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How to Work in Software Without Being a Developer

In our Advice to Our Younger Selves series, Redis women tech staffers share insights they wish they knew when they were starting their careers.

Liking too many subjects in school can have its downsides—for Mariana Aviv, it meant she felt no singular calling. As a self-described “very bossy” kid who loved numbers and management, she decided to study the humanities, eventually getting her degree in merchandising in her home country of Argentina. 

After moving to Israel to be with her husband, she joined a tech company as an office manager. Now she’s a project manager on the Redis R&D team based in Tel Aviv, working closely with her team of software developers in biweekly development sprints. In this Q&A, Mariana shares her day-to-day life as a project manager and offers tips for working on a software team without having a technical background. 

Redis: Let’s start at the beginning—how did you start working in tech?

Mariana Aviv: My first year in Israel was a challenging period—while learning a new language and waiting for the validation of my university degree, I started working in a high-tech company as an office manager.

I was excited to be accepted at the leading speech-recognition company in Israel at that time, and this is when I fell in love with high-tech organizational culture: talented people, respectful environment, diversity, employee care, and English-friendly. Coming from Argentina, these were totally new work conditions for me.

With the help of a great professional growth program and my experience on merchandising campaigns management, I eventually advanced to an operational project management role.

I never consider looking somewhere else. High-tech became my community and its people became my group of belonging. Moving from operation management to product management, release management, and program management came natural to me. My Agile journey started when I took part in an organizational Agile transformation. After getting Scrum Master and SAFe certifications, I found that my experience, skills, and personal characteristics are best represented in the Scrum Master role, while Agile project management became my approach to managing software projects. It took me a while, but I found my calling.

Life as an Agile project manager

Redis: Can you tell us about the Agile development process and your role as a Scrum Master? 

Mariana Aviv: We work in a Scrum framework, which is a subset of Agile, a project management methodology. A Scrum is a two-week period called a “sprint,” designed for efficient software development. As a Scrum Master for my team, my responsibility is to plan the Scrum process to ensure our projects run smoothly. 

Prior to starting a sprint, we have planning sessions to decide what we are going to work on within those two weeks. We prioritize tasks, which is done with the product owners and product management, which are different roles within the Scrum.

We also have a series of “ceremonies” during every sprint, including daily standup meetings, where we give our updates on our work and what we accomplished, and retrospectives, where we reflect on what we learned and what we want to improve in the next sprint. The sprint review is where we show product management what we accomplished and gather feedback.  

We plan all the time, but often something comes up that breaks the sprint and we have to re-plan our content based on new priorities. We embrace changes and we accommodate accordingly. My goal is to keep things visualized to improve communication among all the stakeholders. I’m also part of the project management team. Each of us on the project management team has our own Scrums, but as a group we try to keep the trains rolling and moving forward. 

Redis: What do you like most about the Scrum Master role?

Mariana Aviv: The interaction with the developers. I love working with them. They are a serious bunch of smart people, and I like making things fun and lightening the mood. I enjoy keeping things organized, providing a different point of view, being a focus point to gather information, tracking our progress, maintaining the focus of the team, and just making things easier for the developers. It’s very satisfying to be part of the process of creating new things and having all these smart people around you—feeling that you belong.

Redis: What skills do Scrum Masters need?

Mariana Aviv: You don’t need to be a developer to be a Scrum Master. But it’s very important to know yourself and what makes you different. Add your touch to everything. That sparkle or twist is what you need to bring, in addition to having the certification and degree and knowing the responsibilities.

For a Scrum Master role, self-motivation is very important. Being a Scrum Master can get monotonous sometimes. So you need to keep moving, keep finding ways to be original.

Teamwork is also important. That includes a lot of things, like the communication streams, the communication skills, the support, the problem solving, the tolerance, the attitude. 

What I wish I knew in high school

Redis: If you could go back in time then to your high school self, what advice would you share with yourself?  

Mariana Aviv: I would tell myself to ask for help. It’s OK to ask for help in everything. I think that’s very important. Sometimes we just want to prove ourselves and move forward, especially as young women, who want to be tough and independent. But it’s OK to say I don’t understand, or I need help to improve and to develop the career I want.

I also would tell myself to keep things in proportion. I changed careers at the beginning of my education in Argentina. I started something and I decided to change. That time, effort, and money invested can feel like a waste. But it’s not—you’re investing in things that make your path unique. 

Finally, keep investing in things that make you happy and balance your life—like sports or art. Not everything has to be centered on your career. Those things build up your individuality, and many tech companies value having unique people on their teams. 

Managers are great mentors

Redis: Did you have any mentors in your career?

Mariana Aviv: I didn’t have an official mentor. I choose my bosses as mentors. When I choose my positions and come to the interviews, I also try to figure out if my boss can bring more value to my career. I want to learn from them. I ask questions, learn the process, and bring my ideas. And I have colleagues who I learn from too. I didn’t feel like I needed to be part of a mentor program. It’s all about choosing the right boss.

Redis: What should young people or women who want to work in tech know about the industry? 

Mariana Aviv: First of all, it’s really fun to work in high tech if you choose the right company. At Redis, we enjoy our time together, laughing and joking around while still performing our Scrum ceremonies and working on our development tasks. You probably already know this, but the Israeli high tech industry is mostly dominated by men. I am happy to be part of a company that supports and promotes women, and this is reflected in the increased number of women that recently joined the R&D team. I feel accepted and valued, and I am proud to say that at Redis, diversity and inclusion are being taken seriously.

You should also think strategically. Tech companies tend to invest in their employees—they provide a great system to promote growth and development. And as a mom, I enjoy working at companies that respect the work-life balance.  

Redis: You mentioned that you’re comfortable being the only woman in the room—was that something you had to get used to?

Mariana Aviv: I grew up with two brothers so I always felt comfortable around men. I think you need to be ready to be part of the team and not take things too seriously. Be confident that you will be respected, and then people will respect you. If you have something to say, be confident and speak up.