STEMinist Profile: Martina Simicic, Software engineer

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Martina Simicic

Software engineer

Inspire



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always good at math but when choosing college I decided to go for Business Informatics. I finished it and still wanted to be a project manager. While writing my masters thesis on agile project management I got an internship as a Scrum coach.

Since I was extremely bored, after a week I joined a team of developers that was trying out a new thing called Ruby on Rails. I never went back to project management. From that time on I was learning as much as I could, every single day! I am now teaching others and I am loving it!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There were a few but if I have to name it, http://schoooools.com/ (it has been a while since anyone has worked on it). It was a social network for teachers, parents and students to connect, create content, share and learn from each other. It had some really nice features!

And the current project: https://www.kanker.nl/. It’s a place where people with cancer can find information, connect with each other, share stories and experiences.

Role models and heroes:
I have to be honest, I am not very good at those. It would be maybe someone from the field that I worked with and that I admire a lot but those are all small-big people.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I think working on something that people need and use can be very rewarding!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Are you doubting?

Favorite website or app:
http://stackoverflow.com/
http://www.quora.com/

Twitter: @pazinjanka

Site: martinasimicic.com

The CataLyst: To freeze or not to freeze?

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic since long before the news broke that Apple and Facebook are offering to pay for their female employees to have their eggs frozen. After all, the issue of maintaining a good work / life balance is one of the larger ones when it comes to women in STEM. And the ever leaking pipeline, certainly gets extra leaky around the time when women hit 30+. It’s been heavily debated what these companies’ “true” intentions really are, and many articles have been written both in favor and against.

Before I go onto my little rant about this I would like to point out that I respect any woman’s choice concerning what to do with her own body, and there isn’t a right or wrong choice that fits every person.

I have recently accepted a job offer which will (hopefully) advance my career. This opportunity though, means moving countries, and asking my fiancé to leave his current job and find a new one in order to come with me. I’ve done this now because I feel I need to get as far ahead in my career as possible before starting a family, so that when I eventually do want to get back to work, I’ll be in the best possible situation to do so. If only life was that simple… For me, whether you’re positive or negative toward the idea of this new ‘job perk’, Apple and Facebook’s plan has highlighted just how different the world is for men and women, no matter how much we try and pretend it isn’t.

I’m not going to take this to any extremes here (and those examples always exist) and I don’t see the evil Big Brother plot to control women’s lives which some have hinted at. I don’t think that the perk on face value is a bad thing. Giving benefits that include paying for infertility treatments or adoption costs is a way to show that families are important and as far as I’m concerned, the more options the better. BUT… the underlying message that this perk sends out is that motherhood is viewed as a liability.

The age at which most men and women start progressing their careers happens to be the same age most women begin to have children, and in a majority of cases, childcare responsibilities mainly falls on the mother. The consequence of this is that many mid-career women who want to get ahead (such as myself) are faced with the choice to either advance in their careers, or start a family. Facebook and Apple claim to be addressing this issue with their new offer, saying that it’s enabling women to delay pregnancy, while focusing on their career goals at the same time as their male counterparts. But I see this as a problem rather than a solution.

It seems a bit of a slippery slope, offering to pay women to freeze their eggs for career purposes. Firstly, I think it tells women that the only way they can succeed in the career is by not having a family. Secondly, I think it might scare women into believing that if they do choose to start a family in their early 30’s, they will have very little opportunity to re-enter, let alone move up in their careers. I would even go as far as saying that this perk is in fact perpetuating gender inequality and only contributing to the problem.

The fact that starting a family is a liability to a woman’s career but not a man’s is what the problem here is. Women should have an equal shot at success regardless of how they spend their personal lives. Companies need to allow flexible working environments, better maternity and paternity leave (after all, a problem shared is a problem halved right?) and childcare benefits. If we allow working moms and dads(!) to integrate their family and work lives, and sharing the load, women will have a much greater chance to succeed.

The money that is supposed to be spent on freezing eggs ($20,000 per woman) could pay for full-time childcare for up to a year (even in London!). Or companies could use the money and to build nurseries in their offices and staff them with day-care workers. The message that a company sends a woman when egg freezing is a benefit, and the fact they don’t see that message, is an example of how far we still have to go.

Will the Women in Tech Please Stand Up?

