Women in Tech: “Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy”
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 Nathalie Lamy, VP of Engineering at Netatmo.
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 Nathalie Lamy, VP of Engineering at Netatmo.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Nathalie Lamy, VP of Engineering at Netatmo
Nathalie Lamy is Netatmo’s VP of Engineering since 2014. She is in charge of technical innovation at Netatmo. She supervises and coordinates the research and development teams to create smart devices that make the home safer, healthier, and more comfortable.
Before joining Netatmo, Nathalie held the positions of R&D Director at Cirpack and Project Director at Free.
Nathalie Lamy is a graduate of Ecole Centrale de Paris and RWTH University in Aachen, Germany.
When did you become interested in technology?
Since I was 10 years old in middle school, I remember always being interested in mathematics, physical sciences, and technology. I especially liked solving logical problems, doing experiments, and building things. So when I was 14 years old and got into high school, I dropped Latin to enroll in Computer Science classes.
During my senior year, I had to make some choices concerning my higher education. I hesitated between medicine and engineering studies. On the one hand, I would have liked to help and take care of people. I aimed for a job where I could be directly useful and humanitarian medicine interested me most of all. But on the other hand, I liked the “building” side of the engineering profession.
How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?
I finally chose engineering because I felt it would be more varied and open up more possibilities. I followed a two-year undergraduate intensive course in Mathematics and Physics to enter the Ecole Centrale de Paris, an engineering school. There I was able to study Civil Engineering, Thermodynamics, and Computer Science among others. I also spent two years in Germany, in Aachen, to specialize in Telecommunications (RWTH Aachen – Nachrichtentechnik). I am therefore a Diplom-Ingenieur as well.
I entered the labour market in 1998, when the Internet was getting in everyone’s reach and the telecommunications market in France opened to competition. I was part of a team that developed the first Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions in France and Europe. Very quickly, I had the opportunity to manage technical teams. An exciting adventure!
I did not encounter any external obstacles in my career. My family, my teachers, my husband, and my professional entourage have always encouraged and supported me in my choices. Moreover, I was promoted by my boss, a man, after my first and second maternity leaves.
My goal is for everyone to give their best, in order to create devices that are easy to use and reliable, within tight timeframes.
The only obstacle I have encountered was my lack of self-confidence!
Did you receive support from your family and friends?
I think my parents had a lot to do with the choices I made. My mother has a master’s degree in Physical Sciences. Actually, she holds more academic qualifications than my father does. However, she chose (with my father) to stop working to raise her children. Unfortunately, when she wanted to work again several years later, she did not succeed. I have then realized that children’s educational burden had to be borne by both parents. I think this is what allowed me to achieve a good work-life balance. As for my father, he always encouraged me to go into engineering, so I always felt legitimate in this field.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
I have never experienced such a situation.
A day in Nathalie’s life
I joined Netatmo in 2014 as the VP of Engineering. My R&D team has grown from 20 to 140 people, mainly engineers who design our products. This includes electronics, mechanics, software, production, signal processing, and machine learning.
My goal is for everyone to give their best, in order to create devices that are easy to use and reliable, within tight timeframes. But I also aim for all my team members to have the opportunity to develop their skills, grow within Netatmo, and be happy to come to work every day.
I encourage my team and I help them identify and solve the hurdles they encounter. I have to manage priorities and make sure that our efforts are focused on priority business issues. My role is to ensure that at all times, the R&D organisation is efficient and that useful information flows smoothly.
Although all my days at work are different from one another, I usually start with one-to-ones with my team members to share the progress of projects, clarify priorities, and discuss encountered difficulties.
I also spend a lot of time with Human Resources and managers to define recruitment needs (numbers, profiles, budgets).
In my daily activities, I work hand in hand with the VP of Product to align product and R&D strategies. I have to reflect on cost optimization when it comes to certifications, prototypes, or Cloud management. Finally, I also deal with the ISO27001 management review to continuously improve our information and product security management policies within R&D.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I believe that I am a listening and empathic person, and I am proud that I have managed to keep these aspects of my character throughout my career. What is considered today as a modern management method, such as being kind and listening to people, has always been part of my way of doing things.
I am also very proud of the employees I have recruited and having given them the opportunity to express themselves and evolve.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
From an early age, there is a tendency to put children into categories based on their gender, social background, or culture. Education is differentiated, so are toys. Being the mother of three girls, I made sure at home we had both dolls and cars. Actually, one of my daughters’ friends used to come around often and sometimes played with their dolls. His father was surprised to see him doing it, as if boys could not play with dolls. We are full of stereotypes and I am no exception! But it’s important to be aware of this if you want to change things.
Later on, boys and girls continue to be influenced by the adults surrounding them or by the representations they notice. This happens for instance when teenagers choose their future job. While men dominate the tech industry, young girls are encouraged to choose a more “feminine profession”. So it is not surprising that they don’t dare to venture into a tech career.
This is why in the past two years I have been a part of the association “Elles bougent“. This organisation creates encounters between female engineers and technicians and young girls from secondary schools, to show them that a tech career is achievable!
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
Moreover, I think that our differences in terms of gender, culture, etc. are worthy assets.
Personally, I haven’t encountered many obstacles in the companies I’ve worked for.
Something that is perhaps a little devious is the fact that I am often referred to as a woman. For example, when I explain that I have installed my outdoor camera or my smart switches by myself, some of my male colleagues are surprised, even though it doesn’t require any physical strength. Why should DIY at home be done by men? This is for example a stereotype that has been perpetuated for generations.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
I personally believe that men and women should be able to choose freely their path without being constrained by stereotypes, such as boys not being able to play with dolls. I truly hope one day we will not be surprised to meet a woman who is an electrician or a man who is a midwife.
Moreover, I think that our differences in terms of gender, culture, etc. are worthy assets. The different ways of thinking allows us to have “out-of-the-box” ideas. If we want to build mass products and solutions, having people with different backgrounds is very valuable: we can anticipate different needs and use cases and integrate them from the product’s design phase.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I feel optimistic because more and more people, men and women, are taking up the diversity issue. It is important that men are also becoming aware of the problem and want to make a difference. I assume this is also due to the talent shortage issue in the tech industry.
However, we must keep in mind that the current Coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis that might follow, could impact the tech industry. The number of job offers might significantly decrease therefore resolving in some way talent shortage and thus making the need to recruit female employees disappear. This is why we should persevere and continue our efforts if we want to see a long-lasting change when it comes to diversity in the tech industry.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
The only thing to keep in mind is that anything is possible. Whatever choice you make, it is completely legitimate. As long as you know deep down inside what you want to do, or do not want to do, do stand up to the people who try to discourage you, whoever they might be: your parents, your teachers, or your spouse. No one knows better than you do.
But sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy. If someday you get a promotion and you hesitate, remember that many people dare without being as qualified for the position as you are!
The exciting thing about the tech industries is that there are new challenges every day. Thanks to the ever-changing technologies, you have the opportunity to learn continuously.
The IoT brings together a wide variety of jobs and expertise (electronics, machine learning, software development…) and it is extremely stimulating to be part of a team with so many exciting people.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “Degrees can matter but they aren’t required”
- 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”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”