Meet Céline, one of the driving forces of our DevOps powerhouse
16 March 2022
Female DevOps engineers are still underrepresented in our field of work. That’s why we are working together with Clusity to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in technology. Clusity had a chat with Céline Verwilligen, one of the driving forces behind our DevOps team! Read the Bloom story below! ⬇️
Céline Verwilligen is very young (just 26 years old) but she’s sat here in front of us with an inspiring story of self-confidence, passion and a real sense of calm which stems from her pragmatic mindset. Wearing a hat she knitted herself, this smiling young woman explains her journey. 🧶
Thank you, Mr Heremans!
When did you first develop a love for technology? How has it grown over time?
I’ve always been interested in computers, from a very young age. For a long time, my family didn’t have a computer: all my friends already had one at home but we didn’t. One day, my dad needed a computer for his accounting; he bought a second-hand model because it was cheaper. We could play games on it during the weekend and that’s how my love for technology grew. But I decided that IT was my thing during a one-hour workshop in my fourth year at secondary school. The workshops were organised because there was very little enrolment in computer science at school – and they were a great idea. Many students who attended were more like gamers who then wanted to develop games themselves. But I didn’t like the kind of games they played, so I would never have chosen computer science based on that! The initiative came from Mr Heremans who was the computer science teacher. I don’t think he knows that he had such an impact on me, although I’m still in touch with him. Perhaps this interview is a way to thank him. A new world opened up: it just required logical thinking and I’m good at that! Maths has always been one of my better subjects, not above average or anything like that, but I always managed to do OK. I decided I wanted to try computer science in my fifth and sixth years.
“I decided that IT was my thing during a one-hour workshop in my fourth year at secondary school.”
At university, you opted for Applied ICT at KDG, majoring in System & Network Management. Why did you choose that?
Logically, it was the next step for me. My interest in understanding how computers actually work and the electronics and systems behind them began at secondary school. That curiosity evolved into server systems and data centres, which I found extremely interesting. I’m also someone who likes variety and who wants to focus on the bigger picture. I’m a visual person, but not when it comes to building websites or applications. I didn’t want to specialise in a language such as Java or .NET either, because I really wanted to work with systems and understand the networks behind them. Linux-based operating systems suited me fine.
There are relatively few women in Applied ICT, but the System & Network field has the lowest percentage of all. What do you think about that?
That’s right, I was the only woman in the year. I also was one of the first girls to choose computer science at secondary school. In my current job, I am also the only technical woman in my client’s entire Shared Infrastructure department. That’s a pity because it would be much better if there were more women. Nowadays, I’ve got so used to it that I’m no longer surprised. I have plenty of female friends and I can talk to them about girly stuff outside of work.
You say that you were one of the first: so you were a pioneer! It must have taken a lot of strength not to be influenced by the people around you at the age of 16.
Yes, it was very difficult, particularly for my parents. They assumed that technology was just a ‘phase’ and they thought it was a subject for boys. For me, it was very simple: there was nothing else that gave me so much satisfaction, so I didn’t have any alternatives. But it did cause some discussions at home. In the end, however, everything worked out well. If you do have other options or doubts and you hear criticism from the people around you, I imagine it’s easy to become discouraged or to be talked out of it. I think that’s rather sad.
Data centres are often seen as dark, dusty cellars – they don’t have a very sexy image. Can you pinpoint what it is about data centres that appeals to you so much?
Yes, it’s the computing power of these machines. It doesn’t matter whether a million people visit a website or whether five people do: the website keeps working and that’s what I find interesting, in addition to scaled workloads. It’s funny that I feel that way because it’s only true of computers. I don’t have such a fascination for finding out how things work in other areas of my life. By the way, data centres aren’t actually dark or dusty and you don’t work in them as a DevOps either. It’s not so bad (laughs)!
Going with the flow at FlowFactor
“At FlowFactor, I was given the freedom to find out which tools and technologies I wanted to explore. In addition to the incredible people, that was the reason why I signed my contract straight away.”
After an initial encounter with FlowFactor at an internship event, where she immediately clicked with Kilian, one of the managing partners, the company was at the top of Céline’s list of internships. She was warmly welcomed by FlowFactor and, after graduating over two years ago, the decision to work there was an easy one.
When I graduated, I already knew that I wanted to work at FlowFactor. I did check out some other companies because DevOps can be so broad and I wanted to see all the possibilities. At FlowFactor, I was given the freedom to find out which tools and technologies I wanted to immerse myself in. In addition to the incredible people, that was the reason why I signed my contract straight away.
What is your role at FlowFactor today? What is a typical day like? What technologies do you use?
