Women in Tech: “Always say something when you notice something wrong”
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 Julia Wiencirz, Manager of the Solution Engineering Team at Applause.
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 Julia Wiencirz, Manager of the Solution Engineering Team at Applause.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Julia Wiencirz, Manager of the Solution Engineering Team at Applause
For Julia, the implementation of excellent customer experience is the most important feature of an outstanding digital product. The customer and their needs should be the focus of attention at all times. To make this possible, Julia has been working as a Solution Engineering and Industry Specialist for 10 years. Her job as Manager of the Solution Engineering Team at Applause is to set up the right testing solution for each customer, ensuring that the respective software ultimately works perfectly everywhere, for each end-user.
When did you become interested in technology?
I’m a real late bloomer. When I grew up, there were no cell phones and no Internet. Of course, I played on the computer sometimes – but I can’t say that I had an enhanced interest in technology. During my studies I learned some computer science – but at that time it was all so theoretical that I wasn’t really enthusiastic about it yet. In fact, my interest only developed during my professional life, when I got a real insight into the industry and realized for the first time what a huge influence technology has today and how it determines all our lives.
How did you end up in your career path?
I have never been someone who makes plans long in advance and then follows them staunchly. I tend to regularly question whether I really want to do what I am doing at the moment. That’s why I do not have a very straightforward resume.
I started in marketing, but quickly realized that I was out of place there. Next I worked as a personnel consultant. Here I had contact with the “IT scene” for the first time because I only placed people who worked in IT. That was a coincidence, but I really liked it.
I had the feeling that I was on the same wavelength as my clients. We had honest conversations, down to earth, and to the point. No whitewashers, no egos, little drama. Unfortunately, at that time the banking crisis had the economy firmly in its grip, short-time work was in force everywhere and you can imagine that our service was not exactly the most sought-after. It was a hard time, colleagues were regularly laid off and nobody knew whether they would still have a job the next month. Luckily for me, even back then IT staff were urgently sought.
When it comes to technical innovations, I ask myself less: How does it work exactly? But always: What effects does it have? What changes does it bring? Does the solution really serve the customer?
Nevertheless, I decided to work for a few years as a solution consultant in presales – relatively far away from IT. But everything changed when I joined Salesforce as a solution engineer. It was really a fantastic time during which I was completely immersed in the IT world. It was especially exciting for me because, unlike many of my colleagues, I had little tech background, but I was able to learn a lot more. I absorbed everything like a sponge. I am still grateful to my boss at the time for valuing my potential more highly than my experience in IT – because it really was zero. The first months were exhausting, but I had the feeling that I was able to close the gaps in my knowledge in no time.
Solutions like Salesforce are also less about the “bits and bytes” than about process management, the challenges of digital transformations, and the central question: How can technology be optimized and used to improve business processes and corporate success? And that’s a question that still occupies me today. I am interested in the changes that technology can bring. When it comes to technical innovations, I ask myself less: How does it work exactly? But always: What effects does it have? What changes does it bring? Does the solution really serve the customer?
From that moment on, I was filled with enthusiasm and I wanted more. I then moved internally and, as an industry expert in mechanical engineering at Salesforce, built up business development in Europe. That was an exciting task, especially because I started in a newly created department and there was a lot of new ground. But it was also the first time I moved away from the question: How can I develop the best solutions for customers? – my actual drive as a solution consultant.
So I took a year off and in the meantime I built up the Female Founder Academy with two other founders: an organization that helps women become self-employed. We all had different backgrounds: An experienced founder, a marketing expert, and myself from sales and the IT sector. It was an exciting time that I would not want to miss. But even here, I moved further away from the core interest of my career: IT. So I quickly realized that I wanted to get back into the IT world and into the field of solution engineering. That’s how I got my current job as Manager of the Solution Engineering Team at Applause.
Do you have a role model?
I was lucky to always work with great superiors who always supported me. I was never denied a path. However, in my opinion, I have never received any special support that others in the same team might not have received.
I don’t have one role model either, but I always look for certain qualities in people I admire and ask myself in certain situations how they would react. For example, when I find myself in a particularly stressful situation, I think of a person who is particularly difficult to lose control. When something becomes very complex, I think about how my colleague, who can always present very complicated constructs in a very simple way, would approach the situation. This always allows me to see things from new perspectives and quickly gives me the opportunity to see things from many different angles.
Did you ever face any obstacles?
I have been reminded again and again that as a woman in a man’s world, you always have to prove yourself differently. When I am with colleagues at a client’s premises, I often have the feeling that men are first granted their appropriate position and ability to fill it well. With me it was the other way around. Usually, nobody expected that I, of all people, was the one who knew the product and the IT behind it best.
How could I tell? It starts with the fact that you hardly get any attention when you are welcomed. Sometimes I didn’t even get a handshake. The small talk then took place directly among the men. And only when the meeting started and I as a solution consultant took over the whole demo and answered all the questions, did the participants suddenly realize that this woman was probably relevant after all. It is sometimes quite exciting to observe how behaviour changes and how you are suddenly included in the conversation during the break.
But the bottom line is that from that moment on I always had the feeling that I was taken seriously. It is this first hurdle in particular that women have to overcome. This hurdle of invisibility or the lack of advance praise, which men tend to get automatically and women usually have to work harder.
A day in Julia’s life
I currently work at Applause as the head of the Solution Engineering Team. As a market leader in crowdtesting solutions, we help companies test their software solutions in the real world under real conditions. Whether it’s functional testing, UX studies, accessibility audits, security tests, or test automation – our crowd enables our customers to benefit from real experts with worldwide test coverage and short test times.
