Paula Paul, Distinguished Engineer with Greyshore Associates and volunteer and former Track Lead at Women Who Code, interviews Maria Arkelatyan, Senior Developer and Developer Manager with PokerStars. They discuss Maria’s work at PokerStars, her move from mathematics into computer science, and then into a tech management role, and what she sees for the future.
How did you come to your career in software engineering? Did you find any challenges because of your mathematics degree or because you're a woman in a largely male-dominated field?
When I was choosing my direction, I was torn between mathematics and computer science. I had some experience with computer programming, so I decided to go with applied mathematics. Then, I had a chance to take an internship in computer science. After that, I knew I wanted to be a computer programmer. I still finished my degree in applied mathematics. It helps to have a strong math background. I'm very happy it worked out as it did. Regarding your question about being a woman in a male-dominated field, I never really faced any issues with that.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your company and some things that you enjoy about it?
It's a great company, a great team, and great people. They are very professional and at the same time very friendly. PokerStars is the largest online poker provider in the world. We have a very technologically advanced system that handles millions of players. We need to provide the workflow, without any interruptions, 24/7. It's challenging and interesting.
How did you manage your transition from a senior developer to a developer manager? How did you adjust? Were there any challenges?
It happened naturally for me. I like to take on as much responsibility as I can. It motivates me. I'm really good with follow-ups, making sure people understand each other, and with making sure they are on the same page at any stage of the project. I was also taking a lead on a project and got a promotion a little bit over a year ago into a development management role. I really, really enjoy what I do now. I don't develop software that much in this role and I miss that. However, I do enjoy working on many projects simultaneously. I work with different people, different business analysts, and different projects. It’s very interesting how it all flows.
How would you describe your leadership style now that you are in management and a leadership role?
I'm still trying to figure out my management style. I like to be very open with my team and to share as much information as I can. I always explain why we are making decisions, that really helps to be well understood. When people understand why things are happening, they are much more cooperative, more open. They trust me.
Tell me a little more about your team. Is it all different disciplines or a large group?
We concentrate on poker back-end. Everything that happens behind the scenes when you play poker is happening on our back-end servers. My team, including me, is 14 people and everyone is a senior software developer. It is a very professional crowd. A big part of my success as a leader comes from my team. Working with such professionals is easy. We are also a distributed team, we have a few people located in Dublin and the rest of the team is in Toronto.
What type of tooling and tech stacks do you use? What skills do you have on your team?
We mainly use the latest version of C++ for our development. In addition, we work a lot with relational databases. We work mainly with Db2, so we all have very strong skills with SQL. Some people on the team have really strong skills with scripting in Python or Perl.
Do you have time for some things outside of work? What kind of things do you enjoy?
It is very busy with work and managing so many people directly. In my personal life, I am also very busy. I have two little kids, five years and six months old. They keep me really busy and entertained outside of work. If I get time for myself, I like to go for long walks. If I have the energy, I hit the gym.
Do you think about the future, either from your position at work and where that goes or just in general about your career in technology and what the future looks like?
I do think about the future. At work, my short-term plans are to develop more leadership within the team, so I can delegate some of the work to the other leaders. I will get some extra time to concentrate on some initiatives that I'm starting to improve our life as developers. I also want to work more on developing my leadership skills.
You mentioned some things that would improve your lives as developers. Is there anything that you would share? I'm always interested in making developers happier.
It is more specific stuff for our job, our projects. We are working on some internal improvements which will help us to more quickly investigate issues and develop some types of modules. We're also constantly working on knowledge sharing, making sure we have good coverage within the team.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your role, your team, or your company?
I want to mention that we have good educational programs in place. People often take some courses to improve their professional skills. We also have opportunities to take courses not related to professional skills. We really appreciate that.
Can you leave us with a pro tip?
If you want to move forward in your career, don't wait to be promoted to start doing the job you want. Start taking more responsibility and showing your leadership. That always gets noticed and you will naturally proceed forward in your career. For women, specifically in this area, don't be afraid to be a woman in male-dominated field. Also, choose the company you work for wisely, it makes a big difference.