“The ambition should be to always better yourself, not just to be better than others” – Interview with Zuza Kopacka
Zuza Kopacka came to the UK when she was only 16, speaking only a little English, without really knowing anyone over here. Facing the usual life challenges and a tricky language barrier, her drive and, what she calls her ‘stubbornness’ helped her get through some tough early years and land her a dream role at Basekit.
Here, Natalie speaks to Zuza about the challenges she had to overcome – how working at Costa Coffee created transferable skills for a career in tech and what it means to not being able to jump higher than your own bum! Read on and all will be revealed…
ZUZA, I’D LOVE YOU TO START BY TELLING US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR STORY SO FAR…
I grew up in Warsaw, Poland where I was raised by two amazing women, my mum and my grandma. They gave me a lot of freedom and trust which allowed me to always follow my dreams but also learn from my own mistakes. I did well at school and had a good group of close friends, however I always felt a little sceptic when thinking about my future over there. At the age of 15 I met my half brother and his family who invited me to spend the summer with them here in Bristol. I fell in love with the city and started to consider moving, unfortunately the following year my nan passed away and this made the decision to move an easier one.
YOU CAME TO THE UK WHEN YOU WERE ONLY 16, SPEAKING ONLY A LITTLE ENGLISH (I WOULD HAVE NEVER KNOWN SPEAKING TO YOU NOW), ALSO WITHOUT REALLY KNOWING ANYONE OVER HERE – A VERY BRAVE THING TO DO! CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THAT WAS LIKE AND WHETHER THERE WAS ANYTHING THAT HELPED YOU SETTLE?
The beginning was tough, I was now facing usual life challenges and also struggled with breaking the language barrier. I remember putting on my headphones only to take a break from hearing English which I wanted to understand so much but couldn’t . There were times I wanted to fly back but my stubbornness, the thought of the life I wanted here and above all the support from my brother and his wonderful partner helped me get through that period.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU WORKED AT COSTA COFFEE FOR 10 YEARS BEFORE PLUCKING UP THE COURAGE TO CHANGE CAREERS AND GO INTO TECH. IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU’D GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO’D LIKE TO GET INTO TECH BUT MAY THINK THEY DON’T HAVE THE SKILLS?
Think outside the box! Working at costa was my first ever job, and I didn’t think that the skills I gained there could help me get a job anywhere else but hospitality. I was wrong. We all have transferable skills, with the customer service experience, film degree and one extra language I landed a Support Agent role at Baskit, where I currently work. The process of finding a job and getting an interview can be very difficult. Like you mentioned I worked in a coffee shop for 10 years, feeling stuck and helpless at times, so I get it! It might not be obvious where your skills, whether gained from uni course, a job, books or life experience, can take you but it can be further than you currently think. I understand it might not be easy to see that yourself – people say I don’t always give myself enough credit. If you’re finding it hard my advice would be to reach out to others, career advisers, friends, whoever you can and don’t just think of your set of skills as something that restricts your career choices, think of your skills as possibilities and explore them. Skills you thought didn’t count, might.
My current role isn’t highly technical. As a Quality Assurance Tester at BaseKit I don’t test the code per-se, I test the functionality of the software we build, mainly from a user perspective. I have definitely learnt a lot over the past year, I even tried my strength at coding a basic website, but I started without that knowledge. BaseKit trusted me with the skills I had to offer at the time and I’ve just built on it since.
4. IT’S QUITE THE CHANGE OF CAREER! WHERE DID YOU HEAR ABOUT TECH AND WHAT WAS IT THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO IT?
Since I was a child I enjoyed spending time on the computer and with my camera. Back then I thought nothing of it, I was just a kid who liked playing games and taking portraits of people but looking back I believe that that’s when my interests started developing.
After I moved to England I picked my camera back up. I did a media course at college and after that I got accepted into uni to do a Film course. I found that I enjoyed specialising in more technical roles where I practised using a variety of cameras and editing software.
Recently I learnt that creativity plays a big part in tech and in being a QA Tester. I often have to think outside the box and put myself into the user’s shoes. I test various ways in which the app could be used taking into consideration the functionality but also the look and the feel of the software.
Also my maternal uncle was a computer specialist, maybe you can inherit it 😉
ONE OF YOUR MANY ACHIEVEMENTS WAS GETTING A 1ST CLASS HONOURS AT UWE FOR FILM, WITH YOUR FINAL FILM SHOWN AT MAJOR FESTIVALS AROUND THE WORLD! (AMAZING!). AS THE DIRECTOR YOU WERE THE ONLY FEMALE IN THE TEAM, HOW DID YOU FIND THAT AND WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT HELPED YOU WITH MANAGING THAT PARTICULAR TEAM?
