Women in Tech: “The diversity debate mustn’t end in the near future”
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 Mirjam Bäuerlein, Software Developer at BRYTER.
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 Mirjam Bäuerlein, Software Developer at BRYTER.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Mirjam Bäuerlein, Software Developer at BRYTER
Even though programming has been one of Mirjams hobbies for years since her early childhood, her professional career started off differently at first: The first years of her professional life were shaped by office management, bookkeeping, and controlling, the others afterwards were shaped by her work as a dog trainer. In the meantime, she has made her hobby into her career for the second time and works currently as a software developer for BRYTER, prioritizing in frontend development.
What got you interested in tech?
My interest for computers definitely stems from my childhood. I wrote my first program — a puzzle made of all sorts of nested if-else-conditions — on my father’s Schneider CPC464 computer. The datasette still exists somewhere in my basement, as does the computer itself, along with all my favourite games for it. The interest in technology has never really left me, but except as a hobby, I haven’t pursued it for a long time.
My career path was chaotic but now I see this as one of my strengths. I attended a secondary school with a commercial focus and the scientific-mathematical branch that I wanted to choose did not come to be in my school year. So I ended up in the commercial field for some time. I also worked for eight years as a trainer for people with dogs, with a focus on individual training and, later on, also in nationwide seminars and workshops. After many years with these two jobs, it was time for a new challenge and I decided to make another hobby into my profession. This is how my way into software development began.
Did you receive support from your family and friends?
As a career changer, I was really in luck with my environment. My partner not only supported my idea to switch to development but spent many, many hours with me and code.
The agency I worked for at that time gave me the opportunity to split my working time between office management and frontend development and, thus, opened a very easy and uncomplicated way into my first job. I have a special bond with the Techettes Frankfurt, a local association, which promotes Women in Tech: There, I got to know other women who work in tech jobs, exchanged experiences, and always experienced direct, unconditional support. I have built up a small network of great women in tech in the meantime, with whom I am in constant contact. This form of “sisterhood” means a lot to me! Each of these women is a role model to me.
A day in Mirjam’s life
I work as a frontend developer for a startup company called BRYTER. We provide a platform to develop interactive applications for decision automation. The users do not need any programming knowledge and can assemble their applications with our No-Code editor, just like with a construction kit. I work with a team of developers on our No-Code editor and all user interfaces that are accompanying it.
Depending on the day, my workday starts with a walk through Frankfurt or a cup of coffee on the sofa – we are a remote company with offices in Frankfurt, Berlin, and London, so I can decide where I want to work. A lot of my work happens on the computer and in my code editor – exactly how I like it. Of course, the coordination with the product manager and UX designer is a part of it, but all in all we have very few fixed meeting times and plenty of time for product development.
My biggest and most successful project is the “Conference Buddy”: a platform where users can meet other people who attend the same technical events as they. It is an onboarding buddy, only for conferences.
It all started with an idea a little bit over a year ago, and today there’s a huge community behind it, and more conferences are actively integrating it into their events! I never really felt that comfortable to move around in large crowds of strangers myself, so attending tech conferences seemed to be impossible for me. The conference buddy was, therefore, at first a solution to my own problem.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I see the problem in the fact that there are still too many hurdles for women. Girls are still being told in school that “boys are better at math” and that “programming is more likely something for boys “. And quite often young women are advised to take up a typically female profession when they choose a career.
Everyday sexism is particularly noticeable in male-dominated professions.
In the respective courses of study, the proportion of of women is so low that many women simply feel uncomfortable. Everyday sexism is particularly noticeable in male-dominated professions. And in the meantime, i believe that we need, above all, the right environment to deal with it. Self-confidence and a thick skin alone are often not enough. A network of people who support and encourage each other is invaluable.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Each area benefits from diverse teams – and diverse must never only be related to “women”. How are we supposed to solve problems for people, who aren’t even involved in the problem’s solution? Apple’s HealthKit was launched in 2014 as THE app for monitoring metrics around your health: weight, height, pulse, sleep, blood alcohol, when to use an inhaler. So from A to Z everything possible and impossible could be tracked. Except menstruation. Nobody, probably in a team full of men, have thought about it.
There were soap dispensers that didn’t respond to people with dark skin. We build web applications that only work with the latest equipment and best internet connection. Algorithms take care of decisions like creditworthiness or the display of job offers – and discriminate in the process. The examples are endless. Each of these cases would have been avoided if diversity had been given a higher priority in our companies.
I don’t see an end to the diversity debate in the near future.
I do not see an end to the diversity debate in the near future. It mustn’t end for a long time yet, and I hope that it will be taken for granted that “diversity” will not be achieved by only hiring 50 percent white women. Because after all diversity, meaning variety, doesn’t only refer to the division of the sexes. I think this should never be forgotten in any debate on the subject.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
I only got in the tech industry after years of successful work in other professions and building up a certain self-confidence. This made it easier for me to enter the technology business. The pressure is huge. I don’t know any woman in this industry who has never been confronted with prejudices and sometimes hurtful things that really don’t make it easier to get started. I started this career at a point in my life where it is no longer easy to put obstacles in my path. However, I think I would have been here much earlier, if I had realized as a young girl that this programming, which I did for fun, could have been a career path.
When I think of clichés – which ones haven’t I come across?! Women can’t think logically. Women don’t take their career seriously enough to be good programmers. Women cannot be female and work in the technical profession at the same time. Women may be able to do things “pretty”, but they can’t write “real code”. Women on stage are only there because they are women. And this is just the beginning.
The biggest problem that arises from this is the small number of women who enter this profession at all and the large number who leave it again.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
The tech industry is a lot larger and more creative than its seems! And the industry tries to be open and inclusive in many places. There are many great communities in and about tech campaigning for diversity, which can also be a great support. The path into technical professions is not always easy for women, as well as for other people from underrepresented groups. But it is worth it!
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!”