I’m Outi Määttä, Industry Sector Lead at Gofore, Master of Science in Engineering, entrepreneur and a mother of three (a 4-year-old girl and 1,5-year-old twin boys).
Little did I know what was ahead when I chose a career in tech. Nor did I really think about it. I just loved STEM. A profound change has happened since I made that choice almost 20 years ago. Technology has become unavoidable; there isn’t an industry uninfluenced by digitalization.
There is a lot of talk about the low number of women working in technology. Additionally, themes such as work-life balance and equality are rightfully evoking more and more discussion. Indeed, one cannot get one without the other, and these three themes build on each other. Some claim that by bringing these topics up in the first place, we enforce the old fashioned and harmful stereotypes. I disagree, stating that as long as there is room to improve (and there is!), attention needs to be paid.
I could write a book about how to integrate work and life (just re-read my introduction in the beginning), and equality (or the lack of it) is something I’ve faced throughout my career. As has probably each woman in my generation. It is an inconvenient truth, similar to the fact that we grew up in a me-too world, and thought it was “normal”. My struggles have been tiny compared to many others, but even in surroundings like this – the topics still exist.
With this blog post, however, I want to alleviate some unnecessary fears women may have about entering the tech world.
Technology is no longer an individual industry segment or an isolated part of a business. It has become an integral part of all areas of life and work. Everyone will gradually grow to be some grade of tech-savvy, and every company will become a tech company. This integration of technology will again bring up the importance of skills “beyond coding”.
Technology in itself has little value and serves as proof that something can be done. But it needs to serve a purpose and be applied to a context. Our current technology toolbox is vast and quickly growing and the key skill is to use the tools in the right way. Design thinking has proven its value and design is essential in successful service and product development. At the core of it lies empathy and the understanding of motivations and emotions.
In a world where adaptivity is more important than muscles, the playing field for women and men has leveled. Unarguably workplaces need diversity in order to be the best they can be. And I mean also diversity in skills and backgrounds, not just sex, colour or age. Alongside technology, we need anthropology, linguistics, design, psychology…
Another interesting fear-alleviator could also be that organization cultures are evolving from masculine to feminine. According to Hoftstede, a masculine culture represents achievement, heroism, assertiveness and competitiveness, and femininity stands for cooperation, modesty and caring. Masculine cultures are more task-oriented and feminine more person-oriented. The latter creates an environment where people are more likely to express themselves, make mistakes, ask questions and experiment. Gofore represents a feminine culture, and we are a tech company.
My strong belief is, that everyone should play on their strengths, but not let that limit you to a box you assume you belong in. People tend to be the best experts in things they think “everyone can do”. That’s because you are so good at it, it comes naturally. Love and appreciate these characteristics about yourself – whether its coding, relationship building, writing, drawing or caring.
I also think, that it is naïve and idealistic to think that the road ahead is the same for everyone. We all face different challenges and we will never fully understand those of another. I will continue to be a feminist until I no longer need to. Hard work is something that one is lucky to avoid. It takes unending enthusiasm, guts and determination to develop one’s career.
What kind of an example do I want to set for my children? I want them to be brave and not to fear failure. I want them to know that they all have an equal possibility to make an impact. I want them to grow up appreciating their strengths and characteristics and encouraging each other on their chosen paths.
A career in technology was never a clear choice for me, I would say that I rather ended up here by accident. My passion has always been to positively impact the lives of people. I admire health care professionals, social workers, educators, etc. Still, I didn’t consider those as an occupation for myself, because I didn’t see them as a good fit for me. I wanted to do something that helps these fields of work, but from a wider perspective. I ended up working in information management in the public sector. Various IT projects on society’s different functions gave me an insight into how the public sector works and how technology should support the best services for citizens. Technology alone has no value, it’s all about people.
After working in the public sector for nine years, I desired a big change. At the same time, I was finalizing my PhD in Business information management – something I started six years earlier in addition to my work as an information architect. I definitely wasn’t ready to abandon the public sector, though. So, I started to think about how to combine these and ended up at Gofore almost four years ago.
The change didn’t stop there either. I worked as a consultant for a year and started to shift towards sales and customer excellence. None of these moves were really a part of my bigger plan, because I never really had a plan. My aim has always been to jump at opportunities that come to my path and work hard to thrive. Often the most intriguing things happen when you leave your comfort zone. Now, I have such an exceptional bunch of experts around me to learn from and collaborate with. There are definitely more technically oriented gurus than me, but I like to think I bring my own strengths to the crew. Technology is such a wide field and needs a versatile ‘know-how’. We don’t seek to build software or chatbots for their own sake, we build them to have a positive impact.
I’m participating in the Women in Tech event in October while on maternity leave for my second child. For me it’s obvious to maintain and grow my networks and expand my expertise during this time. The change in technology is fast paced and I definitely want to keep up. WIT is an excellent example of doing this. I see maternity leave as a chance to look at my career from another perspective and gain a more insightful view on the impact I want to foster through my work. At this point, my passion for making a difference in society is stronger than ever and I feel I have begun to understand the effect we can have with the help of technology and digitalization.
The number of women working in the field of technology should increase. Simply because the number of women is still quite low. In addition to balancing the gender gap, I feel women have a lot to give. Women can offer a different view on things, e.g., moms are an excellent source of understanding on how to develop early childhood education services, how to balance work with family life and how to attract more women to technology. In my opinion, women often bring empathy and a human-centric point of view to the table.
