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‘I did programming for fun – it never occurred to me that it could be a job’

27 Jan 2022

Transition-year student Aoibheann Mangan chats to Intercom engineer Lily Beauvilliers about picking a career in tech and advice for girls interested in STEM.

Lily Beauvilliers is a product engineer at Irish-founded software company Intercom. She started out there as an engineering intern but has now been with the company for nearly five years, and recently spoke on the Inside Intercom podcast about her thoughts on being a woman in tech.

Before going into the tech sector, Beauvilliers was a teacher in the US. She then came to Ireland and studied at Trinity College Dublin and Dublin Institute of Technology.

‘A lot of the things that I did when I was younger were things like building websites just for myself’

What was your dream job when you were younger?

Future Human

Oh, I had a list of dream jobs. I wanted to be an actress, a singer, a dancer, an artist, a sculptor. I think that’s all of them – none of which I am now!

If you asked your younger self, ‘Do you think you’ll be an engineer?’, what do you think you would have said?

I definitely would have said no. I’m actually a very new engineer. I was a teacher before in the States, and when I moved here I became a software engineer.

So it never was on my radar as something I would have done, although I always did a little bit of programming on the side, just for fun. It just never occurred to me that it could be an actual job I could pursue.

What made you decide to join Intercom?

I got an internship at Intercom. I actually had a few different internship offers, but word on the street was that Intercom was the place to be.

So I considered some of the other offers because they were bigger companies, companies where I thought I had more of a shot of definitely getting a full-time job out of the internship. But in the end I decided that just Intercom’s product and the company was too interesting to pass up, and that’s why I picked it.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of my job is probably when I finally get to release something that I’ve been working on and you get to see that customers are actually using it – especially when customers say very nice things about it after you release it. That’s always enjoyable.

Whats your favourite project that youve worked on, and what’s been your most challenging one?

My favourite project, I think, was when my team worked on the big Series product that Intercom released in the last year. That was just a very big project. I hadn’t worked on a project that took that long and involved that many different people and was of such a huge scope before.

So that was really fun to see something from just a little idea of a project through to tech planning. How are we going to make this work the best into the future? And how are we going to make this also, as a product, the best for customers? Through to building the whole thing and now releasing it and supporting it.

The most difficult project I suppose was probably the Series project again, because there was so much ambiguity. We put a lot of time into building this thing and it’s hard to figure out exactly how to check that what you’re doing is going to work for customers without releasing the whole dang thing that takes ages to build. Something of that scale just provides some really interesting challenges.

What are your hopes for the future? Are there any projects youd like to do?

You obviously can’t do big projects, like the project that my team did, all the time. You have to do the little work as well and the maintenance. But hopefully, at some point in the next year or so, there’ll be another big project that I’ll get to get involved in.

What advice would you give to girls in school who don’t have any exposure to engineering or tech-related subjects but want to pursue engineering? The all-girls school I go to has none of that.

Protest? That’s bananas!

I guess, for me, a lot of the things that I did when I was younger were things like building websites just for myself. Or my dad does some programming, so he taught me how to build some little games and stuff like that just for fun.

I think the thing is to just remember that if you do have any inclination to build things or design things, don’t assume that you’re not an engineer just because you’re a girl. I think that’s definitely something that I did – because I was also very good at the arts and I was also good at other things, I was like, ‘Oh, well, engineering, that’s what my dad does. That’s not for me.’

Definitely try to get some kind of programming class if there isn’t one at your school, there’s so much support out there for having even an after-school programme. There’s lots of different programmes out there. There’s one where you actually build an app that deploys to an app store and that’s just cool. You get to actually build something, a game or a tool, that you actually want to use.

Don’t assume you can’t do something just because nobody’s presenting it to you as a thing that you should pursue.

By Aoibheann Mangan

Aoibheann Mangan is a transition-year student from Claremorris in Co Mayo who has an interest in science, technology and coding.

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