Meet Marie, From Software Engineer In India To Building A Company In France
- Tell us a bit more about your professional background.
I've always liked playing with computers since I was a child, but I had a bit of a hard time at high school, more related to the adolescent world than to my uncommon passion for computers. I arrived at an engineering school and met people who already knew how to code and they encouraged me to give it a try and to apply for internships if I enjoyed it. I followed their advice and learnt how to code by myself with what is known today as Open Classroom.
By the end of my studies, I wanted to be a junior developer and to go abroad, which seemed very complicated. Eventually, I found a job in India in a French agency, where most of the technical team was based in India, and therefore wished to hire French developers to be the link between the French project managers and the Indian tech team. I spent three years in India as a regular software developer with the slight difference that I had to help the French and Indian team working together and be the bridge between those two very different cultures. It has been a great experience where I have helped the Indian tech team to understand what were the expectations of a French project manager and conversely raise awareness on how Indians work in the French team. There was this additional cross-cultural aspect to the job which I greatly appreciated.
Soon after, the agency offered me the position of technical lead and as I had no background in the tech field, I really worked hard to get to that level. I didn’t feel fully confident enough to take the job — you could say this was impostor syndrome.
I was doing a lot of traveling back and forth between France and India and, during one of my trips to France, we started thinking about building Yelda with the agency’s associates. The company was receiving a lot of demands to build chatbots, and we thought it was a pity to always code the same thing. We thought that building a platform to develop your own chatbots would be a good idea to recycle all of this knowledge and would allow users to develop any kind of bot for any type of platform. This is how, in May 2018, we founded Yelda in Paris, where I've been CTO for three years now. There are three software developers in the team including an apprentice, Noémie, who, after seeing me participate in a talk hosted by Google putting female CTOs under the spotlight, sent me a message to find out if we were hiring apprentices. Diversity attracts diversity I always say.
- How did you come to work in the software development industry?
As I mentioned previously, I have always been fond of science and what I really like about development is that you have a lot of rules to follow, and in order to learn the rules, you have the documentation to read. Once you have grasped all the rules, you can play. I particularly enjoy taking that time to think and imagine how I'm going to solve a problem, and finding the perfect tool to address every part of the challenge. It's like a painter; taking the time to picture the masterpiece before actually painting it. I love this feeling when you know where you are going and how you are going to get there.
The job is literally about solving problems while being the most efficient as possible, it is a kind of a competition against yourself.
- Do you think that women bring something different to the overall profession in any way?
I think it depends on the age of the woman. For some years now, I have seen new recruits coming from different sectors having changed careers. They are under more pressure than younger women, because, when you’re young you don’t have much to lose and if you make mistakes it's not usually so serious. Whereas when you’re getting close to 40, sometimes you pay for the training from your own pocket and, if you don’t succeed, you may feel like you’ve wasted your time. Plus, it’s harder to learn a new job at that age. You may also fear that you won’t find a job and this brings additional financial pressure. On the other hand, they know their worth and have acquired soft skills during their previous experiences.
Younger women will most likely experience impostor syndrome and will probably encounter more difficulties trying to assert themselves in the job - contrary to young men who will tend to feel more senior, in a shorter amount of time. Younger women may come across a little too “scholar” in comparison to men, who will play the cowboys: they grow faster while women will take more time but eventually submit something more rigorous. This is my observation anyway.
There is also an interesting phenomenon which I read a great article about called Being the glue, which states that women will be more likely to take care of the group. As they are more careful about those things they will progressively be asked to do less and less tech-related tasks. For instance, managers will ask women to proceed to testing and reviewing code because, yes, they trust them, but during that time, they won’t be coding. In my opinion, it's not directly linked to a gender issue but rather to a management one, and I have heard of many women relating to those kinds of situations, more than men in any case.
- Have you had any difficulties finding your place in tech world? Or ever thought that it was not for you at some point?
I don’t think I’ve ever doubted this career path but I have met people who were surprised to be introduced to a young woman who was already a CTO.
When I was Lead Tech, I didn’t think of myself as legitimate. A manager whom I valued once told me that if I didn’t think I was capable of this, I'd have to fake it until I made it, and he sent me a video explaining this concept. This really helped me to learn to believe in my abilities and then, gradually, other people began to believe it also.
I observed that, if you don’t state your position right away, people will assume that you are not capable of working in tech, especially if you’re a young woman. As a result, I sometimes got tested on my technical knowledge. I thought to myself that if this would have happened to me when I wasn’t that confident, that it could have really compromised my belief in my abilities. Strangely enough, when I was in India, I didn’t face any issue because it is a country where hierarchy is very important in their culture. So, as long as they viewed me as their superior, they didn’t question any of my decisions nor my merit to be in this position. In that regard, it was easier in India than in France.
Diversity is becoming a pressing issue in the tech industry and you can see that it is now evolving and that it's very positive.
It is harder when you’re in a team with older generations because you will most likely encounter men who will probably make sexist jokes, it might not be often, it might only be a joke, but in the long run, it’s just annoying.
- Are inclusion and diversity topics in your company? What are the actions taken to address them?
Diversity attracts diversity and the apprentice we’ve hired is the perfect illustration of this. I would that the people we recruit are already aware of the fact because it is in the company’s DNA. We make sure to remove any discriminatory elements in our job descriptions, for instance, we are not very keen to feed the startup culture cliché that is playing foosball while having a beer, because we may miss some valuable talents who don’t relate to that kind of startup.
Plus, as we work in Machine Learning, we are aware of the product bias that could cause a lack of diversity and everyone knows that this is a key element for the success of our startup.
- How do you explain the scarce presence of women in the industry?
You may have heard of the story before but, in short, before the 1980’s, they were some female mathematicians working for NASA with card computers and they were learning programming. The 1980’s were a turning point, a “cultural switch”, when men realised that it was more than a secretary's job, let’s say, and they drove women away from those jobs, taking their place in the process. In the collective representations, everything related to computer science becomes a male’s job.
Today, we try to find and make female role models so that younger generations of women can relate to them and see themselves in those jobs. When I was learning how to code, I didn’t know any women who were coding.
- What would you say to a woman aspiring towards a career in the tech industry or hoping to immerse themselves in the culture?
First of all, that’s great! Don’t be afraid to fail and admit that it might not go as planned; there are a lot of groups which are here to provide support and solidarity. If it doesn't work out, it likely means that you were unlucky and landed in a company that isn't right for you. It is perfectly fine to resign and look for another position elsewhere, as the job market is very dynamic in this sector.
- Could you tell us about the Ladies of Code Community in Paris?
When I came back to France, I felt a bit lonely and I wasn’t working with developers there. So, I attended a Meetup organised by the Ladies of Code in Paris and I immediately liked the positive thinking and solidarity among the members. It is a very meaningful community because it gathers women that are going down the same path.
Another member of the group told me once that, when we won’t need the Ladies anymore, then it means that we have succeeded: women will be fully empowered and confident working in the tech industry.
As software engineers, being part of a community is in our DNA. You can benefit from what others have written and shared which makes you learn a lot. Nowadays, there is a lot of tech-related content published under various formats and it has become very difficult to keep track of what is really relevant for you and your job. Belonging to a group like the Ladies also helps you sort out what you need and allows you to focus on specific topics. Being part of a community is encouraged because it helps you to improve yourself and push your limits further.