Technology is such a big part of children’s lives today that questions such as “was there electricity in your youth mom?” have been asked by my child to the point where I’ve told him that I didn’t switch the lights off with my phone when I was a child. For my son, it makes no difference that I’m a woman working in IT, for him, I’m a professional working in IT. They will be on a whole new level by the time they grow up. Meanwhile, it’s nice that women in technology shape the field together.
My top career tip: Don’t overthink your career, jump at opportunities and go full speed ahead.
I’m Anni Roinila, a recruiter, a mother of two little women and a Goforean. I’ve been working in both recruitment and the IT-industry for over 10 years. I didn’t especially choose IT myself, but after all these years I’m so happy we ended up together. I started my career by recruiting IT support specialists and as a big bunch of the candidates were female, I didn’t even think about women being minority in the IT -field for a long time. It was only when I got deeper into the industry and the roles that we were recruiting for started to vary more, when I realised that there’s absolutely no balance between my female and male candidates. Pretty much all the candidates I met were male.
While working for a big consulting company a few years back, I had a chance to get more familiar with this challenge. We were trained to better understand our biases and making sure that we, the recruiters, were able to make non-biased decisions based purely on the recruitment criteria. I also started to learn more about diversity, inclusion and women in tech by myself, and got super intrigued by the subject. As a recruiter, I found another meaning for my work. I’m not just helping people to reach their dreams, but I can also encourage women to enter the industry in various ways, and be the shout-out person for diversity and inclusion matters whenever possible. How cool is that?
In my current job at Gofore, I feel like having all the possible opportunities to make these things reality. Not only because we have a strong ‘gals-network’ inside the company, but also because the benefits of diversity for the company have always been well understood and inclusivity is at the heart of our values. Though the base has been well built, the work is never finished. As a recruiter, I feel it is my job to make sure our recruitment and decision-making processes are as non-biased as possible. We need to do everything we can in order to make the industry appealing for everyone, no matter the gender. If it means starting from kindergarten, then we’re ready to do it.
My core message for people considering a career in the tech-industry has always been this: You do not necessarily need to be interested in coding when entering the industry. At Gofore over 25% of our employees are female or non-binary, and they work in various roles such as web development, design, project management, advisory roles, sales, marketing, and data analytics for example. They also come with various different backgrounds and fields of study.
The tech industry and IT are extremely interesting fields to work with. Though not being especially tech-savvy myself, I’m learning new things every day, as I’m surrounded by extremely talented people, who are willing to share their knowledge. The IT industry is a forerunner in many ways and by working here, I feel I’m getting to be at the top of the latest development trends all the time. But to continue that way, we need to make sure we stay innovative and competitive – and that, I believe, comes from diversity. In order to be successful in the future too, we certainly need more Women in Tech. So do not fear; you are capable, you are intelligent, you are brave. Just give us, the tech industry, a chance and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with us! ?
My favorite quote:
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson
Wow, what a weekend! First, our team won “Hackers against exclusion” challenge at Ultrahack and after that Finland won the world ice hockey championship! Ice hockey is cool but you don’t win a hackathon every day so let us tell more about that now.
Our team “Positive Impact AI” Aapo Tanskanen, Milla Siikanen, Janne Högdahl and Eija Vaittinen hadn’t ever participated in any hackathon but the important topic of social exclusion of young men sounded interesting for us so we applied to Ultrahack at the very last minute. We didn’t quite know what to expect nor did we have any ready-made solutions. We did brainstorming beforehand, had tons of different ideas and arrived at the event venue on Friday afternoon packed with excitement, open-minds and eagerness to hack the whole weekend.
According to the Finnish National Institute for Health And Welfare, men especially have problems with e.g. alcohol, lack of education and unemployment which can lead to social exclusion. How could we utilize AI to prevent exclusion among young men? This was the task set for the hackathon by VAKE, Ministry of Finance and a few other authorities. Our team wanted to tackle this issue by utilizing our diverse backgrounds and know-how from data science, chatbots and service design.
At first, we were planning to do data analysis (e.g. clustering) to identify different groups of young men who are excluded or are at risk of getting excluded, to understand different and unique reasons for exclusion and to try and predict those. However, we didn’t have data available for the analysis during the hackathon so we had to pivot quickly.
The material we got indicated that there are many social inclusion services available in Finland. However, after trying to find specific exclusion related public services by ourselves, we realized it was very difficult for us and most likely it is even more difficult for our target group. So we decided that this could be a good problem to solve in the hackathon: how can we match the right person with the right service? The solution we came up with was an AI chatbot that talks with the person analyzes their needs, and suggests suitable services from different sources that could help this individual. Thus, we started developing a few different realistic user stories and the chatbot which would match the needs of the user to available public services. For the hackathon MVP solution, we chose three tracks in which our chatbot was focusing on: unemployment, mental health and loneliness.
During the Saturday morning, we were able to create a demo chatbot focusing on the loneliness track. The conversational chatbot asks (in Finnish) some basic things about the user and then can recommend hobbies and events based on the user’s interests by utilizing the City of Helsinki’s APIs.
During Saturday afternoon we rehearsed our solution pitch with the Ultrahack judges and mentors and got feedback on how we could develop our solution further before Sunday’s final pitch. During Saturday evening and Sunday early morning we developed other demos where the chatbot focuses on the mental health track and can recommend suitable public services from Suomi.fi API based on the analysis made from the user’s responses.
