Inspirational Woman: Laetitia Avrot | Senior Database Consultant, EDB

Laetitia AvrotLaetitia Avrot is a Senior Database Consultant at EDB and a passionate advocate for women in technology.

Having co-founded the Postgres Women Group, Laetitia works with Postgres user conferences across Europe to increase the attendance of female engineers and developers at events. Her goal is to get more women speaking at conferences, contributing code, and mentoring one another to increase the diversity of the Postgres community.

Laetitia holds a degree in computer sciences engineering from INSA in Lyon, and worked at the National Nuclear Safety Authority and National Geographic Institute before arriving at EDB. She is one of only three women recognised on the official Postgres contributors list, but hopes many more will join her in years to come.

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

I’m Lætitia Avrot. I work as a senior database consultant at EDB, where I help my customers find solutions to their problems while taking into account their constraints. I’m also involved in the Postgres community: I’m an elected board member of PostgreSQL Europe, co-founder of Postgres Women and also a recognised contributor of the PostgreSQL project.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I started working in 2004, right after my IT engineering degree. At the time, the IT world was still recovering from the burst of the Internet bubble in France. So, I took the job I was offered, thinking I would gain experience and plan later. For several years, I kept feeling guilty that I didn’t know where I was going with my career, until I realised that it was precisely how I was leading my personal life: doing what I liked, with the people I liked, so that I can achieve my ultimate personal goal in life: be happy now, not later.

It worked very well for me, as I can say that most days of my professional and personal life are happy days. I love what I do and until it changes, I’ll keep going that way. Of course, I had some bad work experiences (like everyone), but I never hesitated to quit. It  was always reassuring to know that finding a new job in IT is rarely a problem.

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

Like most humans, my biggest challenge is to fight my own fears to keep moving forwards – like when I decided to write my first Postgres patch. It wasn’t so difficult technically, but I had many fears to overcome: the fear of failing, the fear of not being taken seriously, the fear of having totally misunderstood important and fundamental concepts, fear of showing my code and getting negative comments, fear of the unknown. But as I always tell my daughters, there’s no real courage without fear! So having tamed all those fears is a source of great pride for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think being recognised as an official Postgres contributor was the most important thing in my career. It’s particularly meaningful because there are only three women in the official Postgres contributors list, and I helped to make that number a little higher. Of course, there’s plenty of room for more! I’d love more women to reach that list, which is why I co-founded Postgres Women, a group that exists to support others with mentoring, speaking at conferences and events, or even material assistance when needed.

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

When I was a child, I had no trouble learning at school – academic subjects were really easy, but physically, I was a little clumsy (I still am). My parents wanted me to learn the real value of working hard to achieve something, so they made me study classical piano for 10 years. As I said, I don’t have great coordination skills, so I had to practice hard to master my finger movements. I never reached a high level at playing the piano, but I became good enough to play classical pieces with an emotional touch. I truly believe that knowing I can count on hard work to help me improve my skills, at any level, has helped me a lot. And a certain stubbornness too…

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

Learn something new every day. The brain works like a muscle: the more you learn, the more you can learn. Thankfully with IT, there’s always new things to learn!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are several things that will prevent women from working in tech, and the first one is the intimidating environment a minority of men are creating to push women out. It’s little things like glances, small chats asking you about your kids when they ask others about their work, discussing project-related topics in the football locker rooms… anything that will make you feel uneasy without you being able to point to one specific thing and say, “that’s the problem”.

These small tactics can add up to a major problem, which isn’t taken seriously enough. I haven’t found a better solution than to leave the companies that maintain such an atmosphere, but thankfully, with IT, finding another job is not difficult.

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

Companies simply need to promote them! I read a great article recently about a woman who found herself doing all the “glue” work in her team, like onboarding juniors, setting up brainstorming sessions to solve team issues, reviewing code, helping other team members and so on. When a new management position opened up, did she get promoted? No, because she was told she was not doing enough code contribution to the project to be taken seriously as a manager!

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would change the ‘blue/pink’ or ‘boy/girl’ sections in stores into purple, or children’s departments! I’m certain this is one of the root causes of the problem. Two months ago my six year old discovered that she was allowed to love dinosaurs – even though she is a girl – by watching ‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’. I’ve never guided her away from any interests or preferences, but she deduced what girls were supposed to like by looking at other children and toy departments. Even though we had told her several times there was no such thing as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toys, and she had plenty of books to illustrate that, children pick up on society’s norms and expectations from a very early age.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I think being able to speak with other women helps. I’m a member of the Duchess France association. It’s normally for Java developers, but it’s open to other women in IT. Being able to talk about something that bothers you and hear other members’ ideas about what to do is really great!

I’d also love to meet more women at meetups and conferences. Readers, don’t be afraid to attend, and managers, please do send women to those kinds of events too!