International Women’s Day on March 8, which this year had the motto “Break the Bias”, is reason enough to let our catworkx women have their say once again. On this particular day, the focus was on the role of women in society, putting the spotlight on specific problems and issues that are globally significant. The aim is to break stereotypes and prejudices against women and girls and thereby ensure greater equality. In terms of our “Women in IT” series, we think this is a good moment to take another look behind the scenes. We asked our Atlassian experts, Nina in Germany and Bibiya from Switzerland, how they see the role of women in IT.
Please introduce yourselves briefly! What do you do at catworkx?
Nina: My name is Nina Hammelstein. I joined catworkx in 2019 and am now an Atlassian Senior Expert and Team Lead here. Previously, I worked in a DevOps team, accompanied agile teams as a Scrum Master and supported Atlassian tools in Application Management.
Bibi: My name is Bibiya Kakkattu, I am 28 years old and originally from India. Since 2019 I am working as Atlassian Expert at catworkx in Switzerland. There I am mainly involved in the technical implementation, i.e. I provide assistance in the implementation, customization and rollout of Jira and Confluence.
Neither of you studied computer science, but something else. How did you end up in IT and what attracted you to this industry?
Nina: In fact, I have a degree in cultural studies and was somewhat disillusioned after the usual internships in the industry. Finally, I took over the entire IT support in a start-up – where I was actually hired for content management and proofreading. I have always had an affinity for IT topics, from the Amiga 500 to carefully assembled and self-built computers to the first working script. My entry into IT therefore felt a bit like “coming home”. Later, I got to know and love the Atlassian tools. This is where my IT interests converged: large solution concepts as well as diverse configurations, scripts, etc. were required. What I always enjoy in all IT areas is the direct feedback: If you have put all components together correctly, the PC will boot up when you press a button. If you have designed and built the script correctly, you will also get the desired result. And if not: rethink it and try again.
Bibi: My journey into IT started the same year, which was 2019. I attended the graduate day of the ZHAW (School of Engineering, Switzerland). There I got to know the catworkx team Switzerland (Sabrina Glawion and Andreas Krupp). A team that came across as enthusiastic, motivated, passionate, down to earth. On this day, Andreas Krupp (CTO catworkx AG Switzerland) told me what his job is at catworkx AG and that he didn’t have much more IT knowledge than I did when he started in this industry. As an autodidact, he taught himself many things. He really impressed and motivated me that day. So I took the chance and started at catworkx as Atlassian Junior Expert.
From the beginning, I had a mentor there: Michael Bernhard. He is the CEO of catworkx AG in Switzerland. He was the one who educated me on the Atlassian world, came to my defense when I made a mistake, continuously motivated me, and gave me positive feedback. And I have to say that the appeal of the industry, or the fact that I still work in the IT industry, is mainly due to the two co-founders of catworkx Switzerland: they were and are always there when you need help. So you don’t have to be afraid of anything. What I like is that they both place a lot of emphasis on promoting women in IT. You are setting a good example.
Why do you think women don’t choose IT as often? In your opinion, would it help if children in general, and young women in particular, were introduced to computer science as early as possible, or do you perhaps see completely different stumbling blocks?
Nina: I think that we as a society need to fundamentally move away from this pigeonholing. Of course there are IT project management jobs, but we need female software developers, administrators, female Dev Ops colleagues, etc. just as much. Making girls and women aware of these careers to the same extent as boys and men and motivating them for them, this can only happen through changes in upbringing, education and representation.
Bibi: There are many reasons why women don’t choose IT as often. Many women think that IT jobs are all about coding and software development and that it’s the only ticket into this booming industry. Yet there is so much more: marketing, design, management, finance – all have their place in IT.
Another reason may be the lack of role models. Women need more “real,” relatable role models who are able to succeed on their own terms. Otherwise, a lot of young potential will be lost if girls or young women do not even consider the technology industry as a future career path.
It helps, of course, if girls familiarize themselves with a computer, with IT topics, at an early age. The more things they try out in technology, the more sense of achievement they have. Finally, when choosing a career – in my opinion – you should choose a field based on your passion, talent, and how much you enjoy the job.
You each represent one country: Switzerland and Germany. In your opinion, is there a difference between/in countries in terms of the proportion of women in degree programs or in IT professions? What do you perceive?
Nina: I don’t know the Swiss labor market well enough to be able to assess that. However, I know that there is also a shortage of skilled workers in other industries here, like in Germany. In principle, everyone benefits from diversity – in life, at university or in a job. I could imagine that similar adjustments are also necessary and being planned in Switzerland.
Bibi: I can’t say whether there is a glaring difference. Unfortunately, the fact is that here in Switzerland there are proportionally far fewer women in universities who choose “engineering”, for example. But: I saw more women last year than I did a few years ago. The good thing is that universities and technology companies are not only making an effort to hire more female engineers, but are also encouraging women to see engineering itself, as well as AI, as a career opportunity.
The proportion of female computer science students at German universities is falling. To increase the number of women, many would like to see less stereotypical portrayals about computer science and technology. Do you think, Nina, that would help?
Nina: Representation is certainly a big issue – women in technical professions need to be given a stage to increase their visibility. Clichés such as those conveyed in “The Big Bang Theory” or “The IT Crowd” and generally clichéd portrayals in the media – a topic I also dealt with during my studies – will always exist. Basically, we must be aware that these are always simplified representations for uncomplicated consumption. I can’t directly influence the perception of others for the time being – don’t let it bother you, keep going. Everything else must be initiated by the previously mentioned changes and better lighting of technical professions.
The UN’s theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is “Break the Bias.” In relation to this motto, what advice, what message would you give to the young women and girls of today?
Nina: Have confidence in yourself and your ability. Motivate and dare to deal with technical topics. Apply even if you do not 100% fulfill the requirements of a job description. It’s also important to know that you don’t necessarily have to have studied computer science to have a successful IT career. Motivation, inquisitiveness and a fresh perspective – for example from other disciplines – are good companions. But be prepared to provide IT support for family and friends from then on. 😉
Bibi: My experience is that most women prefer a safe, simple and caring environment, because you are often told – from a young age – that you will have a family later. For these reasons, many women think they can’t withstand the pressures of the IT industry.
And last but not least: Why do you like working at catworkx?
Nina: I think it’s great to be able to help shape processes, work out solutions and thus also contribute to the development of the company. I also like the high degree of personal responsibility and flexibility in projects.
Bibi: Because they promote women and break the “bias”. I couldn’t experience the flexibility I experience now at any other company: Being able to pursue my dream degree (Master’s in Machine Learning) while working. 😄