As a society we tend to focus on titles and roles, and we forget that behind each title there is a person who has a story to tell. And truly every person’s story is unique.
In honor of International Women's day, we interview inspiring women from the community on the story of how they got into Tech, and where they are today.
In this post I interview my amazing colleague at Microsoft, Gitte Vermeiren, who is based in Belgium.
I’ve been in IT for 15 years now, always on the tech side of things, starting out as a teacher, later as a developer, team lead and architect. I just started a new role within Microsoft as a FastTrack Engineer, helping our customers design and operate our cloud services. I love sharing knowledge and being on top of the latest technology advancements. I have a knack for really digging in to a problem and trying to solve it. Collaborating on designs and seeing the different businesses of our customers for me is tremendously interesting. I have also done quite some community speaking at several events. I like inspiring people through this, however, with a vivid three year old at home, this is a bit at a lower pace right now.
When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?
Technology, science and all things logic have always interested me, even from when I was really young. I wasn’t really a doll player, but rather preferred Lego and my Game Boy. Once a teenager, I got my ‘Kijk’ (the Dutch teenage version of Scientific American) on a regular basis. By doing computer science in higher education I also found out I have a natural talent for problem-solving. Programming just felt really natural and I loved doing it.
What education do you have?
After high school I first started movie school but soon realised, while I do love storytelling, I don’t have any cinematic vision whatsoever. It was a tremendously fun 2 years of my life though: I didn’t have to do too much studying, saw a huge amount of movies and just hung out. I loved living the student's life!
After 2 years and advised by my mom, I started computer science, which was actually an instant match. I first went for a professional bachelor, which I very much liked because of the practical side of things. Once I started my first job, I also achieved my masters’ degree during evening classes.
Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?
I started teaching at the university college where I studied. I got to prep and teach programming classes, but also classes like game programming, software testing, database technologies, etcetera. Each year I took on new subjects to teach, so I myself as well could keep on learning and evolving, it was tremendous fun to do.
Do you have any role models that influenced you?
First and foremost my mom. She inspired me to go chase my dreams and keep on working hard until you get there. She herself never let life get her down, but kept on fighting to provide the best for her family. She’s the strongest person I have ever known!
Second, Katrien De Graeve, she’s the first woman I saw on stage at tech community events. She really inspired me to want to do the same.
Third, Michel Grootjans, a guy I worked with during my consultancy years. He taught me everything I needed to know about agile and lean methodologies. He taught me how to teach by handing away the keyboard. He inspired me in the way I later became the one in charge of coaching our junior hires.
Who were/are the biggest supporters in your career?
First and foremost my family, of course!
But also all the great people I have worked with who gave me chances to grow. You have to make a lot happen for yourself in your career, but if you are surrounded by people who believe in the best of you, that really helps. Especially during my consultancy years, the company I was with really felt like a family and I got the opportunity to grow and experiment. During these years I did my first community sessions and I went from being a developer to becoming an architect.
Tell us more about your current job – e.g. what do you like most about your role?
In my current job, I guide our customers on their cloud journey. I advise and teach them on the services they would want to use, and help them make the right decisions. The most fun days are the ones in which we do design sessions and listen to the problem customer wants to solve and together we draw out a solution for this, taking all concerns into consideration.
Even more fun is it when we get to do a challenging proof of concept together with a customer. Figuring out things that are cutting edge or bringing together things that haven’t been combined before, really brings out my problem-solving skills. I love to dig in.
What does your typical day look like?
It depends a bit on the day since there is a lot of variation in my job. There are days in which I prep tech sessions and demos. There are other days where I’m doing a presentation, workshop or a design session at a customer. Some other days I spend on training myself, either through videos, reading or hands-on trying things out. There are also days which are spent answering emails and trying to find answers for customers’ questions. And some days are a combination of all of the above.
What do you do in your free time?
Spend time with my family. I have the greatest daughter alive, and the sweetest husband (who is also in IT, it’s the only subject we bicker about). We either go to the zoo, go swimming or to a trampoline park. We try to spend a lot of time outside of the house. Long walks, however, which I love to do as well, are close to impossible right now with the little one (kids get bored quickly). I also love to cook and eat.
What advice will you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?
Go for it and stay yourself! At the beginning of your career, keep your eyes and ears open and try to learn as much as you can. And once you know your stuff, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. If you know your stuff, you will naturally get the respect you deserve, but do expect you will have to prove it.
And don’t let know-it-all people get you down, their behavior only comes from their own insecurity.