Getting to Know

Getting To Know Julia Biro — Site Reliability Engineer at Contentful

. 4 min read . Written by ACELR8
Getting To Know Julia Biro — Site Reliability Engineer at Contentful

We recently had a chance to interview Maurizio Cappitta, Global SDR Manager at Contentful. The company has the most talented developers working for them. One of them is Julia Biro, Site Reliability Engineer. She told us about her story of becoming a developer and the challenges that she faces working at Contentful.

How did your career start?

I was studying something else, but still in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) area. I had a boyfriend who, at that time, was studying computer science. His studies seemed very interesting to me. For example, as a school project, he had to build a chat server. As a start, he suggested me to learn how to make websites, which I did and really liked. The following year, I enrolled into a CS university.

A year after that, I started working as a Junior Software Developer — that was almost ten years ago. At that time, I didn’t really have a strong focus, I just wanted to learn. Later I gravitated towards automation. I think it was partly luck that eventually I got placed in an Infrastructure team, and found this field that I truly love.

What’s your typical morning routine?

I’m not a morning person, so that I get up very late, past 8 am. I take my sweet time getting ready and then I go to work. I either bike listening to Hungarian movie-related interviews, which is my hobby, or, when it’s winter, I take the U-Bahn and read The Economist on my way. I read things that are interesting to me and are not work-related.

The work itself starts for me when I get into the office with coffee and breakfast, and then the day kicks off after 10 am.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

The part that I really like about my job is when we create something new from pieces and when I get something to work for the first time.

Infrastructure engineering is a bit like LEGO: you make bigger things from smaller pieces. For example, you have 3 small pieces of software that all do something, you configure them to work together, and together they do something more complex. This configuration is the hard part; but when the complex thing starts working for the first time, that is really exciting.

In addition to that, I often participate in incident response, which is a very high-adrenaline situation, and it's also very exciting.

What kind of challenges do you face in your daily job?

Complexity is one challenge, simply because of the way these systems constantly grow organically from the inside out. Some parts are being replaced, and often a new layer of abstraction appears. I spend a lot of time learning about the current system state and new technologies. This fast pace of change is natural to the field that I work in.

What book has had the biggest impact on your career?

It is a novel called Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. It was a book in which — for the first time — I read about a female programmer, and realised that this career path was open for me. I think, if I haven’t read that book, I wouldn’t be in this job today. In hindsight, I’m now aware that I actually had female programmers around me (actually, in the 80s and, especially in the former Eastern Bloc, the ratio of female programmers was higher than let's say around the year 2000), but they were just not as visible as the female hairdressers around me. It was very important that the book explicitly spelt out that being a female programmer was a possibility.

What’s on your work playlist?

I don’t always listen to music when I work, but when I do, I listen to music without lyrics I understand. I especially like listening to music composed for movies. For example, the classical music composed by Michael Nyman or, when I want to concentrate, the very monotone techno beat I found in the soundtrack of one of Paolo Sorrentino’s movies.

What advice would you give to women who want to get into a career like yours?

For women who are already working in tech, but not in this field, I think it’s easiest to get involved in a company with a DevOps culture. There are always some infrastructure-related tasks that your team needs to do, like managing the database, configuring tests, scaling up and down, monitoring, etc. Try to do these things and see if you like the problem set. For instance, I was not an SRE in my previous jobs — I was working on a test system which is part of DevOps. Some of the SREs I know come from classical System Administration backgrounds, but there are many ways to get into this field, because it’s a new area that keeps changing, and no one has much experience. Therefore, you are not behind, and it is not too late to get into it.

For women who are not in the tech field, the first thing is that they need to figure out for themselves is whether they really want to do this. There are organisations offering free workshops or short courses for women to try programming and to see if this is something they enjoy. In Berlin, you join Code Curious (formerly Rails Girls). If you like it, you can join a bootcamp, or just do a lot of online courses with the help of a mentor (I know people from both ways who have successfully changed professions). Once you started out, there are also many women IT communities that will support you at every stage of your career.

Would you like to work with Julia? Contact Angela!