At the WomenTech Network, we’re fortunate to have a wonderful, global community of ambassadors who help us spread the word about our work and continue helping us on our mission to unite women in tech. We would like you to meet these wonderful people as well; therefore, we’re going to be introducing you to some of our most active members.
Today, get to know Alexandra Zimnicaru:
Alexandra Zimnicaru is a Senior Front-End Engineer at Miro. Miro is an online collaborative whiteboard platform that enables distributed teams to work effectively together, from running brainstorming sessions and workshops to planning projects, from designing new products and services to facilitating agile ceremonies. Alexandra is part of Miro’s Enterprise Security team in Amsterdam, and she helps implement interfaces and functionality in the browser for enterprise security related features.
Alexandra is from Romania, and she's been living in Amsterdam for about 7 years. That’s also when she started learning how to code, and decided to become a front-end engineer. She has a background in Arts & Literature, and after her studies, she did an internship in a gallery. Although it was a vibrant environment, she felt her work there didn’t reach a lot of people, so she started looking into web design, hoping that by going digital, she'd be able to work on projects with more impact.
While studying web design, it turned out Alexandra was more curious about the implementation and started learning how to code. She really enjoyed the problem-solving mindset it required, and the immediate satisfaction of creating functionality just by typing something.
She managed to get a traineeship as a developer and started learning front-end professionally. Now it’s been 7 years working in the industry, and she is still learning; that’s the beauty of it for her.
In Alexandra's Own Words:
What is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
I think the industry is so pervasive, it brings about such meaningful change in the everyday lives of so many people. It feels truly empowering, and frankly also reassuring, to be able to contribute to the tech industry as a woman.
Historically, we haven’t always been able to bring our skills and experience to the table in areas of such socio-economic impact. Despite ongoing limitations, today we’ve got more of a chance to do so. Even though the work doesn’t always seem to involve decisions with high stakes, I feel that being present in the day-to-day practice of technological development makes a difference because it allows us to bring our own point of view into the process.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?
I definitely do notice it, especially when it comes to engineering and management positions. As I already mentioned, I think this is a problem we’ve inherited from a history of systematic exclusion. Although in many parts of the world women are not excluded anymore, I feel that some form of bias still survives, in the form of cultural stereotypes around gender specific interests and potential.
I still see an obvious split between male and female dominated professions or areas of interest, promoted by society as a whole, sometimes including women. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with people pursuing interests associated with their gender, I do think we should all be aware that these are simply cultural artefacts. I think this way more women would be willing to take on the challenges of the tech industry and more people around them would be more encouraging.
Do you think we need to be writing code to be in the tech industry?
The short answer is no. Writing code alone doesn’t cover the complex process of developing and maintaining software, to which people with diverse skill sets can make significant contributions.
However, as an engineer, I do think encouraging women to learn how to code is important. Going back to the issue of gender stereotypes, writing code is a skill that has been quite heavily male dominated. The argument usually goes something like: since most women haven’t been writing code so far, that means most women can’t do it; plus something pseudo-scientific at times, about some parts of the brain. It’s an argument a lot of people fall prey to, including women. I believe we need to demystify the idea that coding is some sort of esoteric thing for women, or for any other social group.
Do women in tech need to act like men to be successful?
I think that ‘acting like men’ is itself a stereotypical behaviour to some extent, usually associated with aggressiveness and competitiveness. Most men I’ve worked with didn’t actually behave like that. In certain work enviornments those attributes of aggressiveness and competitiveness tend to find it “easier” to thrive. However, I believe that many companies in the tech industry are starting to move away from values like competition, towards values like collaboration, open and transparent communication and inclusiveness. Perhaps as we’re building more and more complex software, we realise that we can only be successful by working together, and by bringing in different points of view.
So, perhaps I am being a little too optimistic about this issue, but I think that in the right environment, women will be more successful by being themselves. Obviously, not all environments are like that, which is why company culture is sometimes more important than product or tech stack when looking for a job.
What can companies do to increase the number of women in technology?
I think it starts with realistic job requirements and a good interviewing process. I’ve noticed women don’t apply to jobs if they don’t fit the exact requirements. Companies should ask for what is actually required instead of an ideal list of technical skills. They should also make it clear when some things can be learnt on the job.
Statistically, less women than men come from a technical background. When possible, it’s important to hire for potential, and to encourage career changes with entry-level jobs, training programs, or explicit targeting. During the interviewing process, people can be unintentionally biased, and appreciate in others those interests and qualities they see in themselves. Since the industry has always been male dominated, and since we all fall prey to gender stereotypes, unintentional bias sometimes prevents companies from hiring more women. Many companies nowadays are organizing training programmes to address such interviewing issues.
Ultimately, women should be hired by merit, just like everyone else. I don’t like the idea of positively discriminating against women only to reach some quarterly goals. But when deciding whether someone is qualified for a job, companies should try to promote difference and eliminate bias as much as possible.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the tech industries today?
I think the industry has plenty of technical challenges, but I suppose that’s business as usual. What I find more important are current challenges like diversity and ethics. Both seem relevant to me in relation to the way the industry operates - who we hire, who has a voice or an impact on current practices, as well as to the software it delivers - who do we give a voice to on social media, are we able to reflect ethical principles in the way our products work. As more and more of the world’s social, political and economic activity is moving online, these are questions that we have to think about, and it will definitely take more than better coding or network speed to be able to do it.
Meet more of our most active Global Ambassadors here.