Understanding how a company works can be difficult, and finding one’s way into the wide range of IT professions even more. To help you, NBS System opens its doors to you, and launches a series of articles in which NBS System’s employees explain to you what their professions are.
Today, we interview Chloé Desoutter, Research and Development Officer at NBS System (the interview was conducted in French and was translated afterwards).
- Hi Chloé ! To start this interview, can you explain to us what your profession is ?
I’m a Research and Development Officer, now in the R&D department of NBS System, a department of technical expertise and innovation. I am mostly in charge of the internal developments of the company. My profession’s goal is for Customer Service people to be able to focus on interesting tasks rather than boring ones. I already worked as a system administrator, and most of the time I was only answering issues that should not exist: now, I have to remove these issues. For this, we need to automate procedures as much as we can, while keeping enough flexibility to be able to address the varied and complex stakes of the final clients.
In essence, it is all about conceiving, architecting and setting up solutions to address the clients’ need and the internal issues about platforms deployments and automation. Automation is embedding solutions and automation products within our information system, such as Salt for instance. We have to merge the use of these tools with our sector’s best practives, to ensure a continuity. Indeed, we cannot change everything every 6 months, because the clients need this continuit.
- Who are your clients ?
My direct clients are NBS System’s employees: firstly the Customer Service, then the other internal departments of the company. I’m thus especially dealing with the Customer Service, but also with the Infrastructure department. They tell us what the future need will be, and we offer them solutions and take part in their implementation, to make them save time. We make their lives easier, and they give us interesting projects to work on.
I also have a secondary mission as a DBA (Data Base Administrator), where I provide consultancy in optimization when there is a need. In these cases, I sometimes meet final clients, especially during steering commitees, but it is quite rare.
- Which kind of projects do you work on?
I work on ambitious projects that require a lot of energy but are really interesting. There are “three times” in my work. The first one is the immediate time, where projects are a few hours to a few weeks long (such as incidents for instance). The second one is the middle time, spreading over a few months: these projects are the most frequent ones. They guide the evolutions of our information system, and improve its efficiency. Finally, the third one is the strategic time, where project can last 6 months to a year. They have a large scope: for instance, CerberHost is one of these projects.
All these projects matter, and none have to be forgotten. The risk is to delay the strategic projects by only adressing immediate stakes. But R&D means both development and research. Research is innovation, the study of new technologies, the integration of external or tailor-made tools… They are long-term projects, with no immediate ROI, but they must not be forgotten since they are the ones that actually make things go forward. They are responsible for the innovative image of a company: being late on these projects means giving the impression of not moving.
We must also know when a project will end, since it influences what we can or cannot sell. We must do tests, learn from our mistakes, our work, our researches. Then, once it works, we automate!
- Do you work alone?
Oten, yes. Other people review my work, but take no other part in it. The problem is that I work either on small projects, too small to be shared, or on large projects. It is all the more complex to work with someone on these as they are often hard to scale, and it can get difficult to know where the project is going.
To be able to work with several people, one needs a big project, divided into little ones in order to allocate the tasks, and benefit from more competences. I would like, one day, to have a padawan to guide through such a project!
- What is a typical day on the job?
I start my day by reading my emails, especially checking if there has been some incidents while I was gone that could disrupt my work planning. Depending on these mails, I know if my day will be calm of not. I then check our organization board, which shows all ongoing tasks for all the R&D department, and per person.
At the beginning of the week, I set my priorities up. It it important to leave blank periods, to treat potential urgent topics, but also to work on long-term strategic subjects.
Usually in the morning I mostly develop. I take my lunch break with someone from the Customer Service. This informal setting is the best way, in my eyes, to notice what the problems are and how to improve our tools. At the beginning of the afternoon, I often take some time to think, to take a step back and put into perspective the projects I’m working on. That is why there are always a piece of paper, a pencil and white boards on my (very messy) office: they enable me to model my thoughts, and they are close at hand.
During the day, I often get up from my desk: these times are necessary, for me to get some air, think and take a step back.
- How autonomous are you?
I would say that 70% of my profession is made of initiatives and autonomy. The remaining 30% are handled by the company’s global strategy, by incidents, and by the technologies’ evolutions.
It’s like for a phylosophy paper: I am given a subject, and I decide how to treat it. I’m doing tasks whose details I define myself.
- How did you get here? For how long have you been doing this?
I started as a web project manager, but even during this time I mostly did some development and architectures. Then, I was a system administrator, as a freelance and in companies, until I became a DBA (Data Base Administrator). I kept going, working in R&D, web developpement and system administration, before working at NBS System.
I started working 10 years ago, and have been specialized in R&D for 6 years.
- Do you feel any difference between when you started and now?
Since I started this profession, two major evolutions marked me. The first one is the apparition of the DevOps movement. Developpers also had to be system administrators. There are very good sides to this evolution, like using some development tools in the sysadmin range (like Git). But if a good developer can be a good sysadmin, not all sysadmins can be developers. I don’t think we should force the DevOps trend on everyone.
The second evolution comes from some actors of the industry, such as AWS or Google. They make people adopt modern thinking, and leave monolithic times. Today, the economic and technical models make us architect our applications with small interracting components, rather that always increasing the size of the machines. To me, the Cloud revolution and the Webservices revolutions are one: files are exchanged on the Internet!
When I started, this was the future. Now, it is the present, and it looks like it’s going to stay. We are heading towards smaller and smaller services.
- What do you like in this job?
What I like is the strategic thinking, the fact that I’m always learning, and to touch new technologies. I also like to try and reach excellence.
But more than anything, I appreciate not to work on the production level: it gives me time, and lets me practive my job serenely. That is, to me, the huge advantage of R&D: we have time to think and to be calm.
- What are the essential qualities needed to do your job?
To work in R&D, one must be patient, curious and rational. But one must mainly be daring and unconventional: one must be able to put new solutions forward, to break the tradition to make one’s company evolve.
- Is it easy to find a job as a Research and Development Officer?
In my profession, we are stars! It is relatively hard to find qualified profiles. When I say qualified, I do not talk about experience: one must be able to stand the stress caused by all the autonomy, to learn and to challenge oneself.
- One last word?
I think one must dedicate time to personal projects (as it is the case when working at Google), or for learning (reading books or articles…). It enables to keep fresh, and to go out of one’s comfort zone not to rust. Rust is the end of R&D.
- Thank you!