Boost EB, a Polish Blog about Employer Branding aimed predominantly within the IT industry, shares inspiring posts about individuals and companies making a difference. Their first story in a series about Women in the IT industry spotlights Straal’s engineering director Joanna Tustanowska. She goes by Asia in the article.
You can find the original post and future spotlights in the series, in Polish, at Boost EB.
The blog is authored by Dajana Tatar of Boost EB.
„… From an early age, I thought about programming because my mom is a😊 programmer.”Joanna Tustanowska
Women in the #IT industry are gaining prominence.
Today, women are grabbing keyboards and entering the IT industry more confidently. Many of them have success stories to share.
Dajana Tatar of Boost EB has invited these prominent women to a conversation that will undoubtedly inspire many young ladies and prove that it is worth believing that your skills can make an impact.
Meet the women who found a common language within technology and are having a great time doing it.
# 1 Joanna Tustanowska – Engineering Director, Straal.
-Dajana Tatar (translated to English from Polish)
The world belongs to the courageous! These four remarkable women have found a common language with technology and are having a great time doing it. Meet the first of them.
To my joy, many new initiatives are devoted to women in the IT industry in the Polish market. For example, there are mentoring programs, industry conferences, courses, meetups and entire communities of women in the industry or thinking about directing their career path towards it.
More and more often, there are reports on women’s situation in the IT industry. Therefore, the data obtained from the study has become a kind of guide for women who plan to start a career in IT or are taking their first steps in this industry (I wrote about the NFJ 2022 report, Women in IT here).
I decided to research such adventures with new technologies by interviewing women with whom I had the pleasure to work in various places in the industry and how they feel now that they are specialists.
I invited four talented women to the interview. Each one is different, each inspiring and hardworking. I hope their shared stories will better present women’s situation in the IT industry, and their advice will inspire and add 'power’ to those still uncertain.
Asia and I met when we both worked at Daftcode. Asia worked in the development team and took care of the backend.
The sight of a girl surrounded by only programmers, sitting in a room behind a glass door where, to enter, you had to use a fingerprint sparked my great curiosity and fascination. Because, after all, what Asia was working on at that time, was significant.
In choosing the women for this project, I knew I wanted to invite someone like Asia, a flesh and blood programmer. She is a natural in her element.
I hope the interview with Asia will convince women at the beginning of their career or those thinking about changing it to the IT industry of the possibilities of this path.
Well, let’s maybe start from the beginning. Almost 40% of female candidates participating in a survey by No Fluff Jobs, „Women in IT 2022”, said they don’t know how to start their IT career. And how was it with You? Where did you get the idea to go into the IT business?
Well, for me, it was pretty obvious. I thought about programming early because my mother is a programmer😊. Even as a little girl, I thought about it. Now I know that it was unique because I knew what it was all about since I was a child. During classes at the Palace of Culture and Science, my mother told me how computer programs saved on cards are uploaded and how a (super) computer made them in Świerk near Warsaw – in the 1980s.
On the other hand, when communism jumped, she did not work as a programmer but was still exposed to new technologies. After a few years, she decided to go back to programming. You could say that she has experienced a shift. She was sitting at the computer and learning by herself. I appreciate that I could see the principle in action with my own eyes that if you need to learn, for example, a new programming language or a tool, you sit down and go to work 😊 it’s simple, but not easy. Now it’s all about more accessible and more straightforward. There are loads of fun courses to teach you from scratch. Books, blogs, YouTube profiles.
That’s amazing! I am even more excited to talk to you about women in IT now that I know that being a programmer was always meant for you.
I started my adventure with technology during my studies at—the University of Warsaw, Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many programming courses or self-study materials at the time as there are now. Nevertheless, I learned a lot, which helped my other career choices.
One fun fact is that my mother and I graduated from the same faculty.
Starting a Career as a Women in IT
You were inspired by your mother and you chose a specific study and started your adventure in an industry that is/was dominated by men. Tell me about your early days at work. How did you feel about your first project? What were your next steps on the road called career?
In my first job, I dealt with different technologies than now. I remember being very excited, not very confident. I have the impression that those around me saw more in me than I did then. They believed in me and treated me as a competent person. Thanks to the people I worked with, I knew that this was my place, I am a professional, and my knowledge is sufficient.
Unlike college, where often no one has time for you, you are one of many. I was lucky enough to meet great colleagues and managers throughout my career. I know that not everyone has the same positive experiences, but I believe they are worth attempting.
In the first stages of our professional path, the environment we go to significantly impacts us. Whether people support us and believe in us, or whether they demand too much of us or judge our lack of knowledge. Is the fact that you are a woman perceived differently by, for example, clients or colleagues at work in everyday tasks? Do you get less demanding jobs, or are you overlooked at one of the project stages?
