With International Women’s Day upon us, we wanted to hear from some of the ladies who are leading the way forward at our company on what brought them into this field, their challenges, and their advice for other women considering tech as a potential career.
We caught up with Ofir Kainan and Adi Rashkes who have both joined the Research and Development department at Mend over the past year and a half as developers on the Knowledge team.
Both Kainan and Rashkes had strong backgrounds in math during high school but say that they were dissuaded from getting involved in tech when they were younger. Unlike many developers, neither grew up on video games or other gadgets where techies often gain their first introductions into programming and tech culture.
Kainan says that her brothers who were working as programmers told her that it wouldn’t be a good field for her despite her high matriculation scores in math. “They told me that I wouldn’t like it,” she says and chose instead to study neuroscience.
In speaking with both Kainan and Rashkes, they cite that the overwhelming male majorities in the tech spaces made it unappealing for them when they were younger. Rashkes notes that she turned down an opportunity to join the Israeli army’s IT unit, saying in retrospect that being one of the few women in the cadre that were invited to the entrance exams lowered her interest in the technology sector.
However, in roundabout ways, the two ladies found their way into the tech space. Using her neuroscience background, Kainan worked as an analyst on neural networks in one of her first jobs where she says that she was lucky to have a boss who steered her into writing algorithms because he recognized her passion and talent there.
She explains that he helped her grow by really challenging her to figure out how to problem solve on her own.
“He wouldn’t answer questions for me that I could answer myself,” says Kainan, explaining that, “Instead, he gave me the tools to do it myself. A lot of boys who are into games when they are young are forced to find ways to get through a challenge on their own. Girls are generally not given this kind of opportunity. He forced me to educate myself and work out solutions on my own.”
It was this push that helped her develop her love of problem-solving, a commonality that she shares with Rashkes, that helped set her course into development.
Speaking with both developers, it is clear that their career paths started away from the tech sector, Rashkes with her initial interest in architecture and Kainan having studied neuroscience. However, it was the drive to solve problems that programming offered them that attracted them to the field and keeps them engaged. However, this journey has not been without its bumps along the way.
Lacking the lingo and background knowledge of how computers worked, getting their start in technology was a challenge that the pair had to overcome. Rashkes says that overcoming the initial barriers to entry during her first year at university was one of the biggest difficulties of her young career.
“In my first year of programming courses, it was terrible,” she recalls, adding that, “It felt like 95% of the class already knew what the teacher was talking about from a technical standpoint.”
Unfortunately, she says that the teacher wasn’t very patient with the students who were starting without a strong background in CS and just ran forward through the material. “I panicked but didn’t give up, telling myself that I had to push through. I got extra private lessons until the material began to click for me. From there I entered the world of technology, getting acquainted with the tech and the sector,” says Rashkes, noting that 5% of her class that didn’t have the preexisting knowledge of CS, who were mostly girls, ended up dropping out.
However, just as social frameworks that had been unfriendly to her when she was younger had acted as a stumbling block on her tech journey, it was by getting involved with the community that helped to propel her forward.
“I searched for meetups for women in the field, finding organizations like she codes and Leading Cyber Security Ladies,” says Rashkes, explaining that, “I found a mentor there who, along with one of my teachers, inspired me to get into the security field. That led me to get a student job here at Mend by participating at the OWASP conference. I’m finished with studies and now work as a full-time employee.”
Over the past year, both women note that Mend has taken significant steps to make this a good place to work as a woman. There are now a total of eight women on the R&D teams, with two of the three team leaders being female.
Nurturing an environment that is comfortable for male and female employees is a constant effort for the company. One of the biggest challenges is in hiring more female developers, which can come with its own complexities. Our pair of developers have their own thoughts on how to improve this process.
“When recruiting, make job descriptions more realistic,” says Kainan of the standard job posting with its laundry list of pie in the sky demands. “Women statistically won’t apply when they don’t meet 100% of the description whereas men might. More women might apply if you are more general about your requirements and then you are able to judge their resumes on their own value.”
She notes that men who write job descriptions often describe themselves, which can lead to uniformity in the company.
Rashkes agrees that companies need to make an effort to bring on more women. “That said, don’t hire us because we are women and you want to diversify your company. You should want us to work with you because we are top-level professionals,” she says, adding that, “Maybe women should take the tip of applying for jobs that they aren’t totally qualified for on paper and encourage themselves to take on challenges.”
Beyond policies for hiring, there are soft areas where companies can make the environment more female-friendly. “Activities outside of work and office perks (gifts and game room) are very male orientated,” says Kainan, adding that companies should make an effort to think about what women would be interested in.
Working alongside male colleagues, both developers feel that their team does a good job of being inclusive due in part because they are treated the same as the men.
Asked what they wished that their male colleagues understood about their female coworkers, Rashkes says that, “There is no difference between us, but I don’t feel like they are unaware of this fact.”
Kainan chimes in with a reminder that, “The men don’t have to tiptoe around us. We’re not going to fall to pieces. I understand humor and I won’t cry if someone yells.”
First and foremost, Rashkes and Kainan believe that women in the technology field need to cut themselves some slack.
“Believe in yourself and don’t undermine yourself. Don’t try to say why you’re not good enough,” Kainan states, encouraging others not to be afraid to make mistakes.
The lack of background that many women come to the table with can be a serious deterrent for many, but Rashkes says that it shouldn’t be a reason to quit or be afraid of this vast field of opportunity.
“Use organizations like she codes and find your mentor,” she says, adding that the rough patches along the way are well worth the reward. “Everyday that I come to work, I feel like I’m learning something new, that I have a new challenge and purpose to before. The satisfaction of solving a problem is the best thing that I can feel.”