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Profile: Vianney Martinez Alcantara and Katrin Erb

Ada Lovelace special edition women in tech: “The lack of role models is a problem”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

We’re celebrating Ada Lovelace’s birthday with a special edition of our Women in Tech series. Today, we’d like you to meet Vianney Martinez Alcantara, Solutions Consultant at Alteryx and Katrin Erb, Finance Automations & Product Manager at Standard Bank Jersey Limited.

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician, an associate of Charles Babbage, for whose prototype of a digital computer she created a program, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. She is also know as the world’s first computer programmer.

Today is her birthday, so we thought such an important occasion deserves a proper celebration in the form of a Women in Tech special edition! Today, we’d like you to meet Vianney Martinez Alcantara, Solutions Consultant at Alteryx and Katrin Erb, Managerin Finance Automations & Product at Standard Bank Jersey Limited.

Vianney Martinez Alcantara, Solutions Consultant at Alteryx

Katrin Erb, Finance Automations & Product Manager at Standard Bank Jersey Limited; Alteryx EMEA Grand Prix Winner 2018

When did you become interested in technology? What got you interested in tech?

Katrin Erb: Growing up I never considered a career in tech or data science. I had the stereotypical view of a man in a hoodie with endless lines of incomprehensible code on several screens. However, as I became exposed to technology in my education and career, this perspective rapidly changed. I was blown away by the power and the sheer limitless options – with code and technology, it seemed as if I could quickly solve any problem. Also, I learned that I no longer wanted to only consume tech, but be a part of creating it.

Today, I could not and would not really work without my tools and software anymore, knowing that they help me to be much better and faster in finding solutions.

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: It was a bit similar to me: If I am honest, I cannot say that I always knew, that I wanted to be part of the data analytics and tech world. I had the fortune to be part of a family that has to date, an amusement attractions park with mechanical games. As a child, I didn’t really notice the technology behind these games and of course, I visited the park very often. By the time I was 16, my family acquired a very advanced and sophisticated game, that needed a lot of maintenance. So a real engineer was hired, who did the electronic reparation works at the complex machines. I became very curious and wanted to understand the reasons why it wasn’t working sometimes – and later decided to study Electronic Engineering.

I learned that I no longer wanted to only consume tech, but be a part of creating it.

Let’s talk about your background. How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: When I received my bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering in Mexico, I had decided to focus on the area of telecommunications within my studies. My first job involved a lot of programming and installing servers all over the country, which was an incredible experience. That way, I really put the things I learned to practice and gained a lot of knowledge and experiences. However, security was an issue, especially as a woman traveling in Mexico all the time. So I decided to explore new alternatives but stay in the telco industry.

After I switched jobs and worked for a mobile phone manufacturer, I soon wanted to pursue my Master’s in Communication Systems, which I decided to study in Germany. During my studies, I had the chance to work for a network operator, which eventually brought me to work with Big Data and analyze customer behaviour. The insights and learnings I gathered were very enriching. So I dedicated my master’s thesis to data analysis and Big Data.

Katrin Erb: I grew up in Namibia and studied in South Africa, to become a Chartered Accountant. This involves a three-year training program post studying, which I completed at Standard Bank. During this time I was constantly seeking out ways that could make my work more efficient. This was partly down to a frustration with routine tasks, but also due to my desire to add more value to my work outcomes. Therefore I tried out a couple of tools and taught myself how to use Excel – my first bits of rudimentary code saw the light of the day.

During my final year, I was moved to Jersey, just off the coast of Great Britain. Here, I was first introduced to more advanced automation software, which eventually led me to make the jump into a more tech-oriented career path. The transition was very natural, I feel. After completing my training, I stayed at Standard Bank until today and get to almost exclusively do what I enjoy most – automate processes and make work more efficient.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

Katrin Erb: My family and friends have always been extremely supportive of my choices, whether it was about my career or my personal matters. This support structure, albeit spread out over the continents, is great to have and gives me the necessary back up in finding my own way. Do I have a specific role model? I think there are many people, who are inspiring to me. What about you Vianney?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: I always had my family’s support as well. But I remember that when I chose my career, many of my relatives and friends questioned my decision. The reason was, that no one from my family had studied an engineering career before. And then, here I come: The first engineer and the first woman to pursue this career path. For me, all the great women throughout the world, those big and small stories function as role models. I would like to show girls and women that they can follow in my footsteps if they desire to do so.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: No, I suppose I have always been lucky to be surrounded by people who support my decisions no matter what. Especially my husband and family in Mexico have given me so much and make me the person I am – professionally and personally. Furthermore, I think that today there is nothing that can stop you from advancing in your career. Thanks to technology and the internet, we have an infinite number of sources and are able to learn anything we want.

Katrin Erb: Same goes for me. I was fortunate, that I never experienced blockages or throw-backs. I would, however, add that oftentimes we stand in our own way when it comes to learning, coming up with excuse why now is not the right time. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit, driven by yourself and yourself only.

Could you tell us more about your present job? How does your typical workday look like?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: It is hard to describe a typical workday because it changes from one day to another. I am a solutions consultant at Alteryx and I support my colleagues in the technical area. There I have the opportunity to talk to customers and prospects and most of the time they expose their challenges with current processes to me. And it is in that moment where I help them to transform those challenges using Alteryx. The results variate of course, but it could be something simple but significant as reducing processing time to obtaining new insights, that makes the customers happy.

