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Profile: Alice Lieutier, CTO & Head of Community at SheCanCode

Diversity talk: Using lingo is making tech sound harder than it really is

Gabriela Motroc
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© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Alice Lieutier, CTO & Head of Community at SheCanCode.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Alice Lieutier, CTO & Head of Community at SheCanCode. 

Alice Lieutier, CTO & Head of Community at SheCanCode

Alice is proudly French. She enjoys traveling, learning new languages, good food and outdoor activities including rock climbing and hiking. Alice has been a software engineer for over six years now and joined SheCanCode most recently from Facebook, where she was one of the first London-office hires, and only 1 of 3 women in the first 60 engineers there. Having taken off time to travel the world for 5 months, Alice joined SheCanCode because of her passion for empowering more women to enter and remain in technology. Follow Alice on LinkedIn and Facebook.

What got you interested in technology?

I liked math from a young age. My dad is a mathematician, and very early on he made sure my sister and I viewed math as a game. We would play a lot of logic games.

He is also a developer and showed me how to write very basic programs on the computer. Small things like making the console ask you for your name and then greet you by name. I wasn’t autonomous enough to do it by myself, but I remember being very excited when the console first called me by name! This idea that you can tell the computer do original things — as opposed to just play in the restricted frame of a video game was very exciting to me.

When I was twelve, I got a Lego Mindstorm set. It is a Lego set where you can build programmable robots. I also remember writing a prime factor decomposition program in my high school calculator which I was very proud of.

I wasn’t considering making it my career though. It was more like a game, but I always loved doing things with my hands, and I felt that working in an office in front of a computer — like my dad — would be extremely boring.

Engineering school is considered the ‘royal way’ in France.

My favorite subjects in high-school were math and English. I was a good student, and I turned to an engineering school as I saw it like a more generalist path that wouldn’t close any doors — it is considered the “royal way” in France. I saw it as a way of avoiding making a decision, and I may have chosen something else had I realized that it was, actually, a major life decision.

After two years of general sciences, I had to choose a specialization, and I chose software engineering because I didn’t want any more mechanics/chemistry/biology/thermodynamics. I wasn’t bad at programming and it seemed easier and more fun than the other more scientific options.

I didn’t like it. I was bored to be in front of a computer all day, and spent most of my time in student societies, at the newspaper, or going rock climbing with my friends. I definitely was among the students at the bottom. I remember coming out 102nd out of 115 one semester.

In the last year of studies, I did an academic exchange in Argentina, and that reconciled me with software. The hours were less intense, and I had a lot of free time to study on my own. Incidentally, the ‘system’ department there was around 50% female. At the end of that year, I did an internship in a web agency in Buenos Aires and realized that I could actually code for a living.

When I went back to France, I joined the company that my best friend worked at — along with a sizeable number of students from my university. It was a safe choice but I wasn’t very confident in my technical skills at the time. I wrote a story about this, you can read it here

Two years later, I had a boyfriend who was working for a Silicon Valley company. We moved to London, and I got acquainted with that Californian tech world that I had always heard about but never ever thought of as reachable. Spending time amongst engineers from Google, Mozilla and Palantir made me realize they were just human, and I gathered the confidence to apply while spending a lot of time training for algorithmic interview problems. I was working at a start-up and felt that I was finally part of a scene. I’d go to conferences and meetups, and I even found time to work on side-projects and contribute to open-source.

And so the journey began

It was during that period that I participated in a women-in-tech hackathon organized by Facebook. My team won, I interviewed, and two months later I was one of the first woman engineers in the new Facebook London office.

I have always struggled with confidence issues, even when projecting a strong confident image to my friends and coworkers. Most of the pressure and barriers have been internalized ones, where I wouldn’t apply somewhere or wouldn’t ask for something because I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I have come a long way and I think working at Facebook for three years has really helped with self-confidence, but I still struggle with impostor’s syndrome from time to time.

A day in Alice’s life

I am CTO at SheCanCode. We are an early start-up, with only two of us working full-time, so my work is very varied. I manage anything happening on the tech side, making sure we are going in the right direction, working with an outsourced development team and coding some of our features. I also spend time with our main founder Nicole to ideate, meet with clients, or anything that needs doing, really.

I am most proud of pushing myself enough to get interviews at Facebook. It’s silly, but the name Facebook opens many doors and it made me so much more comfortable in my own skin. I’m also proud of the small things like giving interview training at Facebook or coding up some features or side projects. I still get that excitement when I make a computer to do exactly what I want it to do. 

Why aren’t there more women in tech? 

I think there is a chicken-and-egg problem where there aren’t many women in tech so younger women will internalize the fact that is isn’t for them. But it goes further than that. Whenever there’s a majority somewhere, it’s easy to think that it must mean they are better fitted for it. That makes it worse because it creates a lot of unconscious bias against minorities.

People are also social animals. We like the feeling of belonging to a community. One thing I really dislike in tech — but that is also present in many industries — is the use of lingo. People use a lot of acronyms and buzzwords, creating a language that is hard to understand as an outsider. I think a lot of people like using it because it makes them feel like they are part of an exclusive club. But if it’s exclusive, then it excludes outsiders. It makes tech sound harder than it is. It’s actually not that complex! But if I think it’s hard and I don’t see other people like me doing it, then I might just settle for something else.

There’s also the myth that STEM is obscure and difficult, but I don’t think it is more difficult than say sociology or psychology. And I believe that “why are there fewer women in STEM” is the same problem as “why is STEM seen as very difficult”. A world where that is not true is a world where there are fewer inequalities because we wouldn’t value work according to biased perceptions. It’s also a world where tech would be mundane, accessible to everyone, less exclusive. Probably a world that would stop thinking that technology or science is the solution to every problem, but would also consider other sources of solutions.

It’s ironic to think that a world where more women work in tech probably means a world where tech is not on such a pedestal and thus where tech jobs don’t pay as much, but then it’s also probably a basic application of the market law.

Challenges

Tech companies have now understood that diversity is important. But that can potentially create another problem, where women — and the men around them — might feel that they were only employed to fill a quota. This is very destructive to women who already tend to have lower confidence levels.

I wish everyone understood that diversity itself is of value. It is not the fact of being a woman itself that is rewarded, it is the fact that as a woman, you bring many perspectives that the team otherwise lacks.

I think we have a natural tendency to hire people who are similar to us, who have the same gender or the same degree, because we think that if we are good at our job, then they will be too. But that creates teams that all think in the same way, and could be completely blind to some problems. This is why diversity is important. If you had a team of one, then maybe the best candidate would indeed have that profile, but if you look at a team, then you can see there are many gaps to be filled. This is where we should be hiring, not people like us, who will not be able to bring anything new, but people different from us who can solve the problems we are not good at solving.

Tips & tricks

I think women should know that this is not as inaccessible a field as it may seem from the outside. The image that it is extremely difficult is a myth to keep us out. Don’t believe it. Reach out to people who work at the companies or in the roles you covet and start a conversation. You will soon realize they aren’t that different from you. And if they can do it, you can too!

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is an online editor for JAXenter.com. Before working at S&S Media she studied International Communication Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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