Profile: María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel

“Each of us is responsible for breaking stereotypes & pursuing an education rooted in equality”

Gabriela Motroc
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, 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 María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel.

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?

Two years ago, 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 María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel.

María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel

© Babbel

Born in Madrid and with 20 years of experience in computer engineering, María Robledo is the Director of Engineering at Babbel, specialized in leading high-performing teams. She studied Computer Science at the University Pontificia of Salamanca, and her first professional steps role was as a Software Developer at Lucent Technologies. The Executive MBA from IE Business School provided her with a more global vision of the business world, which was essential for her to make the jump to IT consulting and become part of a Startup. Prior to Babbel, she was Senior Development Manager at Raet, as part of the  European Development center in Madrid. Her other positions included Accenture as Senior Consultant and Bwin-party Digital Entertainment as Technical Project Manager.

What got you interested in technology?

I wasn’t interested in technology, at all, until I was about to start studying at university. Even though I was always interested in science, computer science was never on my radar. My mother played a key role: after I got rejected by a university for another program, she enrolled me in Computer Science.

I’d never touched a computer before, so my initial months were very challenging. However, after that, the world I discovered when writing a software program fascinated me. I realized that it was easy for me to learn different programming languages and to start doing games and other fun stuff on my own.

I started my career as a developer in a huge telecommunication company. It was a really exciting work experience, mainly because of the people I got to work with. In the course of several years, I played different roles in several teams, which gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with every single phase of a software project. That’s where I first learned I was more interested in managing dependencies, developing people, and assessing risks than I was in coding itself. Consequently, the transition to project management was a logical one.

I’ve been in a technical manager role ever since. That’s 10 years now and I still love my job!

I’m not terribly conscious of obstacles. Yet, it would be naïve to think that being one of the only women on the floor or in meetings, without a clear mentor, working for companies with different mentalities when it comes to gender diversity, etc. hasn’t created roadblocks for me in the past.

A strong support system

My family has always been a great support. Starting with my parents, who promoted gender equality when raising my two brothers and me.

My role models are few and not in STEM, nevertheless close to me. Lucky for me, they’re my friends. They’re women that are not afraid of taking risks and starting new projects. They’re strong, independent, and proactive, with their own opinions and an excellent sense of humor. I always find it inspiring to see the world through their eyes. When it comes to the tech world, I have awesome male examples. Unfortunately, I’m lacking, there, when it comes to women. We need to be more numerous and speak up more often.

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

Not in a direct way. However, when you’re working for a company where learning and diversity as values are not present, or where you are not able to find a good balance between personal life and work, then the company is effectively stopping you from advancing in your professional life. There are many things that can prevent you from making progress.

Typically, I tried to be careful in choosing which companies I worked for, as well as with whom I work with. Unfortunately, I sometimes ended up in companies that weren’t interested in my career, at all. That’s not the case at Babbel, where I’m working right now. Learning and diversity are two key values here, and we take them very seriously.

A day in María‘s life

As one of three Directors of Engineering at Babbel, I am leading the Learning Experience domain, which is responsible for improving and innovating on our core learning apps. We constantly work to push the boundaries and thereby shape the future of language learning enabled by technology. By steering a team of six Engineering Managers, we also aim to develop a great engineering leadership team and great engineering culture.

I don’t think there is a typical day for me at Babbel. Things I do regularly include meeting with my team and peers for alignment or following up on topics, looking at operational KPIs, conducting interviews, coaching, contributing to larger strategic decisions, understanding what we’re doing technically and how it impacts our overall vision “Everyone learning languages”, attending relevant conferences.

I am proud of having had opportunities to create teams and even prouder of the people that were part of those teams. For me, a team is a group of people who share a common vision, objectives, and metrics. They collaborate and learn together, challenging each other to achieve outstanding results. All gave me their passion, time, effort and knowledge to make it happen with a lot of pain, long pizza-days and fun.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

That’s a complex question. In my view, it’s a combination of factors:

  • Education. We still live in a society in which some professions are considered feminine or masculine, just based on social prejudices.
  • Lack of a healthy social balance between genders. Women have always occupied a “caretaker” role in society. The mindset driving that makes it difficult for women to advance in their professional careers. They’re forced to take jobs of less responsibility, temporary jobs with no prospect of development or autonomy in a broader sense.
  • Lack of a diverse environment in companies, with even less representation of women in leadership roles where decisions are made.
  • Lack of women role models. They have a key impact on girls’ interest in STEM. We need to be more visible, speak up more often, and drive change.

I strongly believe that each of us (every woman and every man) is responsible for breaking stereotypes and pursuing an education rooted in equality.

Public and private companies need to foster a diverse, flexible environment, where prejudices are challenged and where talent is developed.

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

It’s a cultural change, and thus it will be slow. That being said, I am optimistic. I see a very promising near-term future. The scenario is, fortunately, changing quickly in many countries. Companies like Babbel include diversity in their business values and objectives, schools send a totally new message to our kids, families empower different roles models, society is becoming less tolerant of unacceptable behaviours toward women. The message finally is getting across!

Women in STEM

Absolutely! It should be the main objective of every company to foster a working environment in which the diversity of gender, culture, demographics, studies and so on, is respected and perceived to add value.

STEM should be no exception to this, keeping in mind also that technology itself doesn’t have the capacity to decipher between genders.

Challenges women in tech face

Unconscious bias is an obstacle; it is not a conscious effort to keep women from working in tech. However, this is the reality which we must face in order to think about solving it. The lack of diversity in decision making positions has a direct impact on promotion systems, hiring processes, employer branding and the industry as a whole.

Tips & tricks

My first bit of advice is to do it!!! It’s not easy and one needs to put in a lot of effort. But it’s rewarding. Don’t stop until you find a place that matches best with your real-life needs and aspirations and then put your heart and passion into it, and learn, as that will be the only way to succeed.

My second piece of advice is to surround yourself with good, intelligent people who add value to what you do. Choose people you can trust and welcome their different points of view. Learn from them and let them learn from you.

My third recommendation is don’t be afraid of failure. Embrace it and learn from it.
My final bit of advice is to have fun!

Did I mention “learn”?


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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