Behind the scenes: the best of being a manager is seeing people grow

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Kara Olthof’s love of web programming started in Johannesburg, South Africa where she grew up. She’s been at Spil Games since 2012 and has worked her way up until, this year, she became Head of Portal Operations.

How would you describe your job?
On an average day, I am faced with many different things. I may be thinking about users’ needs, stakeholder requirements, competitor analysis, or online developments. Most importantly, I look at data gathered from our sites. With all this information, I define what’s best for the company and our users and then I translate those needs into projects for the team.

How did you get into tech?
Like others of my generation, I was introduced to computers a little later than kids these days — I had my first computer at 9. But, from that moment, I was hooked. Every waking moment I wasn’t at school I was behind my PC. Once I found out you could write computer programs at home, that was it. I started making small websites for friends and family. This evolved from a hobby into a full-time job.

What is it about the tech that you like the most?
I would say the fact that it’s constantly evolving. When things change so rapidly, there is always something new for you to play with.

What’s the best part of being a manager?
For me, it’s having the opportunity to mentor people and see them grow. It’s extremely rewarding to help them towards their goals, whether it’s becoming a master at UX or wanting to be a lead developer.

What would you say is the biggest lesson learnt in managing a team of diverse nationalities?
Misunderstandings occur all too easily when you are working with people who have different values and expectations. Taking the time to learn about the cultures within my team has been crucial in ensuring everyone is on the same page.

How do you come to be living and working in Holland?
The Netherlands has always been a second home to me. My parents were Dutch immigrants, so I have family here and both my brothers moved here when I was in my 20s. At some point, I just decided to pack up my stuff and head out — a see-what-the-future-holds approach. After a few months of crashing at my brothers’ place and a number of job interviews, I landed a great gig at an international company (can you guess which?).

What’s life like in Holland compared to South Africa?
I remember people asking me when I first got here whether we had internet in South Africa. I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s different but not to that degree. What strikes me most about Holland is how convenient everything is. You don’t have to travel an hour to get to the supermarket and buy two weeks of groceries. I still have trouble getting used to that one. Anywhere you want to go is either accessible by bicycle or public transport. That is definitely not the case in SA.

Spil Games is undergoing an extensive culture change process. How do you feel about that and how do you think it will affect your job?
It’s great to see how we are proactively redefining our culture as a company and I definitely think it will have a positive impact. It’s really about the people at the end of the day. A strong company culture means a more fulfilled workplace, where you feel motivated to achieve your goals.

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