Careers – Software Developer

Harriet Truscott studied English and Russian at University, and after travelling round most of the former Soviet Union, went on to do a one year post-graduate degree. She then had a complete change of direction and became a computer programmer… Harriet at work

Harriet talking to Polly Curtis from The Guardian (Harriet
on the left)

Why did you decide to study English at university?

I studied English, French and Maths for A-levels, and English was always the
subject I enjoyed most and put most effort into. I think what I liked about
it was the balance of creative and analytical skills – in order to write
a good essay, you need to be able to think clearly, and work your way through
a problem or an argument. But at the same time, it’s very creative, you’re
always coming up with new ideas.

What did you enjoy most about studying English?

Definitely doing my own research! That didn’t happen much in the first
couple of years, but in the third year, we had a whole term to research and
write about a topic which interested us. There was a thrill of feeling that
you might discover something completely new. I really enjoyed working with old
manuscripts as well – actually holding something that someone wrote in
the 17th century is an amazing feeling. It was a bit of a change to move from
that to computers!

What was the most difficult thing about the course?

The speed at which they expect you to read and learn about things. In the first
two years, you’;re studying a new author every week – you have to
read all their works, read what other people have thought about them, and then
finally write your own essay. It’s exhausting, and it made it very hard
to catch up if you missed anything. I went on a charity hitch-hike to Dublin
one weekend when I should have been reading Ben Jonson’s plays, and I
never had a chance to catch up. I still don’t know anything about Jonson!
But I think I had more to do than most people because I was studying Russian
at the same time as my English degree, so I had all my Russian classes to go
to and homework to do – I had to be very organised to get it all done.

What did you go on to do after university?

Straight after my first degree I did another one year research degree, called
an M.Phil, where I got the chance to do much more original research, which was
what I enjoyed.

Then I had a complete change of direction and joined an IT company, where I
trained as a software developer. I spent a year training in various different
parts of the company, and at the end of the year, I could choose what job I
wanted to go into. I’d discovered that I really enjoyed researching and
designing new software, which is fascinating. It’s all about finding out
what the customers want out of the software, how they are using existing products,
and then designing a product which they’ll buy.

How did English help you prepare for this?

Well, the research skills obviously have been very important. A lot of I.T.
is about communicating clearly as well – about making sure that the programmers
understand what the customer wants, and the customer understands what they are
going to get. I think that the training of writing essays in English is very
helpful for that. And of course, the ability to think logically is always going
to be important.

What’s your typical day like?

I don’t really have a typical day – and that’s one of the
things I like about my job, it’s so varied. I think a lot of people imagine
that working with computers means sitting in front of a screen all day, typing.
In fact, a lot of the time I spend talking to people – both customers
and people within the company. Because we make educational software, I visit
a lot of schools, talk to the pupils and teachers, and see their lessons.