DeveloperWeek Profiles: Ana Sofia Araújo Vila Verde #DEVWEEK17
DeveloperWeek 2017 is the world’s largest developer expo and conference series with over 50 week-long events and dozens of city-wide partner events. The theme this year is, ‘The Industrial Revolution of Code’. Companies across all genres of business are re-positioning themselves as software-centric. Service and manufacturing industries are employing software specialists to build up their digital portfolios, and this pattern of business development is occurring all over the world with the integration of the cloud with consumer goods, transportation and hardware. One thing is for sure – code is revolutionizing the way we conduct business and ourselves.
To celebrate DeveloperWeek 2017, we’ve interviewed developers working at Digital Science portfolio companies. They are key members of our businesses and their story can help those who are considering following in their footsteps.
Up first, we interviewed John Lees-Miller, cofounder of Overleaf – you can read his interview here. Then we spoke to Paul Mucur, CTO at our portfolio company Altmetric. Next up it is Ana Sofia Araújo Vila Verde from our portfolio company Symplectic.
Tell me a little about you career path to date?
I grew up in the midst of boys (my brother, my two almost-brothers-cousins and a few neighbors). This constant contact with boys helped shape my brain to function a bit like a guy’s (e.g., it is not unusual that I use cardinal directions when giving directions). Therefore, it wasn’t a big surprise when I followed a path that is usually associated with dudes, that is, Physics, Maths and Chemistry were my main subjects during my pre-university studies. As the end of high school was approaching, I was faced with the question of what to do next. Friends, family and career counselors wisely intervened and helped me reach a conclusion. For someone who hadn’t really made a decision on what to do “ as a grown up”, but loved the three referred sciences, enrolling on a Physics degree would guarantee further study of these three subjects and would, in theory, still keep my career options open. For the fifth year of my university degree, I was very lucky to come to UCL, as an ERASMUS student, and complete my final year project in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. After this international experience, coming back to the Portuguese reality didn’t feel natural, so a few months after graduating I went to CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, as a technical student.
During those two years at CERN, I was fortunate to see, almost on a daily basis, the growth of one of the biggest experiments ever made, the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), and to be part of its development. The work as a technical student involved everything, from the boring job of labeling cables and changing screws 100m underground in the middle of (very) noisy crates, to the cool programming work of writing an interface where data could be visualized once the experiment was acquiring data.
Following these two years of a more hands-on work, I missed being involved in the mathematical and physical thinking. The obvious path seemed to be to come back to the academic world, so I contacted my old supervisors from my ERASMUS years about possible post-graduate studies with them. Luckily they had some interesting projects in mind, and, with the financial help of the Portuguese government, I enrolled in 2008 as a PhD student on the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCL, to work on a project entitled “Computational study of defects and heat transfer in gold nanostructures”. After five years of the ups and downs inherent to a PhD, I finally became a doctor (yay!), but I was also again unsure of what to do after.
The career in academia was very insecure in terms of getting a long term position. Also, the PhD made me realise that there were other aspects that I liked equally, alongside the research, namely programming and data crunching. So, during the period I was writing my thesis, I was also attending job fairs in IT, technology, R&D, and other areas. In one of those fairs I met my current line manager, John Fearns, and I learned a bit about his company, Symplectic, their vacancies for junior software developers and the fact that many of their employees were from a similar situation as mine: with a degree in Physics, but ending up in IT.
Therefore, after a well-deserved rest post-PhD, I started applying for several types of jobs, all involving severe levels of programming. As you can guess, one of them was with Symplectic. They invited me for an interview and apparently they liked me. They also didn’t seem like a bad bunch, et voila! I am currently (very happily) working with this amazing team at Symplectic and don’t have any doubt that I am doing what I love.
As a professional developer, you most likely spend many hours in front of a computer, do you have an other endeavours or hobbies that help balance your work week?
Outside of work, I get involved in almost any outdoor or sports activities. I’m an avid (borderline fanatic) indoor and beach volleyball player; living in the UK, this usually means playing in heavy rain and freezing temperatures. I’m also a supporter of the “no-tube, no-bus” and “there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothes” ideologies, demonstrated by my commitment to traveling around London by bike.
What advice would you give young people looking to break into the competitive world of software development?
My advice would be to find a company that has a similar mind-set and goals. For instance, at Symplectic there are a few developers that have very similar career paths to mine (undergrad and PhD in physics), which makes it very easy to work and learn more about how to be a programmer.
A lot of people find the technical aspects intimidating, how did you overcome the difficulties of learning a new language?
I get bored easily, so learning a new language was actually a challenge that I looked forward to… a nice break to my usual routine. Also, the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn the next one (either that be programming languages or the other ones!)
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