Engineer to Engineer – Navigating Motherhood and the Shift to Open Source Tech

Engineer to Engineer – Navigating Motherhood and the Shift to Open Source Tech

Written by Jennifer Ponder

Engineer to Engineer

Left: Jennifer Ponder | Right: Nishtha Malhotra

In this edition of Engineer to Engineer, Jennifer Ponder, Women Who Code Senior Front End Fellow, sits down with Nishtha Malhotra, Senior Software Engineer at Reaktor, to discuss her career in tech, working as an engineer, becoming a mom, and her perspective on the tech industry.

Can you tell me about Reaktor and your role there? 

Reaktor is a tech consulting firm that is headquartered in Helsinki, Finland with other locations including New York, Dubai, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Tokyo. Globally we have a team of 500 people – our New York office is around 40 people and growing. We work with clients to build custom digital solutions and support their business, with some of our clients including HBO, Adidas, Heineken, Finnair, and Viacom. 

What is the company culture and structure like? Are you a part of any organizations or clubs within the company? 

I’ve been with Reaktor for about a year now, and it's very different from any other company I have worked at. Most of my background is from finance, mainly hedge funds and financial banks. In those companies the structure is very hierarchical while Reaktor is pretty flat. We have a small back office focusing on business and operations functions, but our project teams are completely self-managing. Once we start a project with a client, our teams deploy to the client site and we usually work directly with the client themselves as autonomous teams with minimal centralized supervision.

It's interesting because people at Reaktor aren’t competitive in the way they are in other companies. It is a very collaborative work culture – we’re all part of the same team and trying to deliver the best value we can to our client.

We also have workshops like Dev/Design Communities of Practice, where anyone can sign up or organize one if there is a topic they would like to discuss that’s helpful for the company. We also have our weekly get-togethers and monthly meetings to discuss overall happenings, growth and strategy of the company. This is when we get to see other teams, hear what they are doing, and learn from each other.


Are there any products, services, or features that you are currently building? 

I'm currently working on a project with Viacom. I can only discuss the project at a very high level, but I am working on a data science project building a product to maximize the return on investment for their clients’ ad placements. 

What do you think is important for companies to do to foster a diverse workforce and create an inclusive, collaborative environment for women in technology?

It is important for the company and management to be aware of the value of a diverse work culture. Different opinions and viewpoints lead to healthy discussions which improve the company, help it grow, get more clients and different kinds of projects. 

Secondly, take action and actively work on diversity and inclusion. This could be accomplished by reaching out and partnering with certain organizations like Women Who Code or Grace Hopper, to target diverse populations and bring them into your organization.

Lastly, it's also important to have a diverse voice in leadership to represent the diversity within the company, and build policies in order to retain and mentor them.  

How has the influence of emergent technology such as chatbots, AI, machine learning, and serverless architecture, changed the way engineers are considering building products and services for users?

I've been in the field of software development for over 10 years now, and I've seen the technology landscape change a lot. In my experience prior to working at Reaktor, I noticed that most financial banks don't use a lot of open source software and instead build all of the core systems and platform dependencies on their own, primarily because of security reasons. They're very averse to using any outside technologies or outside platforms. Companies have their own data centers, they won’t talk about cloud technology, and they will not put anything on the cloud itself.

In the past year at Reaktor, I've seen a shift where the media companies and clients we work with use existing technologies and add value to them. One example is Shopify; it's an out of the box e-commerce platform with many features built out. We use it as a base and add whatever the client needs to it, which reduces speed to market and product deliverability.

I think the landscape has changed a lot – there's a lot of open-source software and ready-made APIs available. It's easier to use serverless architecture because there isn’t a massive investment to open data centers or data grids. The reduction in the initial investment and cost allows software engineers to use these existing technologies or platforms to focus on the value addition for clients, build products faster, and increase speed to market.

You’re expecting your firstborn. Can you talk about your journey with motherhood and any challenges you faced with work? Are there any tips you would like to share with other women who are first-time moms and engineers?

It's a big change and total mental shift once you find out you’re pregnant. Initially, I was a bit worried in my first trimester because I had a tough pregnancy with bad nausea where I couldn't really focus on work. What really helped me was the team culture at Reaktor. We are very close, so there was open communication from the beginning with my other teammates about my situation. When I was 10 weeks pregnant, I mentioned it to them and they were very understanding about it. As a team, we planned to make sure deliverables were not impacted. I let the company and the client know at the end of my first trimester and everyone was very supportive. They understood if I needed to work from home for doctor's appointments or health reasons. Even now with Coronavirus, I've worked from home and everyone has been very understanding about it.


Have you established a work-life balance?  

I used to be one of those people who would work 10-11 hours a day because generally there are long hours in the financial industry.  

In the last year, I reached a balance where I take time for myself, family and to focus on personal things in the evening. That changed for me after I got married and it changes with time as you realize there are other things in life that you need time for.

It is also important to communicate with your team. If someone stays late to fix something, we work to make sure that it's not always the same person staying late. We communicate as a team to make sure no one is stressed out, doing the same thing over and over again, or putting in longer hours than required. We make sure everyone is taking time off to be with family, and enjoying time for themselves. Reaktor tries to ensure everyone has a good work-life balance. We have a company-wide policy where if we work longer than eight hours, we can take extra time off.

What do you like to do for self-care? 

I usually like to hit the gym to de-stress. I like to play music, go for runs, or take classes such as dance to help me relax and be fresh. I used to enjoy saunas but now I like a good massage where I can relax and unwind.


What traits make a software engineer successful? 

The most important traits for good software engineers are to be curious, have an analytical mind, and an aptitude for solving problems. It's the ability to understand the problem you're solving, the client’s needs, and how to provide additional value. It’s important to think outside of the box, have an open mind, and think about yourself as a work-in-progress in order to have that hunger to keep learning, adapting and evolving with the changing landscape.


Do you have any helpful resources that you would like to share? 

I use a lot of self-learning resources such as YouTube and Udemy. I also attend meetups, workshops, or seminars. They help me stay updated with what’s going on in the technology field, what people from different industries are working on, their perspectives and how they are doing things differently.

What advice do you have for women who want to pursue a career in software development?

I would really encourage women to take up STEM courses in school. It might seem intimidating in the beginning because it's a different mindset to adjust to, but it's important to be persistent, confident and stick to it. It's also important to communicate openly and be collaborative. I also encourage women to take advantage of programs like Women Who Code or Grace Hopper that encourage diverse talent in workflows in order to pursue their career in software development.

Nishtha Malhotra is a Senior Software Engineer at Reaktor. Reaktor is a team of designers and engineers that craft custom digital services for diverse clients and industries around the globe, with offices in New York, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Tokyo, Dubai, and Stockholm. Their New York team is a lively group of bright and kind people, who are passionate about doing their best work to solve our clients’ most challenging problems, and always keen to meet potential new people to join the community. Check out their open positions here!