At a global level, the numbers dictate that the IT sector is a male-dominated industry. However, you may (or may not) be surprised to hear that Bulgaria fares well in women in IT rankings compared to other European countries, as we showed in a previous analysis.
The Recursive spoke to three women in IT, specifically three senior software engineers from Leanplum, a CleverTap company, OfficeRnD , and LimeChain to learn how they entered the tech world, what inspired them to stick around, and how do they imagine their future career trajectory.
• Silvia Bakalova, Software Engineer @Leanplum, a CleverTap company: “I was born in Sofia, I graduated from Sofia University, majoring in Engineering Physics. I did my PhD in Physics at Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. I worked for 3 years at the University of Bristol, England. After returning to Bulgaria, I worked for several years for an American startup dealing with ML. For a short time, I was part of the Connecto team – a Bulgarian startup for the development of chatbots with AI. After Connecto was bought by Leanplum I joined the team here as a Data scientist. And now Leanplum has become part of an even bigger organization – Clevertap. I have two children and love the mountains and being in nature.”
• Iskra Lumbeva, Software Engineer @OfficeRnD: “My name is Iskra, I am 27 years old and I have been working as a full stack developer at OfficeRnD for the last 4 years. I have a technical education partially related to IT, but curiosity is what brought me here.”
• Meglena Lukanova, Team Lead @LimeChain: “Born and raised in Sofia, studied in the greatest high school there is – Sofia High School of Mathematics. Dealing with tech problems since 2011. Currently I’m Team Lead in Limechain.”
What inspired you to pursue a career in computer science? Was it a personal ambition, somebody that you admired, who motivated you, or was it a pivoting moment?
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company: It was not my original idea to work in the computer science field. I have a PhD in Physics and worked as a researcher in the UK for some time. Certainly, I have used computers and programming for simulations and automatization during my research but at some point the machine learning field grabbed my attention and inspired me to start learning about ML algorithms and their applications. My motivation for working in the IT domain is the zillions of optimizations one can do with the amounts of data we have nowadays.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: During my university studies I had taken some programming courses here and there and I have always been interested in the matter. I was not convinced that this was what I wanted to do, though. So I decided to sign up for Telerik Academy in order to explore the topic a bit deeper. I met some really cool people there and I realized that this is the environment that I want to spend my time in, surrounded by smart people that want to develop themselves and are eager to learn new things every day.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: I started learning programming in 8th grade as part of the standard program in my school. The first year I hated it! I never wanted to be in that class and couldn’t wait for it to finish. Even the fact that I broke my right hand didn’t get me out of it for long enough. Then 2 years later a young lady came and started teaching us algorithms. The next year another one showed us how to create simple web pages. They both inspired me and made programming something I want to pursue and invest my time in. At the time there weren’t that many girls that wanted to be software engineers so having two ladies teach me with such passion made me believe I can do it too. Having a good mentor/teacher that can show you how something considered boring by most of your friends can be really interesting if you have the imagination is really valuable at a young age and can change your life.
What do you believe are the main traits of developing successfully as a software engineer, and how do you make sure you keep evolving them?
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company:: We used to think that an essential trait for software engineers is to be more technically-oriented and to enjoy solving challenging problems. But having said this, nowadays the IT sector evolves constantly and people with different backgrounds and interests join the community. This contributes to the diversity of talent and opens new possibilities for development and innovation. Still there is one essential trait for software engineers – and that is the willingness to have a positive impact and to contribute with your skills and knowledge.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: I think persistence and making consistent efforts is key. I don’t think talent plays any role here, you just gotta be there, do the work and learn every day, counting on your integrity and not on motivation that might come and go. You also need to be ready to challenge yourself, always try to go for the things you don’t know, for the tasks that look difficult, they are what is going to help you grow.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: You need to be constantly trying to improve yourself, the project and the team. You need to be curious and always searching for new challenges. You need to keep yourself motivated. Having some fun in the process is also something that you can’t forget!
What does an inclusive and diverse business culture mean to you? Can you tell us ways in which you and the company you work for are empowering the new generations? Do you offer mentoring or intrapreneurship programs?