Video of the second demo chatbot
Before Sunday’s final pitch we also further developed our concept in the bigger picture to plan how our solution could properly be developed in the long term after the hackathon weekend. The plan included steps like data gathering and analysis to make our chatbot smarter and user studies with our target group to make sure that the bot is user-friendly. At the final pitch, Milla Siikanen delivered an excellent pitch clearly showcasing our solution, its value and the future plan. The judges seemed to be interested in our solution but we weren’t quite sure how well we did because there were also other really good teams with solutions like helping gamers realize and promote their really valuable work-life skills learned from gaming.
After the final pitches, we had a little time to relax, chat with other teams, consume energy by jumping and eagerly wait for the announcement of the winners.
Much to our surprise, we heard the name “Positive Impact AI” announced as the winner of the Hackers against exclusion challenge and wild celebrations started!
The top three teams in Hackers Against Exclusion challenge (Image by Vedran Brnjetic)
After wild winning celebrations, we barely had energy left to smile
I say: UUUUUULTRAAAA!! you say: HAAAACCKKK!!!
Ultrahack was the first hackathon for all of us and it really left a positive impact on us. The hackathon was really well organized, the event venue was great and there were food, snacks and drinks available during the whole weekend, not forgetting relaxing morning yoga on Saturday (this was super!). Big praise for all the smiling Ultrahack crew members and volunteers behind the event! After this hackathon, we will definitely attend other hackathons.
Morning yoga was essential to energize our hands for hacking (Image by Vedran Brnjetic)
We cannot wait to develop our solution further, hopefully, make it a reality in the near future and make a positive impact by preventing the exclusion of young men!
Have you ever been really into your work but didn’t have anybody who shared your enthusiasm when you started gushing about it? Do you work as a specialist in a multi-functional team and don’t seem to have direct support for challenges related to your specific domain? At Gofore there might be a guild that could help, or maybe you need to start one?
About a year and a half ago the project I was working on restructured which lead to our scrum master leaving and me transitioning to the role of scrum master. Our product owner was also replaced by a team of three product owners. Simultaneously the project goal changed from a proof of concept to get a release of the product out in three months so the number of developers was also ramped up. Because our team was made up of experienced developers already familiar with the product I found myself in a situation where most of my time was focused on getting the product owners on track with their roles. After a couple of sprints I realized that I hadn’t had a chance to even assign myself a ticket, I had transitioned to a full-time scrum master position. While I have several years of experience as working as scrum master and developer I quickly realized that being a dedicated scrum master was a very different role.
My perspective drifted away from the product I had been building in the proof of concept phase and I started focusing on how the team was working not what it was working on. I wasn’t as interested in what decisions the product owners were making but on how to get them to make any decisions at all. And then I realized I was the only person on the team focusing on these issues. I started wondering how similar issues were handled in other projects at Gofore and how I could ask our more experienced scrum masters, product owners or project managers about these issues, so I invited them to lunch.
Since I had been working in project management roles earlier I had a company credit card and reserved a table at a nearby restaurant for lunch and invited everybody working at the Helsinki office who I knew had worked or was working in a scrum master role. I think the offer a company-sponsored lunch combined with curiosity led to around seven people coming and we shared news and thoughts about our project work. Since everybody didn’t have a chance to talk about their project I decided to have another lunch or breakfast the following month and I promised to organize a doodle for the date. This quickly became a monthly thing.
I didn’t ask anybody’s permission to organize these lunches, I just used my own judgement that they were needed. Being true to the Gofore spirit of transparency I was as open about the costs and the time I spent organising the guild lunches as I could be. From the beginning, our lunches were a bit fancier than your regular working lunch, because I thought that it is important to communicate that we as a company value learning from each other. Also having the meetings outside the office gave a sense of detachment that you don’t get in a familiar meeting room.
I happened to mention about these lunches we were having to our Lead Coach Heini while I was visiting our Tampere office and she informed me that I had started a guild.
On the train, on the way back from meeting Heini in Tampere I changed the name of the page recording our lunches in our confluence to the Agile Leadership Helsinki Guild. There are some other guilds in our company but their role hasn’t been strictly defined. Each guild is a bit different in how they work, but they all relate to professional development. Ever since the beginning, sharing and sparring project-related challenges have been a staple of our lunch meetings. At some point, I stopped doodling and we agreed that our lunch date would be on the last Thursday of each month. It was easier that way, and knowing the lunch dates several months earlier makes it easier to reserve the time needed to be away from the client.
We started having short introductions to agile related subjects at the beginning of the lunches. This was a great way to share experiences when somebody attended a conference or external training. At some point, Anu joined me as the champion for the guild and having a dedicated person with whom to share guild related ideas with made guild work a lot more fun. We started organizing training sessions outside of lunches that were directed to guild members as well as open for others at Gofore. The latest thing our guild has done has become a platform for helping members go to conferences and on external training courses.
I gave up the position as guild champion at the beginning of the year and the current champions are taking the guild forward and doing stuff I didn’t have time for. I am still actively involved and enjoying having a community to reflect my project work, Agile Finland work and Agile Transformation and Lean capability work.
