A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent.
This month Corrie spoke to Erin about starting a brand new job in the first week of the pandemic, knitting as a way to stay focused and completing 24-hour long bike races over the weekend.
Name: Erin Zimmer
Job: Community Tech Lead
Time at Cogent: 4 months
Welcome, Erin! How long have you been at Cogent and tell us a little bit about your role?
My role at Cogent is Community Engineering Lead. I go to meetups and speak at conferences to get a feel for what’s going on in Melbourne and to meet potential Cogent team members. I’ve been at Cogent since what’s it been…three months, four months? I don’t even know! Since the start of the pandemic, the week before all the conferences and meetups got shut down!
That must have been a pretty strange time to join a new company?
Yeah! At my previous company, we had just switched to working from home, so I had done a week of working from home at the old place, and then switched immediately to working from home at Cogent. I haven’t been into an office since I started this job!
Everything’s been via video chat. But, everyone at Cogent has been really great. I feel very welcome.
That’s good, I’m glad. We would normally be taking you out for a lot more lunches, coffees, and doing more get-togethers, but these are strange times…
That was the other thing because Cogent wants to make sure people’s onboarding goes smoothly, I was invited to a few things before I started. I attended a company meeting and was invited to a team lunch, which I ended up missing because I was finishing up at my previous job, so I had at least met a few of the Cogent crew.
Erin speaking at JS Bangkok 1.0 conference
That’s right. I remember we were super excited to have you join us at that company meeting! What’s the experience been of coming onboard? What were your expectations of Cogent before you joined, and what’s your impression of Cogent now that you’re part of it?
I was excited to join Cogent. All of the marketing is really good. When I originally spoke to Amelia about the job, I totally only planned to go and talk to her, just to find out what this role was about so that I could take that information back to my current company! But she totally sold me on Cogent.
Wait, so you were planning on doing this role at your previous company?
I was doing a similar role, so I was interested to hear what Cogent’s plans were, and I hoped to get some info, share some ideas and go back to my current job and influence the scope of the role. Amelia definitely sold me on Cogent so I was interested to see if it would match up to my expectations. I’d heard all about Cogent’s values so when I started, one of the first things I did was get onto the values team who are responsible for making sure that Cogent really does live our values! To see it all in action so soon after I joined has been unreal!
The values part of the Cogent proposition, was that the most attractive part for you?
The most attractive part was actually the clients because I’ve worked in big enterprise my entire career. Big enterprise, big government, working in places where you’re not building the product, so you’re always seen as a liability, you’re always a cost. It was getting a little old so getting a chance to work with startups where you’re actually building the product, sounded pretty exciting. But also, Cogent’s values, especially the value around meaning, was a big one to me. Working on things that you actually care about is really important to me.
Erin paddling down the Tumut River.
What did you imagine meaning might look like for you?
I had no idea. Just because it’s something I’ve never done and it was something that I wanted to try, and so I walked into it fully understanding that I might hate it. I started my career working in the federal government with Centrelink, and then I moved down to smaller government departments, and then to private enterprise with Australia Post. I’ve enjoyed each job more than the last. In my most recent job, I was working entirely in the private sector and a big enterprise. It felt like the right move at the time, but I think I was most excited for the change of environment and the new challenges I’d face. That’s the same reasoning I had coming to Cogent and I’m really looking forward to seeing how my time will unfold here.
That’s really interesting. I think going through the recruitment process is a complex thing where we’re trying to get a sense of each other. Cogent has a pretty thorough process, how did you find it?
One of the things that I really appreciated in the interview process was the salary assessment. Going through the very detailed spreadsheet of skills and experiences made expectations clear on both sides. It also gave me the opportunity to get feedback on things that I was great at, and areas that I could develop in order to progress. There’s something very reassuring about the fact that Cogent knows, and is completely ok with, the fact that there are certain areas in my role that I’m not great at yet.
We’ve had a few meetings and calls now and I’ve noticed that you tend to knit when we have conversations. Tell me about that?
I get distracted really easily when I’m just listening to something. This is especially true in meetings, where your phone and your laptop are often right there, waiting to tempt you with emails and Twitter. I found that having something to do with my hands is enough of a distraction to keep me on track. It doesn’t use up all of my brainpower, so I have enough focus left over to listen, but not enough to open Twitter. I do the same thing when I’m watching TV. If I just sit down and watch TV, and I’m not doing anything else, I’ll end up pulling out my laptop and doing something online.
Because of the pandemic, we’ve all had to revisit expectations around relationships, we’ve had to spend almost all our time with the people we live with instead of splitting our time between work, social gatherings and home like we’re all used to. Is there anything you like better about how society is at the moment?
I’ve actually found it quite relaxing, because normally I would be out at meetups, travelling, and doing all kinds of things after work which can be pretty exhausting. Having that forced downtime has actually been good. I’ve been getting back out on my bike more often and spending quality time with my partner. This downtime has given us all a chance to build up new habits too, and hopefully, they’ll flow through even when things get back to normal.
If you could be one other thing professionally, what would you be?
