Our society is still strongly influenced by stereotypes – especially when it comes to gender roles. It’s time to distance ourselves from these stereotypes. On the occasion of today’s “International Day of Women and Girls in Science”, we spoke to two of our female front end engineers about their experiences and ambitions.
The favorite color of girls is pink. They like to play with dolls, are interested in fashion and make-up. Their strengths lie in the artistic and creative fields. Boys, on the other hand, prefer the color blue. They prefer to play with cars and tools, are interested in soccer and have an affinity for mathematics and science.
At Perseus, we too stand for gender equality and support and welcome this day of action by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Committee for more girls and women in science. That’s why we talked to two of our female employees from the Tech department, our Front End Engineers Vittoria Toso and Ida Stambuk, about their assessment of the current situation and whether they see any obstacles for girls to pursue a career in science.
How long have you been programming?
Vittoria Toso: I was eight or nine years old and finally had my first 56kb Internet connection. I had heard that you could easily create web pages with an ordinary notepad program. I was totally fascinated. The technology back then was quite different and quite meager, nevertheless I built my first web page while still in elementary school. It was just a bunch of GIFs, with a terrible blinking star effect and a deafening midi soundtrack – but still.
Ida Stambuk: I, on the other hand, started later – at 27. In 2016, it first started as a hobby, and a year later, in 2017, after working as a software tester, I became a professional front-end developer.
Where and how did you learn that?
Ida: I acquired most of my knowledge at work, until then I was self-taught. I started with Codecademy and Coursera front-end courses. While I didn’t have all the options available to me at the time that are offered nowadays, I’m still very grateful to have had access to free educational opportunities.
Vittoria: I learned a lot that way, too. I was part of an online community where we all had our own websites. We shared our knowledge and supported each other. As Ida mentioned, the resources for online learning were pretty limited back then, so the only way to develop was through trial and error and sharing with friends. Now, learning these skills is much more accessible: for my part, I keep up to date through some reliable sources and communities, and for next to nothing. I think that’s remarkable!
What interests you most about programming? What made you choose this career path?
Vittoria: I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. I found the idea of bringing something to life that would otherwise only exist on paper exciting. Looking back, the part I struggled with the most, developing, intrigued me the most. Still, it took some time before I decided to actually turn my passion into a profession. This was due to the fact that for a very long time it only seemed like a fictional idea to me to work as a girl in the programming industry.
What was the most interesting project you worked on?
Ida: Actually the one I’m working on right now at my current job at Perseus – the Dock Platform. There are so many of our colleagues working on different features and functions, and I’m impressed every time by the different ideas and approaches everyone brings to the table. I find it exciting to work on projects that allow me to learn new things and look at things from different perspectives. That’s the case when working on Perseus Dock.
Vittoria: I agree with you there. However, one of my favorite projects takes me back a bit: it was my first actual website, which I worked on for more than three years. I was able to learn and take away so much in the process – a truly unforgettable journey.
Why do you think the field is dominated by men?
Vittoria: In my eyes, it’s a cultural problem due to gender stereotypes. A good example of this is a toy store: While there are toys for boys that encourage them to be creative and adventurous by promoting mechanical and technical skills, the toys for girls are strongly associated with cooking, baking and the family.
Have you ever encountered obstacles and prejudices in your education or career because of your gender?
Ida: I think less than you would think, but still more than there should be. I have been very pleasantly surprised throughout by how tolerant and accommodating my colleagues are. However, in some situations I felt I had to push harder than the rest to be heard. There have also been times of overt gender discrimination, but I prefer not to dwell on it. While it always depends on the company, I generally feel that the IT industry is already much more progressive in that regard than other fields I’ve worked in.
Why should more women enter the industry? Is there a specific female approach or perspective on technology, or is this gender neutral?
Vittoria: I think differences come from individuals, but not specifically from gender. Women should understand that they can be just as qualified or just as unqualified as men. There are so many women out there with great ideas and visions that could drive the industry forward, but unfortunately they don’t even consider working in IT – which is incredibly unfortunate. Once we as a society manage to remove the cultural barriers that are responsible for women not even considering a career in tech, we will all benefit.
Ida: Yes, I completely agree. I’m also not sure if there is a specific female approach. However, hardware and software developers should reflect the diversity and variety of users. A good example is that a male-dominated field has led to smartphones in general being too big for women’s hands.
What advice would you give to girls interested in programming?
Vittoria: This is a difficult question. I don’t think it’s a particular job that is different from other jobs and therefore requires advice. This much I can say, though: just never let any prejudices – be they external or internal – stop you from trying things you’re interested in.
Ida: And it’s never too late and not at all as unattainable as it may seem!
Thank you, Vittoria and Ida, for your insights!