March 18, 2020
What should we know about you?
On April 1, 2020 I will start my first job as a programmer, exactly one year after I was at a conference that turned my world upside down. This conference gave me the idea that I can become a woman in tech, too. I consider my own way into the world of IT to be extraordinary. And I had many prejudices myself. I never thought of myself as a nerd, nor did I think that I had the necessary skills.
So you have not been interested in programming for very long?
No, not really. I wanted to be a singer when I was a kid. Soon after graduating from high school in Moscow, I realized that I wanted to work in an advertising agency in design. At 16, the glittering world of advertising just seemed like a dream come true.
It sounds like it wasn’t so glamorous and dreamy after all?
So even though I studied marketing, I worked as a designer. Then I became a strategist because design was too creative for me. I moved from agency to agency for six years. I was convinced that with each new employer I would like the advertising industry more. And then I understood that it’s not the employers. It’s the whole industry. For me, it is built on false values that I cannot and do not want to support in the long term.
So your dissatisfaction made you to go into the IT industry?
Yes. Making that discovery at 30 wasn’t easy. What do I do now? Go back to school? But what would I study? Who’ll pay for that? At first, I thought about leaving advertising but still doing something in marketing. I quickly came up with the idea of doing User Experience (UX). The strategic part of UX is important and I could build on my experience. At the same time this job has a much stronger focus on digital technologies, which I was very enthusiastic about. That was the focus I was missing in advertising.
So what inspired you to pursue this endeavor?
I started attending various UX Meetups. Before I plunged into a new adventure and quit my job, I wanted to know if this is really what I want to do. At a meetup that was organized by a provider of a coding bootcamp I came into contact with coding. It wasn’t a UX meetup, but I knew that as an aspiring UX designer I should be able to do make sense of code. For this meetup we created a landing page with HTML and CSS. I think that was the first moment of truth for me. Programming here was a creative, collaborative experience. It was challenging for a complete beginner like me, but it was fun. However, even after the Meetup, I was still convinced: I can’t program. Of course not. I am a woman.
That means that although you enjoyed it, the fact that you were a woman got in your way?
Yes, at first. Here the Female’s FavorIT Conference in Mannheim was of great importance to me. It was my second milestone after the Meetup. Various women with different experiences reported on how they ended up in the IT or Tech industry and also what challenges they had to deal with every day. One story in particular touched me and motivated me to rethink my career. A woman gave a presentation about how she had already had a great interest in technical topics as a child. However, she was never supported by her family that was more in favor of traditional gender roles. So, following their advice, she chose a “typically female” course of studies: Art History. However, she still managed to follow her passion and continue her career in IT. That inspired me. It gave me the feeling: If she can do it, so can I. Her story was virtually the beginning of my story in IT. In the end, the fact that I was a woman was more of an incentive for me. I wanted to “crack the system”.
So what did your concrete path into IT look like?
Since I was already well informed about boot camps and other retraining opportunities at that time, a boot camp was obvious. And for me it was also the best way to reach my goal. I wanted to find out if I could actually make the move from “How do I make a nice presentation” to “I can create a working digital product” in 9 weeks’ time. So I quit my job, where I was now employed as a Senior Strategic Planner. I went through a selection process for a coding boot camp in Mexico. I left my then boyfriend and moved out of the apartment. I left Frankfurt for good. Despite the unknown outcome. Now I’m starting in Hamburg as a full stack developer in April.
How did the job interview go?
It was completely different from the ones in advertising. Above all, I was very afraid that I would have to program live, in front of the team. I had heard that this is a common practice in the industry. I had one week to prepare myself. I watched tutorials on YouTube non-stop, wrote down all the terms and abbreviations again - as if I had to go to a university exam. That helped me a lot during my job interview. I had a lot of background knowledge. I knew the industry news. And it allowed me to talk to the team at eye level. I didn’t have to program, they had already seen my code. I think it was more important to see whether we would get along as co-workers.
What was the response of your social environment to your career change?
