Women in Tech: “It is essential that more women get a foothold in the tech industry”
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 Daniela Valero, Senior Engineer Experience Technology at Publicis Sapient.
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 Daniela Valero, Senior Engineer Experience Technology at Publicis Sapient.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Daniela Valero, Senior Engineer Experience Technology at Publicis Sapient
Daniela Valero is Senior Engineer Experience Technology at Publicis Sapient, the digital business transformation consultancy within the Publicis Groupe. The Venezuelan-born front-end specialist has previously worked for various companies such as start-ups and media. She is actively involved in the tech community, acts as a speaker, and drives diversity initiatives.
When did you become interested in technology?
When I was about 15 or 16 years old, we had the subject programming in school and learned to write basic algorithms in Turbo Pascal. From the beginning, I was totally enthusiastic about it and loved the subject so much that I wanted to do my friends’ homework as well so I could spend more time at the computer, since we didn’t have one at home.
Later, when I finally decided to study, I was torn between phycology, the study of algae, and computer science. However, I soon realized that I didn’t want to live without programming – so in the end, the choice was easier than I thought. At university, I was involved in a GNU/Linux user group and came into contact with the command line and other “nerdy” applications.
How did you end up in your career path?
My career began as a Java developer in a very conservative and traditional software company. The company had rules that made no sense to me. For example, all employees were required to wear suits every day – even the developers, although they were all crammed into a large, windowless room and had no customer contact.
Afterward, I worked as a PHP developer for the Venezuelan government. The work culture there was strongly influenced by politics: Who was the bigger Chavez fan? Who has more “friends” in positions of power? Since I am a staunch opponent of the regime, I changed sides.
My next stage in my career was as webmaster for the largest oppositional online newspaper in Venezuela – La Patilla. The website was based on WordPress and I was responsible for all aspects of the technology and the platform – from the helpdesk to the implementation and maintenance of functions to the coordination of the server strategy and scaling. We often had to fend off government DoS attacks because the country was in the middle of a media war.
This was the point when I decided to go abroad. I ended up in a small startup in Bonn, which had developed an app for document management. There I developed and maintained the new website and designed an online dashboard for the app’s users to configure their settings more efficiently. Everything was based on ClojureScript. Since I had never worked with it before, I enlisted help from the backend team to understand the technology. I learned a lot and enjoyed the multicultural environment.
From the beginning, I was totally enthusiastic about it and loved the subject so much that I wanted to do my friends’ homework as well so I could spend more time at the computer, since we didn’t have one at home.
In 2014, I finally joined Publicis Sapient, a consulting firm for digital business transformation, where I am still working as a technical director in the front-end area. I really enjoy my work – not only because of the great team and the exciting technology projects for international clients.
Do you have any role models?
At Publicis Sapient, three women are my greatest role models: Suse Menne, Alison Walden, and Ute Zankl. As Country & Operations Lead, Suse manages the business in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. She is a down-to-earth and cooperative leader who is really good at what she does. Suse has supported me since I joined Publicis Sapient and continues to support me today.
Alison is Director of Experience Technology in our Canadian office in Toronto. She is friendly, humble, a wonderful speaker, and a recognized expert in web accessibility. Despite her position as Director on the other side of the world, she always likes to take time out when I ask her for advice. Simply a wonderful woman.
Ute leads the People Strategy department. She is actively committed to diversity, is always there for me during difficult moments, and stands by my side.
In the tech community, I admire Rachel Andrew and Marc Thiele. I admire Rachel for achieving so much in her career. She is a renowned CSS expert, member of w3c, and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. Marc is the founder of the Beyond Tellerand conference, an event where technology and creativity meet. The environment he creates is inviting and has an extremely high standard of quality. Marc is always humble, supportive, and a great advocate of diversity.
Have obstacles ever been deliberately put in the way of your career?
During my first job, I was strongly discriminated against and harassed. I was told things like: “You look prettier with your mouth closed” or “Just do what I say if you want to live an easier life here”. The working environment was characterised by psychological aggression. One day, a colleague’s wife followed me on the bus after work. When I got off and she noticed, she threatened to kill me. The first two years of my career were really very hard.
After this time I was fortunate to work in environments where diversity is valued and where I could feel secure. But what I am always confronted with, however, is unconscious bias. I have worked with male colleagues whose communication was disrespectful to me. On other occasions, I was not considered capable of taking on leadership roles due to subconscious prejudices. It was precisely these unconscious biases that caused my career to stagnate at times.