I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I got to work with very talented film students from my year and they happened to be male. My uni year was pretty diverse so there was no obvious reason why. Of course I had some doubts about whether I could manage the team by myself, especially with the project being my final one. However, with all the help and support I received from my amazing tutor and all round great woman, Freya Billington, I believed I could do it. The team liked my idea, we had a similar vision and the same goal so we did our best to make it happen.
I think what helped in the end was not treating it differently than any other project.
YOU SAY THAT A BIG HELP IN GETTING WHERE YOU ARE TODAY HAS BEEN DOWN TO HAVING SEVERAL FEMALE MENTORS THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE. WHO HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT IN TECH ESPECIALLY?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have met some amazing females throughout my life to whom I still look up to and turn to when in need. My mum, my brother’s partner Karolina, Elisha who was my tutor at college, Freya and many more, they all showed me how important it is to have a mentor, someone who has faced similar challenges, who believes in you and wants to see you succeed.
After finishing ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), I got accepted to do a Creative Media course at college. I was still afraid to speak in front of people and struggled to understand group conversations. Gina, who was one of the first classmates I got to know, always made sure I wasn’t alone. We spent lunch breaks together, she always tried to include me in the conversations, explain anything I struggled to understand and wasn’t afraid to correct me when needed. We are still very good friends and also currently working for the same company. She’s the one who helped me realise I had the skills to go into tech and told me about the available position at Basekit.
Tech is a male-dominated industry and as a woman who only just started her journey here I doubt myself at times, I lack the confidence to speak up and share my opinions. Having female mentors has given me a sense of security and their support and faith in myself has given me the courage to keep going and the confidence that one day I can be like them.
YOU’RE STILL EARLY ON IN YOUR TECH CAREER AS A QA WITH BASEKIT, HOW’S IT BEEN GOING SO FAR AND WHAT’S IT LIKE TO WORK IN TECH?
It’s been going good so far. There have been a lot of challenges but with everyone being friendly and always open to help it’s easy to settle in and feel like a part of the team.
Something I love about BaseKit is that everyone, besides their sole duties, also holds knowledge about other specific areas of the business or the software. We come together well as a company and a team to support each other, share the knowledge and teach/ learn new skills.
Since working in tech I don’t feel stuck anymore. There are plenty of career paths and opportunities for further development. I’m currently taking a ISTQB Software Testing Foundation course and Basekit has been very supportive with the tools and flexible with the time I need to study and to pass the end exam.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY TOOK PLACE LAST MONTH AND THE THEME WAS #BREAKTHEBIAS, I’D LOVE TO KNOW WHAT BIAS YOU’D LIKE TO BREAK…
Over the years that I worked at costa my colleagues and I were made to feel belittled on a number of occasions. Directly, unconsciously, jokingly or not people working in hospitality and any other working sector are in no way, or should be treated differently. Working in hospitality doesn’t have to mean that you weren’t good at school or that you do not have an ambition. It can be someone’s career of choice, it could be one of the stops whilst travelling the world, a side hustle, or just an in between place whilst figuring out what to do next – just like me.
I also know that I’d love to be a mum one day, and I hate the fact that it makes women less employable. I know a lot of mums who kick ass every day. It’s a full time job requiring multitasking, planning, organising, managing and leading. When you can be a mum, you can be anything. It’s one of the biggest challenges in life.
LASTLY, DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE QUOTE THAT YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY…
My mum used to say “wyżej dupy nie podskoczysz” which means you can’t jump higher than your own bum. I found it funny of course, but as I’ve gotten older I started realising that what she meant was that you can’t do better than your best. I believe the ambition should be to always better yourself, not just to be better than others. Nothing wrong with a bit of competitiveness of course but as long as I feel like I’ve done enough and I’m satisfied with my own progress if I fail to get the position or if I fail to pass this exam but I have done as much as I could I didn’t fail myself. I still became better than I was before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m only just learning how to live by it, I still happen to be too hard on myself, at times ignoring all the work I’ve done to achieve everything I have so far but then I try to remember that we are the only person we’ll always be with so it is important that we are proud of ourselves, recognize every little success and take away the lesson from every speed bump on the road.