Women can do IT: The girls who create, color, and promote the IT world

Women Can Do IT is a new project of Software Development Association Poland, in which we want to demystify IT for women and present this industry as a place for everyone, regardless of their previous experience.

In the next episode of the series, we talk to UX designers and marketing specialists: Marta Mielcarek, Senior Product Designer at SoftwareMill, Agnieszka Kuprianowicz, Marketing Specialist at Angry Nerds, Aleksandra Dziewulska, Deputy Head of Design at Divante, Natalia Strawa, UX/UI Designer at HTD and Marta Domasz, Marketing Specialist at WP Desk.

Did you start your career from IT? What is your educational background and previous professional experience?

Natalia: I studied Computer Science at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. This program pushed me to take a pursuit in IT. The knowledge gained during my studies made me believe that despite what people may say, nothing is impossible [laughs]. During my second year there, I started a research club with my friends, as a part of which I could learn more and more about UX. I was also admitted to an internship in Italy, where I learned more what design and usability studies were about. This internship later helped me get my first job back in Poland.

Natalia Strawa, UX/UI Designer at HTD

Marta Mielcarek: I also graduated in IT — during our second year, we had classes about User Experience taught by people working in Allegro, who extended their UX departments. I thought it was cool, and programming wasn’t exactly a thing I wanted to do in the future. UX is still IT, but from a different perspective, and it was such a natural direction. Now, I don’t really use any programming knowledge directly, but it significantly improves my communication with developers. It also shows that even if we don’t want to work as programmers, it is good to complete at least a basic programming training.

Marta Domasz: When I was still very young, I already decided that my passion would be my work, and that is how I started to work in tourism. Pretty unconventionally, as I chose my major to suit my future career, and not the other way around. When I started to study tourism and recreation, I found out this specialization was mainly about recreation, and I would need to delve into tourism on my own. After some longer and some shorter travels, moving in and out around the whole Europe, I settled in Bydgoszcz, Poland for good and found out that there were people who would pay me to travel. My another passion was technology. I had always known I wouldn’t be able to stay away from IT technology, growth, innovation. The ability to kind of foresee the situation on the market, changes in my private life, and the feeling of stagnation in tourism led me to a career in e-commerce.

Aleksandra: I started my career in IT 20 years ago. These were still the ancient times when to create your own website, you needed to put your shoulder to the wheel and learn programming. I wanted to make a website on degus, so I learned a little bit of HTML, PHP, and basic hosting. This website had been a number one on the market for many years. Then, I had an episode of creating websites, starting blogs and e-shops for others. I helped to develop such products as Vetopedia. Then, I started studying — first sociology, then psychology, in order to learn more about a human being, social relations, how a human works inside, what pushes a person to make specific decisions. Before starting my studies, I came across UX and realized that it’s a perfect combination of my passion for technology and for a human being. I got accepted into the program which was probably the first such specialty in Poland — UX at SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, as a part of a European grant. This is where I can create apps, products which are used on a daily basis and affect what is going on around us. For the last 13 years, I have been conducting research and workshops in Design Thinking methodology.

Agnieszka: My path in a nutshell: from an art historian to an IT marketing specialist. I studied history of art at the University of Wrocław, as a part of individual inter-area humanist and social studies. So, I have a diploma in the area of history of art, but this interdisciplinary field of studies also let me participate in many classes in different specialties, e.g. on communication design. During my studies, I was also involved in different types of volunteer work, which later led me to take up a job in the Marketing Department of the National Museum in Wrocław. It was a great experience. I could learn a little bit of everything, what you do in marketing, as well as see in detail how work in the area can look like. After 3 years, I felt that I would like to extend my experience by trying something new, working in a different sector than culture. I chose IT — the world of technology had been interesting to me since I was a child, and in the museum I was involved in the creation of a mobile app for one of the exhibitions. What is more, my husband changed his job at that time, starting to work as a UX designer for one of Wrocław startups, so I had a chance to directly observe how creating digital products worked, and I liked it a lot. This is how I ended up at Angry Nerds, where I deal with all marketing activities.

What do you value the most in your current position?

Aleksandra: I value the possibility to manage my own team, the fact that I can lead young designers to areas which give them better careers, support them, give them power to develop. I also really appreciate the possibility to learn from my juniors, from their different perspectives not affected by experience and routine. What I love about technology in general is that it can greatly change the world. The fact that someone, somewhere there, can just easily buy groceries online during the pandemic substantially changes someone’s life. We also had customers whom we helped switch to remote work within a short period, and technological solutions that we suggested helped save people’s jobs. What we have all considered just coloring in pictures is really a job that truly changes people’s lives.

Aleksandra Dziewulska, Deputy Head of Design at Divante

Marta Domasz: The answer to this question is simple to me. I value development. Not only growing personally and that my current company allows me to do it, but also a dynamic industry development. I like looking for fulfillment and I love changes at work. Working in widely understood marketing allows me for such development, and e-commerce is one of the most dynamically developing industries, in which the state-of-art technologies are introduced the first.

