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"The best project is nothing without the right people" - Meet Ola.

Content & Community Management @SinnerSchrader / @S2engineers 👩🏻‍💻 / pronouns: she/her
Updated on ・7 min read

Tell me about yourself, Ola!

I’m a Principal Product Engineer located in Berlin. Before that I used to work on a lot Open Source projects like the Firefox Browser, the profiler and Firefox DevTools, which is an offline first javascript framework; also an AI driven layout engine and many other things. It’s been interesting +17 years so far.

I am a solo parent of an amazing eight year old, we have an adorable dog called Nietzsche. Besides that, I used to speak as well as organize a lot of conferences like RejectJS, otsconf.

I love to empower people, help them to learn and evolve.

Exciting! You just started at SinnerSchrader a few months ago. How did that happen?

Basically Feli is one of my best friends for years and SinnerSchrader was always my plan B. I love, love, love the culture at SinnerSchrader.

Thanks to the JSConf EU conference, I also know Holger and the company quite well, where I used to help out / spoke at. So for me it was no brainer to at least take a look if the Berlin Studio is something where I would like to work.

After meeting with the team, I fell in love. It’s such an amazing team that cares a lot about people with a very special chemistry you do not find often. They care about sharing knowledge, having a safe space, so everyone's voice matters.

Which criteria are important to you to consider a change?

After over 17 years in tech, I was lucky to work on a lot of mind blowing, very exciting and important projects in my life. There is not much left that I would really, really like to do.

So my focus is more on culture and a product I can change the status quo with. We as engineers have so much power. So, e.g. making sites fully accessible for everyone from the get go or aligned with the standards is something I enjoy a lot.

Also, I need a team that cares about having a safe space, sharing knowledge and working together towards a common goal. The best project is nothing without the right people.

How do you experience the current situation and working from home? Did you work in the office at all after you started?

I actually did have some time in the office which is amazing because I had a little bit of time to get to know the people. It was also a little bit hard because the dog got used to hanging out at the office and now I have to teach him again. I have worked from home for seven years in total. So I’m so used to that and for me it’s the most natural thing to sit in front of the computer at home. I have everything I need so I’m fine with that but I see that a lot of my colleagues are stumbling in exact the same things I was stumbling into in the first maybe two years. I feel like the asynch communication is something that people are struggling with; disconnecting, putting away their phones and not answering emails. In my first years I used to have apps to remind me to eat lunch and breakfast and drink water. Because I also forgot that. So they just can’t switch off. Getting used to the amount of meetings for people is really really hard I think. For me it’s fine and also I’m a full blown introvert, I love to be at home and by myself. But I see that for a lot of people who are extroverts it’s really rough to not hang out with people but I think that the company is doing an amazing job. There are not too many meetings. People have opportunities to hang out or connect with each other during lunches for example or have coffee dates or every two weeks we have a pub quiz which I adore - It’s so much fun.

You are one of the proactive developers in the community. Why is it so important to you to be a speaker at conferences, for instance?

That’s a good question. Actually I started by accident. There was one person missing at RejectJS a few years ago. And I was like yeah sure I’m happy to help. I’ve never done a conference or anything but I was thinking why not. During that time I lived in Dortmund so I took the train to Berlin and arrived in the morning and they were like “oh cool you’re here we are this team. You’re gonna MC” and I was like “wait what?” So I started MCing and took care of all the speakers and the first time was a massive disaster but it was so much fun and I already knew meetups from Berlin and it’s fun to meet people who are like you and empower others so that they can learn. I think that is my biggest motivation. To empower others and to help them to learn what they want to learn, to overcome their fear. RejectJS was really community driven and I’ve made so many friends during that time and then I slowly started to give talks about offline first. First at meetups and then later at conferences. And my first conference was also kind of an accident. And in the end I did that for five years. I actually retired from speaking because it was just too much. I think in the first year I spoke at 14 events, organized two conferences, I worked full time and had my kid all by myself so that definitely took a toll at some point. I kind of miss it though. The main reason I did this was to see people saying “this is so cool, I understood that now”. That just makes me really, really happy.