Unless you’ve been living under an internet-less rock for the last few months, you’ve probably noticed the huge increase in attention that the tech gender gap has gotten recently. The latest conclusion that the online community has reached is that women just don’t want to work in tech.

That statement seems a bit misleading. Saying that women don’t want to work in tech implies that there is something inherent in the technology itself that women just don’t like. There isn’t. We’re finally seeing more women choosing to enroll in STEM programs, so the interest is there. The myth that women aren’t as good at math and science as men are has long been debunked. So what exactly is keeping the ratio in technology so highly in men’s favor?

It’s true, there is the ever-present “boys’ club” mentality, and it hasn’t gone away. The “brogrammer” culture is unfortunately as strong as ever, meaning any woman who wants to try to balance a career with family life (or any sort of life outside of work and work parties) automatically has a lot on her plate. Add to that the fact that companies like Facebook and Apple seem to think that paying for a woman to freeze her eggs is more helpful for the female population than arranging for maternity leave and childcare, and you’ve got a doozy to deal with.

These are definitely problems, and ones that need to be solved. However, the best way to do that is to show these companies that women are active players in the technology arena and are here to stay. That brings us to the next problem facing ladies who are trying to get started in the industry: Where are the women who have already made it?

Where are the ladies who have hunkered down and shown the brogrammers that we can play ball? Who out there has found a tech job that allows them to have the work-life balance they need? How have women already in tech negotiated for higher salaries and better benefits?

These women exist, so where are they?

Jane Porter, from FastCompany, looked at why women seem to be leaving STEM jobs in droves and unsurprisingly honed in on a sense of isolation, biased evaluations, a lack of sponsors, and a lack of women mentors as some of the top reasons. All of these can be easily solved if the women who are already anchored in the world of technology look out for those just getting started.

For women to finally close the gender gap, we need not just sponsors and mentors, but true role models. So will the women in tech please stand up?

Are you a woman already making waves in STEM? We want to feature YOU on the STEMinist site! Stand up and help inspire future female leaders in STEM by sending us your information HERE. Keep up the amazing work!

The CataLyst: Are We Better Together?

About a month ago Scotland decided to remain part of the UK, and the “Better Together” campaign celebrated that a 300 year old union was not split up. I’m not going to get into politics here or my opinions about the Scottish referendum, as this is not the place for it. Instead, I want to talk about the concept of “Better Together”, the campaigns, how it’s left two groups of people very divided, and what we can learn from all this.

In any given group of people – be it family, work, school or randomly selected in public – you’re going to get different opinions about anything. So in a workplace that’s diverse and has representatives from all different backgrounds you could assume that people would think differently. This is natural as we have different life experiences that have shaped who we are. In the case of Scotland (a bit of an extreme to make my point, I’ll admit), we have two distinct groups with opposing opinions about their future. So, even though the “Better Together” campaign won, Scotland is now a nation where nearly half the population (45%) would rather have left. I question how good that is for unity.

Now let’s translate that into a work environment, a research group at university or a school class. How good is it to have such opposing opinions working together (by force or by choice)? I think it creates a very distinct “us and them” mind set. And this is where I think we have something to learn from Scotland’s predicament. The referendum campaign in Scotland was very harshly pushed from both sides. There was very little room for listening and trying to understand the other camp’s point of view. And where there was opportunity for compromise, many people were shouted down by those most extreme on either side. All of a sudden, there wasn’t a reasonable “middle” anymore, there was just black or white, us or them, yes or no.

I’m sure the people of Scotland have a whole range of diverse opinions, but when put in a situation where there are only two choices, people easily turn to an extreme. Likewise, in a workplace with a diverse group of people, we have to ask ourselves if everyone’s voice is being heard. Is it always the loud one who gets an opinion across, and do the people in charge take the time to ensure everyone gets involved? Maybe the quiet person who is a bit shy has a really great idea or solution, but no one ever asked them? Maybe the minority female staff have some ideas on how to increase equality, or make it easier to bring up diversity issues?

Any group of people can be diverse, and I think it’s great that we’re all working towards a world where the makeup of our society is reflected at every stage. BUT, a diverse society/family/workplace/school is nothing if we don’t use that diversity in an inclusive way, where everyone’s experiences are allowed to be heard. So are we better together? Of course we are, but the key is to not forget we come from different places, and can contribute different things. We need to continually work against our own prejudices (which we all have), if we are to move forward.