Scotland JS

Edinburgh, July 19th and 20th 2018

Interview with with Sílvia Pina

Sílvia Pina

How cognitive psychology can help you write better code

Hi Silvia. Cool to have you speaking at ScotlandJS! Is it going to be your first time speaking at a conference?

I actually have already given a conference presentation with my colleague, from the same company, from Zalando. But here at ScotlandJS there will be my first solo conference talk.

Have you visited ScotlandJS previously?

No. I don’t do frontend development or JavaScript. I’ve just applied with a topic which is not about JavaScript but related to programming in general.

There was a workshop about calls for papers, about how to structure a proposal for a talk at a conference. That was organized by ScotlandJS in several locations, one of them was Berlin where I live right now. I attended this workshop. At first I thought “OK. Even though this is not a conference I would propose to, I’m going to attend the workshop and write a proposal for another conference." And then I ended up going there, I watched a list of topics of previous editions of ScotlandJS. There were topics not only about JavaScript. So, I decided that I have nothing to lose if I apply. And since ScotlandJS was so kind to organise the workshop, I thought it would be a good opportunity. Then I applied, and successfully.

Congratulations! So, what are you going to talk about?

I am going to talk about some of the cognitive biases that we as developers face. Because what we do, we are programming. It has to be very logical, very rational. But we are not rational beings by nature. So, I’m going to talk about how our cognitive biases influence programming and what we can do to be aware of them, and how to use this knowledge to become better at what we do.

Did you gather the material for this talk from your own experience?

Yes. Partly from my own experience. I also must say that before studying computer science, I studied psychology. And I wanted to bring together these two areas. So I had life research on psychological papers and books. And then I combined them with this domain of programming languages.

Does being aware of this psychological stuff help when you are programming?

Well, I would say “yes”. But I’m also taking this opportunity to prepare the talk as an opportunity to reflect on these topics. Reflecting on them helps me to be better at what I do, yes.

Yeah. And I guess, that you must be much better in communication than the others :-) You know everything from inside.

Haha. I hope so. At least I try.

In your usual working day, what do you do as a programmer?

I am a Scala backend developer. I now work for Zalando, which is Europe’s leading fashion platform. Even though we might be known to the wider public as a fashion company, we have in fact a strong technology department, and I think of Zalando more as a technology company. We have a strong logistics setup and use data science a lot in our work. We have been growing a lot in the past years, and we are now more than 1000 people in the tech department. We use cutting edge technologies and work in small, autonomous teams using mostly agile methodologies.

Are you working in a big team?

My team is eight developers. So, it’s a big team right now.

Have you been to Edinburgh yet?

No, no. I always wanted to visit Edinburgh. I think it must be a really beautiful city. I’m looking forward to it.

The conference will last 3 days. 1 day of CSS and 2 days of JS. Are you staying for all the three?

I’m going to be at ScotlandJS for two days of the conference. Also I’m going to attend a workshop on React.JS, just to try out.

What about your hobbies? Do you enjoy doing something besides programming?

I like what everyone likes. I go to movies, I’ve seen them a lot. I like reading, and I like travelling.

Where do you usually travel?

Now I live in Germany and I’m taking the chance to get to know the countries around Germany, like the Netherlands. Last March I went to Prague. Because from here everything is close. But next month I’m going to visit Japan.

You are not from Germany?

No, I’m from Portugal, from the South of Europe. In Portugal the only border is with Spain. So, to go anywhere in Europe we have to cross Spain. And here in Germany it’s all close-by. You can get a bus, and it’s really cheap. Or you can get a cheap flight. And you can be anywhere in a short time.

As a speaker you will be speaking solo first time. What about being attendee? Have you visited a lot of conferences?

I wouldn’t say a lot. Because I only started being active and going to conferences last year when I moved to Berlin. It was not something I used to do in Portugal. I’ve been to four or five conferences.

My company supports us in going to conferences.

I am also a part of Women who Code, I am director of this organisation with two of my colleagues. We were at Codemotion in Berlin last year. We were invited to help with the organising. As a community we organised lightning talks. Its was a very positive things to go there.

Can you recollect something awesome you learned at any conference? Or great people you met?

Definitely. Last year I went to PolyConf , which is a conference in Poznan in Poland. I really liked the environment and the closeness with the people. It was really special. I enjoyed this experience of getting to know new people. I also watched a lot of talks and found them very inspiring, which bunch of ideas.

Varya Stepanova

Interview by Varya Stepanova