Lessons learned from starting a guild at Gofore
While I had a useful experience from working with volunteers in the scouts and in university organizations, this was the first time I had started a completely new organization or community. This gave me the chance to reflect on my previous experience in volunteer leadership, combined with formal academic knowledge from Knowledge Management studies at university and professional project management experience. At Gofore we have many social clubs (or Glubs as we call them) where like-minded colleagues come together to discuss everything from investment opportunities to the latest beer to be launched. Guilds help unite people over professional interests compared to glubs leisure focus. If you have an interest, professional or extracurricular, starting a community around it at Gofore is a good way to network with your colleagues. There are now many guilds covering a wide variety of software solutions and related fields like design. Below are my experiences of setting up a guild for Agile leadership, but they apply for setting up glubs as well.
- Having a personal need to fulfil when starting a new project helps when you need motivation or need to pivot.
- A guild is a community so starting one is really hard.
- Starting a community is basically a culture change or creation project.
- When starting aim for consistency with minimal effort.
- You can never over-communicate or over promote guild related events or issues.
- Culture change projects need a champion so don’t worry about things being personified to you.
- Because it’s voluntary don’t be afraid to make choices and do the work even when you don’t get feedback.
- It is great to have a community for sparring your project work and personal development.
- The strength of the guild comes from the fact that even though participation is work time it still voluntary so people participate from their intrinsic motivation.
- The biggest obstacle for people participating in professional self-development work like guilds is loyalty to the customer and interesting customer projects.
I believe it is important to keep up to date with developments in your professional area of interest. Gofore guilds are a great way to, not only keep up to date with professional developments but also to network with like-minded colleagues. It’s great that Gofore actively support and encourage guilds and glubs. Connecting with your co-workers over shared interests is a great way to contribute to the collaborative and supportive working environment.
The fourth incarnation of Disobey, the Nordic security event was held in Helsinki in January. This event is a place for people interested in hacker culture, information security, making and breaking, and to meet like-minded people, learn new things and share knowledge. This was my second time attending. The first one was mostly spent getting to know my way around such an event, the second one was much easier when I knew what to expect. Too bad there’s almost too much to do, so you’ll have to prioritise… So here are my personal experiences from this year’s event and hopefully some tips for the first-timer in 2020.
Photographing or recording video at the event is forbidden (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_House_Rule), so no pictures or names, sorry. The speaker list is public though, go check it out, if you want.
There were plenty of great talks, from disclosing 35-year-old vulnerabilities (https://sintonen.fi/advisories/scp-client-multiple-vulnerabilities.txt), Tor anonymity, timing side-channel attacks, hotel room lock security, data breach dump related thingies and browser 0-days to mechanical master-key systems. Lots of cool stuff, but you can’t just sit on your backside for the whole two days! I had picked a few talks I really wanted to see (I really dig mechanical locks, client-side vulns, and breaking things) and tried to remember to attend. And I did. Most of the others fell in the category “oh that’d be cool oh crap it’s already starting and all the seats are taken”. But I’ll surely watch the recordings of most of them later. It’s not like re:Invent-crowded, but if you want to have a good seat where you can concentrate on the content, be early
At the time of writing, the talks are being uploaded to Disobey’s Youtube channel.
Also a new podcast, “We need to talk about InfoSec“, recorded its first episode at Disobey, go check it out.
Workshops and things to do
In addition to talking heads, you get to do things yourself with a more experienced instructor. This year workshops included e.g. hacking Chinese web browsers, using Python for bad (and good), threat modelling and a few other topics. Pick something that interests you, check if there’s a pre-registration needed (this year there wasn’t) and enjoy the ride. I attended only the most interesting one (to me), but would’ve enjoyed many of them, I’m sure.
In addition to shorter (up to three hours) workshops, there was a lockpicking village where you could try picking different types of mechanical locks and learn from a pro.
Capture the flag, or CTF for short is a competition where teams try to solve different types of hacking puzzles for points. The puzzles range from web vulnerabilities (SQL injections, path traversal/local file inclusion, security misconfigurations etc.) to listening to radio broadcasts from a dummy satellite. The proof of success is a flag, which is entered to the competition system. Who gets the most points, wins. And this is fun, for some people at least, myself included. We had a team of seven people which included four Goforeans. Fourth place doesn’t suck that bad when there were two teams of infosec company employees ahead of us. Next year we’ll try harder!
As the CTF network is considered “hostile” and doesn’t offer internet access, I recommend bringing a burner laptop (which you can wipe clean afterwards) or e.g. using 1) a virtual machine (Kali works fine) for the hacking 2) USB tethering (because airwaves are a bit crowded and your keyphrase strength might be tested…) to deliver internet to your host OS 3) a USB ethernet adapter which you present to your virtual machine (and the VM only) so that you can easily search the internet for things from the host and access the CTF network from the VM without extra hassle of switching cables back and forth.
Gofore had some web related challenges (created by me) of their own in the contest. Of course, my team members had to solve those without me. More info about these below, there’s even a virtual machine image you can spin up and try to get the flags yourself.
To everyone I met: I’m glad we met. Let’s do it again sometime. To everyone else, I hope we’ll meet someday. A few of my friends/acquaintances told me afterwards that they kinda forgot most of the program while just mingling so be careful 🙂
Gofore CTF challenges
Download link in the setup instructions. See if you can hack your way in. Encrypted (sic) walkthrough can be found at http://<machine IP>/walkthrough.txt if you’re interested in cheating…
- The flag is somewhere on the filesystem. Find the file’s location on the site and the contents of the flag. URL path: /blog
- Some page is behind closed doors. Find the keys and step in. URL path: /*
- Our customer database might contain more than meets the eye. URL path: /customerdb
- Download the OVA image here. (Avaa: open, Lataa: download)
- Import it in e.g. VirtualBox, connect it to a host-only network
- Find the virtual machine’s IP with for example nmap -sn <your host-only network>
- Point your browser (and other tools) to http://<VM_IP>:80/
- Have fun!
