The agricultural revolution changed the way the human race operated. Prior to that change 12,000 years ago, a day in the life of our ancestors consisted of hunting and gathering, searching for solutions to their survival needs. The technological revolution did that once again when we finally decided that growing wheat wasn’t enough to keep our increasing intellectual appetites fed. As human beings, we continually strive for more and find ways to implement those very solutions for survival into our lives.
As an organization, we began the search for that solution with a single software developer 10 years ago. Today, Awesense has an entire team dedicated to software development, and it continues to grow. A very common question for prospective hires is, “What exactly does a day in the life of a software engineer searching for these solutions look like?”
In our case, we were lucky enough to sit down with one of the most talented and interesting individuals within our organization, Frances Raftis. Frances is breaking the mold when it comes to being human- a software developer by day, and an avid gardener by night, for her, every revolution is an opportunity to add strength to her skill sets.
A Day in the Life of Frances
Hey Frances, thanks for taking some time to chat! What does a day in your life look like? Walk us through!
On a normal day, I tend to get up around 8 AM during the summers. I live on a farm on Vancouver Island, just south of Nanaimo, where my partner and I grow our own produce and create as many items ourselves as we can. It’s part of our commitment to sustainable living. It’s not that we can’t afford these items elsewhere, we’re just passionate about sustainability and taking care of our natural environment.
So, I get up around 8 AM and start my day by watering the plants. It’s a great way to see your investments grow, it’s almost like reviewing your stock portfolio when the market opens! During the winter months, I don’t really get the chance to do that so I try to take advantage of that time in nature and try to get as involved with my personal work as I can.
I’ll usually have a quick breakfast around 9 after watering the plants. I have homemade granola and yogurt, and some preserved fruit depending on what I have in season. The best part is that I make all of that myself as well! It’s apple season right now, I’ve actually got too many- how about them apples?
This is where my day in the life with Awesense begins. I actually only work six hours a day, and it’s been great because Awesense really works with me to accommodate my schedule and other commitments! Around now I’ll see a flurry of Slack messages. Sometimes there’s a fire that needs to be put out, whether that’s a bug in the code or enabling a dataset or feature for a client.
It’s a little unconventional, but we have our stand-up meetings at 11 to make sure everyone has a really good idea of how their day is looking. This also gives everyone a chance to preview their workday beforehand and collaborate with anyone on the call if they know they’re expecting a block somewhere.
Normally, software stand-up consists of us going through our issue tracker. This guides us through the process of what we’re dealing with. And as we check in on every issue with the data or the platform. We prioritize urgent items as they come up- downtime on the platform is something we never allow!
After running through the issue tracker, our Product Manager Michael tends to show us some really interesting map-based visualizations. He loves exploring websites that display data in a consumable and easy-to-understand manner, and I think it helps all of us do the same when we manage products like our flexible charting feature.
Some of these reports Michael has shown us are maps of fires in the area, especially during summer, or even just where shellfish are too contaminated to eat in our local vicinity. I think it’s a great way to work on our learning and ideation for the products we build while exploring the environment around us and seeing what’s going on!
This is usually where if we have any urgent issues, they get addressed. That means working with my software buddy Gareth on problem-solving, troubleshooting, and general strategies for addressing these needs. We don’t have an official QA person at the moment (we’re hiring!), so we all chip in and take turns doing code reviews for each other. It’s not ideal sometimes when we have a lot on our plate, but it also means that anything we put out is 100% in line with the vision we discuss when planning a product, and I think that’s important.
It’s often one person handling the urgent issues, but we do tend to sync to make sure we’re still heading in the right direction. This is a big part of the job, cleaning up our code and making sure that we keep it as accurate and comprehensive as possible.
Once we finish the unit test, the portal test, and it passes a review, that’s when we send it to get QA’d by the reviewer or someone else on the team. We also make sure to give our peers some feedback, to make sure it becomes an exercise in learning and self-development too!
Eventually, the code gets merged into our platform and we develop it into the architecture, before deploying it onto a customer’s server. We usually wait to deploy the live version of these things until the official releases, but we do make exceptions to that.
Oftentimes these issues are something that Michael or our CTO Elena, have triaged and identified as urgent. We have a really smooth process for project and crisis management for our customer requests, so the expectations for everyone are clear, it really makes it easy for me to do my job!
Later on and somewhere in-between…
After watering down the fires, I tend to water down my plants again if I don’t get to them in the morning. I don’t really take a lunch break, so instead, I take a walk around the corner to grab my mail. I live in a really beautiful neighborhood, and working at home has given me the chance to appreciate that!
