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Profile: Sandra Rapp, frontend developer and team leader at IBM Research & Development GmbH

Women in Tech: “The only constant is change itself”

JAXenter Editorial Team
women in tech

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 Rapp, frontend developer and team leader at IBM Research & Development GmbH.

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 Rapp, frontend developer and team leader at IBM Research & Development GmbH.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Sandra Rapp, frontend developer and team leader at IBM Research & Development GmbH

Sandra Rapp started her career at IBM Research & Development GmbH after studying business informatics. Withinwomen in tech 12 years she gained experience in software development in various international projects. Currently, she works as a front-end developer and head of a UI team in the IBM Cloud area. In addition to programming, her tasks include customer support, project planning, maintenance, and product operations.

Sandra Rapp is also involved in the local front-end developer community, where she regularly organizes talks on front-end development topics.

When did you become interested in technology?

I still remember well that my father bought our first PC with Windows 95 when I was about in the 7th grade of secondary school. I started to learn MS Office, mainly PowerPoint, and Word, in order to create my school presentations and work with it. I also got the opportunity to participate in an “Internet course” that the local college offered to students. During this course, I created my first e-mail address and learned how to create a website in HTML.

During grades 11 to 13 at school, I discovered my preference for the subject “data processing”. It was about the basics of information technology as well as the practical application of programs for spreadsheets and databases. In grade 13 I continued to voluntarily take the subject and acquired basic knowledge in the programming language Java. This awakened my interest and the fun in programming finally led me to study Business Informatics.

During my studies of business informatics I soon realized that my main interest is software development and programming. I did my second internship semester at IBM R&D and also wrote my diploma thesis there. After handing in my diploma thesis I got a permanent job in the same company shortly after. My previous fields of activity were:

  • Services (development at the customer’s site), much associated with travel
  • Several years of 3rd level support for different products
  • Finally, in 2012, switch to application software development in the cloud environment

I am still active in the cloud area today and have taken on various development tasks in several projects. This includes the development of backend functionality, tests, DevOps as well as frontend development.

Are there people who have supported you on your way? Do you have role models?

I have had good experiences in both my private and professional life. My family, teachers, and trainers in clubs have always empowered and supported me. Also later in my studies and in my professional life, I worked a lot with people who always supported and encouraged me. At IBM, these were especially my managers. However, I have no concrete role model.

Presumably, this diversity debate will continue, since it does not only refer to gender, but concerns any kind of people who are underrepresented in any way.

I also never had the feeling that anyone would have put obstacles in my way. On the contrary: I have always received great support and encouragement. I am extremely grateful for that.

A day in Sandra’s life

I have been with IBM Research and Development GmbH for 12 years now. Currently, I am working as a team leader and developer for a development team that develops user interfaces in the form of web applications for two services of the IBM Cloud.

My workday is very varied: The project planning and coordination tasks as team leader include planning the functions to be developed and problem solutions for a specific development stage, consultation, and coordination with adjacent teams and stakeholders. In addition, I also take on specific development tasks, support customers with questions and problems, and am jointly responsible for the ongoing operation of two services.

I have no development projects in the private sector. Nevertheless, every now and then there is the possibility to participate in so-called hackathons or hackdays, which are organized in our company for further education or charitable purposes. At one of these workshops, for example, a small web application was created that allows users to upload photos of faces to the platform, for which the recognition of the mood based on facial expressions was then automatically performed. It is a kind of “emotional diary”, which – if desired – does without words and allows the user to record personal moments chronologically.

Why are there so few women in the tech industry and what clichés have you come across regarding “Women in Tech”?

This question is very difficult to answer from my point of view and is, in my opinion, very complex. I think it depends to a large extent on the society we grow up in. In my opinion, many hurdles are created unconsciously by adopting certain behaviors and role patterns from an early age, because we are given an example of them.

Stereotypical statements like “Computer science is not for girls” or “Technology is a man’s business” have never been expressed to me personally. Unfortunately, many women seem to make experiences of this kind. I can imagine that such statements and also corresponding behavior can have a very frustrating and discouraging effect on technical interests and later career choices.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

I don’t believe that our world would look any different or that there would be certain benefits for the general public if more women were to work in the STEM sector. I have been working in mixed teams for many years, and the proportion of women has increased significantly. I can’t say that it has made any noticeable difference for me.

You are often allowed to adapt to new situations and changing technologies and trends and should always be prepared to learn something new.

Rather, it’s the individuals themselves who make the difference, with whom I enjoy working every day (whether they are men or women). I also think that it is more a question of personal development and self-determination for each individual woman to choose to work in the tech industry. This in turn would have a positive effect in that talented and motivated personalities could enrich the tech industry without reducing this to gender or supposedly gender-specific skills.

Presumably, this diversity debate will continue, since it does not only refer to gender, but concerns any kind of people who are underrepresented in any way.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

I think it is important that women are not discouraged or put off, but stick to their interests and goals and have fun with technology.

The industry is very fast-moving, at least in the environment I have come to know. This means adapting to the fact that the only constant is change itself: you are often allowed to adapt to new situations and changing technologies and trends and should always be prepared to learn something new.

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