In conversation with: Yolina Sotirova

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photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc


Every month, we catch up with London’s top girls in tech. This week we chatted with Yolina Sotirova, a Graduate Consultant at ThoughtWorks.

Q:What is it like to be a woman who’s in a technical world?

A: It is not as scary as it sounds. As long as you get over the fact that you will have to work with know-it-all men every day, it is just great! I find it very empowering and inspiring, being part of the industry that drives the change and innovation in the world nowadays. There is no better feeling than seeing the product you have spent weeks and months of work, being used and appreciated by others who are in need.

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d offer women who want to work in tech?

A: The tech world is big and exciting, but not as scary as it seems. There is a right place for everyone, you just need to take a leap and find it. The only things you need to have are passion and love for tech, and determination. Then, you are as good as everyone else out there. And frequently even better than a lot of people.

Q: Can you share one awesome and one not-so-great experience you’ve had concerning the stigma of women in tech?

A: Awesome:
My first project in TW involved a functional programming language called Clojure. I got really into it and I started attending various user groups and trainings related to it. Last month I attended my first EuroClojure conference. There were 2 female speakers in the programme, both were so awesome! They were so geeky, techie and very confident, they inspired me and motivated me to be like them one day, to get up on the stage and give a talk about the new programming language I put together myself. Furthermore, the whole community is great. The ratio of men to women is way too small, but this does not make it an unsafe and stressful environment at all, even the opposite – people are friendly and willing to talk to you, share with you and learn from you.

I have been in multiple situations, where in a group during a technical discussion, I have been ignored in various ways from the conversation. Some people just tend to assume by default that if you are a woman, you don’t know enough to bring value to the discussion. Well, as a result, I just had to start learning to be more aggressive and make my word heard during discussions.

Q: What can be done to prompt more women to choose a career in tech?

A: I believe that to lead by example is the best way to go. More opportunities, where school and university girls could meet successful women in IT, would be very inspiring and motivating for them. I think part of the reason girls get scared away from an IT career is because they don’t actually get to meet women that are already in the field. A majority of university computer science professors are male. Mentoring programs for school girls – being able to meet, work and be taught about programming and technology by women already in IT, could help them gain more confidence that being a female technologist is something achievable. Girls need to have role models from a very early age. They need to see how cool and fun it is to be a geek.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the next big trends in tech business?

A: Functional programming languages and big data analytics – two very cool things that are rising up and will find their place on the tech scene in the foreseeable future.

Q: Tell us a little about ThoughtWorks and its commitment to creating a socially and economically just world.

A: ThoughtWorks is an amazing place to work at – a safe and nurturing environment, where people are bright and energetic, filled with positivity and drive for change. TW empowers you to be brave, to think out of the box and try to influence the world in your way. For example, in the summer they had organized a TW EU Dragons Den where we were pitching ideas for different projects (related to innovative technologies, delivering more business value to the company, contributing to the community). The prize was the support with time, funds and resources from TW to turn those ideas into reality.

ThoughtWorkers are encouraged to get involved in all kinds of open source projects, fundraising initiatives, volunteering work and much more. We try to find ways to influence the world in a positive way through technology. We are involved in various projects in healthcare, education, global development and activism, where we try to give our contribution for a better society. A great example is the contributions that many ThoughtWorkers have done, as part of the initial project or in their free time, to develop RapidFTR – a mobile app to help field workers reunite children with their families after big disasters. One of the main reasons behind TW having offices in countries like Uganda, South Africa, Brasil and Ecuador is to try and bring less privileged people into the world of technology, giving them a chance to develop their capabilities, regardless of their background or education.

Q: Why did you choose a career with ThoughtWorks?

A: I have been doing maths and programming since I was 10 years old, so when the time came for me to decide what I want to do for living, it kind of came out naturally to me. IT is just part of my life, I love it and I enjoy it immensely. I have been with TW as a grad for 10 months now.

Thoughtworks is a global technology company whose mission is to better humanity through software and help drive the creation of a socially and economically just world. You can catch Yolina and ThoughtWorks CTO, Rebecca Parsons, at their event tomorrow (November 20) – Let’s Talk About Women in Technology.