How to succeed in tech: Agnès Crepet gives her tips
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 Agnès Crepet, co-founder at Ninja Squad and Java Champion.
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 Agnès Crepet, co-founder at Ninja Squad and Java Champion.
Agnès Crepet, co-founder at Ninja Squad and Java Champion
Agnes is an activist. A Java activist first and foremost! For 15 years, she has enjoyed building Java architectures and implementing them. She has been nominated Java Champion in 2012. She co-founded Ninja-Squad in 2012, a team of passionate developers, proudly building software, with Java and JS. She works also for an Engineering school, Mines Saint-Etienne, on Web programming courses and Agile pedagogy. Because she also enjoys learning and sharing, she’s very active in the community. She was the leader of the Lyon Java User Group for 5 years.
Now she leads Duchess France, a group that connects women in IT and aims to give more visibility to female developers. She also organizes the MiXiT conference, mixing trendy technologies, Maker activities and Agility, which she co-founded in 2011.
What got you interested in technology?
There was no computer in my family when I was young. I’m in my forties, and 25 years ago, the internet was not so widespread. So during my teenage years: no computer & no internet at home (and I’m still alive ;-) ). But fortunately, during my primary school, I discovered Basic, thanks to a big French Educational Program for Teaching Computer Science at school!
And when I was 18, some friends of mine showed me the marvelous world of Open Source. I discovered Linux and immediately, I was so impressed by this alternative ecosystem and by the possibility to create something, a software, with others. At that time, I was passionate too about the brain and Artificial Intelligence. In 1997, the “Deep Blue” chess machine defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. I wanted to understand how it was possible… I chose to study cognitive sciences and software engineering ;-)
At the end of my studies in Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering, I had a Ph.D. scholarship for a research work in Artificial Intelligence, but I didn’t accept it. The peak of the interest for startups took place in France at the beginning of the 2000s. I was bathed in this “attractive” world and was looking forward to discovering the work in the industry. A little more than 15 years later, I think it could have been a good idea to take this opportunity to do Ph.D., maybe someday, it’s never too late… ;-)
Quitting a corporate job is not the beginning of the end.
After my studies, I worked for 3 years for a software publisher. I was lucky because I did a lot of cutting-edge studies for this company, I discovered Hibernate in its early days (2001) ;-) I chose then to work for an IT services company for four years, and then for the IT department of a pharmaceutical laboratory.
While working for this last company, and after a sabbatical where I did a one-year world-trip, I launched my own company 5 years ago: Ninja Squad. It took me 10 years to launch my company. The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome was myself, and my educational background! It took me 10 years to understand that quitting a corporate job is not the beginning of the end, but the beginning of a life that I’ve really chosen ;-)
When I was in my twenties, I had a lot of friends who were hooked on Open Source. I discovered this ecosystem and was very interested in the ethical and political side of this world! When I did my research work in Artificial Intelligence at the end of my studies, I was coached by a Ph.D. student, a girl, Emmanuelle (Emmanuelle is now a brilliant researcher in Artificial Intelligence)! She inspired me a lot. She was a ninja in coding. I thought that if she had made it, why couldn’t I?
After eight years in my career, I met an incredible guy, Cédric, very active in the Java Community, who was leading the Lyon Java User Group. I started to lead this user group with him, and we co-founded the conference of our dreams: MiXiT. Cedric made me discover Duchess France too, an association to promote women developers and women in IT. With him, I embraced the wonderful side of our job: the developers communities make our job exciting and open to a lifelong learning!
