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Interview: Michelle Skamene

How did you start developing with Oracle APEX?
I had been working with Oracle since 1997, as a systems analyst supporting an Oracle HR database at Cargill Plc in the UK. When we moved to Canada in 2003, I joined the McGill University Research Institute as a developer. At the time, they were in the process of designing and bulding a new database, and the consultants they chose recommended APEX (at the time, this was HTMLDB).

I caught the bug almost immediately! Since I was already familiar with SQL and PL/SQL after having supported an Oracle application for so many years, I picked it up very quickly and soon was developing the application myself.

Why did you decide to start your own company
In 2006, I left the Research Institute to join an APEX Consultancy here in Montreal.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the work and my team there, with three young children at home, I found managing an almost full-time job consulting with my responsibilities at home too much of a challenge.
I wanted more freedom and flexibility with my work schedule. I knew what a disciplined person I was, and that I could get a lot done for clients in fewer hours if I could just own my schedule more.

Is developed in Oracle APEX? If so, what was your motivation to build this project? is developed with APEX, yes! When my boys were 8 and 10 years old, I was concerned they were not reading enough. They were obsessed with video games! So my husband and I made a deal with them: if they wanted to play video games for 15 minutes, they had to read for 15 minutes. At first, we tracked reading and playing time in a spreadsheet, but, hey! I was an APEX developer, and APEX developers do not use spreadsheets, do we?

So I started setting things up in APEX, building a system that converted their reading time to points. Slowly over time, I added all sorts of functionality, and their friends started to want to participate!

I made the site public, and somehow, over the years, it has grown to be a worldwide system used by tens of thousands of users globally, primarily in schools as an online reading log.​

How many women developers work with you? Is it easy to find women to hire?
I unfortunately do not have any women developers that work for me. But this is something I hope to change in the near future! I have a very small team.

Any advice for women to improve their profile and career?

First of all, always keep learning! This is true of women AND men. It is easy to stick to tools and technology that we know, but the world, and more specifically the world of IT, is always changing, and it’s important not to get left behind.

Follow community news, technology updates. Read and follow blogs, and skill up in different areas if you can! There are so many great learning resources these days. It is so much easier than when I first started!

Secondly, do not hesitate to connect with mentors in your chosen field. Our APEX community, I believe, is particularly filled with brilliant people who are generous with their time and knowledge. When you surround yourself with people who have a lot of knowledge, you will invariably learn a lot. You never know where those connections can lead you. Don’t be shy to engage with others!

What would be your advice to someone who wants to start her/his own consulting business?

You must be prepared for highs and lows when you run your own consulting business. There will be moments when you will get a lucrative contract and things are all running smoothly. Other times, you might have longer periods of ‘draught’ between projects and start to get anxious.

It is not always easy to manage the ups and downs of client work, and you should not only be prepared for tougher times, but expect them! If you know it is simply the normal part of doing business, you will suffer less when quiet times hit.

I also believe in delighting my customers. It is much easier to get repeat work from customers who love to work with you than it is to find new clients. So maintaining a focus on customer satisfaction is key.

I would say, however, that this should not come at any price. Make sure you set clear expectations with clients about project timelines and deliverables. If expectations are set properly at the start, your chances of success increase exponentially.

I love running my own consulting business. Having the opportunity of working with many different clients has been a privilege, and I hope to continue for many years to come!

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