Profile: Julia Zacharias, Applause

Diversity talk: How to overcome challenges in the workplace

Gabriela Motroc
© 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 Julia Zacharias of Applause.

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 Julia Zacharias of Applause.

Julia Zacharias, Vice President EU Delivery & Customer Success at Applause

Julia manages the operational project business in Europe and is responsible for the smooth handling of projects and the satisfaction of customers, testers and project managers. She also works closely with sales and product development to continuously improve solutions and processes.

Julia previously worked as a project portfolio manager and management consultant, among others at A.T. Kearney. She has led company-wide process optimization projects and has extensive experience in applying lean methods and change management.

What got you interested in technology?

Both my parents are engineers, so ever since I can remember there had been some tech talk at home. My dad organized a computer and internet access in the mid-90s (relatively early for former Eastern Germany) and always emphasized that my brother and I were only allowed to use it if we knew what we were doing. My high school also offered an introduction to programming in 9th grade (which was outstanding in my district in 1999!) and had a big computer room that you could use for presentations if you had put it together with PowerPoint. That looked so much cooler than using the chalkboard that I wanted to learn how to do that.

I originally studied economics and politics and started out as a public sector consultant for government agencies. My main focus was on economic and energy policy. From there, I transitioned to classic management consulting for manufacturing and tech companies doing mainly Lean-based process improvement and cost optimization. One of my last engagements was with a forklift manufacturer where I ran a large process improvement program that also included IT projects. I really enjoyed working with developers and seeing a vision on paper come to life and help reduce effort and speed up workflows for other departments.

The main external obstacle I had to overcome again, especially as a consultant, was to convince my customers’ counterparts that while I may be (and look) young and have not worked in their specific industry for decades, I can add a lot of value by applying new approaches and best practices from other industries.

A strong support system

My parents gave me the highest degree of freedom possible. Having grown up in the former GDR, they did not know about all the new possibilities offered anyway. So they just trusted that I would make my way. The only thing they kept reminding me about was to pick a career that I would enjoy, but also earn enough to be financially independent. I never had a specific person as a role model. I’m inspired by many different people and things and cannot find that in just one person.

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

I had a few teachers in high school who were rather demotivating and discouraging, especially in the MINT/ STEM subjects. And during my early years on the job, I sometimes had to fight off rather boring tasks often given to young women such as taking meeting notes, writing on the flipchart or putting together documentation. I was fortunate to have had colleagues who made a conscious effort to put me in charge of crucial work streams and gave me opportunities for growth.

A day in Julia’s life

At the beginning of 2017, I joined Applause, the leading crowd testing provider for digital products. With a community of more than 300,000 testers worldwide who can test anytime, anywhere and on any device, we are an extension to our customers’ internal QA processes.

I lead the European project delivery and customer success department. My team provides a white glove service to our customers; that means we integrate our approach into their processes and run all the tests with our community. I don’t have a typical workday and I’m really glad about that because routine is the worst for me. My main responsibility is to keep operations running smoothly while keeping customers happy and costs down. My main activities, therefore, include monitoring account health, identifying and removing blockers, internal and external escalation management and various internal initiatives for continuous process improvement.

I am proud that I always stuck it out when it got tough and learned to quickly develop new approaches when previous ones had failed to deliver the desired results. It helped me remember what I wanted to learn and have great colleagues to challenge me and my assumptions.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I can only speak for Germany where the situation is particularly poor. I believe there are various reasons. It starts early with school education where the majority of MINT/STEM teachers is still male, young girls have few female roles models and receive little encouragement to pursue these subject first in school and later in their career choice. Girls’ Days at companies and universities are certainly a good start, but are still offered too rarely to provide sufficient inspiration and encouragement.

I think one of the biggest obstacles women still face – but not only in tech, also in business in general – is in everyone’s head (and that includes other women’s heads!). Since there are still relatively few women, we have few or no images in mind of what it looks like to have women carry out certain jobs, be that as a developer, product owner or in leadership positions. That means a lack of role models and also expectations one can live up to or exceed and results in people being alienated by a woman’s behavior. The other big obstacle is a different workplace culture. Teams made up only or primarily of men have different behavioral norms and many women don’t feel welcome or comfortable and therefore opt for other work environments.

Speaking from the perspective of digital, having more women in the STEM field would lead to the creation of other and different products and applications. For instance, many mobile phones are too big to be comfortably used with one hand by women or to be carried around in the back pockets of their pants. Yet, many applications assume or even require just this kind of user behavior. (It’s a good sign that the Apple watch now comes in two sizes to account for women’s smaller wrists.) When the Apple Health app was first introduced it did not include menstruation tracking, even though that’s a quantified self-practice many women do. But if they are not part of market research, product design and development teams, this perspective is missing.

This not only omits a vast share of the market and thus buying power, but also gets fewer women interested in digital products and thus in this industry as a potential employment field which keeps the number of women there low.

Tips & tricks

I only have one specific advice for women, because I often found them neglecting this topic when I interviewed them. Ask yourself: How much would you like to earn? Then research and ask around to verify, put a buffer on it and request that amount – not a range.

Besides that, my advice is not specific to women, but to anyone thinking about a career in a certain field. First, think about WHY you want a career in this field. What do you hope to find and learn there? What fascinates you, what scares you? Talk to people who already work in tech about what they do every day, who they interact with, what challenges they typically face, how they solve them. Is this an environment you would like to be in every day? What skills would you need to acquire to be able to enter this industry? How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go?


Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of 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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