Women in Tech series: interviews with software engineers

There are many analyses dedicated to the gender gap in technology. Different explanations focus on sociological, cultural and political aspects of this phenomenon. Easy answers offer little understanding. At intive, we continue our series of articles aimed at sharing the stories of our women professionals. Their individual paths to a career in tech form a valuable, international collage of experiences. This time we give the floor to four great developers from Iran, Argentina and Poland.

Golnar Ashkboos & Mona Shahinnejad

We met at the Uni in Teheran 13 years ago. We both studied software engineering. We weren’t anything unusual at our tech courses: there were as many girls as boys. In some classes, girls were the majority! In Iran the gender gap in tech fields is not as big anymore as it used to be some 20-30 years ago. Back in the days, women preferred (or were told) to stay at home and take care of the family. But now they go for the same careers as men and choose whatever path they please.

Having said that, we do admit that getting to where we are now presented some challenges. Problems started right after graduation. Our families wanted us to think of a career in administration. They also imagined we’d settle in Teheran. We both have siblings and they work in banks. With our bachelor’s degrees we could have easily landed in a bank. We hated this idea.

We had this clear picture in our heads: .NET! After a series of unsuccessful job interviews, we started some serious learning. For about two years we passed all our weekends at private courses, studying to get the qualifications we were after. And all that time we fought our parents who still refused to accept our choices. After having completed the weekend courses, the IT job market was ours: we even had the luxury of getting picky about our prospective jobs.

Why did we go for programming in the first place? It’s a very creative field. It may appear otherwise, but you get to use all your creativity while working on a project. It really gets you thinking. Another thing is, you always do something new and see the results immediately. We love it. We also just love spending time together, whether it’s at work or after hours. We go on long walks and often cook together. Cooking is a bit like coding: every time you create something new and enjoy the results right away.

our take on the gender gap in tech

During our studies we had to do internships. In our case it was some office work for a company owned by one of our teachers. It had nothing to do with programming. We remember being told: “It’s best for you if you stay here”. We said we wanted to be .NET devs, and our supervisor laughed and replied that a girl can never be a real developer. There was also this other teacher who used to say that girls in programming are as necessary as pot plants in a room. Pretty to look at, but nothing more than that. 

Hearing such things can be demotivating and discouraging.  In our case, however, it had the opposite effect: it was so outrageous, it served as the best motivational pep talk. “So, you’re saying WE CAN’T do something?!”. Imagine. The sad thing is, these kinds of comments still can be heard. We learn about such stories from our student friends. Now, some of us are thick-skinned and assertive and won’t have anyone tell them what they can or can’t do, but others might quit. We’re probably losing some great professionals because of such “motivational” talks.

When you start working, it’s a different story. In a workplace you’re judged by your results. Of course, in most places girls in IT are still a minority. We have this wonderful story about a company we used to work for. It’s a huge hotel booking service, very popular in Iran. When we passed the job interview, we were the only girls in their whole IT department. There were about 200 employees in our building and they were all pretty surprised to see us. Wherever we showed up, we heard: “It’s the IT girls! It’s the IT girls”. We think the managers thought that the job was too hard for women: long hours, stress, lots of pressure on flawless performance. They just didn’t hire girls.

We spent 4 years in this company and during that time everything changed. The IT department got completely feminized! It was like a revolution. We went from 20 men devs to 18 women devs and 2 men devs in 4 years. It turned out that not only were we able to handle stress and pressure – we were so thorough and reliable, we excelled at our jobs! With time, our managers started placing more and more women in the team, because the greater was our number, the more bug-free the code got. We think that girls, in general, pay attention to detail and are very careful, check everything twice. Actually, for the very same reason they often don’t apply for certain jobs – if they feel they don’t have 100% of required skills, they pass up the opportunity.

our thoughts on the future

Back in Iran we took part in some social media campaigns aimed at supporting women in tech and inviting people to think differently on jobs and gender. We always encourage girls to choose this career. Women should believe in themselves more. They should get rid of this fear of doing something new.

After the 4 years at the travel booking company, we felt our professional lives no longer held any challenge for us. And we simply couldn’t live like that. We can’t stand routine. We looked at our .NET options and Poland seemed like a very good choice. Our families were shocked; they thought we were crazy to travel that far for work. Well, crazy or not, that’s what we did. And here we are, among intivers. Pretty good place to be. 

