Women in Tech: “Experiment, deliver, retrospect, and keep learning!”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Agnès Crepet, Tech Lead, co-founder of Ninja Squad.
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?
Three 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 Agnès Crepet, Tech Lead, co-founder of Ninja Squad.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Agnès Crepet, Tech Lead, co-founder of Ninja Squad
I am a passionate Tech Lead with over 19 years of software engineering experience, trying to make tech fairer, more diverse, and inclusive! In 2012, I co-founded Ninja Squad, which is well-known in France for its core values: code matters, open source support, flat and cooperative management. In September 2018, I joined Fairphone, in Amsterdam, as the head of IT, focused on building a new IT Landscape. I also lead Tech Communities: I’m on the board of Duchess France, a collective which promotes Women in Tech and I’m the co-founder of a European Tech Conference, MiXiT.
When did you become 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, 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 so I chose to study cognitive sciences and software engineering. 😉
How did you end up in your career path?
At the end of my studies in Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering, I had a PhD scholarship for 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 work in the industry. Almost 20 years later, I think it could have been a good idea to take this opportunity to do a PhD, maybe someday, it’s never too late. 😉
After my studies, I have been working 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’ve chosen to work for an IT services company for 4 years, and then for the IT department of a pharmaceutical laboratory. In parallel to this last job, 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 me, 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. 😉
I was also for 3 years a Teacher in an Engineering School in Computer Sciences (I was especially in charge of courses of Web Programming, Git, Spring, …) and in Agile Management (Scrum, Lean Startup). I also led, in this Engineering School, the Department of Learning Innovation (multidisciplinary team with documentalists, pedagogy engineer & developer). It was quite challenging to bring people together to explore more agile and innovative learning practices in a school which was founded in 1816, I had to overcome culture gaps.
Then I joined Fairphone in 2018, it was my first foreign work experience. This company is super inspiring, designing a phone in a fairer way, considering the full life cycle of the product, from the mines, to the final assembly manufacturer. The main obstacle there was the language for sure, I didn’t work in an international context before. But I’m super happy to be part of this journey!
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
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 PhD 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?
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.
After 8 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 developer communities make our job exciting and open to lifelong learning!
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
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 has ever tried to stop me from learning, because “learning to learn” is my motto. 😉 I lead the Fairphone IT Team with these goals: experiment, deliver, retrospect, and keep learning!
A day in Agnes’ life
I currently work at Fairphone (Amsterdam), I lead the IT Team (a team of 10 people). On the technical side, I’m focused on the development of the new IT landscape, leading in house microservices development with this stack: Kotlin, Spring-Boot, Gradle, Postgresql, and integrating systems like Odoo, the open source ERP. I do my best to treat people right with empathy. Holacracy and a few of Agile are our best companions. I also lead the Fairphone 2 software team who is working on building a long-lasting phone keeping security updates, bug fixes, and Android upgrades. Fairphone 2 is the only phone on the market with Android 7 and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset (which isn’t officially supported anymore by Qualcomm on this Android version).
Doing this kind of upgrade is a serious research and development work rather than predictable software developments. So my day typically varies between being part of non-exotic but challenging IT projects (microservices development and ERP integration), and more R&D projects on the device itself. I’m still part of my own company, Ninja Squad, a small team of passionate developers, proudly building software, with Java and JS. Ninja Squad proudly rolls out two ebooks: one about Vue.js and one about Angular, both in English and French. They’re both free, with optional support for charity. We also do training and expertise. We live around Lyon, France, but we can (and love to) work remotely.
What are you most proud of in your career?
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 because I’m Amserdam-based and work for Fairphone. With the other co-founders, 8 years ago we 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 in projects that would thrill us (even if it’s voluntary work for nonprofit organizations). We can say that now this company is there, and has been running very well for the last 8 years. The magic thing is that we share, with the co-founders, the same values about life-balance, choice of our projects, risk-taking. These co-founders are very inspiring people for me. We have been working for some non-profit projects. For example, right now we develop an application for an association, a healthcare center, which helps migrant people.
I’m also proud of being part of Fairphone, doing Hands-on Technical Engineering Leadership. By making a phone, we want to create an impact in four key areas: fair materials, good working conditions on the whole supply chain, long-lasting design, reuse & recycle. That’s quite unseen in the electronic industry. Purpose and meaning really do matter for me when it comes to choosing your work environment, this is why I’m super happy working for this company.
One last thing: I’ve been awarded Java Champion in 2012, I’m very honoured to be part of this worldwide group of passionate Java technology leaders who are community-nominated.
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 “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 the rank 9, United Kingdom 23 and France 26!)
Another explanation could come from the common representations of the “geek” who often is a man, young, addict on universes such as heroic-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.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
Regarding my answer to the last question, 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 in this field, they have to find their place. I read some studies demonstrating that in tech classes with only girls, they are more extroverted and cooperative, they participate more because they are more confident (1). I think that confidence is the key, women have to overcome the impostor’s syndrome and they have to be persuaded that they are not least-skilled in Computer Sciences!
Source: 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
A big challenge for women in tech is to fight against stereotypes, to fight against a not so welcoming environment.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
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.”
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I don’t know but I hope soon. It’s a good thing having this kind of debate, 10 years ago the question of diversity in Tech wasn’t so central. But I hope that the diversity debate will be soon outdated and that a tech world with a more diverse workforce will be soon in place!
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
To 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!
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “You are the best author of your own career path”
- Women in Tech: “Dare to do what you are interested in!”
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”
- Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”