This is an English version of the interview about women in tech, originally published by Mamo Pracuj*
People tend to love the IT industry for its openness to employees and their ideas. If we add the lack of hierarchy, flat structure and flexibility, do we really have to do anything more to convince you to work in the industry? Rita Pater, from u2i, reminds us that programming was a typically female activity in the beginning. How did we come to this point when nowadays IT is overwhelmingly dominated by men? Is #MamoPracujwIT initiative even necessary then?
Mamo Pracuj: Rita, during our conversation at your office you mentioned that IT was once female-oriented to such an extent that it was considered a job for women. Unfortunately, while working on #MamoPracujwIT we don’t feel like we push at an open door. There are plenty of stereotypes in this field which make it not such an obvious choice for women now… Why is it?
Rita Pater: I still seek the answer to this question. I think this mindset is only in our heads and the steps that Mamo Pracuj takes are a milestone in the direction of changing attitudes among women.
Back in the 50s, when very few people thought about the actual programming, the duties were as follows: men took care of building hardware whereas women were responsible for providing the algorithms enabling it to work. Writing code was considered easier. Attention to details, diligence, patience and ability to reflect logical reasoning into code – these were all female traits.
According to the article from Stanford University, once men discovered software was more complex and challenging than they initially thought, they started to switch their careers in this direction. The perception of IT changed and programming wasn’t viewed as a simple and secondary task anymore. Professional associations started to emerge. They often allowed only male members.
MP: And that’s how guys dominated the IT industry.
RP: Yep, fast-forward by a couple of decades and the industry is firmly dominated by men – especially when it comes to the prestigious role of a software developer – but we’ve been noticing a change recently. Above all, education is widely accessible. There are no restrictions or implicit barriers that would prevent women from taking jobs in new technology. Of course, some stereotypes and prejudices have developed throughout the years, but when you encounter a mature company with a healthy and human attitude that doesn’t differentiate between male and female developers, there’s no such thing as a conflict between those two groups. In this case, organisational culture plays the most relevant role. Thankfully, I am a part of a company that embraces such a culture.
MP: You work for u2i, a company which has hosted our workshops on programming and testing recently. What do you do at work and how do you find the IT industry?
RP: I joined u2i a year and a half ago as a PR & Brand manager. Since then I’ve been taking care of planning and the realisation of image campaigns on the local market (employer branding). But I’ve never felt as if I held a strict position and dealt with the same stuff all over again. You see, according to our organisation’s policy, we can contribute to a variety of “extracurricular” projects or groups. Because of it, the employees continue to develop their skills which in turn makes them more satisfied with their jobs. Therefore, my responsibilities have changed since I got here. Currently I’m involved in business development, coordinating efforts on the internal product and marketing strategies directly impacting the company’s development.
MP: PR & Brand manager among a couple of dozens of software developers… hmm… It seems like it’s impossible to have no clue of what your peers do. Do you? If so, where did you acquire such knowledge?
RP: I come from the branch of event management. A couple of years ago I organised Blog Experts – the second greatest conference for semi-professional bloggers back then. Given the location, I took an interest in the startup community of Kraków, thus new technologies. I’ve been following the trends and achievements of Polish and worldwide tech companies ever since, being at the same time a strategist consulting their PR efforts. Before joining u2i I had a couple of years of experience in marketing for IT companies, so I knew what to expect.
Working for a software house whose clients are tech companies seemed like a challenge I was willing to face. Of course, there were some areas I had to catch up on. Thankfully, knowledge sharing is commonplace at u2i, so my colleges supported me in these matters.
MP: Why do you value working in IT ? What convinced you and still convinces new candidates to become a part of u2i?
RP: What amazed me the most was highly developed organisational culture, employee care , collective responsibility for everything u2i does, and last but not least, the flat structure which facilitates communication with the team as well as the management. I can still remember one of my first days here when I barely knew anyone. Somebody in the kitchen started a conversation by asking what my plans for the job were. We chatted for several minutes and it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I found out it was the founder of u2i, Tom Clarke, visiting Poland at that time. Personally, I’ve never got the feeling of having an actual boss at u2i. What I do know though, is that the company gathers some true leaders.
As to potential candidates – this May we launched the recruitment for the summer internships for students. We were astonished by the number of people applying – 150. I think what attracts people the most is openness and again the internal organisational culture we try to highlight in different ways. We are present at conferences, we support initiatives like yours, we make our space available for workshops. Every few months we throw a “Waffle Breakfast Party” gathering people from new tech, marketing and PR. Everything we post on our social media channels builds up an image of a company operating for over a decade in Polish IT.
MP: Rita, u2i is a software house where the majority of employees are developers. How many of them are women?
RP: There are 9 women at u2i, most of which are experienced developers. E.g. Marysia. She used to work as a full-time developer but she made a pivot in her career and now she’s a team leader. Due to the flat structure I mentioned before, we are not constrained by job titles. Quite a few times I’ve also been sung the praises of Laura, who embarrasses her male colleges in terms of technical skills!
MP: There is also Agnieszka, who was promoted just 3 months before giving birth.
That’s right, Agnieszka’s been with us for 8 years. In February 2015 she came back after over a year of maternity leave. Her comeback wasn’t as ordinary as for the majority of women though. Only when her son became 3-months-old, she took advantage of the vacations in order to improve her competences, learn new technologies and polish the skills she’d acquired at u2i before.
I remember Agnieszka working part-time from the office for a few months after the leave in order to get her son ready for the absence of both parents by leaving him with his nanny. A few hours of working remotely along with complete absence is what got the boy used to his momma’s busyness. He spent that time with his father or the nanny. Flexible work hours allowed her and the family to adjust to the transition in the least harmful way possible. Agnieszka herself is passionate about programming. Asked if she likes her job, she responded she couldn’t imagine herself in a different profession (even though her dream job as a child would be in the armed forces).
Ever since I immersed myself in the field of new technologies, my view has changed significantly. From what I’ve noticed there is no such thing as monotony here. Getting back to my talk with Agnieszka, she also told me she took pride in doing things calling for a different approach to every task which leads to day-to-day self-improvement. It was the ultimate confirmation of our outlooks on professional progression being alike. You can face new challenges and opportunities no matter if you’re a marketer or developer. Personally, I have never been more convinced that learning programming and working with new technologies is for both men and women and there’s no such term as boredom in our vocab.
*Mamo Pracuj is an organisation teaching, empowering and supporting women who to go back to work after maternity leave.
Translated by Mateusz Kowal