Well, that’s a slightly misleading title, as I don’t know how it happened, it just did. At the moment I have the privilege to work as a Senior UX Developer for one of our clients, working across multiple teams in different locations (the client identity is subject to an NDA). I always wanted to work across borders. Combining my two passions, design and travel. So I have spent 20 days on holiday and 7 days working in their Manila office.
Those who know me will know that perhaps the only way I recharge and re-energise my self is by freediving and travelling as far as possible. So for the Christmas holidays, I chose the Philippines as I did last year. Naturally, I discussed my travel plans with my awesome team and the client. When I had a friendly chat with the client regarding the destination etc., we figured that there might be an opportunity to give some UX and DT training and workshops for the rest of the team in Manila to align the UX processes with the team in Espoo Finland. I found this super exciting since I have travelled all over Asia but never for work.
This is my second time in the Philippines and definitely not the last. For anyone that likes friendly people and unspoiled nature, the Philippines is near perfect. My itinerary for 4 weeks was Helsinki > Manila > El Nido > Linapacan > Coron > Rock Island > Manila > Helsinki. Linapacan is special, in every way. First, it has 15 000 inhabitants and tens of uninhabited islands. Moreover, Daily News Dig claims that it has the clearest water in the world and based on my experience this is definitely true.
I spent 6 days on a boat, swimming, freediving, spearfishing, watching the sunset and occasionally camping on a virgin white beach. I won’t go into more details, but feel free to ask me anything
Freediving in Baracuda Lake, Coron
Here is Abdo, our pet hen for the Linapacan Trip.
“It’s more fun in the Philippines” is the slogan of the country and it’s surely due to the people. I had the pleasure of meeting Filipinos in the rural provinces as well as in the city. Generally speaking, they are extremely friendly, happy and looking to help in any way. Also, I did not encounter any scams like in many other places in the world, however, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any but it’s definitely uncommon. Professionally, I found that the work environment was less formal than I have found elsewhere. Employees and managers were very relaxed and had constant gags and laughs with each other and had created a great working environment despite long hours and modest salaries.
Metro Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with 43,079 people per square kilometre. This 21.3 million inhabitant metropolis is like many others; It is super fast-paced, notoriously congested, filled with skyscrapers and has more than a 100 gigantic malls. Yet, there was a different vibe, it looked drastically different in the dark as it comes to life when countless food-stalls rollout, some sing karaoke on the pavements and there are many other details that are only understood when experienced.
Here are some images from around the area of Cubao in Quezon City near my accommodation.
This is also Manila from the top, as you can see, it’s super modern and up to par with any other metropolis hosting the 2nd largest mall in the world, Mall of Asia.
I’m not exactly a city boy, but I had to stay for a week in Metro Manila to coach my Manila team on design thinking and UX practices and had to make the best of it! In the process, I have made some friends and met many interesting people. As for the public transport, mostly I used Grab, a popular taxi app in South East Asia. I must say, I found out that it was about 50x more expensive than public transport such as Jeeps, vans and busses. However, I have tried the alternate solutions, not just to save money but also to mingle with the locals and it was highly confusing. Although I was lost all the time, I recommend it. As you can see the UX of these transportation means could be improved.
Can you see the bright green sign that says Cubao? Yeah, you have to spot that from a far distance.
There is movie playing during the bus ride which made me miss my stop, for the third time. As for those signs on the bus windshield, they were all flipped the wrong way round Nonetheless, it was a great experience. And the fare was about 10php (€0.17) for an hour ride.
Is it safe?
Yes! As long as you practice basic safety logic as you would anywhere else. I did not encounter any safety issues, nor did the expats that I have met.
However, the Philippines lies within the ring of fire, in other words, it is prone to many natural disasters. For example, there were 21 typhoons in 2018. In fact a typhoon (Usman) hit whilst I was on “Rock Island”, a tiny islet where we had to cross with a small boat to the other side to get to the airport. Without dramatising it even further, let’s just say that our boat flipped, which took us 2 hours to rescue everyone and I ended up with a minor injury, but luckily no one else got hurt and it has made the adventure, a real one. Do your research and monitor the typhoons before going, but do not let it stop you from going to the Philippines.
The Work Culture
I can not speak on behalf of the whole tech industry nor the team in Manila, rather I will tell you about my brief experience. I was suspecting a more uptight, corporate environment like it is in many European corporations. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had a very similar culture to us at Gofore! It was fun, there was a strong communality feel and many employees spent time after work and even weekends together. They had subcultures of gamers, cyclists, artists and they were all foodies! The most pleasant surprise was to see about 35-40% female presence in an engineering and SW development environment. Many also mentioned that this is on the rapid increase and could soon change to be at least even. Something for the rest of the western world to learn from as currently only 20% of jobs in tech are held by women.
What was less great however, was the working hours that were from 10:00-19:00 or 11:00-20:00 to compensate for the time difference with Europe. In fact, I met someone on the bus, who was an accountant at one of the largest firms that basically works night shifts to compensate for the time difference to the US.
So, what did you do there?