I work as a DevOps consultant for our client Argenta, working in the public cloud team. We are currently managing a major migration to Azure; I mainly help the developers with security. I’m good at Terraform and I like to use it.
From your blog posts and the workshops you organise, we can see that Terraform is one of your main areas of expertise. Is that why they’re now using it at Argenta?
(Laughs) That’s something I’m very proud of, I actually introduced it there. It is an “IaC”, infrastructure as code. You can put your entire infrastructure, including the servers and all the security behind them, into a code block. This makes it possible to recover your entire environment as quickly as possible. The chance of breaking something by making adjustments is very unlikely and even if something does happen, we can ensure that everything is back up and running within five minutes.
How is it different to other DevOps tools?
I think that the biggest advantage is that there’s only a small learning curve for developers. It’s a very user-friendly language and in larger teams, usability is really important. What’s more, you can use it for any type of cloud system. You have a configuration for Azure, AWS, Google Cloud and more; you can even put your on-prem environment in Terraform. Personally, I work mainly with Azure. There are alternatives, such as ARM-templates, but they are actually less user-friendly.
DevOps: it’s not what we think
In DevOps, you have to build bridges between the code, the application created by the developers, the infrastructure and the cloud servers. Deploying new releases, updating web apps… What does that mean in practical terms? What does your day look like?
There’s a common misconception that it just involves installing software: click, click, click and you’re done! Whereas the majority of my time is spent on the human side of things. It’s actually a very sociable profession: you have to bring people together all the time, co-ordinate and work as a team. I host workshops for the various teams, I help write pipelines and I find out what the different groups need in order to get a working app in the cloud.
The process often starts with a presentation that I give alongside a solution architect to map out the possibilities. Then I explain to the people attending the workshop that they need to keep two days free for the next sprint, so that we can focus on being hands-on and program together. Developers find this extremely interesting. For example, I recently gave an Azure workshop and the team got to work so quickly that they asked me back not long afterwards to explain how well it had gone. That really gave me goosebumps; I love teaching people about new technologies!
“It’s actually a very sociable profession: you have to bring people together all the time, co-ordinate and work as a team.”
Were you surprised to find that it’s such a sociable profession?
A little bit! During my studies at KDG, it was already quite clear: we had to work together a lot and most assignments involved group work. But in the real world, it’s much more fun. Being able to help others and seeing how grateful they are, that’s what motivates me.
Have you encountered any challenges in your career? How did you deal with them?
I had a bit of a bad experience with one of my previous clients; you could probably call it sexism. Inappropriate comments were made by other people and after a while, I was micromanaged to such an extent that I was incredibly stressed. I’m a perfectionist by nature and I want to do everything right, but with a manager like that, I sometimes had to work from seven in the morning until the early hours of the morning as I tried to get things right. At a certain point, I couldn’t cope any longer and I told my managers at FlowFactor. That was a difficult step for me to take: admitting that I couldn’t solve the problem myself. But I’m extremely happy that I told them. I worked there for two more days and then they took me out of there. FlowFactor looked after me, I worked internally for three months and I also had some coaching sessions which really helped me. After that, FlowFactor was very selective about the clients they asked me to work with – they prioritised my well-being. Afterwards, I asked the person who had replaced me about his experience. He said that the manager was a great colleague and very pleasant and he said he’d enjoyed a lot of freedom… It really was just me. I’ve learned not to take it personally any more.
Not your usual ICT girl
Your Instagram bio reads: “Not your usual ICT girl”. What exactly do you mean by that?
This idea began to emerge during my studies. When people think of ICT, they don’t really see me working in ICT. I have a distinctive style, I’m very sociable, I like to go out. I don’t sit in front of my computer in my free time. When people hear that I work in DevOps, they’re very surprised.
“When people think of ICT, they don’t really see me working in ICT. I have a distinctive style, I’m very sociable, I like to go out. When people hear that I work in DevOps, they are very surprised.”
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be an artist. Art always appealed to me and it still does. In my spare time, I take lessons at an art school, mainly drawing nude models and portraits. Being busy with my hands provides a good counterbalance to my work. I also leave my phone at home when I go to these classes. Digital drawing is very fun too, but then I find myself back in front of a computer. I also crochet and knit a lot, particularly scarves and hats! That’s another thing people don’t immediately associate with people in ICT (laughs). My social life is very important to me. I have a lovely group of friends and we like to go out together, nearly every Friday!
You found your passion for IT around the age of 14 or 15. What advice would you give to 14-year-old girls about tech?
I would say they should choose what they like to do and not be discouraged by societal standards. I’d also tell them that DevOps is a sociable and people-centric job. You’re not constantly sitting in front of your computer, you’re helping people.
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