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Women in Tech: Meet our Senior Engineering Manager, Marija Smoljanić

We sat down with Marija Smoljanic, Senior Engineering Manager, to gain an insight into what a typical day looks like for women in tech at LearnUpon (hint: there isn’t one!). She shares her career path, what made her decide to join LearnUpon, and how she successfully manages her work-life balance. 

Why did you join LearnUpon?

I had been thinking about becoming an Engineering Manager for a while before I saw LearnUpon’s job posting. It would have been a career shift for me at the time, but after reading all of Michael Lopp’s books, I was convinced that it was the right move to make. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, reading and exploring. A big part of my personality is being somewhat of a nerd. Having the word ‘learn’ in the company name, combined with a vision of unlocking the power of learning, seemed to go very well with that part of me. So, when a long-time friend called me to encourage me to apply, it was like all of those things came together. Talking to Des Anderson, our CTO, just made me certain that I was at the right place.

What made you decide to make the move into management?

Before I moved into management, I was a software engineer for about 10 years. It was a job I loved. I’ve always been good at solving logical problems, and being a software engineer allowed me to do that. During that time, I learned an enormous amount about many things. Still, in addition to learning about engineering and tech, I also learned that I am good at communicating highly technical information to non-technical people. This seemed like two different worlds at the time, but somehow I knew how to speak both languages.

At one point, a friend at work suggested that I think about moving to management as he was frustrated because he could not get his thoughts and ideas across. That was the first time I thought about myself as a manager. The idea started to take on as I actively contemplated how I could use my communication and engineering skills to help bridge the gap. I am still a nerdy engineer, only the job title and my scope of work has changed. 

Tell us about a typical day for you as a Senior Engineering Manager at LearnUpon.

There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of an Engineering Manager at LearnUpon. What I try to do every day is to make sure that I understand what are the needs, concerns and impediments to growth for the teams and individuals I work with, so they can perform at their best, be energised, motivated and grow professionally. I also like to explore everyone’s individual potential and aspirations. It is very rewarding to find an opportunity for an individual or an entire team to start playing at the next level, and they take it. This is what success looks like for me. Stagnation and complacency are what failure looks like to me.

You are competing in triathlons, you have three kids, and you are a dedicated manager. How are you succeeding to be a champion in everything? 

I wouldn’t call myself a champion as I think that anyone can do the same things and much more. I just happen to have found the things I enjoy doing.

Triathlon training teaches me about the importance of consistency and baby steps. A race is 113km long (1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21.1km run), and you can learn a lot about the importance of strategy, planning, and executing your plan during that time. You also learn a lot about yourself, especially when everything seems to be going the wrong way.

Parenting is more or less the same thing. You plan a lot but frequently end up in a situation you haven’t planned for, and the children manage to expose the places where you are most vulnerable. If your mind is in the right place, all of these challenging moments are an opportunity for growth, and I celebrate when I find myself in such moments. They are a privilege. I know the discomfort will pass, and I am always eager to find out how I am going to cope.

Being a manager is, again, not that different. The beauty lies in bringing all of these experiences together, learning from each one, and applying what you’ve learned to a completely different context or circumstances.

What is your top advice when it comes to balancing private and work life?

I don’t feel comfortable giving anyone advice, as we are all very different and what works for me might not work for you. I can just give my perspective that we all have only one life, there is no separation. I show up at work the same way as I show up with my kids, family and friends, at the triathlon training and competition, and anywhere else I find myself. I’m all in and I love everything I do, no balancing necessary. You just have to have the courage to choose what you say ‘yes’ to and what you say ‘no’ to. It’s not always a walk in the park, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.

​​If you are interested in an engineering role, or any role at LearnUpon for that matter, feel free to connect with us on LinkedIn or one of our other social channels (Facebook,  Instagram).