female data scientist, woman leading team

Data is the new oil - how to break through a male-dominated industry

By Dr. Zeinab Bakhtiarinoodeh, Senior Data Scientist at TomTom

female data scientist, woman leading teamBe brave. Don’t be afraid to ask for more. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice at building your confidence. And work hard.

Those are the lessons that I’d give any women starting their career in the STEM industry. Too often we devalue the skills we have, and don’t recognise what we bring to the workplace.

After all, Maryam Mirzakhani (winner of the Field Medal, the Nobel prize for Mathematics) graduated from my college. If she can do it, why can’t I?

There is no doubt that computer science is a male-dominated environment and there is no doubt that it can be intimidating. When doing my PhD studies in computer science and logic, I was the only female in a majority of settings I found myself in. I always thought I had to be exceptional to make it as a woman.

But that changed when I came to TomTom. When I turned up for my interview I was warmly welcomed, and truth be told, that can sometimes be hard to come by as a Muslim woman. From that moment, I knew that I would be able to grow in this company, both professionally and as a person.

Paying it forward

Yes, most CTOs are men, and in such a male-led industry, it can be daunting for women to break through. However, by putting more women in leadership roles at the top of their fields, we can provide mentorship and encourage younger women to pursue a career in tech.

I’ve been lucky to have a number of mentors at TomTom. My primary mentor ended up being my inspiration. She took me under her wing and showed me what’s possible.

From this experience, I was able to understand the importance of becoming a mentor myself. Following a talk I held on data science at CODAM (a tuition-free coding school in Amsterdam set up by TomTom’s co-founder, Corinne Vigreux), I was approached by a number of young aspiring students who wanted to explore mentorship with me.

I strongly believe that “paying it forward” is key to pushing our industry on to bigger and better things, and changing the status quo. If you’re in a position of power or authority, please don’t be afraid to give others a helping hand. If you’re just getting started in the STEM industry, seek out a mentor, and remember to give back when the time comes.

Doing what you love and making a difference

Data is the new oil and is shaping the future. Everything we do generates data. Even making a phone call generates data. We are at the start of an exciting journey when it comes to analysing and understanding what data can do to automate processes.

As a Senior Data Scientist at TomTom, my role is tailored around helping my colleagues make better decisions that are driven by data. Each time I’m faced with a new task, I genuinely feel a sense of excitement, with the view of being able to make a difference. From training to building infrastructure for data products, I’ve learned to be bold, creative, innovative and lead a team effectively – something that TomTom encourages in all women within the company.

Remember that technology is there to help solve problems, rather than create them. Once you find a problem that you’re passionate about, you’ll know you’re making a difference.

Garnering skills for STEM success

I initially had my head and heart set on a career as a professor or researcher, and studied for a PhD in Computer Science and Logic. But making the switch to the data science industry was one of my best moves. Now, with an array of qualifications and skills under my belt, I feel as though I’m making a real difference in the role I have at TomTom.

Here’s five things I’d like to share with any aspiring STEM female:

  1. Keep learning. Learn the latest skills and coding methods. Keep up with the latest trends in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Listen to podcasts. Watch webinars. Read and absorb.
  2. If you want to become a master at coding, but aren’t a master in Mathematics, don’t worry – being a creative problem solver will help you along your way.
  3. Spruce up your presentation and communications skills. This will come in handy when sharing your ideas and solutions.
  4. Show resilience and willingness. Take on a challenge and work on it until the end, and embody the boldness that we, as women, harness.
  5. Have the courage to try new things. Being flexible to pivot will allow you to explore your capabilities to the fullest.

Zeinab TomTomAbout the author

With a six year working background in Mathematics and Computer Science, Zeinab has been in a male dominated industry for the majority of her career. Alongside qualifications in Neural Networks and Deep Learning, Regularization, Optimization and Structuring Machine Learning, Zeinab also speaks English, French, Persian and Turkish.

Today, at TomTom, Zeinab leverages Computer Science, Machine Learning and Mathematical modelling to turn data into a story, a fascinating feature for the users of TomTom products. She is passionate about science and technology, with the aim of using both to make the world a better place to live.

 


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Tech role models featured

It’s mind over matter when it comes to working in a man’s world

By Jurgita Andrijauskaite, eProcurement consultant, Wax Digital

tech role modelsToday, we’re seeing increasing numbers of women thrive in traditionally male-dominated industries. This is inspiring to see, especially for young female students and graduates thinking about careers in the STEM sectors.

In spite of a host of positive female role models taking on high profile roles, frustratingly it’s still not uncommon to hear tales of women being overlooked for certain jobs or feel they have to prove themselves more than their male counterparts.

In my role, I help businesses resolve their procurement challenges using technology. I work for a software company which is 85% male, and with procurement leads, many of whom are men too. However, fortunately for me, I’ve never experienced any prejudice or unfair treatment as a woman working in a heavily male dominated sector and think women should believe in their own ability to perform a role just as well, if not better than a man.

Any issues I have faced in my career have little to do with these male dominated environments, in fact my biggest challenge has always been my own self-limiting beliefs. I always used to struggle with self-promotion, asserting myself and taking credit for my achievements. The fear of being judged on ‘Who does she think she is?’ seemed very real when I was starting out.

I think men can get ahead more quickly and easily than women in business because they tend to have the confidence to seize opportunities when they arise, take credit for their successes more readily and are not shy to ask for what they want. I think overcoming feelings of doubt is what sets successful women apart. This certainly changed the way I view myself and others.

When I was younger, I feared that I may not be taken seriously and that people in senior positions would not be interested in hearing what I have to say. As I became more experienced and confident in what I do, this fear has faded. I think it is important to realise that powerful men in expensive suits are human beings too and that equality means trusting and treating yourself equally to the way you treat others.

During my career I have been lucky to have been supported by both male and female mentors who have offered me their honest feedback, support and encouragement. They also helped me to understand what both genders have to offer and learned to appreciate the value of diverse teams. Looking at the bigger picture, taking more risks and not letting perfection get in the way of progress are a few of the valuable lessons that I can attribute to my male role models and I am thankful for them.

My advice to any woman who suddenly finds herself working in a male-dominated environment would be to go for it, and not to try and act like a man! If you ever feel that you’re being left out of the ‘boys club’, think where that feeling might be coming from. Trust that there are ways to build strong professional relationships with men without having to pretend that you like football or drinking beer. You can add a lot of value by tapping into your femininity - your strength lies not in being the same, but in being different. Ask yourself what you are truly passionate about and try to bring that to your work. For me it is the human factor – working with people first, technology second. I’m passionate about helping people, understanding human behaviour and nurturing relationships. It takes great people to build technology, make decisions, apply and manage it to get the desired results. Technology is shaped by human interaction, not the other way around. It is people driven.

To more encourage woman into male-dominated professions, I’d like to see more women support each other. The sisterhood can bring about a positive change in gender equality. Women should empower each other, and we should be proud of our unique skills such as flexibility, an empathetic approach, creativity, intuition to name just a few.

Jurgita AndrijauskaiteAbout the author

Jurgita (Gita) is an eProcurement consultant at Wax Digital, an integrated Source to Pay software provider. Prior to joining Wax, Gita worked in global procurement for CEVA Logistics.