Ari, her backpack, and the Holi Festival

Meet Ari, our smooth-talking, globe-trotting, code-wrangling backend developer

Ari is a backend developer at SamKnows whose ambition is to become a master of backend development.  If you ask us, she’s well on her way… 

Originally from Cuba, Ari moved to Portugal and then Spain as a teenager, and then over to London a few years ago. She’s already had a varied and exciting career, and has plenty to share about her life as a backend developer, what it takes to succeed, and the importance of a healthy work-life balance. 

Ari’s interview is part of a series of articles for Project Margaret Hamilton, which is a free coding program for young women led by the women of SamKnows, providing real insight into the different careers available in tech. We’re hugely supportive of this initiative and consider it an important step in creating a more inclusive and diverse technology industry.

Hi Ari, tell us about yourself. 
Hello, I’m Ari. I’m a backend developer, and I consider myself a citizen of the world! My biggest passion is travel and my favourite trip so far was to India to experience the Holi Festival. I also love being out in nature. I know lots of developers who also love the outdoors and I wanted to mention that because many people think that we spend our free time sitting in a basement coding or playing computer games. Although, while I was studying, I was mostly indoors…

What is backend development? 
It can be tricky to explain, but Learn to Code with Me has a good definition: 

Backend development (also stylized as back-end or back end development) is the skill that powers the web. Yet it does it modestly, without fanfare—allowing people to browse their favorite sites without even knowing about all the work put in by the backend developer or team.

As a backend developer, you could be in charge of the data pipeline or handling everything related to server management on top of the application development of a product. However, all these disciplines could be treated as very separate responsibilities at different companies. This image from the Web Developer roadmap gives you an idea of what a backend engineer’s landscape looks like (good luck!).

Also, backend development is constantly evolving, mostly because the working models of big tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, have been shaping the majority of software engineering roles for years.

Don’t feel fazed by all the change though - it’s a good thing. Large tech companies have the money and the resources that allow them to make mistakes, and because of that they’ve created tools and methodologies that help the industry improve as a whole, such as testing new products. Netflix, for instance, developed the Chaos Engineering concept and open sourced a tool to help testing the resiliency and recoverability of services.

Why did you become a backend developer?
I love intellectual challenges and problem solving. And I really like architecting software solutions - it’s craftsmanship! I was terrible at art and this is my way of creating something.

Backend development also takes you closer to data science and data engineering, and I find that more interesting and complex. There are more problems to solve as well as many more career prospects to choose from. Also, importantly, backend development offered me a good quality of life, job security, and the chance to fulfil my travelling dreams.

Do you need to be good at maths to be good at backend development? 
If you’re dealing with data analysis, you need to like maths.  However, if you’re creating a website for an artist, maths doesn’t matter.  You need to know some basics in maths but most people can do that no problem.  When I did my degree, I needed to pass maths and physics but I’ve never used those modules.  I mostly learned what I needed on the job. 

How much did you know about development before choosing it as a career?
I knew a fair amount.  My parents taught me about it, my dad especially.  My dad is an IT-related professional so he was the one who planted the seed in my mind.  However, I wasn’t super excited to start my degree… . I knew that I was going to be really good at it because I was good at science and engineering.  But for the first two years of university, I was worried and I didn’t know how my future was going to go, and if I was going to enjoy it.  Uni was very theory-orientated and I couldn’t see how to apply that theory in the real world.  Working for a company was what opened development up to me and got me excited.

So you went to university? 
Yes, I studied Software Engineering for four years in Madrid.  I then started working as a junior intern at a consultancy company half-way through my degree.  I documented code and tested new products and features while I was there, which is where a lot of people start.  I also waitressed on the weekends and there was a year when I worked every day of the week - Sunday to Sunday.

Did you burn out?! 
I did when I stopped waitressing - I actually put my back out for two months!  But it was all worth it, since everything I learned from university and from the consultancy guided me to my second internship at a New York startup where I became the first employee.  I worked in Madrid for two years with the CTO.  I loved working for them and I’m very grateful that I also had the opportunity to join them at the Techstars accelerator program in Texas for three months.  We were then founded and scaled fast.

Did your hard work pay off?
Now I can say that it did, I’ve learned a lot. But I’ve learned more than just how to do my job. I’ve learned the importance of setting standards for yourself, in terms of pay and working hours, particularly if you’re freelancing and living by yourself.

I’d say the burn out was a good thing since it accelerated my career progression but it’s unsustainable to work all hours of the day and night, you just stop being productive.  

Ari's moved around a lot!

What’s your biggest challenge in backend development?
The biggest challenge comes down to how to work in the most productive way with things that are outside of your control.  You have to work as part of a team and adapt to different ways of doing things.  Some of your colleagues will have different points of view and so you need to be able to find a balance and work in a joyful way, while respecting standards and overcoming biases. It comes with practice and is very rewarding. 

What makes you feel the most satisfied at work?
Helping my colleagues and releasing new features for a project that we’ve been designing for a while - even if it’s just a small piece of a bigger picture.

Where do you want to be in 10 years time? 
I want to be happy and doing something I love. I want to live close to the mountains somewhere sunny, and have a few more travel pins on my world map by then. Oh, and I’d like a private island.

And lastly, who inspires you? 
Rahma Javed who is the Director Engineering for Deliveroo. I was amazed by the way she talked about mentoring and helping other developers. When you think of her achievements, you wouldn’t think she has time for helping other developers, but she does. And when I spoke to her, she mentioned how she encourages team members to do well and spend time with more junior developers since she appreciated how that people had done that for her. Plus she’s an awesome software developer. 

Ari