What I did was to facilitate workshops and training for designers and non-designers. The aim was to show them alternative ways of thinking about the users, regardless of their role. Many have not heard of UX and others have worked with UX designers, so I had to figure out a way of engaging participants from all levels. So over the course of 3 days, I started by giving a gentle introduction to design thinking, followed by an interactive crash course in DT and ending with a more specialised and focused approach to lean UX. The feedback was very positive, with many questions about our way of working in Finland creation and UI design. Also many requests for more training into user research, persona creation and UI design.
Gofore ❤ (heart) The World
I always find it both a valuable and an unforgettable experience to work far from home with different culture and climate compared to Finland. After such a trip I feel highly energised and inspired to come back and innovate. This trip was also a great reminder, that no matter what the country, language, nationality, gender, climate and culture is there is always a match for Gofore. Yet there is no substitute for working and living in a different country and experiencing life as a local. Which gives me a great feeling regarding Gofore’s future and internationalisation plans.
This summer, the freshly founded Gofore Glub called Wilderness Glub started its first trek. A group of 10 enthusiastic hikers set the destination to the Southern Konnevesi national park in Central Finland with a plan to make a hike during the day and stay at a lodge overnight. Apart from hiking and exploring the wilderness, there was another goal – to gather the first experiences of “coding in the woods”. The idea of writing code in the wilderness had been evolving for a while among a few colleagues, and now it was time to put it into practice.
At Gofore we like to encourage our team members to follow their passions so we created Gofore Clubs – or Glubs as we call them. These Glubs are supported by Gofore and we have many thriving Gofore Glubs ranging from cooking to coding, from money bags to mountain biking – and now we also have the Wilderness Glub.
So we loaded our backpacks with a small number of necessities, and a laptop preloaded with material to study the basics of the Elixir language and the trek was ready to begin.
The jolly group of hikers
After a walking for a few kilometres, it was time to take our first look at the Elixir language – its a type system and IEx REPL. Making a pleasant change from the office, we took a short break at a campfire site by a lake which gave me the chance to go through the introduction to the Elixir language and start running commands in the IEx. The rest of the group checked their gear and enjoyed a small snack. All preparation for coding proved solid as the necessary material was ready and following the list of instructions was easy. After this short introduction, it was time to continue the hike.
Following the trekking route through a swamp and some old pines, we made it to the top of the Kalajanvuori hill where we took the next pause. Giving vistas to the neighbouring valleys and forests it was a worthy place to stay for a while, and again it was time to pull out the laptop. Sitting on a large rock 60 meters above the lake the next Elixir topics to learn were the operators and the pattern matching. 25 minutes was enough time to gain some insight into the language features.
Coding on the rock
Now it was time to set out on the way to finish the trek and leave the rocks and Elixir data structures behind. Being on foot in the wilderness of central Finland seemed to help to process the new information. There was time to think on the syntax details while picking the next foothold. We had completed the planned route and were ready to prepare supper in our camp. A member of our group managed to catch a pike from the lake which provided us with some fresh supplements.
In the evening we set off on the lake for a combined fishing trip and Elixir workout. We rowed around a few islands where the focus was moved from oars to Elixir streams. The wind had already steadied giving us good conditions for coding as the lake remained calm.
Coding on the boat
With a completed Elixir topic and a few fish, it was time to return to the camp and call it a day.
Let’s summarize the day from the view of a software designer.
The pros were:
- The air was fresh and calm, very nice to breathe – this is the best air conditioning you can get.
- Plenty of sunlight and space around – eyes feeling relaxed after short breaks of staring into the distance. Also, our vitamin D supplies got fully loaded.
- Encountering new out-of-the-box people – I got new hints on how to propel mosquitoes.
- Ergonomy – you won’t get fixed to one position. The changing workstation and a plenty of movement are a sweet treat to office worker’s posture. No worry about having tense muscles at the end of the day.
- Spotted a cuckoo – don’t remember seeing one before.
Followed by the cons:
- Mosquitoes stinging hard and drawing your attention. With a laptop on your lap, you’re a sitting duck.
- Bugs trying to crawl into the laptop – they must find the display and the heat attractive.
- The battery and the Internet connection – you’re on your own, there’s no one to back you up. You need to plan wisely not to get blocked by an empty battery or a missing connection.
- Weather – you can’t go out when it’s raining or your hardware gets ruined
So the sun did set and the day was through – what was there to learn from the coding trek? Clearly, coding in the woods requires a good amount of planning beforehand and the weather forecast needs to be followed carefully. On the other hand, the day was an intriguing experience. Breaking the normal routines felt refreshing and the actual method turned out to be valid for learning new programming skills. Fundamentally wilderness and coding appear as two very separate areas. Maybe that is not the whole truth – could this be the way of the 21st-century hunter-gatherer?
This field definitely requires more study, let’s see what the next trip reveals.
The GraphQL Finland 2018 conference was held recently (18-19.10.2018) at Paasitorni and was the first event of its kind in Finland. The conference brought a day of workshops and a day of talks around GraphQL. It was organized by the same people as React Finland as the good organisation showed. The talks were interesting, the venue was appropriate, food delicious, the atmosphere was cosy and the after party was awesome. Gofore was one of the gold sponsors and organized the afterparty at Kamppi.
All of the talks were live streamed and they are available on Youtube. I was lucky to get a ticket to the event and be able to enjoy the talks live. Overall, most of the talks were easy to comprehend although I only had a little experience with GraphQL through experiments and what I had learnt a couple of months ago at the React Finland 2018 conference.
