your daily code for breakfast

Time for Spotlight number 70: Meet Software Engineer Sarah!

After a small break, it’s time for spotlight number 70! This week we’re going all the way (to me that is ;)) to Brisbane, Australia! I’m going to introduce you to Sarah. Sarah is a software engineers and founder of Smithsoft, “small indie studio making beautiful games for all the players” (from website). I’m very happy that she wants to share her story, cause I think she’s open, honest and inspiring!  Thank you Sarah!

Name: Sarah Jane Smith (yes, really)
Job: Code Boss  (Studio founder, Software Engineer)
Favorite website, app or gadget: Xcode, or if “website, app or gadget” covers it, Bash (the command line shell)
Favorite book: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Twitter:  @sarah_j_smith

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
Fell into it by mistake after finding that I was really good at it, when others found it very difficult.  At first, I studied Architecture, but eventually went back to University to do Computer Science.

What does your working day look like?
It’s a mix of coding, game design, fixing dull niggling bugs, admin stuff liking paying people, handling accounts & answering email.  Sometimes launching new games, flying around the world giving talks and meeting game developers.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Qt/3D which eventually became the technology for  While working for Nokia on C++ frameworks for OpenGL, I headed up a team that produced Qt/3D during a time when touchscreen devices like the iPhone & Android were revolutionizing game development.  Things were moving so fast that Qt/3D changed focus many times while working on it.

AND  Pandora’s Books – — because, it’s the game I am most proud of (so far) and which is 20,000 lines of Swift code, created by me.  Also is my original design, and a massive amount of work to get delivered.  Generally, games like that are the product of a team of 2 or 3 people.  I had a 1/2 time artist, and 1/2 time marketing help; and did it in 6 months.

Do you have a hero or someone who inspires you?

And lots of other inspiring women.


Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
I’m good at it.  I won’t lie – its been very tough to get where I am and there’s many times I wished I was doing something else.  But I fight.  Finding the courage to not be forced out of what I’m great at doing by the negative attitudes of a society that cannot handle competent women in areas dominated by mediocre white men.  The best times have been when I could help other women following this path.  I set up Women Who Code in Brisbane for that reason.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I do.  I have a BSc (Comp Sci) from University of Queensland.  I tried to get into IT before getting the degree as I had been self-teaching for a while, based on some coding I did while working on my (never finished) B. Arch.  But I found that it was impossible to get that entree to the industry.  Even when I got my degree I had to fight like hell to get my first job – agreeing to a short probation and lower salary.  Two months in they lifted the probation and gave me a raise to what all the guys were getting.  Never looked back.  I think it doesn’t matter how old you think you are, or how you cannot wait around while you get a degree – get one, as it will be the best foundation for your career.  The actual learnings are not super valuable, but being part of the University culture for those few years is vital, and once you finally graduate with the piece of paper you’ll never be without an income.  That means you can try a lot of crazy risky things and you’ll always be able to recover if it doesn’t work out.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Even if you don’t envisage writing code full-time, every bit of coding skill you pick up will help massively in a career in this technology based world we are increasingly finding ourselves.  There are fundamental understandings that you cannot grasp until you have delivered your first piece of working software that you see someone interact with.  Learn to code, you might be brilliant at it and not even know.  Don’t give up.  It is hard and the “learn in a week” or “coder weekend” courses try to make out that it’s simple.  Coding is subtle and difficult – and not for the reasons you think.  Most of the people who say they’re good at it aren’t that great, and most have gotten there after years of work – even that teenage “natural computer genius” at high school, who probably got given a computer and was encouraged to code as a kid.  Having the ability to communicate, plan, and work with people is vital to success in tech: if you can code AND do those things you’re worth millions.  Literally.  Don’t leave coding to the cave dwellers.  It belongs to all of us.

On twitter you mentioned a very interesting fun fact: that you wrote a x-platform Plist editor in C++, I’d love to hear more about that :-) How did you come up with the idea? Could you tell us a bit more about the whole process? :-)

It’s quite a story.  I put it here for posterity: (spoiler alert from Lieke: it’s a great story!).There’s a bit of tech detail here as well: (that post went viral at the time and I got a lot of questions as a result).Watch Sarah talk about this at Qt DevDays (really worth watching!)


Extra question from Rebecca: Is there anything that you felt held you back while working towards your career?
Sexism.  At first I didn’t really believe it happened.  I had to fight hard to get into tech, and then once in found it hard to get where I wanted.  But I figured it was just that hard.  Then once I was “on the inside” I saw it happening to other women.  At Google I joined the “Hiring Intergrouplet” and rode along on job interviews which male software engineers did on female candidates, and saw it happening, after they’d finished the questions and dismissed the candidate.  It happens behind closed doors, it is invisible to you when you are trying to get on in your career, but its a constant tax on everything you try to do.  When I raise it now the response is everything from “not all men” to “you don’t know what you’re talking about” to “just sour grapes”.  If you read my story you’ll know none of those are valid.  A big part of the reason I am doing my own thing now, and why my studio is all women, is that.  There were times I felt like giving up because of it.  I was lucky to have friends & family who helped me believe I could keep going.