Hello from Ottawa
This month’s postcard comes from Canada’s capital, where Kasia Wakarecy, Senior Director, Operational Innovation, manages Pythian’s data, tools, and processes to optimize our employees’ experience. Kasia was recently nominated for a Women in IT Summit & Awards Series award and was shortlisted for Data Leader of the Year as a finalist. Read on to learn more about her busy role and outdoorsy life in Ottawa and her thoughts on women in tech.
Tell us about where you live.
I moved from Poland to Ottawa and have been here for the last eighteen years. Ottawa is a welcoming city that offers many national events and cultural experiences. It’s growing quickly, but it’s not so big that you ever feel lost. I studied different countries and chose Canada because of the straightforward immigration laws, and it seemed like a friendly, modern place.
What was your path to Pythian?
I’ve always worked in technology, but in different aspects. While living in Poland, I managed software and hardware procurement for an IT and networking company. When I came to Canada, I first worked as an IT consultant for several companies and gradually moved on to providing database and web service support for Canadian non-profits. Later, I started a consulting company and provided data migration and governance services while ensuring my clients’ data practices and reporting were sound.
Seven years ago, I heard about Pythian. What attracted me was their vision around loving data and their deep understanding of the services they provide customers and the challenges in the industry. They needed a data specialist at the time, so I applied and started as a consultant. A few months later, I moved to a full-time position and became a manager, director, and, later, senior director. Originally, my responsibilities included answering ad-hoc questions about internal data. At that time, the data was spread across multiple systems, often many legacy systems, so it wasn’t always clear which system had up-to-date information. Over time, I took on more responsibilities—whenever something was broken and there was no clear owner, I always volunteered to fix the issue.
Today, I manage Pythian’s enterprise data, systems, and processes. Being responsible for enterprise processes, my team ensures that processes like customer or employee onboarding journeys are traceable and optimized as much as possible. I also created Pythian’s enterprise systems architecture and ensured it continues to grow with our needs. My team is also responsible for enterprise systems configuration and new feature releases. I recently designed and executed Pythian’s data governance framework, which means we can run internal reports using a centralized data repository and rely on the information shared in those reports.
What’s a typical day like for you now?
My role is highly technical but people/processes-centered because I answer questions about data, systems, and processes affecting all business parts. So, there’s no typical day, but it’s a very busy role.
The technical aspects involve knowing the effects of even one seemingly minute change to our enterprise systems. My team must understand the repercussions of changing something small, such as adding a new field to a system’s configuration because even a small addition has data and processes impact, not to mention user experience impact. This means I need to understand the big picture and how our decisions might affect other parts of the business. This is the most interesting and best aspect of my role: the challenge of navigating a complex environment of data, systems, and processes. Finding answers isn’t easy, and every day is a challenge because I need to ensure that all the dependencies are predicted and planned for.
In terms of skill set, you must be detail-oriented and have good memory and follow-up skills. You must also have a solid data management and reports background, be very comfortable with IT systems setup and configuration, integrations, and migrations, and understand how to optimize enterprise processes. All that while working with a team of specialists means that you need to be able to change context many times during the day and make quick decisions while keeping track of the big-picture impact of all those decisions.
What has been the biggest challenge in this role so far?
Continuous learning. Learning how much work it takes to keep everything together and remain flexible to answer all requests. To users, adding a new field to a system might sound like an easy fix or request, but you should first understand the consequences of doing this. Is this even the correct field to add? Or should we, instead, replace another field? Who will add/update data in that field? What data reporting impact does it have?
With many people using our core systems and reports, we need to stay agile to continue providing new features/functionality without breaking the existing environment. In this complex environment of data, systems, and processes, the answers aren’t easy, and every day makes me consider every single dependency. I rely on my team of specialists to make those decisions, so I’m grateful for their insights and the ownership they take of their work.
Our work is also often very invisible—until something breaks, it may seem like we are not doing much, but in fact, we are working the hardest in those moments when systems, reports, and processes run smoothly.
Any challenges being a woman in tech?
Women in IT tend to undermine their skillset and tend not to know how to present them. And their confidence levels tend to also be underplayed. Currently, my team is 60/40 women/men, which is unusual. Women might be as qualified as men, but we tend to still wonder if we’re qualified for a role, even when we are.
Pythian has always been aware of the gender gap, but the company has pushed to level the playing field and add visibility to women from the start. Out of all the companies I’ve worked with, I think Pythian has done the most to hire and promote women in tech. At the same time, we still have work to do to expose the challenges, leadership, and education we offer women.
Tell us about your workspace.
With our head office in Ottawa, I’m lucky to have a local office, but I also have a dedicated workspace at home. I do enjoy working from home; it helps me stay focused. When I do, I often use a standing desk and sometimes go for a brisk walk during my lunch break.
How do you spend your time off?
I love water, so in the summer, I’m addicted to checking the wave reports, so I know if it’s worth going to the nearby Great Lakes. You’re likely to find me paddle boarding, surfing, windsurfing, swimming, or camping on my time off.
What’s one type of food you could eat (or drink) every day?
Loose Leaf teas with great flavors, like black tea, Earl Grey in the morning, and herbal tea in the afternoon.
Describe Pythian in one word.
Challenging (me to grow every day).
Follow Kasia on LinkedIn.