“GraphQL is an open source data query and manipulation language, and a runtime for fulfilling queries with existing data. It was developed internally by Facebook in 2012 before being publicly released in 2015. It provides a more efficient, powerful and flexible alternative to REST and ad-hoc web service architectures. It allows clients to define the structure of the data required, and exactly the same structure of the data is returned from the server, therefore preventing excessively large amounts of data from being returned. – Wikipedia“
(Life is hard, learning GraphQL easy)
Notes from the conference
The talks at GraphQL Finland were quite fast paced and more like lightning talks compared to the React Finland event: it was quite tough to digest all the new information. Fortunately, the talks were recorded so you can concentrate on interesting and relevant topics and get back to others later. Also, the sponsor’s lounge by Gofore and Digia provided a nice relaxing space to get your thoughts together. I have to say, Digia’s Star Wars Pinball machine was quite fun
The talks covered different aspects of GraphQL and surrounding topics in details. Here’s my notes from the talks which I found most interesting and watched live at the event.
(Goforeans in the sponsor lounge)
(Goforeans challenging attendees to foosball)
The event started with Adam Miskiewicz’s story from Airbnb and incrementally adopting GraphQL. It’s simple to start using GraphQL in your project but adding it incrementally and carefully in huge codebases powering large distributed systems is not quite as straightforward. The talk dived into how Airbnb is tackling this challenge, what they’ve learned so far, and how they plan to continue evolving their GraphQL infrastructure in the future. Towards GraphQL Native!
#GraphQLFinland started with @skevy talking about how @AirbnbEng incrementally adopted #GraphQL in large codebase. Why, when, how, where? Enables evolving API in new ways. Still iterating, towards GraphQL Native. pic.twitter.com/DiSKy4gmmY
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
Kadi Kraman from Formidable Labs talked about going offline first with GraphQL. She did a nice interactive demo with React Native and Apollo 2. Users expect your mobile app to work offline and the tooling in GraphQL makes it reasonably straightforward to get your React Native app working offline. Slides
“Do this as you go and offline comes almost as a side-effect”
“Do this as you go and offline comes almost as a side-effect” – Going offline first with #GraphQL by @kadikraman at @GraphQLFinland. Nice interactive demo with #ReactNative and #Apollo2. Slides: https://t.co/T5neq5Zxln. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/t5v5Bx2g9s
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
Life is hard, without documentation. Carolyn Stransky presented her story of ups and downs when learning GraphQL and documentation’s role in it. The problem with GraphQL is that – because there’s no “vanilla” GraphQL – there’s no central hub for all of the information and tooling necessary to learn it. It’s under-utilised and scattered throughout our community. The talk touched on how to better enable GraphQL docs for learning and comprehension and the slides pointed to good resources.
Documentation is one pain point of learning new things. @carolstran talked how we can better enable #GraphQL docs for learning and comprehension at @GraphQLFinland. Slides pointed to good resources: https://t.co/kZ9qGwS72Z. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/uyCaDoec8h
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
Benjie Gillam from PostGraphile taught how a database-centric approach to GraphQL API development can give your engineers more time to focus on the important parts of your application. Adhere to GraphQL best practices, embrace the power of PostgreSQL, and avoid common pitfalls. Interesting slides.
Databases and #GraphQL with PostGraphile ? @Benjie talked about Database-first GraphQL development at @GraphQLFinland. Data-centric approach can give time to focus on important parts of your app. Interesting slides: https://t.co/LdITgG39kd. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/KlS0CoTG34
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
Christoffer Niska gave some good tips for software development: Don’t over-abstract, test everything, use static type checking, follow best practices, don’t prematurely optimise.
Listening good general tips for software development from @Crisu83 at @GraphQLFinland stream while lounging at @GoforeGroup sponsor lounge. Don’t over-abstract, test everything, use static type checking, follow best practices, don’t prematurely optimize. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/jrc07Uo8xs
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
The (Un)expected use of GraphQL talk by Helen Zhukova showed the benefit of a single code base on the client and server side. Partly live coded with i.a. CodeSandbox. The any DB, in this case, was MongoDB.
(Un)expected use of #GraphQL talk by @return_hz at @GraphQLFinland showed the benefit of single code base on client and server side. Partly live coded with i.a. @codesandboxapp. The any DB in this case was MongoDB. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/kRMILt2oxu
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
The mysterious closing keynote was Dan Schafer talking about GraphQL history, present and future. “Strive for single sources of truth”. Still lots of things to do in the ecosystem.
Day full of #GraphQL information borbardment at @GraphQLFinland closed with a mysterious keynote by @dlschafer. The past, present and future of GraphQL. “Strive for single sources of truth”. Still lots of things to do in the ecosystem. #graphqlfinland pic.twitter.com/u9ypVRwOpl
— Marko Wallin (@walokra) October 19, 2018
The last chance to practice your Finnish was at the Afterparty ? at the Gofore office!
“Someone said your afterparty was the best conference party ever :)”
Foosball was popular also at the afterparty.
I came to Gofore as a trainee six months ago. Now that I have started as a full-time employee here in the growing cadre of data-oriented people, I can shed some more light on how a former physicist found his way to an IT consultancy company.
