Developer Spotlight: Sumathi Thirumani

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In Developer Spotlight, full-stack developer Sumathi Thirumani talks about the importance of planning ahead and never losing sight of the big picture!

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve been working on?

I have been working on the British Columbia government’s freedom-of-information modernization project for more than a year now. Its aim is to improve how the province receives and manages FOI requests, and to reduce the time and cost this process entails.

It’s a very interesting project because of the cutting-edge technologies and best-in-breed tech stacks we get to use such as, robotic process automation (RPA), data visualization, and machine learning.

What does the day-to-day look like, and what do you love about your job?

Typically, my day starts by attending the scrum meeting, after which I organize and set goals for my day and week, and prepare a to-do list based on our team’s priorities. This helps to keep me super focused.

Then, the rest of the day I spend on development activities. Being a full-stack developer, I switch between different segments of the system: backend development, workflows, DevOps, and periodic system assessment for quality and automation. That being said, I’m always available for discussions and peer reviews. Finally, at the end of each day; I review the day’s goals and finish by looking through a good article.

The top three things I love about my job are:

  1. People and collaboration. As a team we respect each other’s views and knowledge, we challenge the challenges, we learn from each other, and we deliver. Above all, we care for each other and have each other’s backs.
  2. The challenges. With each new sprint we face new, interesting challenges that we turn into opportunities to solve, such as by executing some code ideas we come up with to create a full-blown proof of concept.
  3. An open-door policy. My knowledge isn’t put in a box and told to stay there. I can freely share my ideas and contribute to any segment of the project including technical, functional, and process improvements.

Throughout this project what are some of the obstacles that you faced? How did you handle these challenges, and what did you learn from them?

Technical obstacles are a given, so of course we’re going to do our very best to overcome them. However, what’s been most interesting are the people challenges, as there’s a sharp learning curve to get the soft skills right. We started this project during the pandemic, so we’ve had to make that special effort to get to know each other, establish connections, understand everyone’s unique strengths and styles, and align ourselves to the project’s goals. I want to offer big kudos to my team and the scrum master for making all this work!

Looking back on your time on the project, what are three key takeaways from the experience?

Firstly, don’t lose sight of the big picture! Any large long-term solution will offer challenges. The important thing is not to get stuck. The key is the delivery path, decision-making and placing focus on staying agile will keep the team delivering the project’s business values.

Secondly, plan ahead! The key is to plan together through open discussion. A couple of months before our pilot, we went over all critical features of the system and executed negative testing from both functional and security aspects. Then based on the results and our discussion we addressed the fail-over by using the most suitable defensive programming and recovery strategy. We also drafted system monitoring and maintenance approaches, and disaster-recovery plans for our highly available systems. With our open communication we were able to proactively plan and anticipate all of this.

Finally, be prepared for change! Whether that change is in business scope, tech stack, or the role you have to take on, be ready for new circumstances.

What do you enjoy about working at AOT, and what advice would you give to people starting out in their career as a software developer?

I have been working at AOT for over three years now, and we have very passionate experts in so many areas. We acknowledge and respect each other’s uniqueness, and we can casually start with a “Hello!” over coffee and then start exchanging ideas.

The first project I worked on was It’s AOT’s low-code solution built using best-in-breed open-source frameworks that help digitize and automate business needs. I’ve been one of the technical architects in this effort, so I’ve been part of the idea and design process from clean slate to open-source release.

At our R&D lab we work through many iterations in our frameworks and tools evaluation phase, where we make careful comparisons of evaluation results as we discuss each one of our architectural decisions.

I have also been a lead programmer and have onboarded more than five ministry clients for various business needs.

My top three pieces of advice to people starting out their career as a software developer would be:

  1. Keep yourself motivated and challenged every day so you can get better, not just in the knowledge you acquire but in the observational skills that let you learn and apply that knowledge.
  2. Be precise and open in your communication, because without a conscientious exchange of ideas it’s impossible to “work smart.”
  3. Focus on all aspects of deliverables including security, quality, performance, integration, deployment, specs, lifecycle, and upgrades, as it’s not just about the coding.

Can you share with us some of the things you like to do when you’re not at work?

When not at work, I like to spend time at the gym. Besides that, I enjoy sketching dresses and reading good articles and interviews.