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Profile: Isabel Muñoz Vilacides, Director of Productivity and Quality Engineering at CloudBees

How to succeed in tech: CloudBees’ Isabel Muñoz Vilacides shares her tips & tricks

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we 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 Isabel Muñoz Vilacides, Director of Productivity and Quality Engineering at CloudBees.

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?

Last year, we 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 Isabel Muñoz Vilacides, Director of Productivity and Quality Engineering at CloudBees.

Isabel Muñoz Vilacides, CloudBees

Isabel started her career as a developer but ended up managing quality engineering teams which she has continued doing for the last ten years. Since then she has helped different companies to reach continuous delivery by improving their development, testing and release processes through automation and risk analysis: the biggest Spanish social network Tuenti, Rakuten video-on-demand service, the JIRA Cloud and Infrastructure Services divisions at Atlassian. Currently, Isabel is an Engineering Director at CloudBees where she is responsible for the Jenkins foundations development division.

She believes in giving back to the community and is, therefore, a frequent speaker at testing meetups like After Test and Agile Barcelona, and she has also spoken at international conferences such as Devops Days, itSMF and expoQA where she has also formed part of the selection committee.

What got you interested in technology?

When I was three years old, my dad started to teach me to read just to be able to program with him on his MSX computer. Sometime later I experienced the excitement of writing some simple directives on the computer and then things magically came together.

But what really got me into Computer Engineering were numbers. I loved Math and wanted to become a mathematician, but at that time mathematicians were not known for earning a high salary. This made my working-class parents encourage me to pursue another career, so I looked for another mathematics-centric degree and Computer Engineering was the best one.

I started working while I was studying to be able to pay my college tuition. I started as a developer and spent some years building websites to pay my bills. Then I changed companies as a developer and my new employer thought I had an eye for quality and processes, and offered me the chance to build a QA department. At that time I didn’t even know what QA stood for, but they were offering me a raise with it, so why not?

I had to teach myself everything about testing: from manual testing, to using recorders, to building frameworks and getting continuous integration practices in engineering. It was a long ride, almost four years of my career, but it was incredibly fun.

A strong support system

My parents always supported me, but some friends and relatives kept asking me why I wanted to study something so complicated. “Get into business like your brother”, they said.

My dad showed me how rewarding programming could be, my mum taught me I could do anything I wanted, that nothing was impossible. My parents support combined with my own experiences and mistakes that I learnt from, got me to where I am now.

It is interesting that I went from a girls-only school to a male-dominated university, and on to an equally male-dominated workplace. I think that helped me to not feel the need to conform. I developed a pretty strong personality among other women and when I reached high education, I knew who I was and what path I wanted to take in life.

It was not an easy path.

Looking back at my career and all the different roles I have held, I feel very fortunate for all the opportunities I have been given. I have been able to learn, teach, experiment and grow as a professional with every challenge and mistake made, and I am sure there is more to come.

But it was not an easy path. Every time I was given a new role, a promotion, more responsibility, I had to prove myself more than my male colleagues. This is a burden others do not have, which makes the journey more difficult and unbalanced.

There have been circumstances where colleagues have taken credit for my ideas or achievements, but over time people realise who really gets things done. But the grey area in between is always uncomfortable; the awkward silences in meetings when you say something and no one supports it and five minutes later someone else says the same and everybody is supportive. You have to be true to who you are and grow a thick skin to speak up or not care. I am sure any female colleagues reading this now will relate.

A day in Isabel’s life

I work at CloudBees as a Director in Engineering focusing on the foundations of Jenkins, the #1 continuous integration and delivery tool in the market.

CloudBees is a distributed company which means that I get to work with people from all around the world. That makes my schedule a bit challenging sometimes, but it’s totally worth it given all you can learn and achieve working in such an environment.

There are very few routines that I have for every workday apart from the development team rituals:

  • Coffee
  • Setting goals for the day, both the unrealistic and realistic ones
  • Trying to get things done between meetings while I listen to music. Hopefully, you won’t be around on the days on which I sing while I work
  • Wrapping up the day and seeing what I have achieved. This is my favourite and most important one. As a director in Engineering it is sometimes difficult to measure your impact and progress, so keeping track of daily achievements and not only team goals, helps one see the daily impact you are having.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

There are two sides to this coin: getting more women in tech, and once they are in, keeping them.

There is a cultural aspect that cannot be solved by the tech industry alone. Gender roles are part of the values that are taught to little boys and girls at home, and that is how we are losing most of the potential women in tech. This is why when I lived in Australia I became a mentor at a boys’ school. You would wonder, why a boys’ school? Well, I wanted them to meet me, see that our interests were similar, that being a software engineer was not only about wearing black t-shirts, and most importantly, that I could teach them and help them achieve their goals to become engineers as well.

There are not many women in the recruitment pipelines. “It is difficult to hire”, we keep saying, but what are companies doing to make sure, that once they find talented women, they do not leave? If you do not feel cared for and you do not have a sense of belonging, you will eventually pursue another career.

Women in STEM

Diversity, in general, makes the products you build richer, and women are a part of that diverse picture. Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative and diligent which also feeds into inclusion, acting as a catalyst.

We shouldn’t forget that our customers are also diverse and that we are building our products for all of them. Diversity is not only about development teams but about the audience we are building products for: left-handed, elderly people, women, men…

Challenges women in tech face

Women and minorities in tech are victims of other people’s biases. That is a pretty big entry-level challenge. The fact that when I meet engineers at conferences, they always think I am a designer, a marketer or even part of the staff of the conference, is a clear example of how unexpected it is to have a skilled female engineer.

Going back to the point about minorities, the second biggest challenge I see is the sense of belonging. As a woman in tech for over 12 years, I have almost always been the only woman in the room. You are different, you feel different and you don’t feel that you belong in the group. That happens even in healthy groups, boys’ clubs aside.

Luckily there are companies that proactively support female talent like CloudBees where I have the pleasure to work with very talented women in product management, engineering management and development.

Tips & tricks

Measure, measure, and measure. It is important that you have clear measurable goals so that you can get things done and back your impact with data. That way the burden on ourselves to prove that we are good enough disappears.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is 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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