I have never felt in my work that because I am a woman, it influences the perception of my work or that I am inferior or treated differently. I also think being a junior is excellent! This is the time when you learn everything quickly. There is a lot of new knowledge that needs to be acquired. Yes, there is stress if you will understand everything, but it is also the time when you get promoted the fastest. As you start to do more than what is required of you, you have a chance to jump higher. Juniors should ask about everything as they have the right to do so.
I don’t think you have to believe that the IT industry is typically masculine. It is changing. Management has changed the approach to team building. Diversity is essential. Such teams deliver projects better and faster. So gender diversity is one thing, but personality diversity is crucial. Everyone has different predispositions. Everyone is better / worse at something. Thanks to such differences in the team, we complement each other and are complete.
In our team, we are waiting for programmers. I believe that it is worth seeing them as competent people.
It is vital what you say and reassuring that IT is beginning to convince women and give them a chance.
Of course, it is! We are waiting for women and will be happy to hire them! Let’s also not forget that women were in IT from the very beginning, they were the first programmers, builders of the first computers, and creators of programming languages, and it was at a time when the mere fact that a woman worked professionally was a bit provocative 🙂 In the meantime, many factors made this industry appear „masculine”, but that is changing again.
Joanna today and Women in IT
According to the latest No Fluff Jobs survey, almost half of the respondents indicated that their current position does not require programming skills. So how is it with you? What’s your job? What are you doing now?
I had programming from the beginning, mainly backend, i.e. software running on servers with which, for example, web or mobile applications communicate. Still, I also tried, among others, frontend, i.e. creating the part of the software that end users have to deal with. It turned out that the backend was much more suited to my personality. I like analysing how different components of large systems talk to each other.
In general, IT provides many opportunities and positions. If someone likes to learn and create something, it is not only programming but, e.g. UX, testing or project management. There are many different areas where you can find what you like best. You can focus on programming applications where their appearance and usability are essential. It is exciting. And from the „other side”, you can take care of systems administration, DevOps and cloud solutions. This is great too! There are girls in these areas too, and they are great at them, but there are fewer.
I am currently an Engineering Director at Straalworking with backend and DevOps teams. My role is to deal with the design, development and maintenance planning of the system we are building, mainly from the technical and business sides. I also deal with programming, but there is much less of it. In my work, I try to ensure that the teams have a vision and know why something is introduced to the project and impacts its development.
Setting expectations in your path
Your career path is fascinating. How long did it take you to get to where you are now?
I came to DaftCode for the position of mid (Python developer) having already had several years of experience. I also had a lot of experience in mentoring and co-organised several Warsaw editions of the Django Girls workshops, and with the same people, we also started the meetup with my younger brother – PyLight. Unfortunately, the pandemic has blocked us from meeting life, but this affects the entire event and is not the same meeting as it is online. All these activities allowed me to meet many people who entered or were in IT. Currently, I have been working for Straal for almost seven years.
You have enormous knowledge and fantastic experience. Your professional path is exemplary. So tell me, where do you get your new skills from? Do you even have time for this? Are you still improving your competencies?
I get technical knowledge wherever I can. I gain a lot of new knowledge from conversations with my colleagues in the industry. My work gives me a lot of challenges, we are constantly developing the platform, so I am naturally learning new solutions all the time. This is probably the secret because my work develops me as an expert. Business changes grow, and this means that I am not bored. I must be up-to-date, keep up with business expectations, and learn new things. A programmer’s job comes from business development, so developers must work in an environment that grows as their product develops. Otherwise, they will eat their tail.
Where to Start
Joanna, from your own experience, in your opinion, is it better to start with a startup or maybe go to a large corporation where everything is arranged and checked?
When it comes to choosing your first job, it all depends on your temperament. In a startup, you will learn many things quickly, but they may need to be optimised. This environment teaches many things for the first time. Indeed, you can be promoted faster in a startup. There is a lot of work and a shortage of people. In corporations, however, you have a chance to find development programs prepared especially for juniors, or even specifically women, and perhaps get a little more „care” for a start – if only because there is more often a budget for training less experienced people.
Well, every young woman thinking about starting her career should choose the organisation where she will find herself. After all, each of us is different, and we need additional incentives to work better and learn faster. So, Asia, what advice would you give to all the girls who are thinking about entering the IT world but do not know where to start?
Advice – try to start with the activity where the entry threshold is the lowest. It is worth posting on Google „Where to start learning to program” and searching, read. There is a lot of knowledge on, e.g. Reddit. There are also various profiles on Youtube. It is worth trying a lot of different things, you may like programming at first, and then you may like data analysis, for example. Find out what awaits you in IT, the industry, and the development path. Now there is everything on the internet. It would be best if you turned on your curiosity. Self-study is the key to everything.