Profile: Stefanie Pichler, Product Manager for Machine Learning & Advanced Data Analytics at A1 Digital

Women in Tech: “Women have to prove themselves before they are taken seriously”

Dominik Mohilo

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two 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 Pichler, Product Manager for Machine Learning & Advanced Data Analytics at A1 Digital.

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?

Two 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 Pichler, Product Manager for Machine Learning & Advanced Data Analytics at A1 Digital.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Stefanie Pichler

Stefanie Pichler

Stefanie Pichler

Stefanie Pichler is a Product Manager for Machine Learning, and Advanced Data Analytics at A1 Digital.

What got you interested in technology?

My mother studied technical physics, my father studied mathematics and physics to be a teacher , and later he founded his own software company. The interest in technology and natural sciences was therefore encouraged from an early age, and has been there as long as I can remember.

In addition to various part-time jobs during my studies, I started working as a software tester, and trainer for my father’s company while I was still in school. For my later career, my voluntary engagement in the board of IAESTE Austria was very important, besides my studies of technical mathematics. IAESTE is a global association, which arranges international internships in the technical field for STEM students.

After university, I started working in strategic purchasing for network technology at A1, in a team of mainly electrical engineers. After a project, I came to my current position as a Solution Manager for Machine Learning and Advanced Data Analytics at A1 Digital.

Programming was also an integral part of the studies. For example, one project during my stay abroad in India dealt with the latest developments in cryptography (encryption of information for secure exchange). In concrete terms, it was about solving the key distribution problem in large networks. At that time I built a simulator, which simulates attacks on information flows, and implements, and evaluates algorithms to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing this information.

A day in Stefanie’s life

I am currently in the Solution Management of A1 Digital, and I am responsible for Machine Learning and Advanced Data Analytics. It’s hard to describe a typical day in my job because it’s so diverse. On the one hand, it is about shaping the portfolio, and the strategy in this category. This means to define goals, and the direction of these topics, in which the company is to develop, and how the concrete implementation of these goals can be achieved. Therefore, I focus a lot on current solutions on the market, the selection of the right partners, and how we can position our solutions in the market. A large part is also the control of the technical implementation of different solutions as an interface for the technical departments. On the other hand, I work closely with our Data Scientists team to develop the optimal solutions for our customers, and to establish a corresponding support chain.

Young women in particular often have to prove themselves before they are taken seriously.

What is also not to be forgotten, are the many training activities of our sales teams, and an ongoing coordination with marketing. From the creation of a business case, to the design of the website, and to the discussion about the use of various machine learning tools and algorithms in customer projects, almost everything can take place on a normal day.

Do you have any role models? Are there supporters?

My mother certainly played a decisive role in my professional orientation. She had to prove to everyone in the family, and at university, that women can also study something technical, and work in this environment – in the 70s and 80s this was absolutely not a self-evident thing.

However, this question no longer arose for me. Through my mother it was clear that women can do that, and I was always supported in my decisions. There are however still some women in my circle of friends who have to fight for everything on their own – from being allowed to graduate from high school, to graduating from university without any moral or financial support from their parents. I find this ambition, and willpower very impressive.

What are some challenges or obstacles that women in tech face?

No obstacles were put in my way during my education, rather the opposite was the case. I grew up in the countryside, which means that everyone knew that I came from a “technician” household. Interestingly enough, this led to everyone assuming from the outset that I was good in the STEM subjects. The decision to study technical mathematics was also very well received or taken for granted by my environment.

I wouldn’t say that I had to overcome obstacles in my career in the private sector, but of course gender was, and still is an issue. For example, I was often the only woman in negotiation rounds, and played a leading role. There were many situations in which it was obvious that my counterpart did not know exactly how to deal with me, especially at the beginning. For example, which jokes (especially which bar to set) or small talk topics are appropriate – because football, cars or technical achievements are not exactly topics that young women might be interested in.

Particularly when technical issues were negotiated, there was often an attempt to solve this “among men”. Young women in particular often have to prove themselves before they are taken seriously. Therefore, it was often necessary to make the rules clear, and to point out competences, and responsibilities – this has actually always helped very well. And I would certainly have been able to get more out of certain situations more frequently, if I had only been more active, and courageous.

A typical cliché is that women are not so well suited for certain tasks.

I have, however, encountered some problems. For example, I often notice it during job interviews for tech positions how little women dare to do in contrast to men. While women with very good education, and previous knowledge, sometimes even with a doctorate, apply for internships to make sure that they really know everything that is later necessary for a full-time position, men with similar qualifications apply immediately for full-time positions or senior positions. However, both groups need similar support for the on-boarding in the job, and often the tasks are not so different.

Unfortunately, there are many clichés and stereotypes as well and I have met them many times before. The main culprit is that women are generally not so well suited for certain tasks or have to prove themselves before they are taken seriously. Very often these basic assumptions are also made or associated on the basis of appearance, which of course makes a factual assessment and discussion very difficult or even impossible.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

The biggest problem, I think, is the lack of visibility of women within the technical field, and, therefore, the lack of female role models. Seeing almost exclusively men in this area makes women less confident about themselves, and encourages women, and men to believe that men are simply better suited for it. I have given a lot of tutoring in all age groups during school, and university. STEM subjects, especially mathematics, are often quite feared. However, what was particularly striking was that girls at the primary school age were much more pitied that they had to learn mathematics than boys. In addition, girls are much more assured that it’s not bad to be bad at mathematics – that’s the way everyone goes. Boys are more likely to be taught “Come on, don’t be so lazy, if you put in a little effort, you can do it”. So many children are suggested from an early age that a talent for STEM subjects is more or less innate, depending on gender.

Of course, this continues throughout the entire educational process. The biggest hurdle, in my opinion, of arousing or maintaining girls’ interest in technical topics, is the combination of these acquired prejudices, and the great lack of female role models.

What does the future hold?

It is difficult to assess what would be the consequences and, above all, the benefits of a higher proportion of women in technical occupations. Innovations need creative minds. The more different people are involved, the better, and more diverse the results will be. All areas in which innovations are made could therefore benefit.

More women in technical professions also means that women would play a different role as consumers of technical products, which could, in turn, increase the focus on other issues such as sustainability. From my experience, many technicians find it difficult to talk about psychological problems, and illnesses — in the workplace, as well as in technical schools, and universities. More women in these areas would probably contribute to a more open approach to such problems.

Having networks can never hurt

I do not believe that the issue of diversity will be so soon off the table. There is still a lot to be done, and such change takes generations. For example, we would have to start to put much more emphasis on the kindergarten age, and in raising the awareness of parents to educate their children, regardless of gender, with regard to their interest in technology. Some time will pass, before enough women work long enough in technical fields so that this is quite normal for everyone.

Tips & Tricks

Having networks can never hurt. Currently, there is a lot of support, and information events for women, who want to get into the tech industry. Some universities also have support programs for women, in which you can make important contacts, and exchange ideas. There are also regular meetings on various topics, in which concrete projects, and methods are often presented.

Remember the following for applications: If a position sounds interesting, then simply try it, even if only 30% of the mandatory requirements are fulfilled. Often it turns out, during the interview, that only a small part of these requirements actually have to be mastered in advance. However you will never experience this without application. Have the courage, many males would also do it…

Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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