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company: For me, as for most people, it is very important to work in a safe and supportive environment. This is incorporated in our company values and policies. We are trying to be supportive to everyone, expressing gratitude and also give back to the community by organizing events, talks, workshops and charity work. We also have an internship program that I hope will continue to help junior developers to become skilled professionals and spread good values in the community.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: OfficeRnD has a strong history of hiring junior developers and helping them develop their skills. I am also an example of this. Every new member of the team gets a dedicated mentor but all the other people in the team are always there to help and guide you as well. Collaboration is a big thing we are working on and we try to solve problems together.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: For me personally, inclusive and diverse business culture is something I see on a daily basis. At LimeChain we are all working together to achieve the best environment for everybody no matter what job description they currently have, their gender, appearance, or nationality. It starts with how you feel in your team, how you feel in the company, and how you are accepted if you are facing work or personal challenges. Having a diverse team makes us open to new ideas which lead us to success in our sector.
Investing in new talent and opening their minds to new challenges and the word of programming is how you make great software engineers. At LimeChain we have different initiatives:
- Paid internships for people just starting with programming with included learning paths and direct integration into teams;
- LimeAcademy is sponsoring talented students so they can have a headstart in the blockchain world before everybody else for free;
- Mentoring is part of everyday work around the office – teams are sharing their challenges and success across the company and providing their knowledge to colleagues facing similar issues.
What is your biggest achievement in the workplace so far? Can you tell us about a project that you are most proud of, about a challenge and a creative solution?
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company:: I am lucky to work with very intelligent coworkers and on challenging problems given the amounts of data we are processing. What I am most proud of are the projects where we try to find patterns and insights from the data. This involves lots of exploration, processing, modeling, and visualization. At the end, we publish this as data science reports or provide actionable information to the customers.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: What I feel is the most significant for me is that over time I have become a go-to person for some of the key parts of our product – this gives me the opportunity to help my colleagues and to have input on how we want to build those. I’ve worked on many interesting things but the most challenging one was integrating our product with an external analytics system to offer our customers in-depth reporting. We were breaking new ground and there were unknowns that we had to deal with every step of the way. I got the chance to work on building some complicated data models and it was very different from the sort of things I had done before.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: Hardest challenge is the one that you haven’t faced yet 😉 I’m really proud of the team I currently have and how we work together. We managed to launch a whole blockchain network this summer despite all the technical, infrastructural and other challenges we had to overcome.
Would you wear the hat of a software engineer until you retire? Are you interested in pursuing something else in the near future or as a side project? Any tech verticals you are keen on learning about more?
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company: I think I will continue to work in the IT industry while I can bring more value here. It is tempting for software engineers to pivot to another field but then most probably a developer will not fully make use of the skills and experience gained, so I see this as a bit of a waste. I have many other interests like, for example, quantum computing and climate change, but I am trying to keep focused on the work I can contribute most at the moment and in the near future.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: The field is very dynamic and who knows what new jobs will exist by the time I retire. I don’t have such a long-term plan for my career, only time will show.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: I’m always interested in expanding my knowledge, soft skills and abilities in a new area. I like to take new challenges as they come, so at this point I don’t limit myself only to what I know and do good at the moment. That’s why last year I took the challenge and became a blockchain developer. The space is expanding by the day and new problems are waiting behind every corner.
What is one piece of advice that you would like young people considering starting a career in IT to know? Something that you would impart with yourself at the age of 18.
Silvia Bakalova, Leanplum, a CleverTap company: One of the things that often goes off track is time management. Having to deal with lots of tasks, priorities and personal affairs is something that needs special attention early on, so that the work is more efficient, you can maintain a good focus and have a personal life. Usually the work is very interesting and there are many technologies to explore, but keeping things as simple as possible is more often than not the best option.
Iskra Lumbeva, OfficeRnD: Don’t get discouraged by the boring stuff that you might go through in the beginning, it gets really cool at one point, you just need to push through and be patient to get there.
Meglena Lukanova, LimeChain: Don’t give up! Every day you can encounter new challenges which may bring your spirit down and make you question every decision you’ve taken so far but be patient and things will start working for you. This will make you better not only in your job but better at every aspect of your life.