| Omolade Otulaja
Science can be challenging. Math, a jumble of facts, figures, and memorization. I struggled mightily with both in school but excelled in English. As the child of immigrant parents, excellence could only be measured through high scores in math and science; my parents could not comprehend why I failed to reach this ideal and berated me often. I always wanted to do better in school but wasn’t sure how. Affecting my self-esteem, but not my will, I put forth my best effort but labored amiss. Gone were the hopes of medical school (a pursuit I belatedly waited until college to abandon) and thus the fulfillment of the American dream.
I’ve charted my own career path since then, but often wonder where I might be now if I had the right amount of encouragement and support to continue my childhood dream. Working as a content developer for a technology company, I find myself surrounded by women who have been able to pursue their dreams in a challenging, male-dominated field and make momentous strides in their careers.
The women of GetBEE comprise varied backgrounds and careers in technology that have brought them to Dubai, a burgeoning and multicultural region becoming quickly known for the rise of women in the tech industry. According to The Economist, women in tech worldwide average at 10%; in the UAE, that statistic increases to 35% (Untraditional choice, 2017).
Thea Myhrvold, 30, is the CEO and Founder of TeachMeNow and GetBEE, two companies that offer software services to entrepreneurs that aid in online business growth. Hailing from a European/Arabic background, Thea’s passion for technology, along with the economic opportunities, made pursuing full-time tech entrepreneurship an easy decision. For her, technology is directly tied to the impact one wants to make in the world. She states, “Figure out the impact you want to see first and find the technology second…technology is always changing!” Thea also benefitted from being mentored in the business and was able to pay it forward by also providing mentorship. The path to becoming an award-winning CEO also while navigating a majority male environment has not been without its challenges. Thea has been able to overcome and work her way through these obstacles by staying focused on the influence she wants to have across the globe by perceiving “…an opportunity to create the impact I wanted to see in the world but scaled through technology.”
For others, the path to a tech career is a bit more circuitous. I began a career in education and now enjoy the creativity of content development. This is a path to which Izabella Naessa, 30, and Head of Business at GetBEE, can closely relate. According to Izabella, “I didn't start my career in tech (mostly because I thought tech was not for me) but once I overcame all the barriers and had one opportunity to work in technology, I found a true passion and I learned that I was actually pretty good at it.” She adds, “Although my bachelor is in Marketing and most of my experience in Change Management, later I decided to specialize more in tech so I concluded a Masters in e-business and wrote my thesis on Blockchain for Social Entrepreneurship.” How can a woman decide to make this switch, especially if she is mid-career, possibly older and juggling multiple responsibilities? In Skillcrush’s blog post on 8 May 2018, a woman should 1) not worry about age, 2) build a network, 3) consider flexible and 4) be confident, but humble. It is also essential to start small such as freelance projects for friends and family in order to build a portfolio. While not easy, it can be highly worthwhile, fulfilling and personally stimulating to pursue a tech career. Izabella encourages women, “To not be afraid. To not give up despite the obstacles and to look for examples throughout history. We always have had many amazing examples of women in tech, but people don't talk about them very often.” Born in Brazil, Izabella’s personal interest and sharp technical skills in the tech world primed her for the transition. It also prepared her for the male saturated work environments that still comprise the tech world as women still comprise less than 50% of tech jobs at major tech corporations (Statista, 2018).
GetBEE’s Software QA and Technical Lead, Elena Strukova, 33, also recounts the struggles she faced in a majority male work environment. She recounts, “I was very young and did not have a lot of experience so I tried to prove myself and to prove that young women can be even more productive and successful as an engineer.” However, that environment proved to be detrimental and Elena made a momentous decision. She says, “…I quit, but I was even more motivated.” Personal incentive and a highly skilled background in math and engineering fueled Elena’s continued journey into the tech field, despite the trials she faced. Her interest in STEM started at a young age while growing up in Macedonia. She says, “As a kid I loved mathematics, solving logical problems and engineering. While in school I was participating, and I won multiple math/engineering competitions in my country and since then I kind of knew and wanted to be part of the tech world and have a career in tech.” The nascent interest as a child blossomed into a fulfilling career that has allowed Elena to mentor others in the field as well. Her advice for women interested in tech, “Be prepared to go over multiple obstacles a lot more than your male colleague and if you really like it don't quit ever.”
The opportunities in tech afford novel opportunities for women, creating career pathways that may have previously gone unexplored. Blanca, 41, functions as the Head of Finance for GetBEE and is personally interested in how tech is creating new economic possibilities. For women who have vested interest, possess a specific skill or are curious about forging a new path in the world of technology, the best time to start is now! There are times when the shift in careers feels daunting and the new demands of the field can feel frustrating as well as lonely. This trifecta of challenges can be enough to deter a newcomer or one who feels as though their best is not good enough, as I felt growing up. However, maintaining a determinative spirit and seeking support are the best remedies for a sustaining a resilient focus.
Regardless of age, background, career paths or initial lack of knowledge in tech, there is freedom for personal and collective success for women. GetBEE has empowered women from across the globe to bring their best and authentic selves to the helm of the technological revolution. It is a place where I am honing my creativity and gaining an increased insight on how technology is used to change the world. I know that my younger self would be proud of my accomplishments, but mostly how I took the lessons life gave me and used them to develop the resiliency to encourage myself and women like me to understand that tech is also a place for us.