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Profile: Carolin Solskär, Community Manager at Detectify Crowdsource

Women in Tech: “Being different from everyone else is a strength”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four 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 Carolin Solskär, Community Manager at Detectify Crowdsource.

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?

Four 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 Carolin Solskär, Community Manager at Detectify Crowdsource.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Carolin Solskär, Community Manager at Detectify Crowdsource

Carolin Solskär is the Community Manager of web security company Detectify’s Crowdsource ethical hacking community. She has a background at Microsoft and as Head of Innovation at Nordic startup factory Nordic Tech House, and she is passionate about making the tech industry more equal. In 2017, Carolin initiated the Swedish #MeToo movement, and in 2019 she was named IT Woman of the Year in Sweden.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

When social media was in its infancy in the early 2000’s, there were some internet communities for teens where you built your own profile page using simple coding. I loved it, but I didn’t realise back then that I had an interest in HTML and CSS.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I’ve always been a curious person who is interested in a lot of different things, so it wasn’t obvious that I would work in tech. Between the age of 14 and 23 I was actually sailing around the world as a sea chef. Somewhere on the Atlantic I had a bit of a life crisis and realised I wanted to go back to school. A friend of mine suggested I look into a career in IT, because, as he said, “it’s the future.” After graduating university with a degree in Computer and Systems Science, I started working at Microsoft. Quite quickly, I realised that big corporations weren’t my thing though. I wanted to be part of building something from scratch, work with a variety of things and use my creativity to solve problems. I took on a more entrepreneurial role as Head of Innovation at a Nordic tech incubator called Nordic Tech House. That’s how I got into the startup scene.

Like many women, I never saw myself as someone working in tech. It took me a while to overcome my own illusions of what working with technology really means and realize that I could contribute just as much as anyone else.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My family has always been very supportive, even though they never really know what I’m up to. My parents aren’t very tech savvy but they are happy as long as I’m happy.

I’ve met a lot of great people during my career who have supported me and helped me grow along the way. I don’t have any specific role models; I get inspired by people I work with. When I see someone work hard and overcome a tough challenge, that really inspires me!

When I see someone work hard and overcome a tough challenge, that really inspires me!

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Probably yes, but not that I really noticed. I try to build my career in a way that doesn’t make me dependent on someone else. If someone would try to stop me from achieving something, I would try another way. There are always different paths to success. If I fail, it’s not because someone stopped me, it’s because I stopped trying.

A day in Carolin’s life

I’m heading web security company Detectify’s Crowdsource community of 350 ethical hackers. We help companies monitor their web systems to identify security vulnerabilities before they risk being exploited by cyber criminals. Our network of freelance ethical hackers report vulnerabilities to us that they find in various web technologies, and we automate them as security tests and run them against our customers’ systems. Ethical hackers use the same methods as cyber criminals but use their knowledge to make the internet safer for everyone.

As Community Manager, my job is to find new ethical hackers across the globe and make sure our existing members stay engaged and report valuable findings to us. Keeping hackers motivated takes more than cash, and I really enjoy the continuous process of learning their driving forces. I spend a lot of my time talking to people in our community and turn those insights into recruitment and engagement initiatives. Since I joined about a year and a half ago, we’ve seen a 40% growth in the number of ethical hackers becoming an active part of our community. I get to use my people skills and meet with interesting hackers from all over the world, while making the internet a safer place – it’s great!

What are you most proud of in your career?

That I’ve always gone my own way and followed my passions. There are so many times in my life where people have told me to not do this or that because it will “ruin my career,” but looking back those choices are many times the reasons that I’ve had a successful career. I’ve done things differently and that has made me stand out.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

I think it’s an issue of representation, role models and culture. There are a lot of women out there who would be interested in a career in tech, they just haven’t been introduced to the opportunity. We learn from a very young age that girls and boys should like different things. This translates into less women taking up tech related degrees and careers. Males forming the overwhelming majority can lead to sexist cultures and women feeling like they don’t belong. It becomes a vicious circle: women are discouraged from pursuing a career in tech, few reach senior management positions, and with few female role models at the top, the image of tech being something only men can do remains.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Like myself, I’m sure many women in the tech industry can recall situations where they weren’t taken seriously or were assumed to have less technical knowledge than a male colleague. Women and men with the same behaviors, skills and backgrounds are perceived differently. Where a man is described as strong or determined, a woman would be called angry or bitchy. This is a big issue that makes it harder for women to take on leadership roles. This is of course a problem not only in tech but in many other industries as well.

The way many tech jobs are presented also reinforces prejudices around who can make a career in tech, and can discourage women from applying. When there is an open position for a typical “male occupation”, I often see the ad using a language that at least I can’t relate to. When a company is looking for a developer, they tend to use wordings such as “ninja” or “superhero.” I’m not saying a woman can’t be a ninja or superhero, but it’s stereotypically male coded language, which at least to me, signals that I as a woman am not the right fit for the role. Recruiters need to think about what words they are using when searching for candidates.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

Considering there is a critical shortage of tech talent today, not least in software development, more women in the tech workforce would have a huge impact on output and productivity. I’m also convinced we would see more innovation and companies being more successful. A diverse workforce provides more perspectives on how to solve problems.

If only white, cis men are building the technology of tomorrow, the future belongs only to them. There are so many examples of when technology has gone wrong because of that. For example, Amazon had an AI recruiting tool trained to assess applications by studying resumes submitted to the company over a span of 10 years. As most of these resumes were submitted by men, the system taught itself to favor male candidates. This meant that the AI downgraded resumes with words such as “women’s” (as in the case with “women’s chess club captain”). Studies have also shown that facial recognition algorithms are “far less accurate” in identifying Black and Asian faces.

I’m hopeful though. There is significant change in how we talk about sexism in the workplace today compared to just a few years ago, for example.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

It’s great that diversity is climbing the agenda and that consumers and prospective employees are putting pressure on companies to step up their game. I’m seeing progress, but unfortunately, it’s not happening fast enough! There is also a tendency of “diversity washing” now that such issues are “trending.” Lots of companies were vocal during the #Metoo movement and #Blacklivesmatter, for example, but in many cases their marketing efforts haven’t translated into real organisational change. We still have a long way to go. I’m hopeful though. There is significant change in how we talk about sexism in the workplace today compared to just a few years ago, for example.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

  • Do your own thing and don’t listen too much to what other people say you should do.
  • Don’t try to be someone else just because you think you have to fit in. Being different from everyone else is a strength.
  • Get a “work brother.” This means a man that has a similar career as you (maybe someone at your workplace with a similar position or someone you studied with that has a similar job as you do). Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you feel you are being treated differently because of your gender, ask your work brother if he has ever been in a similar situation and how he would react. This also works if you are underrepresented due to other reasons such as ethnicity or sexual preferences.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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