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While women are exceptional all year round, Women’s History Month feels like an excellent time to highlight some of our own female Rocketeers who are not only making valuable contributions to our company but also shaping the world of tech and WordPress with their work in this male-dominated space.
The gender gap in the tech industry is no secret, and while some initiatives exist to change the game, give more visibility to women and close the gap, there’s still a lot of work to be done. At WP Rocket, we try to do our part by ensuring a gender-equal work environment (41% women and 59% men) and view the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential to our company.
With this in mind, and in the wake of International Women’s Day earlier this month, we asked some of our colleagues to tell us their stories including the challenges they faced along the way. We discussed their inspiring experiences and how they got to where they are today to motivate others to follow suit.
Cristina Soponar – Senior PHP Developer
As a kid, I was always passionate about computers. Later, in high school, I attended a computer science class and quickly understood that this was my calling. I not only liked the subject a lot, but I was also able to solve each test easily and became the top of my class. I went on to study at the Computer Science University in Cluj Napoca, Romania, which was an obvious choice. After graduation, I gained more experience working for a US-based company where I started out as a developer and later became team lead. Looking for a new challenge, I then joined WP Rocket in 2019 to continue doing what I am most passionate about: writing code!
Being a woman in tech
Being a woman in a male-dominated field certainly has its challenges. For example, when I started out my career and got a promotion, I encountered surprised reactions from my male colleagues who couldn’t understand why I was promoted and not them. I tried not to be too affected by their comments and ignored any rude remarks.
Throughout my career, I have managed to overcome any difficulties associated with being a woman in tech by simply being passionate about my work and building my expertise. I have learned to speak up and share my ideas. I try to use my experience and knowledge to gain the trust and respect of my colleagues and show all team members that I, as a woman, belong in this field just as much as anyone else.
Today, the engineering team that I am a part of at WP Rocket makes for a collaborative and supportive work environment. Everyone has a voice, and is encouraged to speak up and share their ideas without any judgement. They are a reliable and respectful bunch and a pleasure to work with. Oh, and they’re funny too!
The importance of representation
At university, 75% of my fellow students were male and only 25% were female – and the best students were women. However, later on during my professional experience I only encountered male developers. Can you imagine that during my 10-year career, I only ever worked with male developers? It was only in 2020 that I had the pleasure of working with a female developer, Tonya Mork, for the first time ever. Right now, in the dev team I am the only female developer (Mai Saad works as a QA), so I would love to see another woman join us!
I think it’s really important to have more women in tech. Especially since women can bring a different perspective to the table. Aren’t women known to pay more attention to detail for example? That’s definitely a quality to have when working in the IT industry. Until now, I have been very busy juggling work and family but when I have more time, I would love to give back and be more involved in initiatives that support more women in the industry.
What piece of advice would you give to women who feel inspired to follow in your footsteps?
Be the best and always be the most prepared person in the room. Speak up for yourself, share your ideas and trust your instincts. It will pay off.Cristina Soponar
Never try to be someone else. Trust your gut, don’t try to copy an attitude to fit in.Agathe Medvedieff
Don’t give up and never listen to anyone telling you that a tech job is not for you. Once you have made this choice, stick to it, be persistent and keep going. Learning takes time but practice makes perfect.Natalia Drause
Agathe Medvedieff – Chief Marketing Officer
Choosing my path wasn’t easy and I hesitated between different options for a long time. As a kid, I was good at school but my heart was not set on a particular subject: I enjoyed literature as much as I did mathematics. Also, being the 4th child, I wanted to do something different than my siblings. All I knew was that I wanted to do my own thing. I ended up in business school a bit by chance and it wasn’t until then that I discovered what marketing was about: the perfect blend of creativity and analytical thinking. I fell in love with the subject and have stayed in that field ever since!
My first job after graduation was as a marketing manager for a French cosmetic brand in Russia. As you can imagine, it was mostly women! I think that really shaped my vision of work. I was surrounded by all these bright women who made me realize that it was absolutely possible to be a woman and have a successful career. Back then, the real challenge wasn’t so much about building my career as a woman but having to learn Russian!
After a while, I decided to change industries and applied for a job in eCommerce. My manager was brave enough – or was it mad? – to hire me even though I had no formal experience in digital marketing. Once I started, it felt like an epiphany. I could finally match my passion for marketing with plenty of data to make the most of my analytical skills. At first, I was a real newbie. I didn’t know what a cookie was, and had never used Google Analytics! That didn’t prevent me from asking questions, and I quickly realized that even technical concepts are not that complicated when someone is simply kind enough to explain them. From then on, I understood that working with developers is exactly like learning a new language: every time there’s something you don’t understand, just ask!
