Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”
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 Masha Sharma, Co-Founder & CTO at RealAtom.
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 Masha Sharma, Co-Founder & CTO at RealAtom.
Today’s woman in tech: Masha Sharma, Co-Founder & CTO at RealAtom
Masha Sharma is a co-founder and CTO at RealAtom – a platform for commercial real estate loans. The company was founded in 2016 with the goal of combining the best user experience and product development to bring an offline commercial real estate lending process online and completely reimagine the process end to end.
Prior to her work at RealAtom she cofounded InteractiveShares, an online hard money lender where she led product and development; as well as another startup and a consulting agency. In her career, Masha has directed engineering at Millennial Media and held senior positions at SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio, M23, and several other technology-oriented organizations in the DC-area. Masha holds a GSA CIO University Certificate and an Executive Masters of Science in Information Systems from George Washington University.
What first got you interested in tech?
My first internship required me to sort through survey results and pull reports using the SPSS database and that started my love affair with data. That company was exploring moving the data into an Access database from SPSS. I volunteered for the task, learned Access on my own, learned how to do the data migration. I see data as a puzzle that I have to untangle. I have the curiosity to ask questions and find solutions to shed light on problems and find insights hidden in those puzzles. Its a quest. I think it goes back to my childhood wish: every birthday I wished for one thing only – “I want to know everything”.
How did you end up in your career path?
I come from a family where 4 generations of women were college-educated, with MS degrees, held patents, and even scientific discoveries. My own mother was a brilliant PL/SQL engineer with roles at IBM and Price Waterhouse Coopers. She inspired me to seek a technical career while I was still working on my non-technical undergraduate degree.
I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver.
My second internship was at the technology company M23 where I met my first mentor Scott Mendenhall, who was a very sharp technologist. He enabled my thirst for knowledge by teaching me how to write code in order to retrieve, manipulate and visualize data. He was a beast of a visionary. I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver. And that set me up for a successful career as the first intrapreneur and now an entrepreneur.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
Verbal support – yes. As far as role models – I do not idealize people. But I was very much inspired by Sharon Sandberg’s “Lean In” book. It got me asking myself new questions and explained why I hit certain roadblocks in my career.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
We have to be more vocal in order to prove our point of view.
Not necessarily stop me but not give me a chance. At one of my previous companies, there was an opportunity to jump into a product role. The head of the product at the time heard my pitch regarding how I could be a great product manager and told me that I did not have the experience to define the product vision, roadmap, user stories, and etc. I was very passionate about that opportunity. And when I heard his point of view, rather than stopping I started building my own startup on the side.
A day in Masha’s life
I am a technical founder at RealAtom. I wear many different hats: I run our product and technology roadmap and team, run our security program, run operations, and marketing, do both hands-on sales and run the sales process, as well as assist my cofounder in fundraising and hiring. My typical day is never typical: on Mondays, I could be running our sales pipeline meeting, making sales calls and following up on leads. On Tuesday I am engulfed in our product roadmap, defining strategy, wireframing new features. In the evenings you may find me at the Busboys and Poets with a glass of Processo writing an article, a blog or a user guide.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I have written a few very cool search algorithms at my previous jobs. I am also incredibly proud of what our team, RealAtom, has created. We are faced with daily challenges and we overcome it one by one while building something the industry desperately needs.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Barriers to entry start early. As young girls, we are pushed more into non-STEM fields. As adults, we get pushed out of demanding careers by our family obligations, unequal treatment at the office, unrealistic expectations, discrimination, sexual harassment, combative behavior, just to name a few factors.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
Trust and credibility. Given that 90% of the time we are talking to male counterparts we have to work a lot harder to “earn” the right of being heard; we have to be more vocal in order to prove our point of view. Being an introvert that last one was particularly hard for me – but knowing when I had a valuable contribution made it important to make sure I was being heard.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Having more women on teams programming AI can reduce gender bias.
Absolutely. Take AI bias for instance. Having more women on teams programming AI can reduce the gender bias that is inherent when women are excluded. And increasing the number of women in STEM careers will put more brains on solving the problems our world faces today. This can lead to more solutions which in turn will have a huge economic impact on the world. Socially, the more women join STEM the more will follow, and culturally accepting women as equals will eradicate the bias, mistrust and instead will foster harmony and growth within the STEM community.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I will use just a few statistics to answer this question: in 2019 less than 2% of funding went to female-led companies AND it will take 100 years for women to earn the same wages men earn. To answer this question how long – I hope less than 100 years; however, I fear it will be at least 50 years before we get there in the USA.
What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?
It’s not all smooth-sailing, there are a lot of challenges, but don’t get discouraged. Do not let anything or anyone stand in your way. Avoid the detractors and follow the promoters; join communities of men and women. It is important to join the communities of men, work on the same projects, learn from each other, improve your skills. The trust will come, the progress will come, the change will follow.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t be afraid – bite your way through!”
- Women in Tech: “Women empowering other women is a spectacular thing”
- Women in Tech: “Unconscious bias is a real, continuous problem.”
- Women in Tech: “If no one gives you the right possibility to grow, you must create it alone.”