Woman in Tech Interview: Sandra about her path in IT

August 26, 2020

Dear Sandra, please introduce yourself:

I am the 2nd Chairman of Digital Media Women e.V., represented by nine quarters nationwide. In March 2020 I started my degree in Business Informatics. I am a technical product owner and founder of the online marketplace “Kitchennerds”. I am also a big fan of initiatives like moinworld, the PyLadies and others, which empower women for IT, present possibilities and support women in learning programming.

That sounds exciting. Can you tell us more about your professional career?

After I graduated from school, I did an apprenticeship as a management assistant in advertising, followed by an evening study. I have been a communications manager since 2006. After working in several advertising agencies, as well as in marketing and product management, I started my own business with my online platform Kitchennerds in 2013. Lately, I have become more fond of working on other products - my company runs well without me. In the summer of 2019 I was officially certified as a Product Owner by the Scrum Alliance, a job I have been doing for more than 10 years. In Germany such certificates are relatively important for applications. I am usually not averse to challenges. And now I have been studying Business Informatics part-time at the FOM Hamburg since March 2020.

Who or what inspired you to take the step to start another degree in the technical field?

Oh, actually, you somewhat took part in my decision ;). Thank you for the great empowerment! And because I was inspired by my personal environment (many male and also some great female computer scientists), I took Python 1 and 2 classes, led by Falco, at the end of 2018 and met a friend of mine at the Christmas market in Bremen. As a mother of two small children and also coming from the marketing department, she had enrolled in Business Informatics at the end of her 30s, besides her permanent job at the IUBH. She told me that at the right time.

Were you interested in IT when you were younger?

Oh yes, I was already very interested in technology as a child. My grandpa wanted to ensure girls develop an interest in technology, hence he always gifted us technical toys. Whether a walkman, later a discman or a robot… I received everything from my grandpa. His motto was to make everything possible for me, what he wanted for himself at my age. This has shaped me quite a lot.

Why didn’t you decide earlier to study computer science or learn programming?

The interest and the thought, “Oh, I could learn to do that…”, only came up when all the programming classes in schools became more open to girls and when I noticed the great offer by moinworld for women. Typically, at school we were told Informatik AG was boring, dusty and rather suited for boys. They were not made attractive for girls to try it out and to “sacrifice” the afternoons at school for that. What a pity… Almost all the boys from my grade, who took the class at that time, studied computer science at university.. I often thought if I could turn back time, I would major in computer science and not go into advertising or marketing anymore. I have always been interested in technology. However, at that time, I did not have the confidence…

What was the response of your environment to your career transition?

Product Owner is a profession which is usually pursued by computer scientists, so it was not really a career change for me. My partner (who is a computer scientist) knew about my plans for a long time. He had reacted quite reservedly when I asked him repeatedly over the last years whether I should dare to make the move. Since then he supports me a lot and seems to be a bit proud that I finally dared to do it. My mother thinks it’s great that I am attending university again. She said I have nothing to lose and I can only gain. The rest of my social circle also approved and for a few people I even became some sort of role model which is flattering, and encourages me to walk down this path as far as possible. However, my uncle once made a comment that I only managed to get a 1.3 in hardware (I was one of the two best in the Winfo Basic exam) with the help of my computer scientist boyfriend at my home. It was a little saddening because he really had no part in it. He even admitted to not being a hardware guy himself. He just does not like it. But now my uncle is very proud of me. My male co-founders (all computer scientists) are too.

What about diversity in your university program?

As usual, the percentage of women is not very high. We are 4 women in total. With the exception of Management Basics, all of the professors have been men, and unfortunately we won’t have a female lecturer in the coming semester. I would love to see more women teaching IT in the future as well, in order to achieve a better mix. The age of the students is 20 - 42 years. So I am not the oldest ;) I made a deal with a fellow female student, who is originally a business administrator and founder of an e-commerce company, that we would empower and motivate each other to keep up with our degree until the end. My classmate is 27 years old and an incredibly great person who also wants to see a lot of #femaleEmpowerment among female students.

Do you feel comfortable in your study program?

At the moment I feel very comfortable in my study program. I have a great study group I maintain regular contact with. I get to know the other students little by little. Corona ruined our plans there. After 2 weeks of in-person classes, the lockdown was announced on March 20. The regular study program transformed to a remote study program. So far, I have only seen the other students briefly for the exams and then at the end of the semester. The curriculum of the program meets my expectations, is very technical and above all, very practical. I’m already excited about the upcoming modules like database management and object-oriented programming with Java.

How did you find out about moinworld?

