by Deborah Bach
For Katie Peters, it was nice to have someone to support her when she started her tech career.
In his freshman year at UBC, Peters’ computer science classes were roughly equal in numbers for men and women. But most of her classmates soon changed majors, and in Peters’ final year, there were of course only two or three women in those classes. I felt increasingly isolated and uncomfortable to ask for help.
After graduating with a degree in computer science in 2012, Peters landed a job as a software developer for TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company. Entering an organization with more than 90,000 employees, Peters found it difficult to navigate its operations and structure. So when the team developer position on the new engineering productivity team TELUS opened in the second half of 2021, Peters seized the opportunity.
“I wanted to be the person I was hoping he could help me with,” said Peters, who started the role last October. “There are so many complex processes in a big company like TELUS that it’s hard to navigate. You end up feeling lost most of the time and have to ask a lot of questions. I don’t want other people to feel that way, I want to make it better.”
Peters is now helping to lead an initiative that aims to change the culture of TELUS to better empower its developers. Much of this effort is focused on encouraging widespread adoption of Microsoft’s code hosting platform. github, to help automate software development at TELUS and facilitate collaboration for the company’s 4,000 developers. TELUS recently made GitHub available at the enterprise level and signed a contract with Microsoft to help manage enterprise usage of the platform and provide GitHub training for developers.
Justin Watts, Head of Developer Experience at TELUS, says Peters’ experience as a developer and her previous role on the enterprise engineering team at TELUS made her the ideal person to help redefine the company’s approach to software development.
“It’s all driven by Katie and her vision,” says Watts, who leads the engineering productivity team. “Kate is great at capturing that relationship with the developer and what our goals are. She’s great as a developer and technical expert.
“She is seen as a very large and influential expert in the company.”
Peters is already turning things around. It was inspired by the 2019 novel “The Unicorn Project”, written in 2019 by Jin Kim, about a group of rebellious developers who seek to disrupt the system and make the work more useful. Peters replaced traditional display surfaces with ones with bold designs and shades of pink, purple, and unicorn designs, and adopted the book’s tagline to bring “focus, rhythm, and joy” to developers.
I had a conversation on the Transform blog recently via Microsoft Teams With Peters, who lives in Vancouver with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. The interview has been summarized for reasons of length and clarity.
TransformationWhy was the Production Engineering Team formed and what is its mission?
Peters: We’ve been moving to the cloud for software development for some time now, but it’s a challenge. It greatly simplifies complex operations and turns these things into code. Instead of requiring the operations specialist to manually create a server designed specifically for the developer to host their application, the definition and coding of that server are standardized so that it can be stored and managed along with the application code.
This makes it easier for the developer to manage the process themselves, but they are now expected to have mastered this server definition, with some having no connection to the operational side of software development. This is a very difficult transition for people. Many of the legacy processes have not yet been updated for cloud development. We give developers more freedom and more responsibility in areas where they may not have experience yet. Therefore, we have to make sure that this is not a burden for them.
Our team is here to help developers make this move to the cloud and update previous processes to the new cloud model.
Transformation: Why did TELUS see the need to change the way software is developed?
Peters: We need to remain innovative and creative. We need to be able to respond quickly to the market, and if we want to do that, we need to give developers the time, space and security to do that, and make sure what they’re building is safe and reliable.
To allow us to move quickly without sacrificing security and reliability, we need to make the developer experience our focus. I think of the developers as my clients, and the experiences I can give them to keep them bold and creative. I need to remove as many obstacles as possible to make the process as simple and fast as possible so they can keep innovating.
TransformationWhat role can GitHub play in helping developers transition to this new cloud model?
PetersGitHub used to only store the source code, but now it has many other features. When you write code, for example, you need to make a plan and assign tasks to people. We can use GitHub projects for this.
Once you’ve developed the code, there are tools you can use to let you know if there are any issues with the way you wrote it. In the past, we’ve been waiting for this code to be released to our customers to run these tests. When things went wrong, it was expensive. Developers can now submit their code back to the public repository on GitHub for the rest of the team to see. We can then run all these automated checks and security checks so that it is easy to make corrections quickly. Previously, these comments could have taken months.
With GitHub taking over this developer lifecycle, we can automate tasks to highlight where developers are and what they’re doing. This creates metrics on how to improve the experience and make it better for people.
to transform: GitHub is finally a tool. What other components are you considering to drive this cultural shift at TELUS?
Peters: As a big company, TELUS can be a bit too formal. It’s hard for people to ask for help. We really wanted to change that culture. We wanted to be open and friendly and let people breathe for us in a safe place to share their problems. This way, we can understand all the little things that create big questions.
We have a lot of really creative people at TELUS, a lot of talented developers, and they’ve come up with interesting ways of dealing with the status quo that doesn’t solve the problem for anyone else – they’re just their own little ways. We need people to feel safe when they come to us with their problems and trust us to help them solve them so we can take this to everyone and drive that improvement in every aspect.
TransformationHow did your interest in computers begin?
Peters: My parents really wanted me to be interested in computers, so they bought my computer when I was a kid. They sent me to boot camps for bot building, software development, etc.
I started playing video games when I was 4 years old. She played Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon and Fatty Bear’s birthday surprise. I loved all kinds of video games. Morrowind was another great game for me. They had a mod community, and I learned a lot about computers in general by participating in that community (modding is the practice of modifying or creating content for video games).
I wanted to work in the video game industry, but when I applied for an internship during university, I joined Sierra Wireless (a Canadian IoT solution provider). I liked my experience with the consistency and stability of the telecom industry and the feeling that you are contributing to something important. Providing the Internet to people is very important.
Transformation: You said you sometimes feel like you have imposter syndrome. Did you feel this way especially as a developer?
Peters: I’ve always had a lot of impostor syndrome, which I think is true for a lot of developers. I am not the only one in this sense. I think it’s worse as a woman, but I think it’s common in software development to have that kind of feeling. The industry is kind of awash in these myths of really smart geeks who live and breathe computer science and build Google or Microsoft in the basement, who are all geniuses and always know all about everything.
There are very high expectations in the software industry in general, and I think everyone goes through that, but I think it’s even stronger for women. Because the feeling, at least when I started in the industry, was that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was a fraud and only won the position because I was a woman. So I had to work hard to look smarter.
TransformationIs it important to you as a woman in this role to attract more to the countryside?
Peters: certainly. When you’re the only woman, that can be really hard. And when you have one or two women in a big group, you can sometimes get carried away by a strange feeling of competition with them. People always compare you to other women.
But when there is a critical mass of females, you really feel comfortable working with other women who have usually gone through the same experiences. You begin to open up in a way that you might not be able to do otherwise. Most of the women I meet in computer science are supportive and friendly.
I am always happy to see more women in the industry. I’m glad I can help at any opportunity I have to try to make it easier for someone else.
Above: Katie Peters on the balcony at TELUS headquarters in Vancouver, BC (Photo by Justin Watts courtesy of Justin Watts; all other photos by Jennifer Gautier)