Celebrating Women in STEM: Arpa Barua, Graduate Software Engineer

February 15, 2019
By Kim Fernandes

With the continuation of our ‘International WEEK of Women and Girls in STEM’ celebration and effort to get more women and girls inspired in following a career path in STEM, we caught up with our resident Graduate Software Engineer, Arpa Barua, to understand her journey through engineering, and what advice she would give to anyone looking to pursue a career in STEM.

If you missed our previous interview with, Software Engineer, Irene Lin, you can catch it here: Irene’s journey through science, tech and engineering.

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Can you start by telling us a bit about your background? What did you study?

I’m originally from Chittagong, Bangladesh, and I came to Australia to study a Bachelor of Information Technology (majoring in app development) Degree at Deakin University. I landed in Australia and had my first day of uni the next day! It was a very hectic first week, both with being in a new country and attending university. Looking back though, I really enjoyed what I chose to study.

Did you like it at first? Were there many girls studying your degree?

In first year, it was quite introductory, between programming and working on a platform. I found it very challenging, but in a good way! I found IT wasn’t something you learn once and that’s it, it’s a continuous learning process. You have to evolve with the tech, and I liked that idea. The course was a three-year commitment, and I found it to be very popular. There weren’t many girls majoring in app development though, in a lecture room you would probably have about 10 out of a group of 50? I wondered why, since I noticed other IT courses had more females.

You started at Paddl as an intern before progressing to graduate software engineer! Can you tell us a bit about this journey? Was the transition easy?

Initially when I joined it was the CareerLounge team, and the product was Paddl! Now we are Paddl Co. and the Paddl product has come a long way. I started in a casual telemarketing position in June 2016, working 2-3 days a week in between my studies. From there my role evolved somewhat too - I worked in the marketing team on certain projects, I did data entry with the operations team, and eventually I started working on programming tasks with the engineering team. After a while, I got offered the graduate software engineer role - I was so happy! Everyone was super supportive from the beginning, in my mind I knew Paddl was where I wanted to be - so yes, the transition was very easy. (Arpa is about to celebrate three years at Paddl Co.!)

What drew you to software engineering in the first place? Did you have a female role model in the industry?

To be honest, it was my parents suggestion to come to Australia and study IT, they saw better career prospects here in that industry than in Bangladesh. So I thought, let me give it a shot. If I don’t like it, I’ll change. I really didn’t expect to like it, but the teachers were great, and I found I really enjoyed building and programming! There was so much to learn and things were developing so fast, I never realised the potential.

I was worried I was going to get bored, but it was quite the opposite. I had a really good teacher in my first year, she was one of only three female teachers for the whole course! She was so inspiring, you could tell she loved what she did. She was one of my favourite teachers, I would say she was a role model of sorts.

Paddl is reinventing the way professionals showcase experience and find employment opportunities. Do you feel at Paddl, in tech-based role, you still have creativity and autonomy to do things differently?

I would say I have a lot of creativity and autonomy. When we are allocated tasks for an overall project, I can do it the way I like, as long as it fits within our engineering guidelines (we have texts decks, specifications, parameters, etc.) That’s the good thing about software engineering - there’s many ways to solve a problem, and you can do it the way you like. You get to decide which solution to put in, and if it meets requirements it’s accepted.

The importance of exploring STEM related pathways is becoming more and more prevalent and there is a demand especially for women in this sector. What advice do you have for other women and girls looking to pursue a career in one of the STEM pathways?

From my point of view, coming from a foreign country, settling down and getting a job was difficult. I think the perception is that the tech-field is a male-dominated industry and it would be hard to seek help. With Paddl, support was readily available. Paddl has always been a very mixed team as well, at the moment we even have more girls than guys! So there’s definitely good workplaces out there, especially now with STEM courses gaining popularity.

I’ve just started my career myself, but my advice would be to just keep going for it! Programming is very challenging, but also very rewarding. It’s cool to see all the functions working when you build something. I say keep learning and keep at it. You’ll see the rewards soon, just remember to keep growing.

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