On starting The Women of DevOps: My name is Roxanne Williams, and I joined Harness in December 2020. You might have seen a couple of my articles floating around.
One of the things that drew me to Harness was the company’s obvious support of women in tech. With their women@harness group, it’s clear they’re strong believers that women belong in tech and that we do have a place here.
It only made sense for me to start The Women of DevOps in order to feature women - from Harness or otherwise - for their work in technology, and to encourage others everywhere to follow their passion. If you have that spark/interest in tech, nurture it! It’s intimidating to join a male-dominated field, but you belong here too.
My first interviewee is no other than Tiffany Jachja, one of our very own. I selected her because she’s such a good role model/example of a woman really finding her place and claiming it. She’s incredibly smart, talented, strong, and just about every other good word I can think of. So, let’s get to know Tiff!
‘Til next time,
Can’t listen to the audio? Read on below for a transcript of our conversation.
Rox: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tiff: Yes. Hi, everyone! My name is Tiffany Jachja. I'm currently a Technical Evangelist here at Harness, and I'm super excited to be sitting here with Rox. Today, we're going to be talking about the Women of DevOps and answering some questions. So, a little bit more about myself: I really like creating content, and sharing content and expertise around how to deliver better. We've covered topics, from CI/CD to progressive delivery, value stream mapping, and just a whole range of topics that are related to continuously delivering value. And so that's one of the things that I found myself really, I guess, just gravitating towards over the past couple of years. That's what I do as a day to day job now, which is always really exciting.
Rox: Very nice. And could you tell us how long you've been in tech and what your career progression has been like so far?
Tiff: Oh, that's a good question. I've been in tech for a couple of years now. The first time I had a career in tech was in academia. I spent several years in a research lab, and I was sort of in the data side of things. I was building Information Systems research, creating research projects, and sharing my findings through that. And so a lot of my foray into technology was through that research lab that I was a part of, and they really took me under their wing.
At the time, I was an undergrad, and a lot of the people there were already far into their postdoc, or their PhD programs. I really learned a lot from everybody there. And then, for a while, I got really interested in computer systems. I did a couple of stints in the embedded computer system space. So I ended up doing a lot of pre-silicon type validation work, testing, still in the software space. That was, that was pretty interesting.
That led me into working at Red Hat for a while, and I was there for about two years as a consultant. It was really awesome, because that's when I really got into building my expertise, and also sharing everything that I was learning. Every month, I was doing something new, I was working with a new tech stack. That's also what I learned a lot about DevOps as well, a lot of the open source cloud and DevOps mentality - it really was embedded into the Red Hat culture, and I just drank all that up when I was there.
Part of consulting is being able to also say that you're an expert in something. And so a lot of my time was centered around enablement. My performance was also measured in enablement and in how I was progressing myself. At Red Hat, I ended up deciding that I wanted to continue my education. So that's when I started up my Master's in Computer Science. Two and a half years later, I'm still doing it! But on the bright side, I will be graduating later this year.
After Red Hat, I ended up at Harness and it was really what I wanted to do at the time, because I found myself really enjoying going to conferences and talking with people and meeting contributors and connecting people who wanted to solve problems with the people who are creating products, solutions, or even language runtimes or tools that would be able to help people solve really cool problems and things like that. So that's, that's basically how I got to where I am today!
Rox: Very cool. I'm actually really interested in my next question, now - I'm invested because of everything you just said about your Master’s, academia, and everything. What's your take on education? Do you believe that 4 year degrees are the way to go? Or do you encourage joining bootcamps to start a career as a junior dev and then grow from there?
Tiff: I really think it depends on the particular career you're trying to go towards. Like with any other job search that you're trying to prepare for, you kind of have to think, “What are the standards? And, how can I best meet some of those requirements?” The form, or how you do it, doesn't really matter as much as being able to showcase what you have at the end of the program.
There are a lot of cases where people will do a 4 year degree Computer Science program and come out of it without a job. There are so many examples of that. And there are examples of people joining bootcamps and not getting a job. But on the flip side, you also have a lot of people who are able to spearhead their careers, no matter what kind of education they have.
I always kind of take it from the perspective of, well, what is the best way for you to learn a particular topic? For me, I thought that I could benefit from a lot of the structure, I could also benefit from meeting a teaching assistant or talking to professors, and that's kind of how I grew into the tech space. Otherwise, without it, I wouldn't have gone towards it.
Even before I started my foray into tech, I wasn't really interested in it. I kind of thought there was a little bit of a stigma that it was a boys’ club. I spent a lot of my time thinking it wasn't going to be for me, until I did have that structure and the encouragement to go for some of the more unique opportunities and make my own path. And so you just have to think about it from that perspective, like, “Where am I today? And how do I best achieve some of the goals that I want?”
For some people, it's been a long time since they've gone back to school. So maybe it doesn't make sense for them to start a 4 year program anymore, and the best thing that they can do is a bootcamp. Well, then if the best thing you can do is a bootcamp, and you're trying to go for a junior dev role, and you're looking for expertise in a particular language or a particular tech stack, then you may want to ensure that that bootcamp covers a lot of those skills. Foundational skills, Git source code management - or if your company or that career wants people to have expertise in Python or Java, then you want to make sure that you're hitting those checkpoints.
Just because an education promises a certain number of things, doesn't mean that those things that are promised are going to actually help you get a career as a junior dev or career as a software engineer.
Rox: Absolutely. And to go back on something you said earlier - and this struck me - “making your own path.” With that in mind, if you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything that you would change? What advice would you give your younger self in regards to your career?
