Women in Tech: “Dare to do what you are interested in!”
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 Stefanie Schwilski, Software Engineer.
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 Stefanie Schwilski, Software Engineer.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Stefanie Schwilski, Software Engineer
Stefanie Schwilski works as a software engineer at adesso and currently supports a project in the lottery environment. In addition to software development, she deals with agile methods and thus actively contributes to shaping her work and that of her colleagues. Since the completion of her dual studies in the course of software tech studies, she is studying at the University of Applied Sciences Dortmund in the Master of Computer Science. In the context of the adesso initiative “She for IT”, Stefanie works together with other dedicated adesso women to promote women in IT professions.
When did you become interested in technology?
Even as a child I was more interested in toy cars, Lego, or Gameboy. In other words, things that were classically played more by boys than girls. In primary school I was the only one who was in the chess club because I enjoyed the logic and strategic thinking behind it. At that time I also watched my 13 years older sister playing computer games. Her boyfriend, my brother-in-law, who is a system administrator by profession, brought the world of computers and technology even closer to me.
I was so enthusiastic about computers at that time that I didn’t let myself be put off and was the only girl to choose physics/computer science in the middle school of the grammar school. I was able to implement the knowledge, which was allegedly “too complex and technical for a girl”, without any problems. I was also a popular working partner in the computer science course in the upper school and then passed the computer science course with top marks.
My professional career has actually been straightforward so far. After graduating from high school in 2013, I started a dual course of study in information technology in the field of application development. I completed it with distinction as the best graduate of my year in the corresponding dual course of study in software engineering. Since I wanted to continue my education in computer science afterward, I started my Masters studies. Currently I am working as a software engineer at adesso SE, my former training company, and I am writing my project and thesis on the side.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
Without the support of my family and friends I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. My family supported me in all the decisions I have made and given me the freedom to figure out what I want to do in life. Even at the beginning of my education, when I had a hard time proving myself without any Java programming skills among the other seven boys in my class, they encouraged me not to give up right away.
During my school days there were a few teachers who supported me on my way. Especially my computer science teacher at that time, who was not interested in the sex of a student, but in their enthusiasm. My former class and grade leader supported me. He always said that you can do anything if you really want to. I also got encouragement from my maths teacher, who, after years of lessons from another colleague, let me know that I understood maths after all and was pretty good at it.
Even today I still come across many colleagues and superiors who challenge me, support me, and recognize my ambition.
How often do I hear the sentence “You don’t look like a computer scientist” in my private life?
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
The biggest hurdle for me is that the image of “typical” women’s and men’s professions and the role models associated with them still prevails. As long as these classic role models are anchored in people’s minds, it is difficult to prove oneself as a woman in a “male domain”. It is primarily important to work on this understanding of roles.
How often do I hear the sentence “You don’t look like a computer scientist” in my private life? I think that there are still many clichés about some professions, as well as that of computer scientists. The typical picture is probably the nerd sitting in the basement eating pizza. But there is much more to experience and do in this profession. Programming in the true sense of the word is now only one aspect of the computer scientist’s working life. The job title of software engineer better reflects the profession’s tasks.
Software engineers can be found in processes such as conception, implementation, acceptance, maintenance, and other processes. You don’t just sit in front of the computer for eight hours.
But when I look back on my school days, I also believe that the lack of attractiveness and the lack of offers at school are hurdles.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Personally, I am not interested in having to introduce or fulfill any quotas. But I do wonder why we make a distinction between women’s and men’s professions in some areas. Of course there are differences between men and women, but the whole debate is not about equality, but about equal rights.
Women should also be allowed to live out their potential and their interests, while at the same time being paid just as well and thus being able to secure their (financial) independence. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be encouraged to do exactly what they are really interested in. Because there are differences between men and women, I believe that different perspectives also encourage different ideas and solutions.
I assume that diversity will remain an issue for a long time to come. As long as we are already teaching children that boys play with cars and girls play with dolls, no one needs to be surprised that clichés and a classic division of roles are anchored in their minds. It will be particularly difficult when parents or teachers who are role models teach children that they cannot or must not do something because of their gender.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
In fact, most of the obstacles were put in my way during my school days. It started with the boys, who didn’t take me seriously because girls are usually not interested in technical things. In computer science lessons we learned the basics of programming, but in an old programming language, which nowadays probably nobody would voluntarily use in a new project.
When the decision for advanced courses was about to be made, I was astonished that no computer science class was offered, because we were simply too few with three people. Efforts to cooperate with other schools were made in other areas, but not in computer science.
If something doesn’t work out the way you want it to, at least you can’t blame yourself for not having tried it.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
From my point of view, I can only say: Dare to do what you are interested in! Even if it means sitting separately from your school friends or alone among boys in class, which at such a young age takes a lot of courage. If you are interested in something, talk to someone about it. Be it friends, parents, teachers, or siblings. There are people who can support you and give you advice and help. And if someone tells you that there is something you cannot do, remember that it is his limits and not yours.
Take part in the nationwide Girls Day or other events at which companies and universities present STEM subjects or professions. You can submit an application for exemption at the school. And above all: try yourself out! Do internships in order to get to know many areas or to be able to exclude them. If something doesn’t work out the way you want it to, at least you can’t blame yourself for not having tried it.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- 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!”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t be afraid – bite your way through!”