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VMware’s Inspirational Women in Open Source: Spotlight on Olga Maciaszek-Sharma

An interview with Olga Maciaszek-Sharma, a Senior Software Engineer with the Spring Cloud Team, working as a developer on Spring Cloud LoadBalancer, Spring Cloud OpenFeign, Spring Cloud Netflix and Spring Cloud Contract.

Olga discusses her career change from spoken languages to programming and her motivation behind building tools and libraries that people can use to create applications, improving the way software is developed, and leveraging new technology to create opportunities to do a job that users want done.

[Lisa] Hi Olga, good day to you in Warsaw! In the spirit of celebrating women who are making tremendous impact in the tech community at VMware and beyond, I thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

[Olga] Hi Lisa, thanks for inviting me.

[Lisa] Let me open this interview with something I learned about you from a supervisor when you were starting out in programming: “Never in my life have I met another developer like Olga. As a QA, she did DevOps work and set up a whole environment for testing. She administered fixes to public Jenkins plugins and not only released the open source Accurest library, but developed features for it. A true self-starter, Olga doesn’t know phrases like ‘I don’t know how to do it’ and will do her best to find an answer to a problem, and if she fails to do so, she’ll ask for guidance. The thing is that she rarely asks for help because she rarely needs it.”

I must say, Olga, a supervisor’s endorsement hardly gets any better than that. Cheers!

[Olga] Thanks a lot. I’m grateful to my many fantastic colleagues and mentors who were willing to teach me and show me the ropes both when I was starting as a developer and transitioning to new and different projects that made it possible for me.

[Lisa] And speaking of Jenkins, your work on the Jenkins deployment pipeline in a previous role is recognized throughout VMware. Your motto judging from your extensive experience in developing enterprise-level applications as well as solutions and tooling aimed at improving the software delivery process must be build, test, deploy.

[Olga] Yes, you’re right, I’m a big proponent of using continuous deployment, and I believe good tests are of paramount importance to a quality software project. In fact, my first industry jobs were in quality assurance, and even now I teach people how to write better tests in my spare time. My main task in one of my previous jobs was to develop and maintain deployment pipelines using Jenkins Groovy DSL and various plugins. While working with these open source tools, we sometimes found issues that were affecting our solutions, so I was able to contribute to some of these open source projects, such as Jenkins Pipeline Plugin, as part of my job.

A true self-starter, Olga doesn’t know phrases like “I don’t know how to do it” and will do her best to find an answer to a problem and if she fails to do so, she’ll ask for guidance. The thing is that she rarely asks for help because she rarely needs it.

[Lisa] And that experience led you to becoming a member of the Spring Cloud Team, participating in the development of Spring Cloud Contract, Spring Cloud LoadBalancer, Spring Cloud OpenFeign and Spring Cloud Netflix. As someone who uses Java every day, I’m wondering if you could tell us about what makes Spring “the world’s most popular Java framework?”

[Olga] Spring makes it extremely easy for software engineers to focus on developing the business logic for their applications and be productive as it takes care of a big number of common concerns and removes the need of adding tons of boilerplate code. It provides a lot of integrations for popular tools and libraries. It’s robust and powerful, but also flexible and performant.

[Lisa] I understand from Josh Long, Spring senior engineer who hosted you on his A Bootiful Podcast, that Spring is celebrating its 20th anniversary in October. He told me you have been a force of nature for the Spring Cloud team and you’re “someone who has this effortless ability to flutter between net-new contributions to the stack and maintenance on existing code, regardless of the scope and size of the work.” That your name is all over the Spring Cloud stack and you’re willing to take on any job and improve every inch of the codebase you visit.

[Olga] That’s very kind. I’m honored to be on the Spring team.

[Lisa] I’m curious about the relationship between Netflix and Spring Cloud Netflix. What’s the story there?

[Olga] Netflix developed some popular open source libraries that it uses to run its platform. The Spring Cloud team created projects that provide seamless integrations for developers who want to use Netflix OSS libraries in their Spring Boot applications.

[Olga] has this effortless ability to flutter between net-new contributions to the stack and maintenance on existing code, regardless of the scope and size of the work.

[Lisa] Now I understand the connection. When did you first develop an interest in programming and what had spurred it on?

[Olga] I didn’t really start programming until I was 28 when I wrote my first “Hello Worlds” while learning Java at university. I did learn some HTML and CSS at school as a teenager, but it bored me I’ve never liked working with front-end or design and it discouraged me from pursuing computer science. It took some serendipitous events in my 20s to get me really interested first in testing software and, later on, in building it.

[Lisa] How can I resist? What kind of serendipitous events in your 20s?

[Olga] I had studied Spanish, Portuguese and English at university and when I completed my master’s, I worked in translation and organizing cultural events. I grew to dislike having to coordinate so many tasks, and that’s when a good friend who had a job software testing at Lionbridge got in touch and told me the company was looking for people who were good in languages.

[Lisa] But the job required more than just fluency in Spanish and Polish, right? They were looking for people with an aptitude for linguistics?

