Stereotypes? Let’s hope they will not be that common – interview with Paulina Żmijewska

What front-end developers do, what it is like to be a member of the female minority studying computer science, whether there are going to be more women in IT and if books should be read twice – I’m talking to Paulina Żmijewska, Front-end Developer at Goyello, involved in the Webmerce and BarberBooking projects.

Paulina, how did it happen that you started working at Goyello?

I came here when I was still at the university. Students of Gdańsk University of Technology were obliged to do an internship. I started to look for companies having opportunities for trainees. One of them was Goyello. I decided to apply. I took a test and I did it quite well so I was invited to an interview with the HR department and Peter and I was eventually hired.

It is your first job, isn’t it? Why was it Goyello you decided to start your career at?

Goyello has always been well visible at universities. The company takes part in various job and career events. I was strongly encouraged by other employees’ opinions on their work and projects they were doing here. Also, a friend of mine worked at Goyello then and he highly recommended it. But what finally made me take the decision was that they offered internship in front-end development, which was what I wanted to do. And you could not find many job offers for front-end developers at that time.

What does a front-end developer do?

To put it simply, a front-end developer deals with the visible part of an application. He or she arranges elements that you as a user can see and decides what actions they are supposed to be responsible for. That enables users to interact with the system. In contrast, a back-end developer deals with the inner part of an application and the way it functions “from the back”. Thanks to my work users can for instance see and click buttons. What happens when they do it (e.g. searching or processing data) depends on how a back-end developer programs the app.

Why did you decide to become a developer?

It was long time ago. I was a 12-year-old primary school student, very much interested in the lives of my favourite actresses at that time – the Olsen sisters you may know from the Full House series.
I read news about them published on various websites. Finally, I decided I wanted to have my own website about the Olsen twins. The simplest way to get it was to start a blog, which I actually did. The platform I started my first blog on didn’t allow many changes in the blog layout, though, and I wanted much more…

I started to learn HTML and JavaScript on my own. After the first blog I set up a dozen or so others. I had them on platforms that made it possible to have full control over the layout. My enthusiasm kept growing and I even created my own website with blog templates that I shared for free. I remember that my mum was anxious each time she saw me spending time on the computer instead of studying my textbooks. Now I think she is glad to see how it eventually affected my life. 🙂

I liked (and still like) doing things like website development very much so when I learned I could make a living in this way, I immediately knew that working as a front-end developer would make my dream come true.

So you have always known what you want to do in your life?

It seems I have, although there were times when I thought I could take a completely different direction. I was good at German and I considered studying German at the university. I was admitted both to Gdańsk University of Technology and the University of Gdańsk. The perspective of studying at the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics (ETI) made me make the final choice.

What was your first impression there?

To tell you the truth, I had mixed feelings taking the decision to become a computer science student. That’s because I have never been a real geek. And believe me, at the ETI every second student is a geek, even girls. You know, all those discussions about computer games, board games, processors, graphics processing units…

The Witcher - a board game. Photo © Paulina Żmijewska
The Witcher – a board game. Photo by Paulina Żmijewska

Besides, I was aware of the fact that the subject I had chosen was quite a challenge. The first three years were particularly tough and I spent loads of time studying. I got really angry hearing that being a student means partying all day long. As a matter of fact, I had to sacrifice quite a lot to finish my studies. Finally, I graduated as planned, started working while I was still a student, so in the end I think it was worth that effort.

During your studies you got the Dean’s award. Tell me about the project you received it for.

It was a so called team project, a subject that lasts two semesters. Students had to make several teams and each team was to choose a topic they wanted to work on. Our team consisted of 5 people and chose a task to create an interactive calendar. It was supposed to be a web, desktop and mobile application at the same time, sending its user reminders about upcoming deadlines. My role in the project was obvious. 🙂 I was going to take care of the front and design. We took the second place and presented our solution in front of a packed auditorium.

What are your current tasks at Goyello?

At the moment I’m in a team working on a e-learning platform that makes it possible to buy online courses and participate in them. The project is quite a challenge. I’m responsible for the visual aspects of the platform.

I’m also a member of Webmerce team whose manager is Maciek Czucha. We are developing a platform for setting up and managing online shops. I’m in charge of the visible part of each site. We have clients from various industries so my work in the project is very diverse.

What’s the most interesting project you have taken part in so far?

That’s a difficult question because projects can be analysed from several perspectives: visual, technological as well as functional.

Webmerce is interesting because, as I have just said, many different clients use the platform. And so, I have worked on the development of online shops selling diving equipment, underwear, souvenirs, jewellery, fruit, liqueurs, holiday tours and even garden furniture. We have worked out a nice, complex system that can be customised depending on what a client needs. I’m happy I contributed quite a lot to it.

