Meet The Role Models is a technology community series which highlights the stories of The Ada Lovelace Initiative role models. The success of the Ada Lovelace Initiative is down to the continuous participation of technology professionals across Ireland and since September 2015, voluntary speakers have reached over 5000 secondary school students between them.
Joining us for our latest interview is Iulia Avram, Software Developer at FabFitFun.
MEET IULIA AVRAM
Hey Iulia! How would you describe your current role?
Right now, I work as a Software Engineer in a company that places a lot of emphasis on collaboration. We are regarded as Full Stack developers, as we are encouraged to pair in projects or areas that are not always our strongest suit. My main area of expertise is Backend development, which to me is the backstage magic that makes the performance great, but throughout my career I’ve also dabbled in Frontend and Infrastructure.
What attracted you to this type of career?
When I was in school I was very good with numbers, and while I excelled at all the logical subjects, I was more attracted to the artistic ones. Later in life, after I had finished a series of studies, I became acquainted with programming and computer science. It was a revelation to me. It was like art, but with numbers. There are so many directions to explore in this career. If you like theory and research, you can focus on the computer science part of it. If you like practical things, you can code multiple applications in so many different languages. You can write math with code, and you can paint with code. It’s flexible and diverse. I was bound to fall in love with it.
What did you study in college?
I had the luck to live in a country where college is pretty cheap, even free for your first round of studies, so I went for bachelor studies twice. Once to study foreign languages and literature, and the second time to study computer science.
What were your favourite subjects when you were in school?
I liked Literature and History, because they were full of stories. And English, because our English teacher used to organise the best events in our school: Shakespeare festivals, culture days, you name it. I will forever link the English grammar lessons to those extracurricular wonders.
What were your favourite hobbies when you were in school?
Until I finished high school, I had three dream jobs in this order: Egyptologist, writer and film director. So my hobbies revolved a lot around these things. I read a lot and for a while I had more friends in books than in real life. In highschool, I started being interested in cinematography, so I filmed a lot of silly videos that I would later fashion into mini-films or new music videos for my favourite bands at the time. It was then that I also discovered video games, so I spent an unhealthy amount of time on the computer, either gaming or editing.
What would you say is a common misconception about your role type?
I think the biggest misconception is that programming is a manly activity and any girls having this career must also be tomboys in one way or another. In reality, this career type has a very diverse set of participants. Another misconception is that you need a degree to do this job. But while education is important in succeeding in this role, formal education is not needed at all. You could learn in a school, or at home by yourself. The only thing that matters is the effort one is willing to put in it.
What would you say is the best part of your work?
My favourite part is working with a lot of very skilled individuals and the fact that it feels like a continuous learning process. It’s a bit like being paid to learn. Also, another good thing, which shouldn’t be dismissed easily, is the fact that this type of work can be done remotely and there is a big demand for it in some countries. This has enabled me to travel quite a lot. Also moving to a new country isn’t as daunting when you know that you could potentially keep working for your company (if they allow remote work) or find something new with ease. I know this is a privilege many other careers don’t offer, so I’m determined to indulge in it as long as I have it.
What motivated you to get involved with The Ada Lovelace Initiative?
Growing up, hearing from people who chose the career I also wanted for myself or reading interviews on the subject helped me see that my dreams are achievable. It helped me motivate myself when things got hard. I wanted to give back the same kind of support that I received growing up and The Ada Lovelace Initiative seemed like a good way to do it.
How important do you think it is for young girls to have the opportunity to meet female role models in the stem space?
I think that having female role models might make it easier to believe that where others have succeeded, you might succeed as well. It’s easier to identify with someone that might have had a similar experience to yours, or as close to similar as possible. Unfortunately, being a woman in STEM still comes with some challenges, with underrepresentation and stereotyping being some of the most common ones. Therefore, seeing others fight those obstacles and winning is one of the best motivators there is.
Who is a role model in history that you look up to, and why?
It’s very hard to pick one role model, because there have been so many interesting people throughout history. We have a lot to learn from a lot of people. One person I started admiring recently is Carl Sagan. I admire his passion for science and astronomy, his poetic language, his tireless efforts to educate others, and his involvement in the Voyager expedition.
Who would you say is your own role model in your career today, and why?
As far as my role model in career goes, it is a combination of many people I’ve worked with that have taught me things beyond programming. Some of those things are: a strong work ethic, the ability to find excitement even after 20 years of working in the same field, the energy to tinker with code outside of the office hours for sheer fun, if not profit. I believe that strong but unnamed role models are all around us, and sometimes you don’t need to meet someone famous to find wisdom.
What advice would you give to any young girls considering a tech / stem future?
Find why you like it or what drives you there, and stick with it. Put it somewhere where you can read it when it gets hard. Like most things in life, not all days ahead will be sunny days and sometimes remembering why you started is a good way to keep going. I’m not sure this applies solely to tech or STEM, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Don’t lose your enthusiasm, although it’s perfectly normal not to be excited about it every day. And help each other. Give others your support, and accept support from others in return. You don’t have to go through it alone.
Thanks so much Iulia for taking the time to share your story with us.
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