They fell in love on her first day at work. Just a few years earlier, Mridula Jayaraman was studying biomedical engineering in India, but here she was, working for a new company in a new industry in a new country. And, now, with a new boyfriend.
Together, the tech world would take them from the United States to India to Brazil and back — all because MJ, as she likes to be called, chose the life of a developer. But back then, she wasn’t so sure that this life-changing decision would be so fulfilling. She was just a 23-year-old trainee at ThoughtWorks who had jumped into IT after reconsidering a career in genetics. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was more passionate about the programming aspects of her studies than about atoms, chromosomes, and genomes.
Challenging Brogrammer Culture
At the time, ThoughtWorks was trying to address the lack of women graduating from computer science programs and push capable candidates into programming and development. MJ was a perfect fit. She didn’t know exactly what she was getting herself into, but she was smart, ambitious and eager to learn. She jumped at the chance to join the team in Chicago.
Her initial training took her back to India, her birthplace that she had left with her family for Hong Kong when she was six years old. The company has a five-week orientation program in Pune, “Thoughtworks University,” and, along with the Brazilian man who would become her boyfriend for the next half-decade, she spent more than a month in India learning the ins and outs of the company before returning to United States to start her career as a developer. The experience was a headfirst dive into a two deep new relationships, one with him and another with the company.
After the initiation, MJ got to travel around the United States and get her feet wet in this new role. She worked directly with clients both in a consulting and development role and learned a ton. But as things got more serious in her relationship, the pair decided they wanted to get to know each other better and learn each others’ cultures.
There was an opportunity to head back to the training program, this time as teachers, so the two took advantage of the chance. It was a great time for both, and the next logical step after India was heading to his home country of Brazil. ThoughtWorks has an office in Porto Alegre, so off they went, and it was here where MJ says she really came into her own as a tech pro.
“I was always really interested in going to work in Brazil, especially because I felt like every developer I’ve worked with from there was exceptional,” she said. That reality allowed her to grow by leaps and bounds. She was out of her comfort zone — both professionally and in terms of culture, as a vegetarian, non-Portuguese speaker in Brazil — and this kept her learning and absorbing new things everyday. “It’s the first time I’ve lived anywhere that wasn’t a familiar setting for me at all,” said MJ. “It wasn’t Asia, it wasn’t the United States. The language was different. The food was different.”
Focus On the Customer
As a developer, she became the lead for a few different tech teams, taking on new responsibilities while working with experienced veterans of the trade. The plan was to stay for a year, but this turned into more than 18 months because everything about the job was such a pleasure.
She was on the nearshore team for ThoughtWorks in Porto Alegre, so the primary work was serving a client in San Francisco with her group of developers. She was expecting to be just a “regular Joe developer,” but her experience working directly with the customer on the client side proved invaluable. “That was the balance I brought to the people there who primarily worked on the development side but didn’t necessarily know about the day-to-day with the client,” she said.
“I was always really interested in going to work in Brazil, especially because I felt like every developer I’ve worked with from there was exceptional.” – Mridula Jayaraman of ThoughtWorks
MJ helped the local workers get more comfortable expressing their thoughts on the project as a consultant would, which led to better collaboration and better results. She helped the developers understand that large clients want projects with long shelf lives that align with their larger strategic goals — not only custom work that may seem more intriguing technically.
It wasn’t about delivering the new, shiny thing but work that was truly needed. A key directive was what she summed up as, “how can we think about the big picture while we’re working on the little things everyday?”
They did a lot of pair programming where groups of two pushed for agile software development. Other projects used Java and focused on Big Data concepts, two things that were new to MJ and rewarding to learn. Then, her second big project there was a hybrid mobile application that required writing from iOS code, Java services, and angular. “I had to get involved with a lot of architectural decisions to ensure that a large team that’s working in five different locations can actually work on this at the same time,” she said.
The work was for a retail client, and she now gets to see the results live on the company’s e-comm website and in its stores. “It’s constantly being used by real customers and we get feedback,” she said. “We need to support things like the Thanksgiving rush and Black Friday. It’s really fun that you can just walk into a store and see the stuff.”
“I had to get involved with a lot of architectural decisions to ensure that a large team that’s working in five different locations can actually work on this at the same time.” – Mridula Jayaraman
In addition to coding language, actual language was a learning experience. The workers in Porto Alegre were accustomed to talking in Portuguese, but they had to switch to English with MJ. They embraced the opportunity to practice and improve, and for her it taught her how to communicate better. To ensure everyone understood the plans, she had to present her thoughts more clearly. It helped in the day-to-day operations and also led to a realization that this manner of communication is better no matter whether the person on the other end of the conversation is a native English speaker or not.
She also became a mentor to many ThoughtWorks employees, especially a few of the women. “I found it incredibly nice that they would ask me a lot of questions about what I’ve gone through and I was able to give them advice to not be afraid and go for it,” said MJ.
Her time in Brazil naturally brought other benefits in terms of work/life balance, a lesson she’s glad she learned after spending most days in the United States eating lunch at her desk and living in a constant hurry. The people were also very kind to her and curious about her background. “I realized how great it was to be in a culture that was so open to Indians, especially,” said MJ. “In Porto Alegre, there were one or two other Indians, and everywhere we went the way people responded to me and treated me was awesome. People were so nice and really wanted to make me comfortable.”
She has since returned to the ThoughtWorks office in San Francisco, but five years later MJ is still in love with her industry and her partner. “We started together in the company the same day,” said MJ. “We still are together. We went to India then I went to Brazil and now he is in San Francisco.”