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Interview With ThoughtWorks CTO Rebecca Parsons

rebbecaIt’s December already and we kicking it off with an interview with the Chief Technology Officer of Thoughtworks Dr Rebecca Parsons who was kind enough to have a chat with me on her recent visit to Kampala. It is a rather long chat I should warn you but it is very inspirational.

I always like to start with something simple, so if you were to pick a word that describes your role as the CTO of Thoughtworks, what would that word be and why? 

Hmm, Impact-full.  The reason for that, is that part of Thoughtworks’s mission is to revolutionize the IT industry. We want to change the way technology is used and I view my role as a spokesperson for that mission and as an advocate for using the right technology the right way and developing software in a way that is effective, I find my role as one that creates impact in the way software is developed.

So how did you end up in the software development industry?

Well, I started programming when I was 13 years old and I had a math teacher who loaned me a textbook about computer programming this was back in 1973, I fell in love with programming and writing software and I liked the thrill of making things that solve the world’s problems. Am not a tech-Utopian I don’t believe that everything built is for the best but there are some negative consequences to technology.

You have been with Thoughtworks for 15 years now, what do you think is your major contribution to Thoughtworks?

When I joined, ThoughtWorks was a very young organization and I have seen a lot of software development methods and a lot of applications built and I believe my major contribution is the vast experience that I bring on board with my work in the industry and a PhD in Computer science and that is a lot of theoretical knowledge combined with a vast experience of developing different applications and systems.

I have come to notice Thoughtworks is advocating for  different software development Models from Agile to Selenium testing. Why should people care about the way software is developed?

If software is not built properly, It will not do what it’s supposed to do, it will cost more so we shall have a waste of money. If we want to be considered as professionals, we should care about the quality of our work and if our clients are getting value for their money.  It’s also fun to deliver software that is going to work and forget about the frustration of clients complaining that the software wasn’t developed right. One of the things I like about Agile is that it is very grounded in reality, we know the world is going to change, so rather than telling the world not to change, we accept that  and so develop using Agile which is very efficient and cost effective.

Where do you see the gap between the way software is built today and where software is going to be in the future?

I think we should start with the areas technologies is not addressing for example there is this Hospital in India that we developed software for, but before that they were using paper system. We developed a hospital information system for them and instead of going through thousands of paper file to get the patient details, and this is dramatically changing the way these doctors deliver health care. This is helping create insights for the doctor like never before, but then there are things that we don’t know how to solve like the connection between disease and malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, lack of education, how do you start to tackle these. For example if you tackle the clean water problem and you don’t have teachers, how does that help you, if you beef up the education but all the kids are starving in class. How do we look at these massive problems and go beyond the individual problem. I think this is apart that technology is going to have to play but how it will look like, I really don’t know.

What are some of the lessons you’ve come to learn from the 41 years you have been developing software systems?

One would be that, in many situations, there isn’t a single right answer. There is always a most efficient algorithm for a given problem but the real world doesn’t work that way and there are all sorts of trade-offs. The scientist and mathematician in me likes the notion that there is always a right answer but in reality, there is always a single right answer.

You are one of the top Women In Technology today,but stats show that there is a low number of women taking courses like computer science, Is this really a concern to you?

It is a big concern and I have seen women leave the field because they were not appreciated and they felt unwelcome, so one of the things ThoughtWorks cares about is doing what we can to make the environment more comfortable for the under represented, and the fact that we are ignoring half the population is devastating and when we get back to me and how I have made it as a woman, I don’t question for once that I deserve a job in this industry so when someone dismisses me without even listening to me, that’s their problem not mine. I wish I could tell you where that came from but earlier I used to be motivated by people who used to think I can’t do things but now am motivated for all those ladies out there who are struggling with computer science.


Thank you for staying with me and I hope you liked the interview. Be sure to give it a like or share it with your friends and I will see you in the next one.


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