This is my favorite meeting all week- Fika. A Fika is a Swedish concept that our co-worker Ingrid introduced to us, and since then we’ve made it a routine. It basically means everyone sits down for 30 minutes and you’re supposed to have a snack or beverage that you enjoy and just take a timeout from everything.
The best part- we’re not allowed to talk about work for those 30 minutes. It’s really just a fun team bonding experience. Not everyone shows up each time, occasionally people might have a meeting or some work, but all in all, it’s a really great chance to get to know the people you’re working with.
I usually finish around six or so, but it really depends on how long I wander off in the afternoon during my lunch-less break. After a day as a software engineer, I tend to go back to my roots- literally, I usually go right back to the yard and start working on the garden again!
This is also when I work on all of my projects. At the moment, I’m making jam from some great rhubarb I managed to grow this summer. And I don’t just make food, I’m actually working on building a catio and a hammock stand for a friend. I’ve gotten really good at some light woodworking, so that’s a skill our CEO Mischa and I tend to bond over in our free time! I also recently started making some soaps and perfumes. I’m not sure what I’ll make next but all of these projects have shown me how easy and enjoyable sustainable living is!
Wow, you do a lot! How do you manage that year round?
The winters are tough sometimes, and I think that’s something people need to know if they plan on pursuing a lifestyle outside of the city. That said, I love having the free time to work on my projects and to develop my own interests!
My day in the life looked very different before actually. I lived in apartment buildings before moving here. I had a condo in Vancouver. I’m a landlord as well on the side, I rent out a property in Nanaimo. I’ve always been attracted to cities; I lived in Toronto and Vancouver, and they’re very exciting and stimulating, but after a certain age I just wanted to make everything my own, so when the chance to move out here presented itself, I said yes!
I also have a few cats but they tend to do their own thing, which is great in the summer when I have so much going on! But I mostly get through it all because of the flexibility Awesense lets me have with my hours and schedule. That tied in with working from home has shown me I can really do it all!
How did you get to where you are now?
The funny thing is that I actually have a B.Sc. in Botany, so if you were wondering where that green thumb came from, it was at the University of Toronto! In my last year though I took a class in molecular evolution, and that one class inspired me to do an M.Sc. in Computational Biology.
But when searching for jobs, they said I didn’t have enough of a computer science background, and that’s actually what brought me to British Columbia. I did a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Statistics at the University of British Columbia. That opened up my path to software development.
After that, pretty much every job I worked involved handling copious amounts of data and pipelining it. Eventually, that love for sustainability and technology is what inspired me to join Awesense. Creating a solution where I feel I’m working on a cause I care about is what makes me feel like my time is being well spent.
Do you have any special skills you’ve accumulated over the years?
Absolutely, I’m actually known for curating the office environment a bit. I like to host some weird little events as a way of getting to know everyone, so whether it’s getting people to exercise and compare their Fitbits, or even just coming up with the best name for a new jam I made, it was my way of getting to know everyone!
I actually meant in terms of software and data…
Oh! I’d say I do a bit of everything! Personally, if I could only work on one thing every day, it would be debugging the code. Most of the time people find the bugs for me, and someone just needs to do the dirty work, but I really love getting down to the etiology itself. Understanding what caused the bug is something that makes me want to continue learning and developing my own skills. Sometimes, I even have dreams about Awesense and the bugs I’m working on fixing and understanding!
You must like working here if you’re dreaming about us! What’s your favorite thing about working at Awesense?
I do- otherwise, I would have called them nightmares! A day in the life here is really unique. All in all, the culture is my favorite part of being at Awesense. For a bunch of technical people, everyone is so human. We really have a fantastic management team, they’re so empathetic to the lives of everyone; they’re constantly asking us for feedback and making sure we’re happy with our own progression and roles.
The development team is one of the biggest support networks in my life. Whether it’s problem-solving with a partner or even just those weekly Fikas, it makes me so excited to come to work and spend time with the team! Overall, everyone is just such a delight to work with!
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone hoping to join Awesense as a software developer, what would it be?
It’s pronounced “fruits.”
The core of our time series data platform code is prefixed with “FRTS.” I don’t think I need to tell you what people were calling it before we started correcting them!
And on that note… Thanks for taking the time to chat Frances!
No problem! Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go harvest some potatoes! (she really went and harvested some potatoes after that) What a day in the life! Check them out:
Care to join?
Interested in getting to know Frances more after seeing a day in the life of at Awesense? Convinced that an Awesense lifestyle is the one for you? Check our careers page! We’re always looking for talented and interesting people to join our team, both in software and other departments! We’re a family here at Awesense, and if you’re looking for a role that inspires purpose and gives you the freedom to explore your own learning, we would love to hear from you.