The job market is changing all over the world. Women get more recognition, reach for their dreams and succeed. We don’t experience any difficulties as women professionals in tech – the ones we do, are not gender-related in any way. We got used to working mostly with men. We focus on our tasks and don’t think that much about gender. It would be cool to have more girls in this sector though, for balance.

When you’re told you can’t do something, well, it sounds like an invitation. We’re both fighters, no doubt about it.

Lucía Capón Paul

I’m a Semi-Senior iOS Developer at intive in Buenos Aires. I’m also a soon-to-be software engineering graduate. I had nothing to do with coding in my school years. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when I finished high-school. I was looking at different options and thought that software engineering was like an open door. It doesn’t offer you one occupation – it’s actually a way to many different contemporary careers. Apart from that, I just loved the magic behind creating something from nothing. With a computer, an open mind and a set of rules you can truly dream big.

At the beginning it wasn’t all easy and obvious. Back in my school days I didn’t know any software developers. I had no one to talk to, consult my fears and expectations. When I decided on programming, my friends and family asked whether I was sure. They didn’t understand my choice and kept pointing out that it’s something guys do. They saw me in accounting. It took some time until they finally understood what I do. Actually, I think they still don’t get why I do it, but maybe they just never will. 

Coding is not all my life. In my spare time I practice tango, whenever I can. If I were to choose my path again, I’d go for…the very same thing. I’m just starting off, I feel the limitless possibilities of this field and I’m learning something new every day. Why would I change anything?

my take on the gender gap in tech

When I hear about women in tech, I always feel I should take a stand. I love what I do, and I’d like more girls to enjoy this kind of work. The numbers are staggering. At my university, according to official statistics, girls add up to only 16% of all software engineering students. On some of my courses I’m the only one in the group!

Someone might say that girls don’t choose this field simply because they’re not interested, end of story. Well, what if I told you that some of them don’t have the guts to face the discouraging comments they’d get along the way? What would you say, if I told you that hearing such comments is nothing unusual for a young woman developer here, in Argentina?

You get to hear professors saying that some technical issue is complicated, therefore if GIRLS have questions, they can be addressed after the classes. When you get to solve a task, and you happen to be the only girl in the group, you’re automatically assigned to non-tech issues because others assume you’d prefer it this way. Your colleagues are often like: “Don’t worry. We’ll help you with the tricky bits!”. When I need help, I ask for help. But I still want to try and solve a problem on my own. Otherwise I’ll never learn!

We talk a lot with my friends about how and when to react to different comments and situations. Sometimes you lack the courage to say something and it’s not right. We should stand up for ourselves. I know girls who left this field because they didn’t want to cope with these incidents. It’s very frustrating. The IT jobs are the jobs of the future – our collective future.

I don’t like it when people assume things. Thinking in patterns is great when you’re learning to code but very limiting or misleading when you think of others. Take this: it’s common that in a dev team where there’s a woman, she usually gets to play the role of the appointed communicator, whether she likes it or not. “Women are better talkers” sort of thing is one of the plenty examples of this “pattern thinking”.

If there’s one thing that comes to my mind when I think of a woman’s perspective (if there is such a thing), it’s being open to feedback. I’ve observed that girls in their professional life are very good at both: giving and receiving feedback.

my thoughts on the future

I often hear that if gender has no actual importance at work, then why do we care so much about changing the numbers? Equal opportunities for all – that’s one answer. Treating everyone the same means encouraging and believing in all. Another thing is diversity for the sake of a fuller picture. It’s good to have diverse teams, whatever you work on. It enhances the collective intelligence. We all have different experiences and you can see it in people’s work. Believe it or not: you can see it in the code!

This September I took part in The Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, Texas. It’s the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. intive has made it possible for me to join the event for the second time and this year it was massive (twenty-two thousands of us all together!). Until you participate in such a gathering, you don’t get to see all these women engineers together, in larger numbers. And when you do, you suddenly realize the potential. I heard incredible, motivating speeches and saw many strong women leaders.