This is one of the parts that I enjoy the most. Because I get involved with real use cases across verticals, which allows me to learn and grow myself. Other days I provide enablement sessions to partners and customers or run webinars and onsite events. My tasks are quite diverse.

Katrin Erb: I would say, that this really is true! I’m currently employed at Standard Bank Jersey Limited, where I work in the Finance team. My work consists of supporting product control and I spend most of my time automating slow and high-risk processes. The automation involves understanding the current process and translating it into something more efficient and easy to understand.

My background in finance really helps here, as I am able to understand the matter without much explanation and because I see how the automated process should look ideally. I also enjoy helping colleagues who are new to automation software and teach them, what I already know.

Today, there is nothing that can stop you from advancing in your career.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Katrin Erb: That is definitely winning the Alteryx Grand Prix this year. It was the cherry on top of my data science journey with Alteryx’ software and not at all what I expected 2018 would hold for me.

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: As a solutions consultant I love my job because I know that somehow, I am helping others – either by creating something new or by optimizing existing processes.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: I can’t attribute this to only one factor. In my opinion, it is the sum of several factors: We can’t expect to see a lot of women working in tech, if we don’t support them studying subjects related to it or have them talk to other women in the industry. Engineering is dominated by men and there are still stigmas. Also women are expected to work in other fields – whether that expectation comes from their social surrounding or even themselves. I think everything starts at home and we need to empower girls as well as the young generations, in general, to remove stigmas and get over prejudice that may or may not come with a job. That is nonsense anyway, I think.

Katrin Erb: I completely agree: The lack of role models is a problem. As Vianney already mentioned, women have no peers or other women to turn to, if they wish to follow a tech-oriented career. This often deters women from even considering a job as a developer or in the tech industry. In addition, the lack of awareness of the possibilities is challenging. I must say: If I had known better what a career in tech would involve, look and feel like – I would have chosen it from day one.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Katrin Erb: Well, the points I mentioned before are certainly a challenge. Women in tech still face some sort of “being the alien in the room”, which could result in them not feeling very comfortable in the workplace. To whomever that may apply, I would like to say that someone always has to be the first one.  Over time, it will feel less weird to all the female programmers and data scientists in the tech industry, because more women will follow. I must say, that I felt very welcomed and celebrated even, because I am a woman, Hopefully, others experience the same.

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: Yes, I agree: When women enter a male-dominated world, they might feel a bit left out or alone – but some have to make the first steps. At first, it might feel a bit awkward being the only woman at a Business Intelligence summit or being the only female in the analytics team. But a little bit later, there are probably going to be other women as well.

However, I circle back to gender roles, I think many women are struggling with making professional decisions and raising a family. Many, many times they choose one over the other. It is hard to find a balance, but I am positive, that if women talked more with their employers about what they want, they can find solutions.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic and cultural) impact?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: Oh it would definitely make a difference. We all know this: Two heads think better than only one. I believe that the STEM fields have not been given the necessary importance and attention. People fail to understand that these fields help to innovate and create amazing jobs. If more women joined these fields, we wouldn’t be the exception, but just as normal as men. In my opinion, this would also generate a change of mindset– not only for women but for everyone. Maybe that would lead to a gender-equal society? Because women offer just as much as men can.  We can bring new perspectives to the table and solve problems from another angle. Empowering women to pursue a field within STEM can benefit us as a society.

Breaking barriers and allowing everyone to take part in STEM will benefit our society.

Katrin Erb: Yes, diversity brings different opinions, views and knowledge. The more different people are in regard to social, economic or ethical background, the more we can innovate and achieve down the road. Breaking barriers and allowing everyone to take part in STEM will benefit our society, just like Vianney said.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

Katrin Erb: Oftentimes change takes a long time. First, we must get young girls interested in tech-related subjects, mathematics, physics and so on. That way, they start considering a career in this field.

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: I am a very optimistic person – but I also like to be realistic. I know if I compare my situation to the one that my mother or grandmother lived through, we have definitely moved forward. But we have not achieved equality yet. Some governments and companies have established strategies to achieve specific gender quotas, which I personally don’t agree with because this only tackles the tip of the iceberg. We need to work with the current and coming generations and support them in whatever they want to become. We need to give them the same education and tools, enabling boys and girls to compete in any area.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

Katrin Erb: Don’t be intimidated. A career in tech is for everyone, especially given the way the world is changing. Opportunities in tech are rapidly growing and a wide range of learning resources are available. Learning as much as possible about the industry, software and chosen field is something I would always recommend. Knowledge is a powerful equalizer and I’ve found it to be the best way to earn respect, no matter if man or woman. I have often seen people base their career choices on interests, rather than what is in high demand. Given the rapid rise of automation, this is starting to no longer be feasible, I think. Tech is in high demand, integrates really well with other fields and will be there in the future. This can allow unique career paths to be forged. So my advice would always be: Give it a try – what’s the worst that could happen?

Vianney Martinez Alcantara: I would say: Don’t be afraid to be the first one. I think, that you will not follow a planned out path anyways, but you will be the one building it yourself. Just do it, experiment with all sorts of things and live the experience. I can tell you that you will be surprised about the things that come your way and what you can achieve.  “What if that doesn’t work?” some people might wonder. Try again and this time try a different way and try harder. I can’t promise that the tech world will be easy but certainly very satisfying. Find a subject that ignites your curiosity, interest and passion and let it take over. That’s when you create magic and the rest will happen on its own. That is what I am sure of.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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