The nice thing about this job is that, although I am a manager, I still have direct contact with customers and can continue to advise them. My day usually begins with a 30-minute stand-up with the team. I think this is the perfect start to the day because it gives you the opportunity to briefly discuss current topics together, share newly acquired knowledge in a timely manner, and discuss acute issues. As an SE, I usually work with all other colleagues in the company, not just with my own team, although it is precisely here that an exchange is so important. We close this gap with the daily stand-up.
Afterwards there are usually some customer appointments, partly on site, currently of course only remotely from the home office. Our task is to understand test scenarios and IT setups at the customer’s site, identify potential for improvement, advise potential customers on how best to implement our services in the SDLC, and develop solution proposals including pricing. In addition, we drive internal projects forward, for example if there is a new go-to-market offer for a new service.
As a manager, I work with the sales directors and the head of our delivery department to make the existing internal setup better and better and to optimize processes.
Most of the time, this setup means that my day is pretty busy with many different phone calls with customers and internal conversations with colleagues from sales, delivery services, and contacts from our headquarters in the US.
Why aren’t there more women in the tech industry?
I believe that women do not have to overcome so many hurdles at the moment if they want to start in IT. On the contrary, many companies are increasingly looking for women because they know that a diverse team simply performs better than a homogeneous team. The greater challenge lies in the application processes. The selection processes are usually very masculine, and without knowing it explicitly, many people like to choose candidates who are similar to them, and trust men more than women. But as I said, I believe that this hurdle is not so high at the moment.
Then it becomes interesting: Because then comes the question of whether women are considered to have the same potential for management positions as men and whether they are measured by the same yardstick. Women in management positions are often reduced to their gender. I have often heard people say: “I just can’t get along with a woman as my boss.” But they’ve never had more than two female bosses in their lives. Nobody gets the idea to say: “I just can’t get along with a man as boss”, although everyone has certainly had a bad boss at one time or another. Then there is of course the issue of reconciling family and career, where men should simply be given more responsibility – and women should do the same.
The more difficult question is certainly why so few women work in IT. I believe that there are very different challenges here. Let’s start with my example from earlier. The fact that I’m not immediately recognized as the technical lead in a room full of men usually has little to do with the fact that people generally don’t trust women to do this job. Rather, we are simply used to seeing men in such roles. No matter what medium, men occupy certain positions and only in exceptional cases are women shown. If I see mainly only men in a managerial magazine, then when I meet two unknown people I assume that the man is the manager and not the woman. When I, as a woman, think about my career aspirations, I am already very influenced by my perception and decide based on which position I think I am capable of and want based on this. That’s why it’s so important to see more female role models, and not only in the category “Attention: today we have a woman on the cover for once”.
The second point is that there is far too little education about what it really means to work in IT. There are so many exciting jobs that no one has ever heard of during his or her school days and that are not necessarily directly related to learning programming languages. When the word IT is mentioned, many people think of the IT nerd who never gets away from his computer. This is also one of those clichés that we have been inoculated with and which is not at all true. They are actually looking for people who are the exact opposite of the lonely nerd who sits alone in the basement and has no friends. It’s all about being able to think logically, question things, understand connections, creatively develop new solutions out of building blocks, and communicate the whole thing well. So girls often don’t even know what would be possible and therefore don’t even think that this would be an exciting and suitable area.
To sum it up: above all, we have the problems of prejudice: Prejudices about women and prejudices about IT. And unfortunately, the two are not a good combination.
Which stereotypes have you already encountered with regard to “Women in Tech” and what problems do they cause?
What always bothers me is the nerdiness that others associate with it. It’s like being an outsider when you work in IT. I’ve heard sayings like: “You work in IT? It doesn’t show at all”. But they usually come from people who really have no idea what they’re doing. I’ve also heard that I should give a particular lecture to a colleague because only men will be in the audience. For a moment I thought I had misheard. That was another example where my counterpart didn’t have a bad ulterior motive but simply spoke from the gut. When I then made it clear to him that he had just denied me the right to go on stage because of my sex, so that the men would be among themselves, he himself was completely shocked about his way of thinking.
Again, this a good example of the fact that many problems arise because people do not think about the influence their actions have on others. So I can only advise all women: Always say something when you notice something wrong.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Technology today drives innovation extremely fast and it is not only desirable, but also essential that these innovations are not only driven by men. Otherwise, we will miss out on developing important innovations for the other 50 percent of society and taking their perspective into account. All areas are influenced by IT today: whether it is health, education, work, or leisure. We women should be at the forefront when it comes to deciding which areas of research to expand, how technology is to be used, or even what restrictions there must be.
The tech industry itself is insanely exciting and it’s more and more about the future and the question: What’s next? How can you change and improve the status quo?
What does the future look like – will the diversity debate soon be history?
I very much hope that all these questions will soon seem antiquated and ridiculous. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. It starts with the fact that we are already teaching children very different gender roles. There are so many toys that are clearly only made for boys or girls. I think this is total nonsense and bad for everyone involved. Do boys always have to be interested only in technology and sports and girls only in horses and princesses? Can boys only wear blue and girls only pink? I have the feeling that every child today is very quickly made aware of their gender and the expectations associated with it. Whether this will help us in the long term, I doubt very much.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
My only advice is, just do it. Try it yourself and don’t be afraid of anything. The tech industry itself is insanely exciting and it’s more and more about the future and the question: What’s next? How can you change and improve the status quo? It’s extremely fun and really interesting. I think it is a good time for women to enter the tech industry. Because, as I said, many companies are happy to have female applicants. If you feel that you are not being taken seriously, open your mouth and stand up for yourself. If nothing changes then, other employers will have nice jobs just waiting for you.
More Women in Tech:
- 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”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”