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[Career Pathways] Everyone in my family is a doctor

In our new series ‘Career Pathways’, we’ll share inspiring, real-life stories from our Thoughtworkers based in Australia on how they began their careers in technology, their learnings, and how their journey at Thoughtworks has continued to enable their career as technologists.

Photo of Garima Singh

Name: Garima Singh
Joined Thoughtworks: 2010
Role: Developer, Lead Consultant

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

While I was in the UK on a Thoughtworks assignment, we went to learn how to canoe from a fellow Thoughtworker. Even though I didn't (and still don't) know how to swim, I was super thrilled about the event. Everything was going well until the canoe flipped over, leaving me stuck in the water with no way out but to shout for help. So as I tried to climb back into the canoe, all while looking like a monkey trying to jump back in, my colleagues came to my rescue, and that became one of my fondest memories for how Thoughtworks became a family.

Garima on a canoe

What was your pathway into a Tech career?

Everyone in my family is a doctor, except me. For a while I thought I’d end up pursuing a career in medicine, but luckily, my dad was also really interested in doing a lot of engineering work at home. So whenever something broke down, he tried to manually figure out a solution or investigate the problem by talking to other people. I was about 12 years old and my dad would always involve me and my sister by giving us smaller tasks like simple wood work, fixing cable wires and so on. 

I ended up choosing computing as a subject during my high school. Shortly after that, my dad bought our first home computer. He knew nothing about them but he somehow figured out how to open a computer. Together we worked out how to dismantle it, upgrade the hard disk, and put it all back together again. It was very exciting.

Even though my dad is a doctor, he was always interested in what I was trying to do. That's how I gradually went on to study Computer Science and Engineering for my bachelor's degree, and later joined my first company as a software developer.

What has your journey been like at Thoughtworks?

When I joined Thoughtworks as a Software Developer, I had less than one year of experience, so I joined Thoughtworks University (a global entry-level program), which was a good thing for me because I had never really worked in such a highly collaborative manner before. We were pair programming all the time and I hadn't worked in an environment where you take a problem from scratch and figured out how to build a solution. It was very different to my previous experiences and also a massive cultural change, from coming fresh out of college with the mindset that if you put your hand up first, you're the one who answers the question, to working together as a team.

The first 1- 2 years at Thoughtworks were enlightening because I really started to understand what being a ‘consultant’ meant. In hindsight, I became a software developer first and then a consultant. For me, being a consultant means taking a page from your book of experiences, being confident and bold enough to speak up and add value to where your customer is seeking it.

I also had the rare opportunity to work in quite a number of Thoughtworks offices; I started working in India at the Gurgaon office then in Bangalore; the U.K in Manchester and London; then to Singapore; and finally in Melbourne, Australia, where I’m currently based. I also visited the offices in Chennai and Pune.

Working in the India offices was a completely different experience to consulting at the client site. So when I first worked at a client site in London, it felt like a massive change from only writing code to translating it to the client using language that everyone (techies and non-techies) in the room understood. I also had to learn how to demonstrate to the client that I understood and valued the vision they were trying to move towards.

When I took a small break from Thoughtworks, I had an interesting role where I had to create my own team culture. At that moment I realised, despite being technical, I had to learn how to nurture a team, create a collaborative environment, and a safe culture. At this time in my life, I also learnt that it’s always good to say “yes” to everything as there is always something to learn.

Thoughtworks University

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently I am working on an intense 3-week advisory engagement to assess an in-flight programme of work for a client. The engagement is delivered 100% remotely, without any face-to-face contact with the client, before, and during the engagement. Our objectives are to provide technical and programme management advice and recommendations to help the client scale the programme while considering the constraints that COVID-19 has brought.

This is one of my first advisory engagements and I got a chance to learn a lot through working with senior Thoughtworkers and their experiences in similar gigs.

The main challenges have been balancing work since transitioning to work from home due to COVID-19 and having to be on Zoom calls from morning to night. It’s always something to consider when you have children at home, but luckily my husband has stepped in to help out.

Another interesting challenge I faced while working in a completely remote environment is rediscovering ways to establish relationships with the client stakeholders. The team came up with a useful playbook on how to  handle remote engagements during COVID-19. For example, we experimented with the client the concept of “virtual coffees” to bridge the gap and develop other channels of communication outside of the workshops in order to form relationships.

How has your technical expertise evolved or matured throughout your career?

Earlier in my career, I mostly focused on how to solve problems quickly, often leaving the surface of the problem unscratched. However as I started working alongside many talented people at Thoughtworks, I learnt to start questioning and digging deeper into problems and issues. This helped me learn to ask the right questions, and understand whether you are fixing a symptom or solving the actual underlying problem. Thoughtworks’ culture has helped see the problem from multiple lenses and helped me grow into a technologist that can provide solutions that last and scale.

Garima with a group of friends

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Something I am extremely proud of is the network of amazing people I have built throughout the years. Whenever I get stuck on a problem or have a question, I always feel like I can turn to a room full of brilliant minds who can help offer their knowledge, experience and different perspectives.

What unique opportunities do technologists have when it comes to advocating for positive and social change?

Nowadays we order almost anything we want online. My family and I recently moved to Melbourne from Singapore shortly before COVID-19 became a global pandemic. We relied on doing everything online; we looked for a suitable area to live in, read forums to figure out which schools our kids could go to, rented our new house, bought furniture and organised our other household items coming from Singapore. Despite the lockdown and inability to meet people face-to-face, it’s great that we can still connect online and not feel so alone in a new place.

For me, technology connects us and allows us to create an impact irrespective of the constraints and boundaries. As technologists having access to all the technology and tools we have today, gives us incredible power. Given this, we should educate ourselves with the issues and events around us so that we can channel this power to make a positive and meaningful impact.

Garima at a conference

What is the one trend in recent technology that has captured your interest the most?

What I’ve started wondering about recently is all the standards and specifications such as OSB API, cloudevents, AsyncAPI, that are coming out and how they help strike a balance between providing implementers with autonomy they require yet leveraging tech governance to achieve more consistent consumer experience. With more adoption of service-oriented architecture and clouds, these efforts help bring in more harmony and standardisations between multiple tech and tools. I am trying to follow a couple of these closely.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Recently, I attended a women's leadership training where I was introduced to ‘active listening’. While I see myself as a good listener the training taught us how to also read into a speaker's behaviour and body language as well as learn to pick up ‘unspoken messages’ as well. I also learnt that paraphrasing the message said by the speaker can help establish a shared understanding and also help you better understand what they’re saying. I have been trying to practice this and make it my second nature.

What's next for your career?

I took a break from consulting for 3 years and I am back in Thoughtworks now. I am looking forward to becoming a better technical leader.  I would like to continue staying hands-on and working closely with my team to solve interesting problems.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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