A day in Daniela’s life
I currently work as a Senior Experience Technology Engineer at Publicis Sapient. In this position, I was responsible for a project for DHL last year as front-end lead – i.e. the front-end delivery of our team and, in close cooperation with the product owner, the further roadmap.
My working day begins with the usual “Daily”. The meeting is actually the only predictable thing because every day is different. Sometimes I take care more of administrative tasks like planning, maintaining, and preparing “stories”. Other days I concentrate more on optimizing our working methods and the exchange between stakeholders and team members. Or I work directly with the technology, writing code, updating pull requests, or further developing our technical vision.
A few years ago we developed a digital UI library with components for Bosch. The quality standards were the highest we had implemented at Publicis Sapient up to that point. The team I was privileged to lead consisted of highly talented senior developers. It was a tough year, but we exceeded the customer’s expectations and gained their trust. What we had developed was eventually rolled out on various Bosch websites around the world.
I also have another responsibility: managing the diversity team in our Cologne office. This team drives initiatives for more diversity and inclusion. Fortunately, we have added many dedicated members over the past year and are there for anyone who needs our help.
Why are there so few women in the tech industry? What hurdles do women still have to overcome today?
In my opinion, we women have many natural strengths, but also some qualities that stand in our way: We tend to judge ourselves too harshly, are self-critical, and easily become insecure about our abilities.
Our industry is patriarchally organized and oriented towards men. The negative qualities of being a woman still too often stand in our way. In addition, men often unjustifiably accuse us of being too emotional and of overreacting to trivialities. In addition, men’s more pronounced competitive thinking leads to the fact that we women are often – consciously or unconsciously – belittled so that they themselves are better off.
Find something you like to do and learn to master it. Keep up to date with the latest technology, find mentors, contribute to open source, create CodePens and proof of concepts, and work on your technological skills.
In many cases, one has the feeling that we have to act more like a man in order to be successful ourselves. This is an uncomfortable compromise that few women are willing to make. Others prefer to stay out of it initially or leave the field quickly.
What stereotypes have you encountered with regard to “Women in Tech” and what problems arise from them?
When women move up the career ladder in management positions, people tend to see them as competent. But they don’t like them because they are seen as “iron ladies”. If we act cautiously and cooperatively, people tend to like us, but do not see us as technically competent. It’s a dilemma.
So we can be considered competent and not liked, or incompetent but popular. Finding the balance between these two poles is a challenge we have to face throughout our careers.
The problem is that we find ourselves in a state of constant struggle – which is not bearable in the long run. Many women, therefore, tend not to aspire to management positions in technical professions, because once you get there, the struggle becomes even worse.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Many studies show that mixed teams combining both female and male attributes perform better. This has a positive effect on cooperation, well-being, emotional intelligence, and psychological security.
In my opinion, the old model of the male software industry is becoming less important every day. While this concept is one of the reasons why the industry is where it is today, male dominance must be broken for future success.
In order to drive change for the better and to change the way we work in a positive way, it is essential that more women get a foothold in the tech industry.
What does the future look like – will the diversity debate soon be history?
I believe that this debate will continue for many years to come with varying degrees of intensity. At present, the social sciences show how important diversity and gender parity are for teams. Not only are better results achieved, but innovations are also positively influenced.
Companies are finally beginning to take diversity seriously and make it a priority. However, societies learn and change very slowly. It will probably be many years before the fight for more diversity is over.
It used to be even more difficult for minorities to hold their own. They had to be strong and have the courage to rebel. My generation does the same now. Today, fortunately, there are more men who are committed to diversity.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Find something you like to do and learn to master it. Keep up to date with the latest technology, find mentors, contribute to open source, create CodePens and proof of concepts, and work on your technological skills. Being able to show toughness when it’s needed is also a great advantage. It is also important to be open and continuously educate yourself, improve your communication and listening skills, and make good use of emotional intelligence.
If you are able to attend regular meetings in the Women in Tech community, connect with like-minded people and build a network, you are on the right track. You should also be careful to control your emotions, be respectful and friendly, and give open feedback to others when you are harassed or bullied. If it’s not worth it, move on. Be true to the motto: “If you are going through hell, don’t stop, but move on. This is not a good place to stop.”
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy”
- 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”