“Software engineering is about understanding people and their needs”

For Engineers’ Week, we’re shining the spotlight on a wide variety of people working in the STEM industry in Ireland and Cora Ryan is just one of them.

The science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries have a diverse mix of people working there. People who consistently break down stereotypes of the “white male scientist” that have been associated with roles within the industry in the past. Movements such as #iLookLikeAnEngineer have helped highlight the real faces and people of the industry and inspire a new generation of students preparing to enter it.

Cora Ryan, Product Manager and Team Leader at Fidelity Investments, is one of those inspiring people who lead engineers in their work and bring projects to fruition. Here she talks about what inspires her in her role.

“If you are looking for boredom and consistency, then a career in IT is not for you! “

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What attracted you to your career in software engineering?

When I was in high school in the late 90s, my science teacher would tell us stories about his brother who was a software engineer and how people stopped him to admire his car. I followed the promise of cash all the way to a computer science degree, but luckily my math and logic skills, and a surprising interest in the field, led me to a career in computer science.

My days as a software engineer have taught me that I love understanding how applications work, which is a huge plus for me in my product management role today.

What’s the best thing about working as a product manager?

My interest in people, how they use software, and how software should solve problems for them, not create them, led me to product management. Solving people’s problems is by far the best thing to do in product management and IT in general. Understanding where the problems or inefficiencies exist, finding and delivering a solution to make people’s lives and jobs better and easier, and getting feedback that the problem has been resolved is what motivates me in my role. It’s a difficult role, but it’s a role that I love.

What is the most exciting development that you have witnessed in your industry since you started working there?

Cloud and collaboration technologies have been the biggest and most beneficial advancements I’ve seen.

The cloud equals the scale to the speed. Solutions can be delivered faster, and as a result, problems can be solved for many more people and in a more resilient manner.

Collaboration technologies have allowed us to go from a development team working physically together to an entire team working remotely overnight with no downtime or loss of productivity. Collaboration technologies are the fundamental business continuity plan for software development teams to remain productive despite geography or global pandemics.

I work closely with colleagues in Ireland, USA, India and UK and these collaborations are effective and successful through the use of these collaborative technologies.

What has been the most difficult thing you have had to face in your career, and how did you overcome it?

I really like my job. The fear of Sunday night is not something I need to worry about! Leaving the industry altogether a few years ago was probably the most difficult thing I had to deal with.

I trained as a yoga teacher and thought this was something I wanted to pursue full time. I quit the industry completely, went on a trip, and even had my own yoga studio for a while. Making the decision to leave was very difficult because working in IT has always been something that has given me great personal and professional satisfaction.

Making the decision to return to IT full time was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. This decision took me to the business analyst and product management side of IT, rather than engineering. If I hadn’t left I might have stayed in IT engineering, but the product management destination I landed in is a dream role for me, so the tough decision led me to a much better place.

Having started my IT career at Fidelity Investments, in the Leap Technology Graduate program, it was an obvious choice to return to Fidelity when the opportunity presented itself.

If you had the power to change anything in the STEM industry, what would it be?

The perception that software engineering and computing are ones and zeros! Software engineering is about people, understanding people and their needs. Ones and zeros are a means to an end, and we have come a long way beyond having to understand ones and zeros these days.

Likewise, on the perception: the perception that the STEM sector is not really a career for girls. Many women make significant contributions through careers in software engineering and computer science. Fidelity Investments has many women working in IT. My own group has a strong female representation and in my hierarchy there are more women than men. It is important that inclusive views are encouraged to provide a usable software application for all.

Which of your personality traits makes you the best fit for your job?

Two things: being basically lazy and being very interested in people!

Being inherently lazy is a huge motivator to find inefficiencies and eliminate them. Whether it’s team development and the communication practices we embrace or finding inefficiencies in business processes, or how a software application is used, being lazy ultimately increased productivity for me and for the others.

I have always been very interested in people and what motivates them to take action. This has helped tremendously when designing solutions and making decisions about which features to use. Consumer and user enjoyment is the key measure of app success, and so understanding the consumer is always the first step.

How do you connect with other members of the STEM community?

I find LinkedIn to be a great resource for making connections and learning in this industry. Sharing articles, blogs and e-magazines, or learning podcasts and seminars through the platform allowed me to learn how others solve problems and about research progress.

Has mentoring or coaching been important in your career?

Indirectly, yes. Naturally, I’m very interested in people, so I’ll always take note of how other people operate (probably to learn how I can do something faster or easier). I am fortunate to be surrounded by highly qualified colleagues, which gives me a great opportunity to learn every day.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in your area?

If you are looking for boredom and consistency, then a career in IT is not for you! In IT, you are always at the forefront of novelty. Daily technological advancements are made that require learning and embracing something new, and changing the way we have always done things. Growth and change are all part of the land and it is a great satisfaction to be part of something new.

IT careers also offer a lot of flexibility, from where you can live (especially now) to how you can structure your day. Being able to change your day to suit a personal date or keep a family commitment isn’t as easy to do in some other careers as it is in IT.

Gordon K. Morehouse