Women in Tech: “No matter how capable or brave you are, you are dependent on opportunities”
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 Hanna Prinz, Consultant.
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 Hanna Prinz, Consultant.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Hanna Prinz, Consultant
Hanna is a developer and consultant at INNOQ with a focus on infrastructure and service mesh. Before that she worked as a developer for backend, web and apps and as a programming lecturer – until she met a challenge she could not resist. Since then she has been working on all topics in the field of automation and DevOps like Kubernetes, CI/CD and Service Meshes.
When did you become interested in technology?
As a child, the situation was unusual for me from many perspectives. My parents supported the very different interests of their four daughters instead of following gender clichés. My curiosity about technology developed through my father.
He is very interested in technology because he is blind. What many people don’t know is that many blind and visually impaired people are particularly open to technology because they benefit greatly from technical aids. In our case, our computer talked (at breathtaking speed and endurance), watches could tell the time at the touch of a button, and there was even a device that recognized and read the color of clothing. My father used the computer and the internet very early and a lot: for writing e-mail and composing and mixing music. Of course, we children “played” a lot with his tools (e.g. changing the computer voice or trying to confuse the color reader). Our father helped us with a lot of patience to set up our computers ourselves and to install various computer games (at that time still on floppy disks), for which I am very grateful to him.
And to get back to the question: my sisters have complained a lot about me sitting too much at the computer and adjusting things!
How did you end up in your career path?
The closer I came to graduating from school, the less I could imagine doing something with computers in my later career. Like many children and young people today, I thought that only those who are good at math can learn programming. I was not a good student – especially in the natural sciences. I was more interested in creative and creative subjects. I even dropped out of high school during the last year and instead got my entrance qualification for a university of applied sciences through an internship.
I actually wanted to study communication design, but in retrospect I’m very happy that I got a place at university in media informatics instead. In the first few weeks I realized that programming was just the right thing for me. Not only did I enjoy my studies and graduated with distinction from both the bachelor’s and master’s programs, I also had a lot of fun.
During my studies I always worked – from the second semester onwards in software development and later as a tutor/lecturer for programming. Both were very challenging, but both problem dissection and teaching are very suitable learning methods for software development.
During my bachelor studies I worked at the start-up company Qyotta and stayed there after graduation. That was a very great and intensive time. I was able to do everything there from web and app development, testing, monitoring and customer communication to software infrastructure. I learned that it is not only more fun to work on a product you are convinced of, but also that you automatically have a completely different level of performance – especially if the team members get along well on a human level.
After a few years I set off on a six-month trip through Europe and decided on the way back to start a master’s degree course to learn even more.
Like many children and young people today, I thought that only those who are good at math can learn programming.
A day in Hanna’s life
A little more than half a year ago I completed my master’s degree and have been a consultant at INNOQ ever since. My job is to impart knowledge and solve problems. I do this in many ways: conversations, software development, workshops, training, talks and writing articles. A company can hardly have all the necessary IT skills internally, and often an external view is also particularly valuable. The goal is to create added value for customers (or listeners). If the employer does not impose any conditions that conflict with this, it is a very good, satisfying solution. INNOQ is, fortunately, a company that enables me to work under these conditions.
Currently a colleague and I are developing a test procedure for an IoT device that communicates with a remote interface. A particular challenge arises from the fact that the interface can continue to develop unhindered, while the device uses a specific software version. So if a change makes the interface incompatible with a device’s software, only the user of the device will notice this, but not the team developing the interface. We develop a test strategy with Consumer-Driven Contracts to ensure that the interface always meets the expectations of the device.
My central focus is the service mesh. I have recently been looking at the different implementations of this pattern. This area is particularly interesting because it changes very quickly and there are many different products. Together with colleagues I have therefore created the page servicemesh.es, where service mesh implementations are compared in detail and fairly.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
In retrospect, what I am particularly grateful for are the possibilities and opportunities through which my bosses, colleagues and professors (including many men) supported me. For example, as a student assistant in the second semester, I was allowed to work on customer software, release my own code, make mistakes, and fix them. My university offered me to give a tutorial and sample lectures and give my own courses. Currently my employer allows me to give lectures and workshops at conferences and to write articles. No matter how capable or courageous you are, you depend on such opportunities. I have a lot of respect for the perseverance with which some professors and colleagues have convinced me to try something. Even though it can be very unpleasant to leave your comfort zone, in retrospect it was always the right decision to take on challenges.
Perhaps it is also worthwhile for others to experiment with giving chances and impulses and accepting challenges.