Marta Mielcarek: For me the coolest thing is my great independence, as I also am a one woman army [laughs]. And the responsibility is, surprisingly, very good, as it is sometimes worth thinking something through 5 times before pursuing it. I like this situation now, but we will see how my brain is going to work in, say, 30 years [laughs]. It is all cool for young people, especially generation Z, who want to grow and significantly affect product development.

Agnieszka: I agree with Marta Mielcarek 100%. This independence, transferring from a position in a big marketing team to an autonomous position was a challenge for me, and I like it a lot. I love working with people, but I also like doing some things my way [laughs]. Now I can try out different ideas, having a lot of freedom to take initiative. This independence, the trust placed in me, and space to act teach me a lot and allow me to grow.

Natalia: In IT and in my company, I can constantly grow in every area of my interest. I started from designing interfaces, and then I experienced workshops with customers and found out how they differed from an ordinary meeting, learned about the communication with customers and collecting requirements. It is still very interesting to me. Even if I achieve a satisfactory level at one of my career paths, I suddenly realize that there are still so many other undiscovered lands in front of me. I also love the possibility to learn from others, not only other Designers, but also from Product Owners and Developers.

Your greatest professional success in IT?

Natalia: Here, I would like to primarily focus on the fact that I have found something that I love and am passionate about. When I studied programming at the university, ironically, I was afraid that there will be no place for me in IT, as I didn’t find programming very thrilling. My smaller success is for sure the fact that 1.5 year ago, I set some professional objectives with my development partner at work, and when we looked through them recently, we realized that, in fact, all of those objectives had been achieved. And that’s what is great — I set ambitious objectives, and thanks to this industry and environment, I am able to achieve these goals.

Marta Domasz: I am glad you are asking this question. In Poland, it is still believed that a woman should be quiet and modest, and she certainly shouldn’t boast of her achievements! That’s nonsense! We are competent, talented, and strong, so we should speak up! What I consider my professional success is my ability to build relations not only with my co-workers or business partners, but mostly with those who are skeptical about sales, marketing, or message that I am trying to create. That is what drives me to action. I am also certain that the biggest success that I will be able to brag about will come soon.

Marta Domasz, Marketing Specialist at WP Desk

Agnieszka: I have already thought about this question, and I guess I would like to approach it thinking that my biggest success is still ahead. It is really motivating. When I speak about success, I understand this term broadly, because for me, my success at work is not only about a positive feedback that I get about my actions. What is much more important are relations with people, customers, which I can build with everything I do. Good relations with a customer, based on smooth communication and mutual understanding that we are on the same team is a great success. That is why I try to take actions which strongly support the sales department and ongoing project works.

Aleksandra: I think that my success is surely switching from freelance work to a corporate position, where I built my own team, which includes extremely creative people. My other successful action was establishing procedures which allow for a wider approach to our work with customers and refraining from being just a business partner, which gradually shapes the UX maturity of my organization.

Marta Mielcarek: I have been working as a lecturer for 3 years, and last year I also started to teach one block of classes in a postgraduate UX program at SWPS. I find great satisfaction in teaching others. I started my UX/UI career on my own, I had to organize my knowledge myself, without support from any mentors. Thanks to that, I understand my students’ confusion and know which information they need the most at the initial stage of their professional work.

What surprised you the most about working in IT? What is different about than it is commonly believed?

Natalia: I was surprised that the IT environment is different than what I had seen at the university. People are open to feedback and development. Thanks to that, we can create a great team of mutually supporting members.

Marta Domasz: Developers with whom I cooperate really do not sit in their basements. They are not antisocial or withdrawn [laughs]. I really like the freedom and comfort of remote work.

Aleksandra: I started my career in the times when programmers really sat in their basements [laughs]. It has really changed by now. There is one strong stereotype which we need to face, that IT is only for “technical” people, which is completely untrue. You don’t have to be a programmer nor have an analytical mind to work in IT. In this industry, you can also work in marketing, product design, etc. This work is equally important and enriching for the company and its growth. Another unfair stereotype is that women cannot program. I have recently seen a perfect example from Japan. An 80 year old woman noticed that there are no games for the elderly. She learned how to program and developed a simple game. Programming is not difficult and honestly, everyone can do it. This applies also to other IT areas, like product design, business analysis, or widely-understood advisory services.

Agnieszka: When it comes to stereotypes, all of mine quickly got shattered [laughs]. Though, I must say I have never really had many specific ideas related to the IT industry, but there was this vision of a typical IT specialist somewhere at the back of my head. When I started working in my company, I verified if there was really any correlation between my imagining and the reality. So not really [laughs]. This industry is really diverse when it comes to people, which is just great. I have even become a kind of a “preacher” among my friends, who keeps repeating: “Working in IT is not what you think it is [laughs]”. I like the fact that the way I imagined this work culture, freedom to choose your tools and the loads of creative energy turned out to be true.

