Profile: Kathleen Yanolatos, Director of Engineering at Aaptiv

“People often have a stereotypical view of what an engineer looks like and that’s not usually a woman”

Gabriela Motroc
tech
© 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 Kathleen Yanolatos, Director of Engineering at Aaptiv.

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 Kathleen Yanolatos, Director of Engineering at Aaptiv.

Kathleen Yanolatos, Director of Engineering at Aaptiv

What got you interested in technology?

I was always interested in science and math as a kid. When my family finally got internet access when I was in junior high, I spent a lot of time online. I got interested in making fan sites for TV shows I loved at the time, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon. While working on my sites, I’d see cool things being done on other websites and try to figure out how they did it. In the process, I taught myself HTML and JavaScript.

I didn’t originally set out to be a software engineer. In fact, I never even considered it as a career until I was in college. I started my undergrad as a biology major and I was planning on being pre-med. Then in my freshman year, I took a CS elective on a whim and fell in love with it. I decided to change my major immediately.

At that time, the CS program at BU was pretty small and there were only a handful of women in it. As a result, there were classes where I was the only woman. I was definitely aware of that fact, especially one time when a professor was looking for someone to take notes and, lo and behold, he chose me, the only woman in the class.

Q: What do most successful women in tech have in common?

A: The support of their loved ones

My parents have always been supportive of my education. Neither of them have a college degree, but they both understand the importance of having one and really pushed to make sure my sisters and I got the best education possible. That said, my father was not initially happy when I decided to change my major and give up being a doctor to become a software engineer. Once I started working, though, and he saw how much I enjoyed it and the great companies I was working for, he eventually changed his mind.

I have encountered people that didn’t take me seriously, especially when I was earlier in my career. Even in interviews, I’d have candidates that I was interviewing that would cut me off when I was speaking or ignore the questions I was asking them. When I spoke to my older male colleagues, they said they had a completely different experience.

A day in Kathleen’s life

I’m currently a Director of Engineering at Aaptiv, a tech company that produces audio-based fitness classes. In a typical day, I’m working with our mobile and web teams to figure out the best ways to architect new features, providing feedback on code, and planning for upcoming projects.

I’m most proud of the junior engineers I’ve been able to mentor, especially other women. It’s extremely rewarding to see someone learn and grow professionally. To think that maybe I played a small part in that makes me feel great.

It’s really hard to feel welcome when it seems like everyone is questioning your credibility.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

There’s still a stereotype that “software engineer” = nerdy guy with poor social skills sitting in a corner with his computer. If that’s the perception, I could see why young women wouldn’t want to go down this career path, especially when you couple that with all of the recent sexual harassment stories in Silicon Valley.

Engineers make a lot of unspoken decisions around how an application works and if there aren’t many female engineers, that means their unique perspectives aren’t being reflected. However, even if we suddenly increase the percentage of women in undergraduate CS programs, there would still be a four-year turnaround before those people graduate and join the workforce.

Obstacles

Even if people don’t realize it, they often have a stereotypical view of what an engineer looks like and that’s not usually a woman. I’ve gone to technical conferences before and had men insist that I wasn’t an engineer and start grilling me to test my knowledge. It’s really hard to feel welcome when it seems like everyone is questioning your credibility.

Tips & tricks

As many horror stories as you might hear about startups, there are a lot of companies that aren’t like that. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work at a few of them.

While you’ll never know exactly what it’s like working at a company until you get there, you can try to screen for these things:

  • Is there a diverse group of people (across race, age, gender, etc.) or does everyone more or less fit the same demographic?
  • What are their social activities like?
  • Do they mostly revolve around drinking?

Even if you like to have a beer with your coworkers, getting a sense of whether or not a company prioritizes creating an inclusive environment for everyone can tell you a lot about them.

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

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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