Agnès is a software engineer and expert in GPU programming. She started out as a researcher in Computational Fluid Dynamics, where she worked on the GPU acceleration of a particle-based simulation method. She is the author of several publications in her field and won several awards in the course of her PhD. After a few years contributing to various open source software projects, Agnès decided to focus on software development.

Dr Agnès Leroy is a software engineer and expert in GPU programming. She started out as a researcher in Computational Fluid Dynamics, where she worked on the GPU acceleration of a particle-based simulation method. She is the author of several publications in her field and won several awards in the course of her PhD. After a few years contributing to various open source software projects, Agnès decided to focus on software development.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?

I am a software engineer working in cryptography. I started out as a researcher in Computational Fluid Dynamics, where I worked on the GPU acceleration of a particle-based simulation method. I am the author of various publications in this field and won several awards in the course of my PhD. After a few years contributing to different open source software projects, I decided to focus on software development instead of research. I first worked at EDF (Electricity of France) as a researcher/developer, then at RTE (France’s Transmission System Operator) as a software developer. Since 2021, I have been working on cryptography for the French startup Zama. I hold a Mechanical Engineering degree from Ecole des Ponts ParisTech and a Civil engineering degree from Universidade de Minas Gerais (Brazil). I also hold a PhD from Université Paris-Est.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve tried many times, but only recently realised where I want my career to lead. Now I feel capable of planning for it, which I do.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Definitely. I have faced, and am still facing, many challenges. After I finished my studies, I wanted to be a researcher, but I found out after a few years that it’s not really suited to my character. I was good at it, but I did not really enjoy doing it. It was tough for me to reconsider what I really wanted to do, and to find a new path for my career. For this, I’ve had to reconnect to why I like my job: what do I like most about it and why? It’s taken me several positions in different environments to determine this. Now I am confident I know what I want to do, and what will make me good at it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I feel so proud to have been hired at Zama. I went through an extensive recruitment process (which I totally enjoyed, by the way) that was tough, technically speaking. Among other things, I had one week to deliver an answer to a technical challenge that was very complex. I had given birth just 2 months earlier. I was exhausted and I had no one to take care of my son, so it was intense! But I was confident this was a great opportunity for me, so I went for it and I succeeded. Now I have the best job I could hope for at this stage of my career, and I intend to continue pushing forward.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I am a problem solver at my core. I love solving problems, I’m good at it, and unless I have a good reason (like a change of priorities), I don’t give up. That’s probably why I’m feeling at ease in a tech environment where this key skill is needed to thrive.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Know yourself. Choose a job you like and that’s fun to you. Then manage your energy well to keep having fun even when it gets hard.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

I’ve thought about this a lot in my first job: I was finding it hard to be working in a male-dominated environment at the time. My male colleagues were nice, I got along well with most of them, but I didn’t feel like I belonged there and it made me feel lonely. This feeling had been even more intense during my studies, where I had been evolving in a kind of tough environment for a young woman—there were only 25% of women in my engineering school, and 20-yearold people are still rather immature. After working in more inclusive environments, I think the issue can totally be solved if everyone pays attention not to hurt one another’s feelings. If this is part of the team or company culture, everyone will feel more comfortable in their jobs, I believe, and will be able to give their best. Probably my first job was not so bad in terms of inclusiveness, but I needed to recover from the experience I had during my studies as well.

When inclusiveness is not part of the group culture, it’s easy for it to get really bad for a woman in tech. For example, if I choose to work part time to have time for my family, or if I have to leave work early to go fetch my son regularly, little by little my perception of my own difference will increase. I’ll start feeling afraid that it will affect my progression in the company, and eventually I’ll probably want to leave the group. But if I feel safe enough, I can remember why I made my choices, and that truly men have to make them as well. Then I can tame that voice in my head that keeps saying I’m not good enough. For me, that voice in my head is the biggest barrier: my own perception of my choices and performance is so tough, it’s very hard to keep going forward. Every little detail that feeds my doubts becomes part of a great barrier I set upon myself when I don’t pay attention. If such details come in on a regular basis, it’s too hard to cope and I end up wanting to change environments.

I’m grateful to have been working in very inclusive environments for the last few years, and I can safely say today that in such environments, even with few women around me, I totally feel like I belong to the group.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

To me, a big topic is working time. As a parent I take quite a lot of time off. I chose to work part time in order to keep a good balance in my life. This not only affects my salary, but it can also affect my progression in the company. I have been lucky to work for very accommodating companies on this aspect until now. When all employees, even in positions of responsibility, feel comfortable to work part time and get the job done while enjoying their personal life at the right pace for them, there’s a good ground for gender equality in the company. There’s a good ground for employees feeling fulfilled in their jobs and being more productive for the company, I believe.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

I think the core issue is education: how come so few girls make it to science studies? This comes from differences in the education of boys and girls, I believe. I have been lucky enough to have parents who always believed I was capable of doing anything I wanted to, be it in sports or at school. They pushed me to pursue higher education in science to secure my future, while advisors from school were telling me I could never do it and should aim for something easier. I feel grateful for my parents’ determination and support. Anything that can help girls feel confident they’re capable of being good at science helps, starting from a very young age.

I wish every child had parents and/or advisors who believed they could achieve anything and helped them figure out what they’ll be best at and enjoy most.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I highly recommend taking the CliftonStrengths assessment by Gallup. It’s a great tool to know yourself better and figure out what you really want to do.

About the author

Dr Agnès Leroy is Senior Software Engineer at Zama. Before joining Zama, Agnès worked at EDF (Electricity of France) as a researcher, then at RTE (France’s Transmission System Operator) as a software developer. She holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from Ecole des Ponts ParisTech and a Civil engineering degree from Universidade de Minas Gerais (Brazil). She also holds a PhD from Université Paris-Est.