Agnieszka Kuprianowicz, Marketing Specialist at Angry Nerds

Marta Mielcarek: I was surprised that the world of IT does not stick to any strict frames and is spontaneous. When I was reading about different theories on processes and how you should use methodologies, it often turns out the practice is completely different — many of them have to be shortened and adjusted to a given project. You often need to find a balance between different methodologies to achieve the best result in a pretty short time. Of course, there are no perfect solutions, but after completing many projects, you have better intuition for choosing suitable actions for a given situation. That is why I definitely believe in Practice > Theory.

What else are you striving for? What are your professional objectives?

Agnieszka: I love planning and coordinating actions, strategy is definitely my marketing hobby. In the future, I would like to create a perfectly working team of people specializing in specific areas of marketing. I, myself, would then be happy to take care of more global matters related to a marketing strategy, communication and branding to a larger extent.

Natalia: As of now, I have a strong need to help other people in their careers. In my company, we are currently working on such an ideal internship program, which will start in January 2021. I would like to give those people something I didn’t have at the beginning — a mentor’s support. Our workshops with people who are only starting their career in IT show us that the beginners need a person who can tell them what they do wrong and what is fine. Without such support, it is difficult to go beyond certain levels.

Marta Domasz: I have several professional objectives, but I mostly focus on one coherent mission related to high quality. I don’t want to give everything away, but, for example, one of my objectives is promoting the culture of remote work as — in my opinion — the only right way to work in IT during these times. Here I would like to mention that WP Desk, with which I currently cooperate, has worked remotely basically from the very beginning of company’s operations, and I have also been working this way for a long time now — not only because of the events from the last couple of months. Of course, I also have an objective related to my own career growth, which I have been regularly executing for many years now. This is where I carry out smaller tasks within this objective by doing specific courses, trainings, and meetings. The financial objective also matters here, as after all I do need to collect some money for my early retirement [laughs].

Marta Mielcarek: For sure, I would like to be up-to-date with my UX and UI knowledge. I am now highly motivated and engaged at work, but I don’t know how the situation will have changed till I am 50 [laughs]. I hope that my desire to learn and my engagement will stay with me. It would also be great to have my own team with which I could work, teach less experienced members, and share knowledge.

Marta Mielcarek, Senior Product Designer at SoftwareMill

Aleksandra: I would sure like to start a mentoring and training program, which would not be based on textbook and university knowledge — this one is provided at universities just fine — but on real examples of methodologies and ways of working with customers. I would like to protect juniors with their open heads and theoretical knowledge from a harsh reality check with the market. Apart from that, I would like to deal with complex UX strategy development for my company, and to create a reference point for Product Design in my and other companies — a reference point which would show that this industry is not only about creating interfaces for customers, but it can also carry out the whole digital transformation, which means building UX maturity in organizations. We want to make a transition from providing a ready-made solution to finding a solution together with customers.

What advice would you give to those who want to work in IT?

Agnieszka: The most important thing is not to be afraid. Sometimes it may seem that something is extremely difficult and beyond our reach, but once we face it, it turns out to be much easier than we thought. We also should believe in ourselves more — we, women — there is nothing we are not suitable for. IT is not only programming. You can find an IT area for yourself where you will feel good and be able to find professional fulfilment. Don’t be afraid of errors or unfortunate ideas. Even if something seems too crazy or goes beyond the frames of what we have been doing “forever”, it is worth giving such an idea a try. Thanks to that, you can learn a lot and discover completely new directions.

Marta Mielcarek: When you want to change your industry, it is easy to get lost in reading more and more books, articles, and postponing the practical part for later. It’s the same with programming — there are tutorials, but if you don’t sit down to programming yourself, if you don’t try to make your own project, you will never learn it. I started UX trainings when I was already working, only to organize the knowledge that I had already had back then. Don’t be afraid to act! 🙂

Aleksandra: For sure, to not be afraid. IT is not an industry for chosen ones. It is a great industry, in which you can get promoted both vertically, but also horizontally, completely changing the area in which you work. Secondly, be curious. If during a meeting you hear a word you don’t know, google it, follow trends and thematic groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. Another thing is to think about your career two steps ahead. The generation of our parents used to spend 20 years in one job, but now the world is rapidly changing. It is important to think all the time how to increase or change our competences.

Natalia: The most important thing is find a person who will tell you what you are doing wrong. Many people don’t know it, they keep making the same mistakes in their projects, and it is very difficult for them to get to higher levels. You also need to be open to accept constructive criticism, treat it simply as feedback and get the best out of it. It is also important to find your first job as quickly as possible, because experience is crucial nowadays. It is also worth being open to other people, who will later help us develop in this career.

Marta Domasz: I could give dozens of such tips for every branch of IT, specific organizational culture of a given company or even the whole industry, but my main one is: don’t be afraid. Be self-confident, strong, focus on your qualifications. Work on your competences. Never stop growing. The day when you don’t step forward in IT will also be a day when you take a step back. In my opinion, it is worth taking part in IT industry meetings, which recently have been organized online, so there are already many excuses which we can’t use to justify ourselves in order not to take part in such events. Thanks to such meetings, we can get to know the industry, employers, and potential work opportunities.

Thank you.

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