And since nothing is perfect …
I’ve had an almost bad manager experience, a guy who managed me was really harmful (misogynist, not inspiring). He didn’t really try to stop me from advancing in my career, but he didn’t do anything for my advancement, or the progression of my technical skills. But in fact it was a pretty good experience: I’ve pulled myself together in a way that he never thought possible ;-)
I think nobody had ever tried to stop me from learning, because “learning to learn” is my motto ;-)
A day in Agnès’ life
The most of the week, I’m a Teacher in an Engineering School in Computer Sciences (I’m especially in charge of courses of Web Programming, Git, Spring, …) and in Agile Management (Scrum, Lean Startup). So a typical workday is a day in a classroom with students, but beside my courses, I lead too, in this Engineering School, the Department of Learning Innovation (multidisciplinary team with documentalists, pedagogy engineer & developer): through different projects, I try to bring people together to explore more agile and innovative learning practices.
One day a week, I work for some non-profit projects in my own company, Ninja Squad. For example, right now we are developing an application for an association, a healthcare center, which helps migrant people.
The project that is really close to my heart in my professional life is the company that I co-founded, Ninja Squad, even if I don’t work a lot for it right now. Five years ago, the other co-founders and I dreamed about a cooperative company, without managers or salesmen. A company in which everyone could have the same voice, time to do our own projects or involve ourselves into projects that would thrill us (even if it’s voluntary work for nonprofit organizations).
The company has been running very well for the past five years. The magical thing is that we, co-founders, share the same values about life-balance, choice of our projects, risk-taking, …These co-founders are very inspiring people for me and I’m lucky to work closely with them.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
So, beyond what I hear every day, such as “girls don’t have the good brain for technique” (remember the “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” manifesto), I tried to understand why there are not so many girls in tech.
The first explanation may be linked to women’s education and their curriculum choices. Some stereotypes are anchored within the family and the education ecosystem: parents or teachers, sometimes unconsciously, may not encourage girls to choose tech studies “it’s not for you sweetie, it could be too hard for you”.
An Indonesian girl, a friend of mine, explained to me that in Indonesia little girls could repair the family car with their parents, it’s not an activity just for her brother, it’s not too dirty for the girls (according to the hackerRank survey “Which Countries Have the Most Female Developers?”, Indonesia has ranked ninth, United Kingdom 23 and France 26!)
Another explanation could come from the common representations of the “geek” who is oftentimes a man, young, addicted to universes such as heroïc-fantasy or science-fiction where girls are not well represented (they are just physically attractive characters, with tight fitting clothes). They are not a positive factor for encouraging girls in tech.
Diversity is great for innovation! I believe that creativity would unfold more if there were more diversity in tech, not only gender diversity but also cultural diversity! As Tim Berners-Lee said: “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.”
Obstacles women working in tech face
A big challenge for women in tech is to fight against stereotypes, to fight against a not so welcoming environment. Even if some people say that tech is not for them, even if the geek universes (especially at school) are not so girl-friendly, women have to experiment this field, they have to find their place.
I read some studies demonstrating that in girls-only tech classes, they are more extroverted and cooperative, they participate more because they are more confident . I think that confidence is key, women have to overcome the impostor’s syndrome and they have to be persuaded that they are not least-skilled in Computer Sciences!
Tips & tricks
- Be brave and foolhardy!
- Meeting other women in meetups (such as Duchess France I co-lead) could be good, to be inspired by women who have been successful in tech, and to not feel alone!
- And for women who are already in a tech position don’t be afraid to be visible, to go on stage: my dream is to see more women in tech events!
- Gillibrand, E., Robinson, P., Brawn, R., & Osborn, A. (1999). Girls’ participation in physics in single sex classes in mixed schools in relation to confidence and achievement. International Journal of Science Education, 21, 349-362
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
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- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
- Why women fall out of the tech pipeline
- Breaking the mold: ‘It’s not that you’re good — it’s that you’re female’
- How to avoid the culture of male programmers
- Creating an equal playing field is about more than just teaching someone coding skills
- The more women you see in STEM, the less intimidating it is for others to join
- The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Tips & tricks for women
- Transitioning into a tech career? Silicon Valley culture is one of the biggest initial obstacles
- Abby Kearns: “Diversity ensures continuous innovation”
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- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
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- Diversity talk: “We can’t expect men to hand us equality on a silver platter”