My journey to Gofore started at the end of 2017. Having been unemployed for quite some time, I heard from a friend that he had found his workplace through a training/recruiting program at Saranen Consulting. I had been vaguely aware of the existence of these programs, but after this I started keeping my eyes open for one that would fit my professional profile. Sure enough, at the end of the year, I noticed Saranen had a program starting in early 2018 called AnalyticsPro. With a focus on developing competency in the field of data analytics, this seemed to be right up my alley. The program consisted of some training days and, most importantly, working as a trainee in a company doing real work for the duration of the program. Just what I had been looking for: an opportunity to do actual work in the field of data analytics and show that I can deliver real results. I attended an information event about the program mid-January, and, convinced that this would help me find a career, I sent in my application.
A variety of skills
The process started well for me. I received an invitation to an interview at Saranen a few days after submitting my application for the program. The first interview was a group interview with about two dozen people participating. When we were going around the table, each person introducing themselves, I was quite amazed at the variety of skills people were bringing to the program. There were coders, mathematicians, engineers, marketers. There was even one former professional poker player. As there were many people, the interview was quite short, focusing on our strengths and personal development expectations. I remember being a little nervous about the event, hoping my scientific strengths would carry me through to the next step.
And proceed I did. The very next day I received an invitation to the second round of interviews, carried out as video interviews. So, I put on a nice shirt (wearing comfortable college trousers under the table), and answered a few questions into my laptop’s video camera. This was a new experience for me, and it took a few tries to get good enough videos for my liking. I sent the videos onward, again hoping for the best.
The next few weeks were a harrowing time for me. Time went on, the application period for the program ended, and the good people at Saranen were hard at work finding companies for all the people in the program. Though there were weekly information emails from Saranen reassuring me that I was still in the program, no further interviews at companies were coming my way.
Until the very end of February. I finally had interviews in two places: THL, a large governmental installation, and Gofore, a consultancy company that I had never heard of until this time. THL was the second interview; they didn’t seem too happy with me, and in the end, decided to proceed with someone else.
The contract was signed
At Gofore I had two interviews. The first one was more general and focused on the company and what my role here could be. The interview went well, and I would proceed to the second one. This was more technical with some analysis problems. I felt a bit clumsy with my solutions, but I got to the end and did convince the interviewers that I could contribute. I was in the program. The contract was signed by all parties and I started my traineeship.
I was a bit late to join the program, the hiring process having taken some time, and I missed the first few training days at Saranen. I joined the training days shortly before starting my time at Gofore, at the end of March. The first training I attended was for Hadoop and Spark in the cloud, very much big data. All in all, as the training consisted of single days dedicated to one technology/concept (the exceptions being three days for data visualisation with different BI-programs and two for web analytics). As a whole, they proved to be a good introduction to the wide field of data science today, with plenty of information and examples. As a tech-savvy hands-on kind of guy, I would have wished for the training to be a bit more challenging and deep, but I understand the training had to be suitable for people with various backgrounds. And it did provide plenty of information for anyone to go further on their own, were they interested in doing so.
I got a free hoodie!
On my first actual working day at Gofore, I got a backpack full of Gofore clothing (hoodie!), and had my induction at the company by my ‘people person’ (PP) and a culture coach, with a free lunch. I was also introduced to my mentor during the traineeship, Juho Salmi. My trainee project would be to analyse user data in the company internal personnel tool, Hohto, and develop analytics for various purposes. To this end I was attached to the Hohto team, to learn how to access the data and to see how Hohto was being developed.
As someone with an academic research background, this was a bit of a culture shock for me. I had no experience in software development, and even though I learned much about this work in the following weeks, I felt like I was not contributing much. I was mostly working with the data by myself, giving regular updates to my mentor about my process, and trying to follow the work of Hohto team. My biggest contribution was participating in their daily standups and saying something along the lines of “Still working on the data, nothing new to report”. Looking back, I feel this is the biggest area of development for Gofore concerning onboarding people with my background. Then again, I cannot say how things could have been done better at the time, as there were not many people around focusing on data analysis. And I was not left alone: I was in constant contact with my mentor and had regular checkups with my PP about my progress.
Things improved considerably for me at the beginning of June when I and a few other analytics oriented summer trainees who were rounded up by Juho to form the Gofore X team to work on internal proof-of-concepts. I was joined by Tommi, Max and Teemu, and we started a scrum of our own, with Meeri as our scrum master. For me, this was the time when things really started to fall into place. I was now surrounded by people working on subjects similar to my own, ready to discuss and comment on the work, and the sprint structure with dailys and weeklys gave structure and focus to our work.
Work was not the only thing that was flowing nicely at that point. After I got used to showing up at the office every day and started to get a feel for my surroundings, I came to like the company. I had a lot of freedom in my project, the people around me were professional and helpful, and the office and equipment were excellent. I had a good time with my work and training, I was learning a lot and even producing results with my analysis work (to be made public in the near future).
Looking forward to what the future brings
When things got flowing, summer went by surprisingly quickly, and it came time to finish and evaluate the traineeship period. Being a little stressed about the meeting with all the stakeholders that would decide my near future, I was relieved to hear everyone (including myself) was happy with my progress during these months here. There were also interesting sounding analytics projects lined up for the autumn in which I could participate, so it was unanimously decided I would continue working with data at Gofore.
And here I am now, a data scientist in an IT consultancy company. Looking forward to what the future brings!
Final addendum: As I was writing this blog post, a colleague got ill, and I volunteered to take his position in the team interviewing a potential new employee. I would administer the same interview task I worked on myself some months ago, having moved from one side of the table to the other. The circle was complete.