Interview with Claudia Beresford, Senior Software Engineer at Weaveworks
A self-described antisocial hiker and tattoo enthusiast, ‘who occasionally moonlights as a Software Engineer / tech leader’, Claudia is a rare breed amongst other leaders in engineering.
Despite living just a few miles apart, Claudia and I are yet to meet ‘in real life’ — thanks COVID! I was lucky enough to partner with Claudia as part of a leadership + management programme I facilitated and it was pretty clear from the offset she has a natural ability to influence + motivate others.
Claudia, tell us a bit more about what you do
I’m a Senior Software Engineer at Weaveworks. My job is a little abstract to explain, but it basically involves building programs for platform engineers, which lets them build the cloud, which lets web/application developers run their code.
What inspired you to get into software engineering?
Honestly, I can’t remember what inspired me to get into this! I had just graduated university with a degree in Ancient History and realised that I wasn’t massively excited by all the options that gave me. I wanted to do something fun and challenging, and learning to code just popped into my head. Fortunately I was in a position to go back into education and get on to that new career track pretty quickly.
You mentioned you went back into education. Tell us a bit more about how you became an engineer.
The good news about starting or switching to a career in software is that you don’t need a formal qualifications: you just need to show up and prove you’ve got the skills and/or potential.
The further away from the “webapp layer” you go, the more it may help to have a computer science background, but being self-taught or taking a route outside of university is common and doable. Like all skills, it takes time and effort.
I was lucky enough that I was able to jumpstart my learning by going to a coding bootcamp in London, which helped me get some of the basics down. It taught web development, but I ended up landing my first job in a cloud computing consultancy… somehow.
My interview was terrible: 2 hours with the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and another hugely experienced engineer, watching me code something. At one point I was getting obviously flustered, and the CTO asked if it would help if they went to get a cup of tea, leaving me alone for 10 mins to regroup. The rest went easier after that, and I (surprisingly) got the job. I ended up working with that (very lovely) CTO for about 5 years in 2 companies, and he often told the story of how this one junior engineer candidate “threw him out” of her interview. I ended up never going into web development but stayed in cloud computing, which is where all the cool stuff happens anyway!
What a story! What would you say has been your greatest achievement so far?
While I was at a company called Pivotal I ran a couple of experiments to see whether we could host a handful of kids for work experience each year. I focused on URM comp-sci students and had them work with me and several other people in different departments across the company for a week, as well as hang out with the team and play ping-pong of course. I hoped they would get a vibe for what various roles in a software company were like.
In the end the program didn’t work out, and I moved elsewhere, but it is something I want to attempt again one day. I still think it is an achievement because I had fun and I think the kids did too.
Our goal from these interviews is to encourage more women to consider careers in STEM-related fields. What advice would you give to employers to encourage more gender diversity?
Diversity is the first part of the equation. You can get as diverse a range of new people in the door as you like, but if your values only cater to one demographic, those people will head straight back out. Equity and Inclusion is what makes people stay; ensuring that they are heard and valued will help keep and get the most out of a diverse team.
We totally agree! Has there been anyone who you’d consider a role model throughout your career?
Therese Stowell, product manager extraordinaire. I have been lucky enough to work with her in two companies and not a day goes by without me thinking ‘what would Therese do in this situation?’. She is just so good at getting stuff done, that whenever she in in charge you just know things are under control. I learn so much just by watching her.
If you were to go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
Choose a job based on who your manager is going to be, and how strong the company’s values are: does the CEO walk the walk?
If you make the decision based solely on how “cool” the tech is, you may get lucky and end up with lovely people, but you also may end up with a bunch of assholes! Honestly, most companies lean towards the latter. If you have a choice, choose a place where people will have your back and make you feel comfortable enough to do great work.
Finally — when you’re not coding, how do you like to spend your time?
I read a lot of fantasy fiction, play with my cat, hang out at the beach with my wife, and go on long, solitary multi-day camping trips.
For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re celebrating those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. You can read our other interviews here.