Every single person that knew about my change was excited about it. I received a lot of support from friends and family. Even my grandmother thought the idea of making the switch to IT was great. This support was especially important for me when I became insecure and sometimes had “normal” fears: financial security, unemployment. Or that my private life is now set on hold. In these situations I sometimes wondered if I should just be satisfied with what I have. Then my friends and family encouraged me. They motivated and supported me by letting me know that they were on my side. I have rarely experienced it before that absolutely everyone has the same opinion.
Do you have any role models?
I can’t give any specific names right now. But I went to a lot of conferences when I was a strategist. I saw a lot of people on stage that talked about career changes. I admired their courage, especially those who founded a start-up and quit their jobs for it. They were always role models for me, I could identify with these people. I think that these experiences also contributed a lot to the fact that in the end I had enough courage to change my career and therefore my life in general.
You also describe the problem that there often still are barriers keeping women from going into IT. What do you think should change in Germany to solve this problem?
At this conference in Mannheim I made further acquaintances. One of them led to me volunteering in an educational project in the IT sector for over a year. Apart from the fact that it was another important step on my way into coding, I learned a lot about the shortcomings of the German education system and what could be improved here. Universities, for example, have a lot of potential to do better.
What exactly are the shortcomings of universities in your opinion?
In general, I noticed, for example, that courses of study such as Media Informatics, Business Informatics or others are structured in such a way that students only start doing practical work at a late stage. All the basics like math or logic are just thrown at them. Many do not understand the connections and benefits of these subjects. This often leads to frustration, confusion and much dry theory right at the beginning of the learning process. Furthermore, universities train specialists who are not team-oriented. This has been confirmed by studies: employers have difficulties in finding suitable IT staff, also because the candidates lack the team skills. Universities do a lot of group work, but in the end the student is only successful as an individual. This kind of thinking is outdated. But it starts before that. Inclusivity is another problem. In Germany, I can only study with an Abitur or via very complicated detours without one. But we know that there are many programmers who teach themselves the necessary skills “down in the basement”, they might not necessarily have the best degrees or grades otherwise. There are professions for which one does not necessarily need a good high school diploma. This approach needs to be reconsidered. Instead of still clinging to certificates and grades like 50 years ago, the system should use the actual knowledge and skills of applicants as a selection criterion.
How could we approach this problem?
Not everyone can “rebel” against the accepted and established system. Many want the security that a university certificate brings with it. I think sharing knowledge is key here. When I was in Mexico, I decided this: No matter what my career path looks like, I want to share my knowledge with others and inspire people to engage with tech issues. It is important to me to show that coding is an exciting and creative task. And I want to show the world that if I can do it, with my background, then anyone can do it. That is why it is very important that organisations such as moinworld or Hackerstolz, where I also helped out, offer ways to accompany the first steps of interested people and show the various educational paths. Because I’m absolutely sure that I can already see that the university certificate will no longer be the decisive criterion in the IT sector at some point. And that opens many doors for those who do not want to learn the “classical” way.
Does that mean that you are now getting involved yourself?
There are many ways to support and motivate other people with your own experiences. And that is what I want and what I do. I have been giving workshops that make it easier to get started with programming. I spent the transition period, in which I worked on my portfolio for applications, in Mannheim. Such workshops were almost non-existent there and my workshops were almost always fully booked. The participants often communicated that they were interested in more offers of this kind in the region, and yet, there are still clearly too few initiatives in Germany that support beginners and interested people in taking the first steps in this direction. I am glad that, although I still have relatively little experience in this area, I have already been able to contribute a lot to supporting some beginners. And I’m very happy to have come across moinworld in Hamburg, because you have the same mission. I always try to share a part of my story with the participants. I see myself as an example of the fact that our CVs do not have to follow a certain path or pattern anymore. I am the proof that it is possible to choose another profession even at the age of 30 or later.
What about you?
If you would also like to encourage others with your story, please contact us! firstname.lastname@example.org