After the event, I came back to my classes and back to being the only one in a group of guys. It felt strange. At the same time, at the back of my head I had this uplifting thought: “we’re out there, thousands of us”. We need to work on the future of women in tech. Nothing is going to happen without our commitment. I’m part of a community, here in Argentina, it’s called [LAS] de sistemas. We’re empowering women in general, but also those in technical roles. Being a minority is always challenging.

As a software engineer I carry a sense of responsibility: my line of work shapes the future. It’s up to me, to all of us developers, how inclusive and fair this future is going to be.

Joanna Kocik

I studied biotechnology and management. I didn’t have a clear picture of my future career, but I knew I wanted to feel independent and do something challenging. It took me a while to find my way. My first jobs were in banking and marketing. I quickly figured out I needed to look further – I felt I couldn’t grow in these fields. I also wanted to develop some different hard skills. I imagined I could get way more creative and focused doing something else. I chose software engineering to test my abilities a little bit and to be able to see immediate results of my work.

intive is my first IT company. I did some freelance programming earlier, but at the time I was still at the learning stage. See, I’m a self-taught developer. All my skills come from long hours spent on internet courses and lots of training at home, with great help from my developer friend. I had a very comfortable learning experience – I was offered to deliver minor assignments to a friendly software house early on. This way I made progress pretty fast. I felt confident enough to apply for a serious dev job after about two years of training.

People sometimes think that programming is repetitive and dull. For me, it’s exactly the opposite. Every day brings new problems that must be solved; you learn constantly. Building a good product and later seeing it on AppStore is a great feeling.

In my free time I’m a music aficionado. I’m fascinated by traditional dance and songs. I play the piano a little bit. Recently, I’m getting more and more passionate about electronic music and composing. I also love trekking.

my take on the gender gap in tech

In my team of fifteen developers, there are four girls. We’re OK like that, but I’d gladly welcome more girl colleagues. When most of your teammates are guys, you simply miss women’s company. I think it’s natural to feel that way. Let’s imagine a reverse situation: four guys in a group of fifteen developers. Would they want more men on the team? Probably so. In strictly male or male-dominated teams, there is this laddish “boys will be boys” vibe. I can cope with that easily, but I can imagine that it could bother some girls.

I sometimes hear about companies that don’t want to interfere with this laddish work culture. I’m told that some managers are simply not willing to hire women, not to shake up the status quo. However, I think we’re talking some small players here: I can’t imagine a larger organization practicing such approach. On the other hand, my colleagues from other software companies tell me something very different – there are managers who prefer to get more girls in the teams for a better gender ratio. In this scenario you get extra points for being a woman. I don’t like this. I’m a fan of equal opportunities and transparency. A gender-neutral interpretation of professionalism is the only one I see.

my thoughts on the future

I’d like to see more women in tech in the future. I always encourage my friends to think of software engineering. There are so many cool things about this line of work: inspiring projects, possibility to work almost anywhere in the world, flexible hours, home-office, good salaries.

If we want more women to join IT, it’s crucial to introduce programming at schools, at an early level. I had no such introduction, of course – no one had, back in the day. If I’d had, it’s very probable that programming would have been my first choice, right from the beginning. I suppose we lost a lot of potential in my generation – if girls had had the chance to get to know the basics earlier, they could have easily gotten used to the idea of programming and considered it like any other career option when still in school.

I don’t believe in quotas. It doesn’t sound like a good idea to force set numbers on the job market, especially if there aren’t enough women professionals in the IT field just yet. If there were, and for some strange reason they’d still have problems getting hired, then yes – we would need quotas.

My own path to programming was an individual journey based on self-learning and quality mentoring. I don’t believe in gaining much from learning in groups. Therefore, I didn’t and wouldn’t take part in group activities organized by some ‘women in tech’ initiatives. I prefer to share my knowledge on a one-on-one basis and that’s what I do. I teach coding to some of my friends and help individuals in taking their first steps. Starting off is easy – the most difficult thing is staying motivated when things become more and more complex. Lots of people lack the perseverance to go on and quickly get discouraged. My advice to girls is: be brave and don’t worry too much. Everything’s possible.

I don’t have a feeling I have to prove anything to anyone. I feel good where I stand, and I don’t experience any difficulties as a woman in tech. I wouldn’t change jobs, unless someone offered me to fill in for Beyoncé.

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