Oh, I’m not 100% sure when that happened. I wonder if it was in 2016 at Mindspace at our founder’s evening #DMW, where Anja sat on the podium? Or was it a bit earlier? I have been aware of Anja’s initiative at the latest since the #DMW theme night “Selbst ist die Frau” in April 2016. In the last few years, I have also enjoyed attending moinworld events whenever I could. - They are always great evenings with lots of inspiration, exciting women and a lot of empowerment!

Was moinworld important to you?

Yes, moinworld was absolutely important for me. Through the network’s offer, tailored specifically to women, I finally learned how to code. I think it is great that there are several offers to learn multiple programming languages and meet exciting participants you can network with. The Meetups are inspiring me each time and I’m thrilled by the power that the women bring to the course. Power that pushed me and encouraged me to go one step further and finally enroll. Moinworld is somewhat to blame for the fact that I am now studying Business Informatics. Thank you for your unintentional a…kick…! ;)

You started your own business early on, how was the process for you? How did you feel? Where did you reach your limits? Do you think that being a woman had any significance?

I have to admit that, in the beginning, I was very much in awe of self-employment, although I had felt the desire to start my own business for quite some time. There was also no lack of entrepreneurs in my social environment who could have served as role models. In this case, a network with many independent women helped me once again. The Digital Media Women e.V. showed me all the possibilities. Besides the encouragement and support of my significant other, they helped me a lot to finally take this step. Right at the beginning, however, I quickly reached the point where I could not program myself, though my idea was an online marketplace. Recruiting developers as co-founders was incredibly difficult because those I approached were reluctant to give up their high salary they earned at their permanent position. Although they liked the product and thought it was interesting, an alternative salary in the desired financial range, simply cannot be financed by a startup without income. In the end, the solution, we actually wanted to avoid, was (mixing professional and private life) and thus epublica GmbH, the technical partner, joined us as a co-founder and shareholder of Kitchennerds. Apart from that, there was no further financial support outside the circle. Was it because I am a woman? I am not sure.

What about diversity in your own team? Do you pay attention to this in your company?

Yes, this is very important to me, even though I started with men only, we cooperate mainly with women. Among the chefs listed on the platform, I am always very pleased about the very high proportion of women among the trained professional chefs, most of whom are or were themselves chefs in the catering company. Similar to the IT industry, it is a very male-dominated sector and therefore I am very proud to make so many great and very well-trained female chefs visible.

What is your vision for the coming years?

I would like to use my experience and know-how for other companies and develop products in collaboration with other teams (whether in permanent employment or as a freelancer). As the second chairman of #DMW, I wish to empower more women and make them see digitalization as their big chance in the next 2 years. And, if they are interested, to broaden their knowledge and enter the IT industry. I want the networks to cooperate more closely, prepare the way for this through joint actions and thereby sensitize companies to employ more women in IT and promote them to management positions. Together we are strong! In 2023 I have hopefully completed my bachelor’s degree and in the next step I want to start a master’s degree in Artifical Intelligence.

What is your vision regarding the IT industry in general?

I would like to see more women in IT, and fewer women leaving IT (which I unfortunately experience very often). Heterogeneous teams, as many studies prove, are much more efficient, innovative and profitable than homogeneous groups. It is important that there are more female managers in IT as well, and preferably 30% in leadership positions. You have to let them (not only in times of crisis as “saviours”) through the glass ceiling if they can bring the same competence and the same achievements as their male competitors. There should be more female programmers to design more diverse code on the crucial levels. I would like to see more women who teach computer science at school and universities, and who can act as role models for girls and young women. And as an important foundation, we need regular unconscious bias training courses in daycare, schools and companies to break down these unconscious prejudices. Because until the 1970s there were significantly more female programmers than their male colleagues. IT used to be a women’s domain, a fact many have unfortunately forgotten today.

Do you have Role Models?

Oh yes, I do! Role Models are important and guide you on your own way. They are women who inspire and motivate me incredibly through their commitment, their plans and their achievements. I’m thinking of all our Hamburg IT women, such as Anja Schumann (moinworld), Diana Knodel (AppCamps / Fobizz), Avaré Stewart & Tereza Iofciu (PyLadies & Women in AI), Julia Freudenberg (Hacker School), Julia Heidinger & Sabrina Jodexnis (Social Developers Club). Petra Wille, whom I have known for several years through XING and who has been able to position herself internationally as a great Product Owner. I think it’s great what many women do and share with others to increase their visibility and empowerment in the industry. Another role model for me is my long-time friend Christiane Brandes-Visbeck. I am thrilled by her never-ending enthusiasm for innovation and what she has been able to achieve in recent years. It is exciting to watch people’s development process live. This is also the case with my friend’s sister: another master’s degree at the age of 50 and now enrolled to finish a doctorate at 54. The master’s degree at 50 has given her a great career and salary boost.

And you?

If you also want to motivate others with your story contact us at moin@moinworld.de!