Why aren’t there more women in the tech industry?
Programming means sitting alone at night in a hoodie in front of a wall of screens and hacking complicated code into the keyboard. This stubborn image of the “nerd”, which is replicated unreflectively by many media, is not only wrong, it attracts a few people, but also discourages many who we actually need very badly.
In all computer science courses, there are more men than women. I think everyone should do what they are interested in and others should respect that. But in this case it is not that simple. Unfortunately, our professional choices are often based on many unsuitable factors. These include the image of the nerd in the media or general advice from people who know little about the profession. For example, in my experience being good at math is not a good indicator of IT talent.
Another problem is that by far not all universities start from scratch with computer science topics, as they would with a subject that is unfortunately still not in the standard school curriculum. Many teachers adjust the pace to students who have received computers or other support from their parents at an early age. Unfortunately, this is where gender comes into play, because boys are often still given more support in maths and computer science than girls.
Until recently, I myself had not even thought that gender could play a role in my career in the tech industry. My department at Beuth Hochschule in Berlin has created a good learning atmosphere for everyone thanks to the many very committed teachers. In the teams I worked in, everyone behaved fairly and respectfully towards me. I would therefore encourage anyone who feels differently to change university or employer first, and not immediately change professions.
How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
The main beneficiaries are women themselves, who work in technical professions (good working conditions, higher income, etc.). Furthermore, in my experience, a heterogeneous team with different skills and personalities generally creates a more pleasant working atmosphere and achieves better results. Everyone benefits from this. So more diversity in the tech industry does not have to be a political goal, but a primarily entrepreneurial or necessary one. And it is also much more pleasant for me to be hired because of my skills, experience or personality than because of my gender – and I’m sure I speak for many others as well (certainly many men).
One thing that also strikes me is that work – unlike childcare, for example – is often seen as a privilege. It almost seems as if women want to take work away from men. We know that work is not only positive, but that it is often accompanied by less enviable aspects, such as stress and overwork. So just as many women want a successful career, there are also many men who would like to give up their 50-hour week.
As soon as childcare is an issue, the salary often decides which parent works more (or even exclusively) instead. Since men earn more on average, it is still difficult to change the traditional role allocation. Only when our income is about the same, gender will no longer automatically decide family roles. Tasks can then be divided and changed individually. Many men also benefit from this.
The diversity debate will continue. The homogeneity that has been taken for granted in the industry for years will not and should not change without these debates. My feeling is that we are on the right track, but that we still have to be patient.
Much more important than arguing is, in my view, watching oneself during daily decisions or assessments. Every one of us has subconscious prejudices that often ensure that everything remains as it is and changes cannot develop. I am not only thinking about hiring or promoting employees, but also about the representation of professions in the media and the education of children.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
I had to think long and hard about the answer to the question of obstacles in my life. Of course I had problems, but I didn’t get the impression that someone was deliberately trying to slow me down. The barriers I had (financing my studies, family matters, etc.) many people also have. It helped me a lot that I can get enthusiastic about my job and certainly luck plays a role as well.
Of course I hear from colleagues and friends that especially women are underestimated or “kept small”. Fortunately for me, it was the exact opposite: my professors and colleagues strongly encouraged me.
Many assume that women in the tech industry mainly take on creative and communicative roles. It also happens to me from time to time that my counterpart misassigns me at the beginning. I try not to take this personally, because in fact women more often opt for front-end development, data science, and design than for back-end development or IT infrastructure. But if I do get misallocated, I’ll make it clear for a moment. Afterward, I have never had the feeling that my competence is questioned because I am a woman. There is discrimination nevertheless, but not everywhere.
The homogeneity that has been taken for granted in the industry for years will not and should not change without these debates.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
I would definitely recommend validating your own ideas of the reality of a tech job. For example, you could talk to someone from your circle of friends who works in the industry, apply for an internship, or get into a conversation at a conference. For women and other underrepresented groups in the tech industry, sponsored, free tickets (“diversity tickets”) are available at many conferences.
I’m pretty sure that many will be surprised at how important communication skills and creative thinking are in IT. In addition, there are many different roles where different skills are needed. Besides programming, software architecture and testing/QA, there are many other tasks where a knack for design, team organization, teaching, communicating with customers about requirements or creative methods for developing new software products is required.
And by the way: although most roles have a technical context, a large part of the work does not take place at the desk alone, but in meetings, customer discussions, or conferences. Even programming is often done in pairs (pair programming) or as a group (mob programming), which makes it a very social activity. We are far away from all the clichés of the tech industry.
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!”