Our Engineering Director, Sam Jones, sat down with Frontend Engineer Sheila Htin-Kyaw to have a chat about everything from making a career change after children to a culture of learning at Pollen.
Sam: Tell me about your journey before Pollen and how you came to join Pollen
Sheila: When I was a kid I learnt BASIC as a first language and I once even wrote a text adventure game! That’s where the love of computer science came from and later led to learning more languages at Uni (smalltalk, C & Modula 2). I’ve always had a connection with tech and have inspired my own children to be tech-savvy too.
I started my career as a management consultant implementing HR systems for clients across Europe. I was really ambitious, worked very hard and was lonely at times being a consultant. Sometimes I had a team and sometimes I was working as a lone individual contributor. When I studied my degree in Computer Science, I was the only woman on the course. I am from an ethnic minority and I was also the only woman to join PwC in my graduate cohort. I didn’t always feel comfortable working alongside lots of men who had studied at Oxford and Cambridge.
I gave up work in 2002 to focus on our children and family; we enjoyed travelling to some amazing places and we also spent time as expats living in Singapore and Australia before settling down in London in 2012.
On our return to London, I knew I wanted a new career but I didn’t want to return to the corporate world. I wanted to be a role model for my kids and show them that it is never too late to learn. My husband is a long-term advocate of getting more women into tech and he suggested a bootcamp, reminding me of some of the work I did at the start of my career that I enjoyed.
The bootcamp was challenging and I loved it. I learnt so much, while many core concepts started coming back to me from my degree.
I ended up loving the creative process of building websites and as it happens James and Ola from Pollen turned up on the bootcamp demo day and asked me to interview at Pollen! This was the first time and only place I interviewed and thought Pollen was such an amazing, diverse place – as someone who’s felt like they don’t really fit anywhere I could see myself fitting in here – and here I am!
What are the team working on at the moment?
I joined the In Destination Experience team a few weeks ago, which I am thrilled to be a part of. We are working on releasing an app soon that will elevate our customers’ time at our experiences, giving live updates and itineraries, alongside maps with information about local restaurants, clubs and other places of interest.
What have you learnt since joining Pollen?
I started work in Pollen in a backend team and during that time I got to really understand our data, models and integrations with third-party ticketing agencies. It wasn't an area I felt was a strength, so I asked to be moved to a frontend team and I haven't looked back since! On reflection, although it was challenging to learn Python it’s really helped me build more effective frontends because I have an understanding of the data models and integrations on the backend.
What are the best things about Pollen?
When I joined Pollen I thought the environment was indicative of how companies have changed since I took my career break. However, I’ve since realised that Pollen’s culture really is unique and not all companies are like this! I used to wear a business suit as part of trying to fit in. Now I really appreciate that it’s ok to be different and be your authentic self at work. I’m very friendly and bubbly and I don’t have to think twice now about reaching out to people to see if they’re ok and if I can help! There’s a few people I check in on regularly – especially with all the recent lockdowns and office closures – it’s important to be there for each other.
I love that I can self-select which meetings to attend. The majority of our meetings are recorded so I don't need to context-switch if I'm focussed on solving a tech problem. A lot of our work can be done asynchronously.
We're given the opportunity to learn and are also given help with that learning because sometimes you can only get so far on your own. When I moved to the frontend teams I had both a manager and a mentor to help me work through any gaps in my knowledge and pair on tickets or concepts that might have been giving me problems.
What are the most challenging things about Pollen?
Pollen doesn’t advocate presenteeism – it’s a results oriented working environment, which means there aren’t set working hours. I find the flexibility of being able to work when I can, also means I need to be careful not to overcompensate for the times when I'm not!
We're a very dynamic organisation, and we are fast to pivot when we need to. The rate of change of teams and org structure can be rapid, but the leadership team is quick to address our concerns, explain changes and let us know that we are valued.
How does the driver of Freedom & Ownership translate into how you make decisions and plan your work?
Lots of people have been working from home more because of lockdown but my default place of work has always been at home. This is where I do my best work and can relax and concentrate. It also means I'm not rushing home from work to collect my daughter from school.
I appreciate the respect that Pollen gives me so I am empowered to make my own decisions to get my work done. It's really motivating to be given that freedom and it produces the best results for both the company and myself.