On gaining self-confidence
Learning new things is really what keeps me interested and motivated. It’s with that idea in mind that I joined WP Rocket and became part of the WordPress community. At first, I was a bit shy and scared that I wasn’t enough of an expert when it came to development. But I had learned from my past experience that you have to be your authentic self and trust your gut in order to succeed.
I’m a very sensitive person with a tendency to self-doubt: I’m always wondering if what I’m doing is good enough. Instead of blaming myself for being this way, I have learned to see this trait of mine as a strength instead. It’s because I’m constantly questioning myself that I can improve. It’s because there are plenty of super smart people around me that I can ask questions and learn. I firmly believe that we all benefit from including diverse perspectives and voices.
What are you most proud of?
My 3 daughters are my biggest pride. I try as much as I can to offer them a world where there is equal opportunity for all, where women can do what they want, be who they want, and achieve their full potential. At the moment, my oldest daughter wants to be a helicopter pilot, the second one an illustrator and the third one a queen and pastry chef (because just being a queen sounds boring!). I love imagining what kind of women they will turn out to be.Agathe Medvedieff
I am proud of myself for taking a leap of faith and learning something I had zero knowledge in. I now have a career in tech despite the lack of relevant college degrees and prior work experience!Natalia Drause
My family and my work. Both are equally important to me and I try to take care of both. There are hard times when I need to trade my personal life for my professional life or vice versa, but I always try to balance things out.Cristina Soponar
Natalia Drause – Tech Support Team Member
For the longest time, I wouldn’t even picture myself working in tech. In fact, my BA and MA are in Regional Studies and after graduation, I worked primarily in the tourism and hospitality industry. I’m also a self-taught photographer and ran my own photography business in the US for about 4 years. To me, tech positions sounded very complicated and even HTML code looked pretty scary. I also thought that I needed some sort of tech degree to join the industry.
The big change
My tech journey started when I was building my own WordPress website for my photography business. At that point, I was just starting out and spending money on professional website design and development was not an option. I went through numerous online tutorials and managed to create a somewhat nice website to showcase my photography work. Back then, I still didn’t have good coding skills or know any programming languages. But I was eager to learn and even started helping my friends and family with their own websites.
The pivotal moment was when I had to leave the city where my photography business was based. I had a decision to make, either start my photography business again somewhere else or switch to a totally different job. I chose the second option. Running my own business has taught me that I am capable of learning new things and that not having a formal degree shouldn’t stop me. Also, I had always wanted to be location-independent. A remote job in the tech industry quickly became an obvious choice.
Working in tech
Once I had made up my mind, I dedicated about half a year to learning web development and coding. That in itself was a full-time job. I studied on my own thanks to online resources and very inexpensive online courses. And the hard work paid off! I also joined some online study groups with members from around the world. Men make up the majority of these groups yet I never felt treated any differently. In fact, I found tech-oriented people very friendly and always eager to help everyone, which is not something I found in other industries I worked at.
This is my first tech job and I feel very lucky to be a part of WP Rocket. Gender, race, nationality or age don’t matter here, we’re all part of the same team. There is a lot of support and encouragement within the company. Even though I am the only woman on the tech support team, I have not once felt like the odd one out. Our captains deserve a special mention: they are great mentors and teachers, they inspire us to grow and are happy for us when we succeed. And we succeed thanks to them!
Can you tell us something, personal or professional, that has helped make you who you are today?
To secure a place at university with fully covered tuition fees, I needed to pass some tests. Because my high school didn’t provide a sufficient level of education, I had to dedicate a lot of time and energy into learning the required subjects on my own. This ability to learn things on my own in order to achieve my goals and despite a lack of financial resources is something that I have kept with me.Natalia Drause
When I was at university, I wanted to continue my education and start my career in the US. Those plans fell through when I met my husband and I had to stay in Romania, in a small city with less career opportunities. However, this pushed me to find a way to build a great career from Romania. I had to develop my skills and work ethics and ended up being a remote developer for 10 years. Hopefully, I have now earned the trust of my dev colleagues who know that I am a great professional.Cristina Soponar
I come from a farming family where women play an important role, even though they are not always under the spotlight. My grandmother was a young widow who managed her farm on her own, and worked mostly with men. She always told me that women would lead the world one day and by saying that, she gave me wings!Agathe Medvedieff