years, since I moved from Malta to Australia. Traditionally Software Engineers are known to be rather reserved and non-talkative. Probably it’s because I talk enough to make up for everyone else! That’s my personality, and over these last couple years I have been putting it to good use in the capacity of Technical Consultant, meeting clients, finding out what they need and how we can help them to use our platform to grow their business. Since last year I have also been on-boarding Graduate Software Engineers, acting as their mentor, planning their work in line with our project roadmap, and helping to guide them in their career path.
Tell me about your career path and what led you to choose your profession?
As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut mostly because I watched Sci-Fi movies and was absolutely fascinated by screens and gadgets. Luckily, my Dad used to work for the first data centre in Malta and one day, when I was about 9 years old, he took my brother and I to work with him. I clearly remember entering the server room and, in my mind, I associated it with NASA Mission Control. I remember being sat at a workstation and given some game to play. I worked out how to look at the code and spent over an hour just reading that. One of my Dad’s colleagues then told me that’s what programmers did, so right there I decided that I wanted to be a computer programmer. The following week I wrote my first program.
When it was time for me to start high-school, I wanted to study computer science but at the time girls were not accepted for the courses. I studied maths, accounts, and economics instead, but kept my passion for computing alive by borrowing books from the library and saved up enough to buy a home computer for me to practice on. Eventually I started working for a local bank and after about six years working there, I took an aptitude test measuring my suitability for a programmer’s role. I was placed first and was offered a role as a Junior Programmer, becoming one of the first females to join the team. At the time I was doing an Information Technology degree by correspondence with a UK Institution, and started campaigning to get more women in IT.
What does a typical day in your job involve?
We mostly work remotely, so one of the very first things on my daily agenda is a catch up with the team, to talk about plans, task progress, and most of all connect as a team. Afterwards, I usually have meetings with the Client Care team to review priority issues and requests, or the account managers to discuss and plan client projects. For the rest of the day, I mostly review designs with the team, writing requirements for client work, and reviewing schedules making sure that work is planned according to priorities. Occasionally a high priority client requirement comes our way, and we quickly pull together as a team to provide a resolution.
What do you do in your spare time?
I attend a group fitness training session every morning, rain, or shine. I feel that exercising places me in the right headspace to tackle anything that comes up during the rest of the day. I am also doing a Masters in IT. This is my final year, and I am currently initiating a research project for my thesis about Software Project Management of Mission Critical Systems in the Space Domain. Any spare time that I have left after that, I usually spend it with friends and perhaps cooking a nice vegan meal.
Who have been your sources of inspiration and role models in your career?
Since a very young age I admired women in science and engineering. Marie Curie was my hero as the first female to win a Nobel Prize. I am inspired by women who in some way created a disruption in gender stereotyping like Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Ada Lovelace, Amelia Earhart. Very early in life, I learnt that when someone tells me that I cannot do something, I reply with “watch me”.
Nowadays, I am inspired by my four-year old niece, Lara, and a desire that she grows up in a society where she can be whoever and whatever she wants to be.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your job and why?
My number one satisfaction is seeing the graduates that I am mentoring grow in their career and be successful in what they are achieving. In line with that, I feel accomplished whenever I contribute to a client’s project, especially when we provide a solution initiated from what I call a ‘lightbulb’ moment of mine. I feel that happiness and satisfaction arise from giving unconditionally, without the expectation of receiving back. If we all focus on giving, we are automatically receiving something in return.
What would you say to anybody considering your profession as a career choice/study option?
Technology is the future, and nowadays Software Engineering entails so much more than writing a program that goes from ‘input to output’. Although study in the area involves mostly the development of technical skills, focus on getting your soft skills right. Practice leadership, organisation, planning, giving great presentations, negotiation. Never limit yourself to a curriculum. Being proactive in developing personal skills will give you an edge in your career. Software must be developed for users. To be able to do that successfully a software engineer must be able to wear the users’ shoes.
What do you think the future of your profession holds?
I think that going forward, Software Engineering will be more about planning and design than actual coding. There are several tools available already that have simplified coding syntax to almost resemble a plain English sentence. With advancement of AI, we have tools that can generate the code base automatically. However, a product needs to be well designed to achieve the outcome expected by a user. For this reason, I believe that soft skills will become essential for all Software Engineers since everyone will need to wear the consultant’s shoes at one point or another during a project.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Ironically, it was when someone passed a comment that I was only in IT so that the men in the office could have a decoration to look at during the day! This was my life changing moment, that made me determined to want to succeed in this career, and to be an inspiration for other women to take up a career in STEM. Later in my career, I was blessed with a team leader at Retail Directions who pulled me aside and told me that he felt lucky to have a female team member. He asked me to allow my female energy to shine as in this industry we need a balance of both masculine and feminine energies to deliver excellence.
What is the best piece of advice you would give?
To just be yourself and follow your heart. There are no pre-set moulds in life that determine or limit anyone in doing anything. If you’re interested in something, go ahead and try it out because unless you do, you will never know whether you are good at it or not, and if you really have a passion for it.
And that's a wrap! Thank you Steph, and watch out NASA!