Profile: Julia Bubnova, Frontend Developer at Wooga

Women in Tech: “Be enthusiastic about your work, only then it pays off”

Jan Bernecke

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Four 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 Julia Bubnova, Frontend Developer at Wooga.

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 Julia Bubnova, Frontend Developer at Wooga.

Today’s woman in tech: Julia Bubnova, Frontend Developer at Wooga

Julia joined the Berlin-based video game developer Wooga in the summer of 2020 as a Backend Developer. There, she develops internal tools that help to facilitate video game creation and which are also used by authors, developers, designers, and producers. Before her entry into the gaming industry, Julia worked in different roles at Siemens in Russia. She has a degree in Applied Mathematics and a PhD in Mechanics.

When did you become interested in technology?

I always had a general interest for math and technology. And back in school I never had any kind of problems with math – in stark contrast to most other students. After my graduation, I wanted to study. In addition to Mathematics and Physics, Business Administration was also an option for me at first. In the end, I decided to study “Applied Mathematics” at the University of St. Petersburg.

The studies were very challenging at times. An important part was programming, which was particularly difficult for me. To be honest, I often thought that I simply couldn’t do it. At the time, I had chosen Mechanics as my major with the goal of going into science later. I then did a specialist degree in Mathematics and then applied for a postgraduate position in Mechanics.

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It wasn’t until the last year of my PhD that I discovered programming for myself. Suddenly, I found it much more exciting than writing papers or solving mechanical problems. However, programming was only a very small part of my daily work. Most of the time I wrote or edited scientific texts. So I did my PhD and right after that I decided to change fields and pursue my true passion, programming.

How did you come to your current job position?

With minimal programming experience, but all the more passion, I started my first job after university as a Backend Developer and Mathematician in the Research and Development Department at Siemens. There, I had the opportunity to learn different programming languages and to try out different technologies and team roles. Among other things, I programmed in C++, wrote an application in Bare C for microcontrollers, and tried some Java. For a long time, however, Python was my absolute favorite language. Gradually, I started thinking more and more in terms of programming contexts and less in terms of mathematical formulas. For example, when someone tells me now that the class “rectangle” inherits from the class “square” in object-oriented programming, it makes sense to me.

Then, about a year ago, the next big change in my career path was upon me: I decided to try my hand at Frontend Development. In my opinion, the frontend world is much more dynamic as well as colorful and holds more challenges. Today, I work as a Frontend Developer at Wooga, a Berlin-based game video game company. I’m glad that I was brave enough to try my hand in a completely new field back then, even though I had to start almost completely from scratch to do so. My job is insanely fun and I’m very happy about it.

Do you have a role model?

I don’t have any role models, but I know many successful female developers, testers, UX designers, and other IT experts. Most of my colleagues and superiors have always supported my career decisions.

Did you ever encounter any problems?

I can consider myself very lucky that I have always been able to go my way unhindered. My family, friends, and colleagues have always supported me. Of course, I didn’t achieve some of my goals, or only much later than I had hoped to. However, that was never because of me being a woman.

Programming teaches you to think rationally and keep a cool head in the face of acute challenges.

On the other hand, I think that every programmer has to face many challenges in his daily work. For example, when it comes to solving a particularly stubborn problem or error. For every problem, there is usually a solution. This applies not only to the job, but also to life. Programming teaches you to think rationally and to keep your cool, when faced with pressing challenges.

How do you go about your day-to-day work?

I am currently a Frontend Developer at Wooga. I just joined the team this August, full of euphoria to get to know the new company, the colleagues, and my tasks. The company’s business is mobile, story-based casual games like “June’s Journey” or “Pearl’s Peril”. My job is to develop internal tools that help in the creation of the games.

It is great to see that authors, developers, and producers use my tools in their daily work and that it helps to facilitate their work. Due to the help of the tools, routine work is optimized. This way, designers can fully concentrate on the games instead of struggling to solve synchronization and versioning problems.

I would say my day-to-day work is pretty typical for a developer: I read and write a lot of code, review pull requests, discuss further improvements, analyze and optimize the architecture of our systems, and fix bugs.