Another interesting project is BarberBooking we develop for DVI, our client from the Netherlands. It’s the first online platform for hairdressers and their customers. You can check your hair specialist’s availability there and book your appointment, which makes both hairdressers and their customers’ lives much easier.

Goyello is Agile. Is there anything you particularly like about that project management method?

I know many developers prefer waterfall projects. They get a specification and spend, let’s say, two years on one project with no-one meddling in their work. In my opinion Agile has lots of advantages, though. It requires you stay in touch with your client all the time. Applications developed in Agile are always up to date, which is their advantage over software built in accordance with traditional methods. If you develop something on the basis of a specification written several years ago, the product you will come up with may turn out to be already outdated and not addressing its users’ current needs.

You have the Scrum Master certificate. Who is Scrum Master?

To explain it in a nutshell I can say that the Scrum Master is a person whose role is to ensure the business values are created without any interruptions and in line with the Scrum rules. If there are any obstacles in the project the Scrum Master is responsible for removing them. I was a Scrum Master in some parts of  in Webmerce.

You have been working at Goyello for 3 years now. Quite a long time for a developer, isn’t it? How do you benefit from this work?

It can look like a long time but it depends what you expect from your job. As for me, I’m satisfied with my work here. I have fulfilled my dream of becoming a front-end developer. I like what I do and I make a living from it. I have gone all the way from a trainee, through the junior position up to the medior level where I am at the moment. When I compare myself today and 3 years ago, I can see how much I have benefited from this job and how much I developed! In addition, the atmosphere is really friendly here, which I really appreciate. It cannot be underestimated, can it?

There aren’t many female developers. At Goyello there are 4 of you and about 80 men. Why is that, in your opinion?

That’s right, there are 4 female developers at the company. You cannot forget about our female testers, though. There are more and more of them and testers are also developers. 🙂

And you are right, there are still less women in this profession than men. Why is that? Perhaps due to the common stereotype that women are good at humanities and men at maths and science?

At the university I often heard opinions that female computer science students enjoy special favours. Well, the truth is that you can always find someone willing to help. I wouldn’t say that guys were giving less help to each other than to us, girls, though. In certain situations girls have a much more difficult task. Not only do they have to study and gain knowledge as everyone else, but they also have to prove over and over again that they are good at what they do and they didn’t made a wrong decision choosing the faculty. No-one expects that from male students.

In my year there were several hundred students. Only 15 of them were girls. The good news is that most of my female colleagues got their degrees. In the next years I could see more and more girls. So perhaps the common stereotype I have mentioned will not be that common anymore? 🙂

If you were to encourage girls to study computer science, what arguments would you use?

I wouldn’t force anyone, that’s for sure. It‘s the same as in all other fields you study. You have to have certain innate abilities, be interested in the topic and simply feel it’s something for you. I would certainly suggest that you should not let yourself be discouraged by thinking that software development is a men’s thing and that there is no chance of a woman getting a degree in computer science. If you feel it is something you may be good at, you feel passionate about it and could get fulfillment doing it for living – go for it! It is absolutely worth it. The reward for your efforts while studying will be good salary and lots of job offers.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m going to keep on developing my skills and gain more and more knowledge in front-end development. I have recently got interested in issues related to the UX, as well.

And after hours…?

I spend a lot of time on the computer so I get away from it whenever I can. Last year I went sailing for the first time in my life. I like it so much that this year I decided to repeat it and in the near future I want to get my own sailing certification. Being a deckhand is not enough anymore. 😉 I also decided to try skiing and I have already bought all the necessary equipment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to go on a ski holiday yet. I’m sure I will do it in the next ski season.

Sailing. Photo © Paulina Żmijewska

Apart from that I simply like to meet people in my free time. Although, as I have already mentioned, I have never been a real geek, I started to play board games. The Witcher is my latest discovery. I also got interested in Andrzej Sapkowski’s short stories The Witcher is based on. I generally like reading. I read travel books, e.g. by Wojciech Cejrowski and chick lit, for instance Emily Giffin.

Do you ever read books twice?

I never do that. That’s interesting, because I don’t borrow books from the library. I prefer to have my own ones but I never read them twice. I’m afraid that if I do, I will lose that first unique impression you have after reading something for the first time.

Do you have any dreams you would like to come true and can share with us?

Actually, my sister is realising one of my dreams at the moment. 😉 She is travelling. At least once a year I would like to travel to a place I have never been to before. I also want to be happy. And the definition of happiness changes depending on what stage of life you are currently at.

I wish you happiness in life then. And keep on ticking off more and more places on the map!:)

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Aspire Blog Team

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