Women in Tech: “I’ve never hesitated or been afraid to speak up”
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 Idit Levine, Founder and CEO of Solo.io.
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 Idit Levine, Founder and CEO of Solo.io.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Idit Levine, Founder and CEO of Solo.io
Idit Levine is the Founder & CEO at solo.io. She is a former CTO for the cloud management division at EMC and a member of its Global CTO office, where she focuses on management and orchestration (M&O) over the entire stack, microservices, cloud-native apps, and platforms as a service. Idit became fascinated with the cloud when she joined DynamicOps (vCAC, now part of VMware) as one of its first employees. She subsequently took part in developing Verizon Terremark’s next-generation public cloud and served as acting CTO at Intigua, a startup focused on container and management technology.
Idit graduated from Bar-Ilan University with a bachelor of science in Computer Science and Biological Science.
When did you become interested in technology?
When I was about 18, I started to teach myself to code, but I really got excited about technology in college, when I worked on data-driven modeling of viral infection (could have been very useful these days!).
How did you end up in your career path?
Before my career in technology, I actually played basketball professionally in Europe. My technical career really started during college, with a double major in computer science and biology, leading to my first software engineering role.
My career started in Israel, before our family moved to Southern California and finally settled in Massachusetts. I was a software engineer at several startups and large technology companies which provided me with a wide range of experience and perspective. Most recently, I served as the CTO of the EMC Cloud Management division and a member of the global CTO Office. While at EMC, I spent a lot of time directly with customers and started up the Pivotal Dojo where I was able to work with new open source projects, got to see how fast they moved, and where software development was headed. I observed the tension between balancing a company’s existing enterprise tech with emerging cloud-native open-source software. This is what led me to start Solo.io.
As a first-time founder, a woman, and not being based in Silicon Valley, I initially had a difficult time fundraising. That is not really a new story and one we’ve all heard before. We are lucky that the investors that we ultimately partnered with are amazing — they believe in me, Solo.io’s vision and the company, and have been a tremendous resource as we scale out the company.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
My family has been really supportive of the founding of Solo.io. In the early days, it was all hands on deck to get the company off the ground, setting up the first website, naming the projects, or booking flights – my husband and kids were helping with everything.
When I think of role models, I think of my grandmother. When my siblings and I were very young, my grandmother watched us while our parents were working. She was a strong woman who had endured many hardships, and even though she only had a 3rd-grade education, she spent much of her time teaching and educating us. My husband is someone that gave me the push that I needed to land in technology. There is a distinct conversation I remember from ages ago where he was getting his PhD and while I lamented about going to work on Monday, he was excited because he absolutely loved what he did. That was the wake-up call for me, and I started my own journey to find what I was really passionate about.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
Over the years, I faced competitors and professional rivals, and I can’t say that all my colleagues were always supportive. But I welcome the competitive environment and believe it promotes excellence, as long as everyone is treated fairly.
A day in Idit’s life
I am the founder and CEO of Solo.io, a company that develops open-source and enterprise software that helps organizations adopt and operate innovative cloud-native technologies like microservices, serverless and service mesh. As a technical founder, I lead the product vision and development across our portfolio of open source and commercial solutions. There is no “typical workday” besides that each day is always jam-packed with meetings or calls with the team, customers, partners, and open source community leaders — in addition to parenting three children with my husband.
I welcome the competitive environment and believe it promotes excellence, as long as everyone is treated fairly.
I am very proud of Solo.io, my amazing team, and what we are building here. This is the culmination of the experiences I gained throughout my career. We have a clear and insightful vision about where the cloud infrastructure space is heading, and we create technology that helps companies move in that direction at the pace that best fits their needs. I am particularly proud of the great relationships we developed both within our team and with our end-users, customers, and partners.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
It is well understood that most people tend to be more attentive and supportive to people who are more similar to themselves, and everyone is more comfortable working in an environment where they are not “the odd ones.” Both aspects are curbing diversity in general, and hinder the participation of women in tech in particular. But I think that many tech companies, conferences, and articles (like this one) are doing the right thing by featuring a more diverse set of people. By highlighting the great talent that is already here and the amazing work they are doing, we can attract new women into the field.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
It is obviously harder for women to be visible and voice their opinion in a male-dominated environment. It’s a real shame because a broader range of perspectives is a huge driver of innovation!
What’s interesting for me is that I immigrated to the U.S. as an adult from Israel and the cultural difference may have helped me avoid some of these potential obstacles. In Israel, where I am from, all the men and women equally serve in the military, and we are known for our direct speaking style regardless of gender or rank. So I’ve never hesitated or been afraid to speak up or ask questions, and I think sometimes that catches people a little off guard. However, it is effective in getting the right people engaged in conversation.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Of course. The more perspectives and experiences we have coming together bring more and different ideas and drive originality, creativity, and innovation.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
Having the discussion is great, but it is also important to already see visible changes that help more diverse backgrounds feel welcome in our industry. These changes have started, but the results are different across industries. In the cloud-native/open-source ecosystem, we see more women and people of color in leadership roles and featured in public forums, and this sends a message to others that everyone belongs in this community.
In the cloud-native/open-source ecosystem, we see more women and people of color in leadership roles and featured in public forums, and this sends a message to others that everyone belongs in this community.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, ask for help, ask for an introduction, voice your opinion, offer your perspective. This is something that can apply broadly to anyone who is starting out in their career but one that women who are looking to start their tech career should do. I mentioned earlier that this was something that never occurred to me as something not to do because of my culture and upbringing, but it is one that has served me well. More often people are happy to help and to listen.
I also want to ask them to be ready to work harder than many of their male colleagues. It may not be fair and in an ideal world it should not be the case, but this is the reality until a new equilibrium is achieved. The only way to change it is to have more women with high visibility, and getting there will take hard work. Luckily, there are already many women in tech with a public presence, and many of them will always be happy to make themselves accessible to promising women at any stage of their career.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “The diversity debate mustn’t end in the near future”
- 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”