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Cover image for Community Spotlight #9: Meet Marijke Meersman
women.code(be)

Community Spotlight #9: Meet Marijke Meersman

Claudia
I'm a bit of a generalist - UX designer/developer. In the past I used to work as a front-end developer and product manager. Currently building a community for women who code in Belgium 🇧🇪 👩‍💻
Originally published at blog.womendotcode.be ・7 min read

Meet Marijke, a junior .Net consultant with mad nail art skills and a love for gadgets. Before switching to tech, Marijke graduated as an applied psychology major where she focused her thesis on e-mental health.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m Marijke and I’m a .NET Developer, however, this was not what I originally intended to become. Ever since I was a child I wanted to help people by becoming a psychologist. So I set out to study Applied Psychology. During that time I wrote a thesis on applications in mental health (e-mental health). This topic just really fascinated me.

During my research, I noticed there was so little technology being used in mental health. This is what motivated me to explore an unknown field and study Applied Computer Sciences. This also went really well and I graduated in 2018. My goal in life is therefore to make a difference in e-mental health.

What was your thesis about?

It was about applications that claim to help you to manage depression and anxiety. I discovered that for a person struggling with these problems, there are quite some apps, but it is difficult to differentiate what is a legit source and what is not.

It is great though that people are able to set small and low threshold steps to improve their situation. This was also the main reason I chose this topic because I’m a person who loves finding apps to solve every problem I have.

Don’t know how to drive somewhere? Install an app. Want to make a to-do list? Install an app. Want to scroll through the items of your favourite shop. Install their app. Are you bored? Install an app.

So it is only normal that people also search for apps when they need help. It would be great if those apps would help them get better and help them to see a specialist when necessary. It could be the first step to a better life.

So as you can imagine I really worked with a lot of love and passion on this thesis. Other people noticed too, because I won the prize for the best thesis of that year.

What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?

I’m working as an IT consultant for codesense, more specifically as a .NET developer and the client I’m currently working with is Digipolis.

A typical workday for me starts with opening my computer at home. I’ll look at Jira and start working on issues that are assigned to me. We work in sprints so every two weeks we evaluate how the issues are going. I mainly work alone on these issues but I can always call in help from a colleague.

Are you currently working on an e-mental health related project?

Sadly no. I have had a lot on my mind lately and no time for a side project (Buying a house apparently takes a lot of time 😉 ). But I am really eager to get started on such a project, so any suggestions are always welcome.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

I really like painting my nails, there is just something about typing when your nails are painted that really makes me happy.

Nail art by Marijke

And recently, I also got two little kittens, they are really a handful and I just love spending time with them.When I’m playing or cuddling with them, I can forget the whole world. In non-corona times, I took latin and ballroom dancing lessons with my boyfriend. We have been doing this for several years now and I think it is a really good bonding hobby to have as a couple.

Pictures of Marijke and her 2 black kittens

What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?

I have always loved technology and new gadgets. On top of that I also noticed that technology was not on the mind of a lot of mental health workers, so I wanted to be able to help.

It soon came apparent that people in tech and people in mental health care just don’t seem to understand each other. They seem to be in completely different worlds, so collaborations don’t always go that well. This motivated me to act like a bridge between them.

To top things off, just being able to write some code and then being able to use a program that you just made is just awesome! It just feels amazing to know somebody is using something I made and being helped by it.

If you ever stopped working in tech, what would be your dream job?

(Question from Griet)

If I ever stopped working in tech, I think I’d like to transition to something closer related to e-mental health. Like a researcher in that field.

I also happened to enjoy doing research for my thesis because this topic really interests me. And coincidentally the promoter of my thesis was a researcher for e-mental health, I can see myself doing his job someday.

What is your favourite gadget?

My Fitbit. I have had it for 5 years now and I still love it. I just love love data and Fitbit is great at capturing data. Goal setting for fitness goals is now pretty easy and I love monitoring my sleep to see what affects my sleep patterns. Even after 5 years I look almost every day at my data and whether I crushed my goal of the day. It can be really motivating to take those 500 extra steps.

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

Dare to ask for help. It is still something that I am struggling with to this day and have to remind myself. I always want to fix things on my own. A good programmer must be able to Google their way out of about anything right?

Wrong. Truth is that a lot of times you learn more from another programmer than just copy-pasting from google. I also learned that it’s mostly the advanced programmers who dare to ask more questions instead of the juniors. Asking questions can save you a lot of time.

And honestly, people like helping people. Chances are that the other person will have a good feeling when they were able to help you. So it is actually a win-win.

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

One of my best friends, Maartje. She’s just a tech wizard. We became friends in the first year of our studies. I felt like she didn’t actually need the training. I dare even say she was better than some teachers were (okay, maybe a lot of teachers). So I’ve always wanted to become like her; even though I don’t know if I can, she is just born to code.

Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?

To be honest, I’m awful at following tech trends and such. I only listen to one podcast, Nerdland [a Dutch spoken podcast], and I can’t even keep up with that even though they only have one episode per month.

But that podcast is fantastic, you really learn things about what is new in science, you don’t hear about on the news. I’m often surprised at the info that is not told on the news.

Any science news of late that caught your attention that didn’t receive much press?

CRISPR. I didn’t know it existed until I heard it on the Nerdland podcast. It is a revolutionary technique to make changes to DNA. This could in the long run cure and prevent a lot of diseases.

It really blew my mind that Nerdland was the first place for me to hear that this existed. There are even a couple of babies made with this technique already (although this was done illegally), but still! How is this not on the news?!

What made you join the women.code(be) meetups

My friend Maartje and also because I love the idea to be able of having “girl nights” with people who have similar interests.

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

Personally, I have never really felt excluded in tech for being a woman. I have been lucky enough to never having to hear bad jokes about women in tech among my colleagues. Gender is just never really a topic for me, I guess? So maybe it is noteworthy to say that women should not be afraid to join this “man’s world”. After all, programmers are just people, most of them really don’t mind what your gender is.

But I do think the only way to be more inclusive is to not mention differences. No one differentiates between people with blue eyes and brown eyes because it is never mentioned. I try not to think as myself as part of a “minority group”, I’m just a programmer. Maybe the thing we need most is just more confidence.

And if we’re being honest, this should be started at childhood. If boys and girls were raised with the same expectations, we would probably not have any problem in discriminating genders in any field.

Are there any mental health tips that you want to share with our readers that might help during these stressful times?

Talk. During these times we are more alone and we have fewer people to talk to. But keep talking to people. Being inside your head too much is not healthy. Go for a walk with someone, video chat,… do it in a corona proof way, but keep talking to the people you love. Especially the combo of walking and talking is a great way to take care of yourself mentally and physically.


We hope you enjoyed Marijke’s interview, feel free to share this article with your network. ❤️

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