When TrustBuilder customers use our products, they can immediately judge the quality of work that Andreea Penu (28) delivers. As a front-end developer, she builds the user interface. Delivering a good customer experience and improving people’s productivity is her responsibility. Her main motivation: learning and developing new skills.
If your mother asks you what you do for a living, what do you say?
Andreea: Usually, I say that I build web and phone applications. And, more specifically, I create everything that a user sees and interacts with. Everyone uses social media – all smartphones have internet applications nowadays. I notice they quickly get what I do. Most of the time their next question is, “so you could build a website for me?” Sometimes I do that, for instance when I built a website for an organization of translators and interpreters.
Back end versus front end
Did you know you wanted to become a front-end developer when you started studying multimedia?
Andreea: It all started, I guess, in the IT classes in secondary school. I realized that I got a hang of it faster than the rest of the class. I was fascinated by the fact that I could build my own web pages starting from scratch. That influenced me to start applied informatics, but that was too focused on the technology, not on the actual product we were building. So, I switched to multimedia technology, which was more of an all-round curriculum on how to design a product, build and market it.
Can you tell me a bit more about your role as a front-end developer? And what is the relationship with back-end development?
Andreea: I like to use the restaurant analogy for this since we could compare it to the dining experience. When you enter a restaurant, you immediately get seated at a table (our application) and from there you are guided by the waiter to look at the menu and make a choice (the user interface). The menu must be clear and easy to understand so that the customer can make a good decision. Then the waiter comes to the table and makes sure the customer understands the menu, can ask questions if needed and take their order (Interaction on a page). This is the front end. We will make sure that the customer has a great experience and will help them find the right information needed to make a decision. The backend is the kitchen in this analogy. The customer doesn’t know what is exactly going on in the kitchen, because it’s behind the scenes. They just expect that their meal is going to be prepared. Sometimes it can be hectic in the kitchen, but you won’t notice it since you are only interacting with the waiter.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Andreea: There is no such thing as a typical day. It depends on the priority that day or what makes more sense to do. Some days I mainly spend my time analyzing what needs to be done and do research on the different options. Most days I am programming: this can consist of implementing a new feature, creating a reusable web component, solving a bug or writing tests for completed functionality. When my colleagues finish their work, I’ll be reviewing their code. And, of course, I regularly have sprint planning meetings with the colleagues that settle our activities for the days to come. Sometimes priorities change but, fortunately, the development team is well shielded off from outside pressures.
A job well done
When are you satisfied about your day’s work? Do you count that in lines of code?
Andreea: Not at all. Writing many lines of code doesn’t necessarily mean that the code is great. A lot of times it is more challenging to write less code that does the same. It’s more important to write well-structured and effective code that has been documented properly. Every functionality you develop is different and getting it done, does not always require the same amount of work. I am satisfied not only when the job is done, but more so when the functionality works without bugs, is well structured, well documented and can be reused by other developers. That gives me more satisfaction.
And I am happy when I have learned new things, for instance through the feedback that my colleague Jeroen gives on what I wrote. I really appreciate constructive feedback and urge my colleagues to be brutally honest.
You really value learning, I think.
Andreea: This job requires me to keep learning because technology changes really fast, this is also the reason I love my job. I enjoy the process of learning. I want to be challenged – otherwise I get bored. When I learn new stuff, it doesn’t feel like work, it’s just fun.
The importance of interaction design
When products are developed, the focus is often on the technical solution, not on how a user interacts. Interaction design is often neglected. How does TrustBuilder score in that respect?
Andreea: We have greatly improved, I think. It is an art to make things as easy as possible on the user. As developers, we work very closely with the analyst who translates technical features to the way they will be used, and with the designer, who draws up the interface. The aim is maximum usability, to offer a good customer experience and enhance user productivity. As a developer you have to look with the eyes of the user. In fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility, from the product manager to the tester and something you have to keep in mind in everything you do. You need to constantly improve the user experience. Just look at how the Facebook interface has changed between its inception and now. Personally, I think having studied multimedia technology helps me keep the end-user top of mind.
Do you ever meet the customers you develop for?
Andreea: No, and I think that’s a good thing. I like the interaction with people, of course. But development is not the interface with customers. If a customer gave me feedback, I might immediately start changing the product for this one customer. It’s good that sales and product management act as a filter and set priorities.
A culture of diversity
What do you value in your employers?
Andreea: The culture of a company is very important. And I always want my company to be professional. It needs to know what the strategy is, where we want to go. Just throwing money at things and hoping it will be successful, does not work. I think startups are sometimes better off not having too much funding, as it forces them to focus. When I came to TrustBuilder, I was impressed by the level of professionalism in the company.
How would you describe TrustBuilder’s culture?
Andreea: It’s a very open culture. Everyone is very approachable, and we are stimulated to learn and extend ourselves. The company understands that we need to invest in know-how in order to get the best product possible for our customers. We are stimulated to learn. TrustBuilder is also very flexible. Working in a scale-up makes it possible to touch on many things. If I were to work at Facebook, my only job might be to work on the ‘Like’ button all the time…. There’s a lot of interaction between everyone at TrustBuilder. The company also cherishes diversity.
Globally, 92 percent of developers are male. How does it feel to be a female developer in a man’s world?
Andreea: I’m used to it. When I studied IT and multimedia, there were also few women, but it does not make a difference to me. We deliver the same work. Women or men are equally professional. The gender of my colleagues is no issue for me, the way we work together is much more important.
How do you see your future in IT?
Andreea: I have no fixed career plan. I want to enjoy what I am doing because I know that’s when I thrive and I want to continue improving my skills. There are many paths that I could take: become a lead, start my own project, become a systems architect… There’s not much point in deciding now what I want to do when I am 35, as there will be many more options that don’t exist yet or I might think differently in a couple of years.
If you were given the opportunity to put a message on a big billboard in the center of your town, what would your message be?
Andreea: Accept everyone as they are. Sometimes the first impression you have about someone is wrong, so you need to give people the opportunity to prove their worth and show their talents.