Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazers: Catherine Maguire

  • Name: Catherine Maguire 

    Role: Security Software Engineer at Aflac Northern Ireland

    What does your typical day look like?

    I usually begin the day catching up with the wider cybersecurity team. This is a great opportunity to find out what’s going on with those specialising in something other than software development and generally catching up with people who we can’t see daily while we all work from home.

    My day also involves a daily stand up with the rest of the security software engineering team, however, with some team members residing in the US, this meeting always happens at 1:45pm to accommodate their working schedules.

    Mornings really involve continuing any work that I’d been assigned during sprint planning which occurs every second Wednesday. My usual day job is essentially writing code to enhance our product and provide a better experience for our customers.

    What are you currently working on?

    I am working on an authentication platform for Aflac that can be utilised by many other development teams within the business. The idea is that we step away from individual applications each having their own login page and instead, have one login and authentication platform that can be utilised by any development team.

    On the side lines and when time permits, there’s the opportunity to assist colleagues by automating laborious tasks. One such project I have also been working on is where we have taken a simple questionnaire from MS word and developed it into an online wizard to capture scoping requirements.  

    For me, it’s great that my work can both contribute positively to the experience of Aflac customers as well as the effectiveness of my own colleagues. Being able to collaborate with other teams and understanding their needs as well as having the freedom to design and execute their high-level requests has been great and allows for a further expansion on current skillsets.

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    I’m not from Belfast and the drive would normally take around two hours, so applying for a role here was something I never thought I’d see myself doing. But, after being approached by a recruiter last summer, I did get a great sense of what Aflac was about.

    It wasn’t just about the nature of the work I would be doing, but I got a real positive vibe and sense of happiness when talking about the role over the phone before I had even submitted my CV. The culture has lived up to my expectations and I believe this is the driver for the company. Everyone works really hard here at Aflac but no one takes themselves too seriously.

    What also appealed to me was this is a brand-new team, getting things right from the very start. The right attitude is very important to me, working with people who are also solution focused, without any bad habits or procrastination behaviours. My colleagues are receptive to new ideas and moving forward with industry best practices. We are an innovation centre in Belfast which was appealing to me.

    Did you always want to work in the tech industry?

    Truth be told, I went through a phase where I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I originally wanted to be a teacher but as I approached A-level I realised it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. Mum was a teacher and I think I just always wanted to do what she did, without really thinking much about it.

    I decided to undertake a degree in Computing and IT at Queen's as it was literally the only thing on the prospectus that interested me even a little. Fast forward four years when it was time for a graduate job – this is where I swerved every software development job going and I would only apply for desktop support or software testing roles.

    My problem was merely confidence in myself and not knowing the expectations of large software companies. I applied for a graduate software testing role near home and during my interview it was mentioned that they were also hiring a graduate developer – which I politely declined and continued with my interview.

    When I got the phone call about the interview, I had to clarify what role I was hired for, and as soon as I heard “Graduate Software Developer” I nearly fainted. I persevered and turned up for the job and fell in love with writing code, problem solving and everything that comes with it….I look back now and I am so grateful for that interview and I still wonder what I was so afraid of.

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    Well I am very lucky working as a developer, we have visible output for our work, code that lives on the Cloud and will be used by people in a safe and secure manner. As a technologist I take pride in my work knowing we take security very seriously for our customers.

    Another area I would like to talk about is working with great people and the collaboration with other colleagues at Aflac, not just in the Cyber Security team, but in other departments too. The local Aflac Talent Acquisition team has done a brilliant job of attracting subject matter experts, people who really are specialists in their domain.

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry?

    You should consider a career in tech, it is challenging, rewarding and we are making a difference to people’s lives by implementing security practices early in the development lifecycle. If you have ideas on how to do something better, then this is the industry to be in.

    Digital transformation has accelerated at many companies, especially after the pandemic last year, resulting in plenty of job openings for people with my skillset. There are so many opportunities now for graduates and I am very fortunate to be able to work from home, in the town I grew up in, for a great company, doing a job that I love!

    How do you see this technology impacting on our lives?

    We can do so much online now which makes life so much easier. Even the ability to work from home and join a new company totally online with little to no disruption has been surreal. If we were to lock down 10 years ago, would it have worked? Technology continues to evolve and making things easier and more convenient for us.

    Who inspired you to work in this field?

    This is a funny question for me and I will be very honest for your readers – no one! Honestly, I fell into it when I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but from the very day when writing code just "clicked" with me, I knew this was what I was meant to do.

    I absolutely love creating things in general and creating applications that are easy to use and make people’s lives easier is what I love. I think I always wanted to be a teacher because I loved the idea of helping people learn new things, and I still get to do that in this role as a software engineer. Hopefully my story will inspire someone else like me to try tech if you see any similarities with your own situation.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    AI – The impact artificial intelligence has had and will continue to have is astonishing. Education, Healthcare and Travel are just some of sectors that are enhanced with AI. The days of carrying a heavy school bag home to do your learning are gone, and this is only one of the very small positive changes brought about with AI.

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    Although I have a technical role at an innovation centre, I am not much of a geek outside of work. While there isn’t one gadget that I couldn’t live without, I would be lost without the world of Pinterest (so that probably means my phone). It is a real source of inspiration for me and helps to organize my boards around my hobbies of cooking, gardening and decorating.

    Read more about our Tech Trailbazers on Sync NI here. Find out more about Aflac NI's job opportunities on our Jobs page here.

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