Maybe some kind of teacher, because a big part of my role in tech is actually teaching. I’m not that into children, so maybe not a school teacher! A lot of my work has been teaching junior developers; helping them to grow and learn independently, which I really enjoy. I’ve also thought about knitting, but I don’t know if turning my hobby into a job would ruin it!
You could teach knitting?!
Teach knitting? Brilliant! New pandemic career!
What’s your favourite thing to do on the weekend?
I feel like the thing I’ve done most on the weekends over the past two years is preparing for conferences. But I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite thing, because there’s always a bit of stress around it, due to the deadlines. When I lived in Canberra, my favourite thing to do on weekends (and weekdays) was to go mountain biking. We had a mountain bike park really close to our house where I spent a lot of time – it was super fun! I also used to do a lot of long-distance racing – eight or 24-hour races (where you do as many laps around a course as you can in eight or 24 hours).
Erin getting ready for the time trial at the Tour of Bright.
What is it like riding all night? Do you stop to eat or anything?
It’s dark! It can actually get pretty eerie in the early hours when there are fewer people on the track, and it’s just you and the kangaroos.
As far as the actual riding, you usually have a little tent set up, with a support person helping you. At the end of each lap, they make sure you’ve got enough food and drink bottles on your bike. You mostly eat and drink on the bike, but you might stop every couple of laps for a more substantial “meal”. Getting enough calories is actually one of the hardest parts of long-distance riding because you don’t feel like eating while you’re riding.
Wow! Where is the best place that you’ve ever been?
That’s a tricky one. Because I’ve moved around and lived in different places, to me the place is less important than the people that are there, and the kinds of things that you’re doing. I don’t really get attached to places.
In that case, can you think back to a trip you’ve taken, where all of those elements have added up to make a place very dear to your heart?
I went over to the UK two years ago, as an add-on stop after going to Germany for a conference, to visit my little brother and friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. They all live in different parts of England so I travelled all over by train to see them. I really like the trains in Europe! I like that nobody expects you to achieve anything while you’re on a train, so it’s like a free pass to just do whatever you feel like. If I get to spend 10 hours on the train I can sit down, I can play computer games for 10 hours! Whereas if I was at home and I did that, I would feel guilty. My friends and I call it bonus train time!
It sounds like you really enjoy being out in nature, and yet you live in a city. Is that a conscious choice?
Yeah. I really enjoyed living in Canberra and being able to get out in nature and go riding and stuff. But, I came down to Melbourne for work. I do miss Canberra, but Melbourne has a lot of other exciting things going on, which are also fun, like the meetup scene. There’s a bunch of stuff that we do here, that we couldn’t do back in Canberra. But, I do miss mountain biking.
If you could have a good, long, in-depth conversation with anyone dead or alive who would it be?
Maybe, someone like Richard Feynman, a scientist who was also a very good science communicator. Sort of, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Someone like that who knows a bunch of stuff, who is also really good at explaining it and telling humorous stories. He has quite a few books, which are full of funny stories told in a really honest and personal way.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I’m really into sci-fi and fantasy books. I really love The Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. They start as these really funny cartoon books, and they end up being really deep inspections into society and life. I like books that get you thinking about how you think. There’s a central idea called narrativium, where people have this idea of how stories roll out, and they expect things to happen that way because you live in a certain world and you just assume that your world is normal and everybody lives the same way as you. There are just these little assumptions that you make, that more often than not turn out to be completely off. I try to not take current circumstances or perspectives on reality as gospel and always inquire about what else is out there.
Erin cycling in Canberra
How do you see your role as Community Engineering Lead in these changing times?
I’ve been trying to get a clearer view of what the tech community might look like going forward, which has been really tricky. One reason you go to a meetup is to see talks on different tech topics. This aspect is pretty easy to translate into an online forum. But, a big part of meetups is also meeting people and establishing friendships. Because I moved to Melbourne only a couple of years ago, I’ve met most of my friends here through meetups.
That whole social side of things is really hard to transfer to an online setting. I’m still trying to work out what that might look like, and what kind of value we can provide to people online. I’ve been involved with MusesCodeJS, who run workshops for women learning to code. They’re doing their first online workshop this weekend, so I’m going to help out with that. I’m very interested to see how it works out!
It must be a nice feeling to know that there’s still meetups and worthwhile events happening, albeit online.
It’s kind of a double-edged sword though because now everyone is online. If you have a meetup, how do you convince people to come along to your meetup in Australia when they could be listening to someone from Google talk in America? Suddenly, the community is global and trying to keep that local community at the same time. It’s going to be a bit of a balancing act.
I could keep talking with you but I’m conscious of your time! Last question for you: have you always wanted to be doing this?
I’ve been doing this since I finished university. I never really planned it. I’m terrible at planning out what I want to do in the future. I was interested in science and maths type subjects at school. At uni, I ended up with a Software Engineering degree; the path to which stemmed from a general Engineering course that I only decided to do because a bunch of my friends had been doing it! There were a lot of ups and downs during my time at university, through to my first job in tech that brought me to where I am now. One thing I really love about software development is that it doesn’t matter if you have a degree or not, or the way you’ve come into it. What matters is your exposure to other people in the industry, working with talented people, seeing how other people problem-solve and learning from that.
Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello!