In our recent WomenInTechQA series, we caught up with Saskia Menke, Software Engineer at Doctolib.
Saskia spoke about how she thinks diversity has improved in the workplace, what made her want to work in the tech space and what she thinks businesses can do to help retain female tech talent.
Watch the full interview video below!
Third Republic (TR): Could you start by telling us how you got into your career in tech?
Saskia Menke (SM): I actually don’t have a tech background, I have a business background, and at that time, I was very much into what I was doing; I was actually about to start an internship at the inter American Development Bank. But when I was about to start the internship, I also realised I didn’t really like the job description and I was always interested in analytics and data science, and the opportunity presented itself that I could attend a boot camp.
My initial thought was ‘great, I’m going to do something where I learn some hard skills, maybe this is a small step for me to get into data analytics a bit more’. I wanted to explore the field because it sounded exciting, I wasn’t actually planning on becoming a software engineer but then being in the boot camp, I really enjoyed it and I quite surprised myself. After a while, I realised I wasn’t doing too bad either, so I was thinking afterwards, why not just give it a try? I started my first job as a software engineer and I have been enjoying it ever since.
TR: Why do you think there is such gender disparity within tech?
SM: I honestly think it’s probably not just about gender, but overall diversity. In my opinion, there is a pretty big stereotype about tech, especially development. When I look back at how I saw tech before, it’s always the stereotype of white men, who sit in a corner, maybe in a basement, just with their computer. Talking to other people, I know that stereotype still prevails, and it’s not really appealing and no one is really doing anything about it. However, it’s not true at all, in my experience.
There’s also just not much access to the industry. I remember from myself, during school for instance, coding or tech in general was never really something that was opened up as an opportunity to me.
TR: What do you think businesses and communities can do to encourage more women into a tech career?
SM: One of the biggest issues that needs tackling, something that I mentioned before if having early access into the industry. I think starting early is key, making it more accessible for women and people from other diversity groups.
For me, it’s definitely about tackling the stereotype because I think that still prevails and highlighting that it’s not presenting reality. I think you need to, especially when we’re talking about women, at least what I was missing is relatable role models. Having those role models present that you can orient yourself towards and say, ‘that’s what I want to become’, is also tackling the stereotype, right?
I think it starts with using gender neutral language in your job descriptions, that doesn’t only apply to the title, having it in every sort of document, in every sort of speech and talk and communication that you have. Have specific recruiting initiatives explicitly for women. But in order to retain women, it doesn’t really stop at recruiting you need to think long term; what is your strategy? Do you have any sort of flexible working schemes? You really need to ask yourself ‘so why are you doing that?’ Why is that a topic for you? Are you just doing it to look good? That’s just not enough. You need to really dig into why you want gender diversity?
It starts with unconscious bias training, it starts with management that’s diverse. I think if you have a completely white straight male management, maybe that’s something you need to think about.
TR: What have been some of the key challenges that you have faced whilst pursuing your career in software engineering?
SM: I think the biggest one is dealing with imposter syndrome. I think it is very common, and it never really goes away. It’s really about dealing with it, rather than getting rid of it.
Also, coming from a completely different background, for me, one challenge was building a social circle. You want to talk to your friends about your job, and if you don’t really have anyone besides your colleagues, especially when you just start that does the same thing as you, that can be challenging. For me, it was really important to get that social circle intact that I could talk to.
But then also, what I mentioned earlier, is really having female relatable role models. That’s not just women who are CTOs at amazing companies, but also role models of people who are just beginning in their career. Someone you can really orientate yourself towards now. Not just someone you think ‘maybe in 10 years time, that’s somewhere I can get to’, but role models that help you figure out how to get there. What are the next steps for me?
TR: What are your top three favourite things about working as a software engineer?
SM: This is probably cliché but it’s always challenging. You are always learning because tech is evolving so quickly. You never get to the point where you know it all and that just keeps being exciting.
But also, it’s really the people. I think that speaks against the stereotype; I really do enjoy working in tech – the environment that you have, and the people that you work with – it is challenging, we are pushing each other, but at the same time, it’s also very relaxed and chill. No matter where I’ve been there’s always somebody you can talk to who’s willing to help you out. There’s not that elbow fighting kind of culture that you have in other jobs or industries.
TR: What would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career?
SM: It’s two things. One, especially with regard to tech, is that everybody has imposter syndrome. It’s not really advice, per se, but it’s hopefully relaxing to know. Everybody has their own way, no matter what where they are in their career.
I think what really got me also to the point where I am right now, is that you can always create your own path; and you should. There’s not an existing career path that you need to follow and certain steps that you need to take. You can always reinvent yourself and create your own path. I think this is what led me into coding rather than continuing in the business field.
If you would like to join Saskia as part of our WomenInTechQA series, get in touch today!