Prompted by a shortage of female job applicants and the experiences of our co-founder Claire, we've been interviewing a series of women about their experiences in IT and the technology sector. Most contributors have been UK-based, but we wondered whether our European colleagues working in the sector face similar challenges and opportunities. We asked Amsterdam-based Fleur van Veldhuizen, manager inside sales Western Europe and Africa for our partner Palo Alto Networks, to share her experience and thoughts.
How did you get into a career in technology?
My first experience with IT was between college and university, at a company called Ordina. After university, I began my career at Randstad, an HR and recruitment company. During my time there I worked in different sales roles, starting as a sales recruiter and being promoted to business manager and finally to area manager.
After seven years at Randstad I realised that I wanted to change to a different industry. I took a sabbatical, travelled and had lots of fun. When I got back, I started by approaching my network to figure out what I wanted. I had a talk with one of my old co-workers, who subsequently approached me for a role at the technology company Koning & Hartman, which was focused in telecom. I was immediately interested.
Working in IT is exciting, and I was pleased that Koning & Hartman wanted me to come on board, despite my non-IT background. I worked there for over two years and that's where I met one of my current colleagues, who joined Palo Alto Networks a few months before me and then approached me for my current role. I went through the interview process, where I talked to a lot of great people and got really excited about cyber security and the company itself.
Do you enjoy it?
Yes! IT is a great industry; it's exciting, fast-paced and constantly evolving. I love working at Palo Alto Networks - fantastic products, great people, and we have the momentum with the growing importance of cyber security.
Do you know any other women who work in tech?
We have a lot of women here, especially in our internal sales organisation, based in Amsterdam, where we make up about 40% of the workforce. Our company is diverse as a whole: in Amsterdam alone we have people from 40 different countries - speaking 35 languages - and of different backgrounds, ages, religion and so on.
With this diversity, everybody brings something unique to the table. This makes our ideas, plans and projects more dynamic and creative, which is how we grow faster, not only as a company with our partners and customers, but on an individual level. Our backgrounds and experience also help us enrich each other and make an impact inside the company, as well as outside. For example, our employee-led charity projects focus on a different goal every quarter and have been very successful.
Would you recommend IT or tech to girls who are thinking about their future careers?
It's a great industry and it's exciting. Sometimes people still ask me, 'Is it not boring to work in IT?'. I usually respond by asking them, 'Would you like to work for Facebook, Netflix or Google?'. When they say, 'Yes,' I point out that these are also IT companies!
IT has everything: you can work in a creative role, systematic, support, sales, etc. Not only can you work in one role, but you can learn skills that will help you advance to other roles. Once in IT, there are so many directions in which you can choose to go. For example, maybe you start in business development and sales and your next step is EMEA content manager in the marketing department.
What's the best thing a girl or woman can do to get into the tech sector?
While I was still at university, if someone had asked me where I want to work in 10 years, I never would have said cyber security. Now that I'm here I love it. Technology and IT is developing and growing quickly, which I really like.
My advice is to be open for things you don't know yet, step into the deep, take the risk and go for the adventure. And if you realise that you are not in the right company, at least you know that you have tried. Staying in a role where you don't want to be is a waste of your time.
How can we encourage more girls and women to consider an IT or tech career?
I think it's important to start at the school level by getting children familiar with IT from an early age. For example, let them play with the basic principles of coding. I think the issue lies with a lack of role models in the industry. Some female members of my team have a tech education and they said the classes were full of guys, with some having just one woman. Marketing classes, on the other hand, were full of women.
I think we need more people (parents, teachers and sponsors) in the forefront who promote the industry and especially the roles within it. Talk about it, be positive about it, and encourage all the women around you!
Discover more about how Ideal and Palo Alto Networks can help secure your organisation.
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 vacancies, and get in touch with HR@ideal.co.uk to tell us why you're the Ideal candidate.