Profile: Sandra Parsick, Freelance Software Developer

Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”

Madeleine Domogalla

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 Sandra Parsick, Freelance Software Developer.

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 Sandra Parsick, Freelance Software Developer.

Today’s woman in tech: Sandra Parsick, Freelance Software Developer.

Sandra Parsick is a Freelance Software Developer and Consultant working in the Java field. Since 2008 she participates in Agile Software Development in different roles. She is focused on Java Enterprise applications, agile methods, software craftsmanship, and the automation of software development processes. In her free time she campaigns for the Softwerkskammer Ruhrgebiet (SWK).

What first got you interested in tech?

For as long as I can remember, I had an interest in tech. Everything started at home when I was more interested in helping my father with his do-it-yourself tinkering than cooking with my mother. I also liked to watch my grandpa, a civil engineer, work. He always used to give me small math problems to solve.

My interest in computers was awakened by my cousin. We didn’t have a computer at home, but he did. I liked to watch the boys play video games and wanted to try it for myself when we visited my aunt.

I nagged my parents for a long time that we also needed a computer. At some point they finally had mercy and then it all went the traditional way for me. At first, I played a lot of video games, and then I tried everything else that could be done with a computer.

Early on, it was already quite clear to me that I wanted to do something technical.

Did someone support you and do you have a role model?

For me there’s not just one role model. Instead, I was inspired by many different people. My parents — actually my entire family — always supported me 100% in what I planned to do. Later, in my profession, it was mostly men that supported and encouraged me. But I think that this was also due to me being the only technician on the team.

A day in Sandra’s life

As a freelancer, I work independently as a developer in the Java environment. Besides regular software development, I also help businesses automate their development processes. I actually don’t have a “normal” workday. It depends upon the task: Sometimes it is quite normal and I work as a developer with the team, and sometimes I advise teams or convey knowledge in training courses and workshops.

Early on, it was already quite clear to me that I wanted to do something technical. For some time I wanted to study automotive engineering, because I wanted to be a test driver so badly. But I quickly came to realize that I had no talent for physics because I always used to extrapolate physics through math.

It became crystal clear that it would either be something with mathematics or computer science, which also showed in my advanced courses for high school exams.

After my high school exam, I enrolled at the University of Bonn for mathematics and computer science. I quickly realized that math was too abstract for me. I concentrated entirely on computer sciences and finished my studies subsequently.

Afterward, I started to work in a QA department at a start-up and after one year I asked for a transfer to development. I was lucky to meet a senior developer there, who was of the opinion that I should become a real developer and took me under his wings.

After changing jobs a few times I was looking for new challenges. My parents commented that like clockwork, I always became dissatisfied with my job, so maybe I should change something fundamentally. At the same time, colleagues who worked as freelancers with me advised me to try out self-employment. After an unsatisfying annual performance review, I quit the next day.

I thought: “Okay, now I have three months to prepare myself for self-employment.” In the meantime, I’ve been self-employed longer than I was employed and I am content with that.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I believe this is due to cultural reasons. I know from women who grew up in the GDR that computer science, for example, was typically a woman’s field. This is something that can be observed today, for example, in Eastern Europe and South African countries, where computer science’s women’s quota is much higher than ours.

I also once read an article that said in western countries, the percentage of women in data processing used to be higher than today. This changed with the introduction of the personal computer.

There are no formal barriers for women, but there are barriers on an emotional level. There are still people, regardless of gender, who give you irrational advice, just because you want to do something untypical for women in their eyes. When I chose my advanced courses for the high school exams, there were voices that thought I should take German, even though my grades spoke for the combination of mathematics and computer science.

When I wanted to become a freelancer, there were voices that thought the whole thing was a pipe dream and asked when I would finally find a decent job again. I didn’t let myself be put off by this. But I can imagine that other women might let themselves be influenced and follow this advice, although it is totally irrational.

I believe that we will always have a diversity debate because diversity doesn’t stop at gender.

Women in STEM

A lot of people are actually surprised when they hear that I have to talk a lot with people as a developer. Therefore, I try to motivate my students to look into tech jobs if they want to do something “with people”. Today you have much more human contact in that field.

Many products would not be designed by men. One example is health apps, which for a long time didn’t have functions such as a menstruation calendar.

Maybe we must interpret IT jobs more as social professions. New technical innovations influence society, and society influences technology. Another aspect is that the more diverse a team is, the more social they treat each other.

I believe that we will always have a diversity debate because diversity doesn’t stop at gender.

What obstacles did you have to overcome?

There were definitely obstacles and hurdles. I either took a different road or went straight over the obstacle in order to achieve my goal. New, different, and sometimes more exciting perspectives opened up. When people work together, new ideas happen.

There certainly are stereotypes. When people realize that I work in the tech industry, most assume that I work in project management. If I explain that I develop, they then always assume that I develop in the front end. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. I just educate them and then it’s done.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

If you are interested in technology, then you shouldn’t let yourself be irritated by irrational advice and you should just go for it! Even if you’re not that interested in technology and want to do something more social, the tech industry is a good fit. We have to solve complex problems, which can only be solved by teams with diverse backgrounds.

I can only give you the general advice to do what interests you. If you have too many doubters around you, look for people who will actually support you.

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Madeleine Domogalla

Madeleine Domogalla

All Posts by Madeleine Domogalla

Madeleine Domogalla has been an editor at S&S-Media since 2018. Previously she studied German Language and Literature at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn.

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