Executive Corner: Elmira Hassanzadeh

Elmira Hassanzadeh
 Head of Productivity Engineering, Telstra

Tell us about your role

I am heading up the Productivity and Innovation Engineering platform and my team’s core mission is to enable software engineering teams across Telstra to uplift software delivery speed and quality by offering them a set of platforms, tools and services in areas like DevSecOps toolchain, Testing and Operations.

“Engineering for Engineers” is where my focus lies, and we are aiming to not only identify and remove impediments from processes, tools and platforms, but also build an ecosystem of modern tools and platforms which adds value to day to day work of our engineering community throughout entire SDLC while improving their overall experience.

Software engineering in scale comes with challenges which are less likely to be a problem in smaller or medium size organisations, however when you deal with a large number of teams with heterogeneous systems, frameworks and applications, having a dedicated platform team which abstracts away the commodity tasks, effort, and unnecessary cognitive load from value stream teams will lead to higher productivity and tapping into economy of scale.

Tell us about your career path

I started to make a living from software development early on while I was in high school in Iran and continued to work professionally during my graduate and postgraduate studies. 

Finishing Uni, a couple of friends and I started a consulting company and through luck and hustle, managed to win two digital transformation tenders for medium size financial institutes. That was the turning point in my career and gave me an opportunity to bring what I’ve learned during all those years of constant working and studying to my very own business. I had a lot at stake…. years of hard earned savings, friendships, and my career were on the line, so I needed to bring my A-game and transform myself from someone who was passionate about coding and building software to someone who has to care about enabling teams and people to achieve a common goals, deal with financials, care about business/customer outcomes and other business miscellanea, in addition to doing technical work.

I owe a huge part of my experience to the 6 years of running my software engineering consulting business and learned a great deal about building high performing teams, managing stakeholders, failing and succeeding to meet deadlines, managing business and customer expectations and much more. 

However in 2016, for various personal and social reasons I came to conclusion that it was time for me to migrate and continue my career in Australia. It was a hard decision as it meant leaving what I had built for over 12 years and start over in another country where I had no connections, no reputation, and probably my experience wouldn’t be regarded as much. 

I arrived in Melbourne in March 2016, immediately started looking for a job as a senior engineer, and luckily was able to land one after only two weeks. Going back to full time coding was an interesting change of pace for me and helped me to ground myself, get closer to day to day engineering challenges, and familiarise myself with ways of working and cultural aspects of the Australian workplace. Through luck, hard work and the amazing support that I received over the last five years, I was able to gather immense experience and take on a variety of roles; from hard core developer, to architect and product/group owner in some of the largest enterprises in Australia.

Your top career tips for people pursuing a career in this field?

Continuous Improvement is a known and well understood approach that organisations try to implement in order to stay in business, but it is highly applicable to anyone who pursues a career too.

Engineers, and specifically software engineers, are exposed to constant changes and new sets of tools, practices and frameworks almost every day! For instance, every time that I take a good look at AWS console there is a new service, and that is just one platform in one particular area i.e. Cloud.

In such an ever changing environment, where continuous improvement of skills and knowledge is key; developing a T-shaped skillset (working knowledge of broad range of software engineering skills while possessing a specialty in a specific area) has helped me to invest my limited time and energy proportionately in order to keep on learning and adding value to my team.

My other tip is to find a career goal and to be vocal and transparent about it! Communicating your career goals with your leaders, peers and even your team could open so many unexpected doors, provide you with mentorship opportunities, and offer you the wisdom of crowd to achieve your career goal.

What has been your biggest area of personal growth that’s allowed you to be successful in your career?

When I first moved to Australia, the fact that English isn’t my first language and we hardly spoke English back in Iran, led me to believe that there is a limit on how much I can achieve in this country. This belief soon turned upside down when I realised that more than half the people in IT including directors and executives are migrants and in the same boat as me when it comes to language proficiency and it gave me a lot of courage and hope. To this day, I still sometimes struggle to convey my message as clearly as I would like to, but I have learned not to let that prevent me sharing my opinion because being opinionated is a pivotal factor in being a successful software engineer.

Also, I have learned that it is ok for my opinions to be wrong or to change often, as long as I keep evolving them, put them to the test and allow others to hack them, because otherwise, it is not being opinionated but is arrogance instead. 

A piece of advice you would give your younger self?

Firstly, know what you want from your career, have a vision for it and use every opportunity to get mentorship from people who are few steps ahead of you in their career journey.

Secondly, promote, encourage and support your colleagues, you win as a team.

And last but not least, dedicate more time to your family and friends because some day it might not be possible to spend time with them as much as you would like to.