As a Frontend Programmer, I also have a special focus on the User Experience of our game apps. This requires a high level of attention and a deep understanding of user expectations and goals. For me, there is no better feeling than when a satisfied player is happy about a new feature or a fixed bug, and appreciates the work behind it. This is often where the very interesting challenges arise, which require imagination and out-of-the-box thinking in terms of programming.

The Frontend world is evolving very quickly. New technologies are constantly emerging, which can then be used to master things — that were previously difficult to solve — quite easily. After working as a Backend Developer for a long time, this environment, culture, and atmosphere is refreshing and exciting to me.

Did you develop something by yourself?

So far, unfortunately, I haven’t written a great open source library, although I definitely want to do so at some point.

At the moment, though, I’m contributing to a Russian blogging platform. Originally, the whole thing was meant as an exercise for my Frontend skills, but I quickly took a liking to implementing things the way I want and being able to do so without a deadline.

As a result, I now permanently manage the site’s repository. It started as a platform for a small group of people – now we have more than 7000 users. It makes me happy to create something that makes people’s lives better. I’m happy when users like what we do.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Around 40% of Wooga’s workforce consists of women. The company places great value on diversity. In other tech companies, the number of women is not as high on average. It is difficult to answer why this is so. Many researchers and studies have already addressed this question. The only plausible reason seems to be our cultural stereotypes, which still strongly influence girls’ behavior and decision-making.

Andrey Breslav, the developer of the Kotlin programming language, has given a great talk on this topic. In the classic school-university-profession career progression, women often turn away from the so-called STEM subjects at some point.

According to Breslav’s research, the first major loss of women in technology occurs somewhere between 5th and 7th grade. While as many girls as boys still participate in math competitions in 5th grade, this ratio changes dramatically in 7th grade.

After graduation, important decisions are then made about future careers and personal development. During this stressful transition period, cultural biases and prejudices affect us particularly strongly. This is also why Wooga supports initiatives such as the “Girls Games Workshops” – a workshop series that teaches girls aged 11-15 how computer games are created.

Why are there so few women in the tech industry and what clichés have you come across regarding “Women in Tech”?

Most stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is very difficult to always recognize them as such. Moreover, unfortunately, some girls also believe in these stereotypes and live by them.

Those who strengthen diversity and are willing to break down existing structures also drive their company forward.

An example: the stereotype that girls are either smart or beautiful. I’m sure each of us knows a lot of counter-examples here, and yet we get to hear this prejudice again and again in everyday life, for example in jokes.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Women make up half of humanity, but only about a quarter of tech employees. This means that there are many women who are fundamentally interested in technology, but at some point decided not to take this path.

Many companies have the problem that there is often a lack of suitable candidates on the labor market. Promoting women in technology could solve this problem.

I agree with Andrey Breslav that companies that pay attention to the problem and try to bring more women into engineering will be more successful in the long run. On the other hand, companies that ignore the problem will lose their influence in the long run and, as a result, lose business.

Those who strengthen diversity and are willing to break down existing structures will also drive their companies forward. Improved working conditions, the creation of an open culture and attention to thoughtful communication will improve the lives of all employees in the long run. Would that make the world a better place? Absolutely.

What does the future hold for the diversity debate? Will it soon be history?

Although many companies now have the topic of “diversity” increasingly on their radar, the situation has not improved significantly over the past 20 years.

The system reacts very slowly to such social impulses, so it will probably be a long time before anything fundamentally changes. I think the issue will be with us for a long time. First and foremost, we need to better understand the reasons why women do not choose technical professions. We should try to explain that, for example, the IT sector is not just made up of nerds who work alone at home and don’t talk to anyone.

In IT, it’s all about communication or discussing approaches to solving problems.

IT is all about communication or discussing approaches to solving problems. So it’s a very social profession that involves a lot of interaction with other people and disciplines.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

The most important thing is to pursue your own dreams and goals. Don’t make your choice based on how easy or hard it is to get a certain job, or which job pays better.

Let go of the idea of having to do a job forever. Think about who you’d like to be now and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

The most important thing is to do something with enthusiasm, only then will it pay off. Don’t hesitate to change direction sometimes. Be curious and take risks. With the right amount of perseverance, anything is possible.

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Jan Bernecke
Jan Bernecke has been an online editor at S&S Media since 2019. The rugby-playing literary scholar previously worked in the field of online marketing.

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