Our series of interviews with women who work in IT and the technology sector was started by co-founder Claire. It's a response, in part, to the lack of female applicants for our job vacancies - a particular problem when it comes to technical, hands-on roles.
Marena Karasevich has just such a job: she's a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and a 2017 Cisco Champion, responsible for network design and maintenance at a Canadian college. What advice can she offer women looking for a similar role?
What's your current position, and what do you do day-to-day?
I'm currently part of the infrastructure team at a public college in the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. We have a fairly small team so we all wear many hats. My role is part network architect, part engineer, part administrator and part cable-monkey. I've personally planned, configured and deployed, and I maintain all of our physical network infrastructure, both wired and wireless, at two campuses. My coworkers tend to just refer to me as "The Network".
What (if anything) did you study at university?
Originally my plan was to go into medicine, but after the second year of my Bachelor of Science I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.
How did you get into a career in technology?
It was literally by accident. I had been struggling for a few years trying to find a career path that interested me and had recently broken my ankle quite badly and wasn't working. I had a friend who was attending a local vocational college taking a networking and communications electronics course, and he suggested I look into it. I had never seriously considered a career in IT but I figured: "Why not?".
It only took a couple of weeks for me to realize I enjoyed what I was learning, and I was actually good at it. My first job was as a computer technician on Saturdays at the college I was attending - while I was still in school. They hired me full-time right after I graduated, which was great because I got some immediate work experience in the field. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Do you enjoy it?
Definitely. I love being challenged, and I'm a voracious learner, so being in an ever-changing field where you're constantly expanding and upgrading your skills and knowledge is perfect for me. I'm also a natural troubleshooter, and puzzling out quirky problems that pop up unexpectedly gives me a bit of a rush.
Have you ever experienced any implicit bias or direct sexism in your industry?
I haven't really experienced it personally. Even back when I was in college, and the only woman in my graduating class, my peers and instructors never treated me any differently, in fact we had quite a healthy, albeit unbalanced, 'battle of the sexes' going on in terms of grades. Everywhere I've worked, I've always felt like an equal among my co-workers, and my managers have never been anything but supportive and encouraging in terms of my professional growth and development. Honestly, at this point in my career I wouldn't put up with it.
Would you recommend IT or tech to girls who are thinking about their future careers?
Sure, if they have a passion and an aptitude for technology and lifelong learning, there's no reason to not consider a career in IT.
What's the best thing a girl or woman can do to get into the tech sector?
Believe in yourself and be confident in your abilities, and if anyone tells you that you can't do something simply because you're a woman, prove them wrong. Get involved in the technical community and if possible, find yourself a mentor who can help guide your path and give you a push, or a boost when you need it.
How can we encourage more girls and women to consider an IT or tech career?
The ones who are really interested in IT or any technical field will likely find their way there anyway, but I think it's important that we ensure there are as few barriers as possible. I think there is still a subconscious bias away from suggesting IT or tech careers to young women, and we need to make sure they're provided the same opportunities for learning and experience as their male peers. I think sometimes there is an assumption that the girls won't be interested, and so they are not even presented with the suggestion.
I don't know how effective the targeted push towards specifically increasing the number of females in tech fields really is. I think it might actually deter some young women from entering these fields as they don't want to be singled out as special or an anomaly. The more 'normal' we make it for women to consider technical careers, the less intimidating it will seem.
You mentioned finding a mentor - are you able to offer this kind of support to students at the college, either informally or through some kind of scheme?
We don't have a formal mentoring program at the college where I work, but we do hire student assistants throughout the year to provide front-line tech support to other students. This also gives them an opportunity to shadow us and ask questions so they can get a taste of what we do on a day-to-day basis. I'm always happy to talk about what I do with someone who is genuinely interested. It's a nice change because most of my friends are non-technical, so their eyes tend to glaze over immediately when I mention anything about my job.
Has anyone mentored you?
I didn't really have a mentor during my first decade in IT, though I wish I had. I think it would have been extremely helpful in terms of finding focus and direction. When I moved into my current position seven years ago, my manager was invaluable in terms of pushing me to expand my knowledge and skill set beyond what I thought I was capable of at the time. He had the utmost confidence in my abilities, and really helped me to move out of my comfort zone. When he retired last summer I definitely felt the loss.
Do programmes like Cisco Champions help you be more visible to women who might want to pursue a career in IT? Or perhaps people use social platforms like Twitter to find people doing the jobs they aspire to?
Given the pervasiveness of social media these days, I think it is only natural that people would use it as a resource when they're trying to decide on a career path or wondering what the atmosphere is like within a specific field. Programs like Cisco Champions as well as Twitter and other social media platforms are great because they give women an opportunity to be visible in the tech community without necessarily singling them out for being female.
I honestly don't like the way so many people continue to add the gender tag in front of any sort of tech job. I think it perpetuates silos and gives the subconscious message that we are not good enough to be directly compared to our male peers. I have met a lot of brilliant women in my field who I would likely not have had the privilege of interacting with if I hadn't become involved in the tech community at large.
Read more in our Women in IT series, and share your views with @weareideal using #WomenInIT.
We'd love to hear from more female job applicants. If you want to join us, take a look at our current jobs, and get in touch with HR@ideal.co.uk to tell us why you're the Ideal candidate.