[Olga] That’s right. I got started at Lionbridge with game localization testing, detecting translation and localization bugs in the products’ graphical interfaces. I really liked working with games and software and eventually started getting more technical and involved in other testing projects that were related to testing software in general.

[Lisa] And then you pursued a second degree in computer science?

[Olga] Yes. I took a lot of Java classes at university and also started working with automation testing and then programming. It turns out my first programming job at Outbox was with Java 8, so I started with the language already after the improvements brought upon JDK 8 were in place. I really liked the open source ecosystem that’s built around Java, the frameworks, and I wanted to build my career within that ecosystem.

[Lisa] You interned at Google Summer of Code (GSoC) while obtaining your degree. Could you tell us a little bit about the project you worked on?

[Olga] I was assigned to the Systers Mailman Project, a simple test automation project, and created a series of Selenium WebDriver scripts, covering the specific features added by Systers to the Mailman project, and a collection of functions that checked if the data in the lists databases was being correctly modified while users performed web-based actions.

[Lisa] I understand your project code significantly contributed to the project’s testing platform, which was imperative to future releases.

[Olga] It did. But for me, the big plus of the project was it got me started in open source contributing. GSoC is a fantastic program for students, and I’d recommend it to anyone starting out in open source. I’d actually like to see VMware sponsor similar programs, not necessarily GSoC because it’s so branded, but other similar programs that are not under one company umbrella, such as Outreachy.

[Lisa] You went on to work as a test automation engineer and software engineer using Java and Groovy over a span of the next seven years for three Poland-based companies (Outbox, Codearte and Devskiller) where you were the founding engineer of the DataFairy project. What got you into using Groovy?

[Olga] Scripting and closures. Groovy has a very flat learning curve for Java developers it’s a JVM technology and when I began learning it, it had some capabilities that were not available in Java and it was very useful, especially for building some of the internal tooling that we used.

[Lisa] You came on board at Pivotal in September 2018 as a Senior Software Engineer on the Spring Cloud Team, working on many of the Spring projects. When you were promoted to a Senior Member of Technical Staff in March 2020, you officially moved over to VMware to continue work on Spring. Was it difficult at first to work with the senior engineers? Were you intimidated?

[Olga] I was intimidated at first. Also, in the beginning, when I was contributing to the libraries and the tools we make, I was thinking, “What if I make a mistake and potentially break so many people all over the world, since these tools have such big adoption.” But then I learned that this sort of thing happens in software development all the time. To minimize mistakes, you need to pay attention to your testing and adhere to the proper practices of verification when you’re releasing your software.

[Lisa] And as you already mentioned, your VMware mentors and colleagues were instrumental in onboarding you to the job and helping you acclimate.

[Olga] Yes, they were incredibly helpful. Everyone on the Spring team is kind, friendly and helpful, and it’s been that way since day one.

[Lisa] What aspect of your current work really excites you and why?

[Olga] I really like building tools and libraries that people can use to create applications and improve the way software is being developed and to make their lives easier. The thing too about working on libraries and frameworks is it enables you to work on a lot of different areas of software development. For instance, I was working on some of the Spring Cloud tools when this big transition toward the microservices and cloud native architectures was happening. Now I’m able to work with Graal VM native images. We get to work with a lot of new technology and are involved in shaping what its adoption will look like and how people will be able to leverage it.

[Lisa] It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in tech, especially open source, but as someone who has had breakthroughs in testing and development work, you’re leading a reform of sorts, setting an example and inspiring others. Did you have mentors when you first embarked on a career in programming after obtaining your second degree?

[Olga] I did have many mentors, though mostly they were men, because there weren’t many women engineers working with me when I started out. They freely shared their knowledge with me in my previous jobs and the current one, and I would not have progressed as much as I have without their insights.

In the beginning, when I was contributing to the libraries and the tools we make, I was thinking, “What if I make a mistake and potentially break so many people all over the world, since these tools have such big adoption?”

[Lisa] Do you foresee sticking with Spring or is there a change of season for you on the horizon?

[Olga] I’m very happy working in open source and my involvement with the Spring Team and Spring projects, and as I gain more experience, I hope to take on more complex tasks that will allow me to progress further in my career.

[Lisa] In closing, when you’re not working on Spring, what do you enjoy doing besides coaching people on how to write better tests?

[Olga] I’m an avid reader. I also enjoy traveling, spending time with family and friends, and learning languages. Spoken languages, not programming languages. Well, I like learning programming languages too!

[Lisa] Well, yes, Olga, that last comment would make total sense, given your talents. Thank you so much for sharing your journey in tech with us and we wish you well in your pursuits.

See Olga’s recent talk at JNation on Declarative Clients in Spring via Spring Cloud OpenFeign and the options coming to Spring and the advantages that these new technologies bring to the developer experience.

Join the heroes behind the ones and zeroes at SpringOne December 6-8, 2022 in San Francisco. Register today!

Stay tuned to the Open Source Blog and follow us on Twitter for more deep dives into the world of open source contributing.

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