Speaker Spotlight: A Journey of Passion and Purpose with Susanna Chapman

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Dive into the unconventional journey of Susanna, blending marine planning with a newfound coding love for renewable energy. Discover the tale of discovering passion, mentorship magic, and the ever-growing tech community.

Can you share a bit about your background?

I have two Master’s degrees, one in Marine Spatial Planning and one in Urban Regeneration and Development. The second one made me absolutely sure that I wanted to work in renewable energy. I started at Bulb in customer services, and after that I got hired into a Product role internally. During my very first week of Product, I tried coding. And that was it, I fell in love with it. I knew that I had to do it for the rest of my life.

Did you come up through a “traditional” techie route or has your career taken twists and turns along the way?

After that happened, I had to get re-hired. So I started a blog and started writing LinkedIn posts and I was very lucky to get hired internally. At this point Bulb had been acquired by Octopus but the tech team had started a new renewable energy start-up called Zoa.

Zoa helps other energy companies to deliver outstanding experiences to customers through tech. We are focused on electrification. The biggest moment for me of my career was the way I realised that I had to take my new-found coding skills and re-apply them back to renewable energy.

Reflecting on your career, is there a specific moment that stands out as pivotal or defining?

A few of them; the moment I first tried coding, in August 2022. The day I committed for life to becoming a software engineer even if I died trying – that was 15th of October 2022. The day I got my job offer, some time in February 2023, certainly stands out to me. But it was the process from May 2023-October 2023 of realising that “I am really meant to be a renewable energy software engineer and this is what I am going to do with this” that stands out to me the most. I repurposed my blog after that to be about the role of software engineering in renewable energy and how it can help. I haven’t been able to stop since!

What piece of advice would you give your younger self as you embarked on your professional journey?

Honestly, I would’ve just told myself that I was going to do an amazing job, and that I was going to smash it. I would’ve told myself that I didn’t need to worry about it at all. Yes, there was a lot of work that I had to put in, and there still will be, always, along the way. But I used to worry that I wouldn’t end up in the right place. I just needed to trust in the passion, and that I would get there in the end. Yeah, that’s that advice I’ll give myself – “trust in the passion.”

And it’s good advice for myself now as well. The training on the job is very hard for software engineering, especially in a startup. And it’s so hard to keep writing my blog every day as I don’t yet know what the outcomes of it will be. So it will be good to just trust in my passion every day for the time being. Both for software engineering and for renewable energy. I am so lucky to have both of them.

Looking ahead, what’s your big prediction for the tech landscape in 2024?

AI. AI, AI, AI. I am so very focused on renewable energy. And so for renewable energy, with the research I do every day, it points me more and more towards AI. It’s unavoidable. It’s not a question of ‘if’ now, and it never will be again. We have to manage it carefully now – and use it to the best of our abilities.

Considering your involvement in Silicon Brighton and community-building, what does the concept of ‘community’ mean to you personally? How important is it in the tech industry?

Community means to me that we all work together and we all support each other – we hold each other when we are falling, we keep each other warm when we are cold. That to me is the true meaning of the word community.

In tech, I have been blown away by this. The people who were willing to mentor me. The people who were willing to help me, and hire me. The people who read my blog posts and commented on them and reached out to me to say that they have read them. When you have worked a really long hard day, and given absolutely everything you’ve got but just without knowing the outcomes, it can mean the whole wide world to you to have one bit of acknowledgement or appreciation. It can make or break your whole day, really.

Community to me really just means encouragement – something that means a lot to me as jobs in tech are always very challenging – and if you continue to push the barriers, which I love to do, then that will always remain challenging.

How do you balance staying updated with the latest industry trends while ensuring continuous personal and professional growth? Any specific resources or practices you find particularly valuable?

I tend to focus in on my field and so I stay very focused on renewable energy. Consistency is key. I make sure I am reading up about the field every day. That way I feel like I will not miss anything.

As someone who has contributed significantly to the community, how do you see mentorship playing a role in the development of the next generation of tech professionals?

I couldn’t have done it without mentorship. I couldn’t do it, as a software engineer, without mentorship. In the early stages, I needed mentors to set me on the right path with my training and to make sure that I was researching the right topics. Now that it’s my full-time job, and I’m building the real stuff, I’m relying desperately on my mentors to help me do it.

An example of this is that in engineering we write “brag docs” a lot. This is how we communicate our achievements to our managers. But even this is not as intuitive as it sounds and it has to be done in a technical way that most of us are not used to – so one of my mentors helped me to do this. My mentors are the most valuable people to me in the world. I love them and treasure them and cherish them so much. A mentor is worth their weight in gold and then some more probably.

Is there any additional wisdom, experience, or anecdotes you’d like to share with our audience?

Yes! I mean, so much! But what I’ll really say is this. Consistency is key. It’s better to write 100 blog posts that show consistency and dedication over time than one “perfect” blog post (there’s no such thing anyway!!!). I’ve written nearly 200 blog posts – I would struggle to find one that had no spelling mistakes, said quite as much as I would have liked to have said, or didn’t rely on external resource to be written (there are only a few of those). But so? I show up every day. I am writing about my dream. I am writing about my passion. I am writing my blog. Enthusiasm trumps perfection.

I hope that my unconditional love for renewable energy shows up in what I do. Everything else after that is just a bonus! I just really care about my dedication, my passion, and my love. When I write about software engineering solutions in renewable energy, I feel like me. I feel like who I was born to be. Only the next step for me is to actually implement them, over time, and in my career, as a software engineer. I hope that there is still so much more ahead to come for me. I really believe so.

Anything else you would like to promote to our community?

I would love to invite you to read my blog Susanna Codes, I pour so much of myself into it every single day. More than anything else in the world, what I just want the world to see is my passion for renewable energy. And how I have this hunch, and this crazy whim – that I went on – that I might be able to do something for this incredible field, the great love of my life, through the magic and the power of software engineering.

To quote the Lana del Rey song, ‘Yosemite’ which served as my main source of inspiration my first year of software engineering: with my love for renewable energy, and my new found passion for combining the two, I want to be able to say that “I did it for the right reasons”.

 

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Want to hear more from Susanna? Watch some of her previous talks on our YouTube channel!

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