Tiff: That's a good question. I matured and had the confidence that I had because I grew into it. I always felt like, “I don't know enough,” and there were a lot of instances where I didn't know enough. Today, I still feel like sometimes I don't know enough. So I think I would just tell myself, it's okay if you don't know everything, no one knows everything. If someone knew everything life with that person wouldn't really even exist today. They’d think that life was boring, and there was nothing to look forward to every day.
Technology's always changing, and the best that you can really do is have the skills to be able to learn the new technologies that are coming up. You don't have to know them, you only need to know enough to get through the things that you want to get through where you are in life right now. I think that's what I would say to myself, looking back at all this stuff, because today, that's very much how I look at it. There are so many things changing and I can't focus on every single thing. I'd never get good at my job. I'd never get good at the things I want to get good at, if I just try to focus on knowing everything.
Rox: What's the quote? The only thing constant in tech is change? [laugh]
Tiff: So true!
Rox: To pull back to something else. You said earlier, you were talking about being a woman in tech and like it felt like sort of a boys club. Generally speaking, what has your experience been like as a woman in tech?
Tiff: There have been a lot of times when I felt very empowered, but also felt very isolated or misunderstood. And I think that goes with anything - any other experience that you would have, if you're different in some way growing up. Sometimes you feel very isolated, but then other times, you feel very empowered by seeing some people that you admire in the space. And I think those things are really important that it just tells you that, “Hey, I have these feelings, but I'm not the only one who feels these things.”
Rox: Very true. And do you have any advice for other women looking to start a career in tech?
Tiff: Focus on what you want out of it. Don't do it because someone else is telling you. Don't do it because you feel pressure. And don't do it because you don't have any other options. Just do it for you. Do it for the thing that you want to accomplish.
For me, I always wanted to feel like I had a sense of accomplishment. And that can be me doing a bunch of other things not related to tech, but for people who are looking to get started in technology, I think one of the biggest things that you can do is show up. Just show up. That's probably some of the best advice that I have ever gotten. Even if you don't know how you're going to contribute or how things are gonna pan out, the best thing that you can do is basically show up and be there and learn what you can in the moment and take it all like in stride. That's one of the best things that you can do if you want to start your career in technology.
Rox: Very nice. What's your favorite thing so far about working at Harness?
Tiff: Ooh, that's a good question. I think it's having the freedom and the expertise to be able to help people simplify and scale software delivery. My favorite thing about working at harness is that story that we get to tell around, “Why is it that we focus on CI/CD? Why do we focus on software delivery? What exactly are we trying to do when we share content? Or when we do anything, like introduce a new feature or talk about the product? What is that story, and how is it exactly impacting people?”
One of the really amazing things is we get to tell people, “Hey, we're a safety net, we're like a harness for you to be able to practice those - you actually have time to practice those things that you want to practice, learn those emerging technologies that you want to do, innovate on some features - not spend time on things that can be solved, right? CI/CD pipelines are one of those things. I really enjoy that story and that's probably one of my favorite things I like about working at Harness.
Rox: This doesn't have to be Harness-specific, but more so in your entire career. Is there a favorite project you've ever gotten to work on? What is that project, and why was it your favorite?
Tiff: I've had a lot of favorite projects in the past. I'm very much driven by my passion, so anything that I'm working on at the moment, I have to really enjoy. In any of the roles that I had previously, I had the awesome opportunity to take on my own projects, even make that path for myself to lead up a project and carry it from start to finish.
One of my favorite ones was when I was at the research lab, because I had actually authored one of my own research papers and it got accepted in an academic journal. I got to present it in Norway. That was the first time I had ever gone out of the country, had ever attended a conference, and ever even known what the space was about. And I think it's my favorite project because it showed me my future in some way.
I didn't know that five or six years later, I'd be in this role today where I get to speak at a bunch of different conferences, and do this thing on a more matured version of myself. It's kind of cool how things go full circle sometimes. For me, that project was the start of it, and what led me to enjoy the things that I do today, and even what I do on a day-to-day basis.
Rox: That is super cool, and I had no idea. Can we actually link to that paper? Is it online anywhere?
Tiff: Yeah, it's online. I don't know how many times it's been cited, but it is on the ACM site. It was an interesting conference. It was one of the first times this conference had published papers too, so I was pretty lucky to be in one of those earlier publications of it.
Rox: Yeah, that is incredible. You mentioned conferences, so in that vein, is there anything exciting coming down the pipeline for you?
Tiff: I've been trying to think about other forms of content that I want to produce. One thing that was pretty interesting that came from 2020 was that some of my writing was featured in an O'Reilly book: 97 Things Every Cloud Engineer Should Know. That was really exciting. Immediately, I'm not working on anything crazy. We'll have to see what happens. But I'm always really excited to see what other big things are coming down, and maybe in the future, I'll get to write my own book. That'd be pretty cool! There's always something really exciting to look forward to in tech, and that's why it's so exciting to be in this space.
Rox: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers/listeners?
Tiff: To anyone out there who's trying to find some encouragement, or trying to find some inspiration to move forward: Keep doing what you're doing. You're probably already thinking about the right things that you need to be thinking about. It's just a matter of how things pan out. So even if you do feel discouraged, or you feel misunderstood, just keep pushing, keep believing in yourself, and never, ever feel like your value is lower just because of where you are at the moment. What you bring to the table is always going to be what you're able to bring to the table.
It doesn't matter where you are in your career, or how old you are, or what you look like. I always feel like there's enough stigma around how people look and how people are different, and at the end of the day, those things don't matter as much as how you believe you're going to be able to change the world or have an impact. So really, keep your head up there and keep going for the things that you want.
Rox: Awesome, thank you so much for your time today. I'm so happy you were the first Women of DevOps interviewee!
Tiff: Thanks, Rox. Thanks, everyone.
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