You are clearly very passionate about what you’re doing. If there’s still time, what are you doing when you’re not developing?

I learned the hard way that it’s super important to take breaks and just disconnect completely from work and tech. My kiddo helps me a lot with this as I hang out a lot with my kid when not working.

I barely do side projects, read a lot, do a lot gardening because I’m old now (laughs) and this is what old people (like me) do, a lot of walks with the dog in the parks and woods. Just hanging out, enjoying life...also playing a lot of video games.

After everything you’ve already did, is there anything else you would like to achieve?

The thing is that twelve years ago I thought I achieved basically everything I wanted. And everything that came after was just a massive bonus. I did never ever plan my career. I just did things that I was excited about. I’m still surprised where I actually am now. If someone would have told me five years ago that this was where I was going to be I would have been like “yeah sure” and just laughing hard.

Just take opportunities when you can and do what you love, you’re passionate about. If you’re privileged enough to do that, go for it.

I like to support people, empower them and help them to grow as an engineer, but not as a manager as I was pushed into this role a lot in my career. I think women should not have to carry the “burden” of emotional labour all the time. I am an engineer and this is what I love to do.

I think the goals I have within SinnerSchrader are definitely stay for a bit and help to connect a lot of dots, to help evolve the company more as well as the people.

You seem quite at peace with yourself. How are you handling tricky or frustrating situations?

The cool thing about being a solo parent is that you get to learn to swallow your frustration and pull through (laughs). I don’t get frustrated that easily anymore. There’s always stuff that frustrates you. When I’m really frustrated, I have friends that I can turn to, vent for 5 minutes and just move on.

I grew up in the Hardcore Punk Rock area where you just did and fixed everything by yourself. If you want to change something, do something about it. And this is what I do. If something frustrates me I either accept it or do something to change it.

The only thing, and that is really something I can’t handle very well, are egos. People should be polite, help each other, be supportive and not just be like “look at me I know everything”, because you never know everything. This is something I get really frustrated with. Usually I talk to those people, set a hard line and let their manager help them to develop their skill set.

As a developer through and through, is there any other job you could see yourself doing?

I started developing when I was 8. We just moved to Germany, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t speak the language so I befriended my computer.

After that, there were a few things that came up… A music career, because I’m a trained singer, but I rejected my major label deal at 15. (No kid should be in this toxic music industry). Then I wanted to be a demolition expert because I thought there is so much beauty in destroying something so perfectly and as save as possible to create something new. Sadly I failed chemistry really hard so I that was off the list as well.

I wanted to be a sports professional when I played volleyball for 5 years and did BMX for quite some time but I broke so many bones so that was also out.

I think now if I would leave tech for whatever reason, I would probably get a house, have a really nice garden and enjoy life.

Is there anything else, maybe any advice, you would like to mention or share with us?

Never stop learning is really one of the most important things. Always listen to feedback, ask for feedback, take it in, process and just think about it. I think feedback is the most valuable thing you can get and if someone takes the time to give you feedback, make sure you value it.

For engineers in particular: don’t focus on the stack. The only situation where this is important is as a junior. Then focus on one stack, know it really well so you can make a living. Make sure you learn the languages, like HTML, CSS, Javascript, learn GIT, learn the tooling around everything, learn design patterns, testing. Because usually after two years the frameworks change and this way, you’ll be able to grow.

And the last thing would be: look for a mentor, try to find someone who supports your knowledge and you feel safe in asking questions. Build you pack (especially minorities), have your pack who has you back so you can support each other.

You can’t survive tech by yourself.

Discussion (1)

annika_h profile image
Annika_H Author

I had such a good time interviewing Ola. Very inspirational and empowering!❤️