Hello from New Zealand
This month’s postcard comes from Pythian veteran Shara French who manages a busy team of DBAs from across the globe. Check out how this active country girl and dog mom gets her work done while surrounded by panoramic views of rural New Zealand.
Tell us about where you live.
I live in the Tasman region, in the northwest of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s very rural, about 25 mins from a small town and one hour from the city. I’m on a 100-acre property with regenerating native species and a few acres of pasture land for future livestock.
It’s very quiet, with mountain views, valleys, and a big river that runs across the road from us, so there are swimming holes in the summer. We’re also about 25 minutes from the coast, so it’s a perfect place for fishing at different times of the year.
What was your path to Pythian?
After university, I travelled overseas for about a year. I ended up working in the IT sector and lived in different cities, including Auckland, Vancouver, and Wellington. I was living in Christchurch and working as a database administrator (DBA) when I saw a posting from Pythian. I was intrigued by the prospect of working from home and having more flexibility because it wasn’t a typical scenario in New Zealand. Ten years ago, most corporate employees worked in an office, so remote working really didn’t become common until the pandemic.
I’m Pythian’s first New Zealander, and they’ve hired others since, which is nice since the DBA community here is quite small, so many of us know each other. About six months into the DBA role, I was encouraged to apply for a team lead role. This is my eleventh year, so I’ve seen how the company has evolved over the years.
What’s a typical day like for you now?
As a team manager, I sit in various meetings on a typical day. Because my team of DBAs is highly self-directing and sufficient, I provide direction as needed but don’t micro-manage. They keep me updated on ongoing projects and challenges, and I make sure they have the tools to complete their tasks. My earliest meeting starts at 6 AM and the latest at 7:30 PM, so this isn’t a 9-5 role, especially when most employees and clients are based in North America.
My team has nine consultants reporting to me from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and Romania. Our weekly team meetings rotate across different times so that 2/3 of the team will be at any one of the meetings. They all collaborate and work well together, so between this and checking in with them, we all manage to complete our tasks. Anyone contemplating a DBA-type role needs to be flexible enough to accommodate different time zones as reasonably as possible.
What has been the biggest challenge in this role so far?
My primary focus is supporting my team, which can be more challenging when organizational changes don’t quite align with departmental goals. So, knowing how to balance business goals with our everyday team challenges can be frustrating.
Any challenges being a woman in tech?
About half of my team are women, which is rare in the industry, but nice to have. For me, achieving a better gender balance at Pythian hasn’t been an issue. But there are still typically far fewer female applicants than males, which is puzzling because the talent is out there. In addition, and I’m not sure why, there are more women in IT in New Zealand than in most other parts of the world, so I never saw the unbalance when I worked for local or national companies.
As a woman, however, I’ve never felt held back or that an opportunity hasn’t been available to me. I’ve always felt on an even footing with the men in my group.
Tell us about your workspace.
Because we’re renovating, I don’t yet have a dedicated space, so I’ve been using different spots, which keeps me from becoming sedentary. Also, I’m not methodical; I can work from anywhere if I have my tools. So, if I have my headset, laptop, and phone, I’m happy at the dining room table or the lounge.
There’s a loft with my name on it, though, and it will be set up as my office soon.
As far as daily routines go, winter is winding down over here, so I fire up the wood heater in the morning, have some marmite on toast around 10 AM, and I’m good to go.
How do you spend your time off?
We love the outdoors, so my boyfriend and I can be found mountain biking and fishing or camping with the dogs. If we’re not doing these things, we’re usually working on the house.
What’s one type of food you could eat every day?
Japanese or Mexican food, mojitos or margaritas, with M&Ms and popcorn as a snack.
Describe Pythian in one word.