In our series of interviews with women in STEM we’ve talked to Katarzyna Dyga, Radio Software Engineer from Poland, working for the European research organization CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. We’ve asked Katarzyna what drove her to a career in this field, about her turning points and pieces of advice. What does she think about meetings dedicated to women in tech? Read the whole story.

What do you like about your job?
Currently, I am an IT engineer working in a team taking care of telecom infrastructure. I am using part of my telecommunication knowledge from studies, but for most of the time, I write code. The thing I like the most about my job is the excitement I feel when I finally see the effect of what I wrote. Sometimes it takes half a day, sometimes half a week, but it is worth it.

Every day I solve small programming problems which is like a little victory for me, with a voice in my head saying “I did it! I did it!”.

Why have you decided to pursue a career in this field? What was your inspiration?
I have always had an analytical mind, so I have chosen the field of study accordingly. During studies, I rather avoided subjects with big programming projects. I finished the studies with some programming knowledge, but definitely not much experience. Shortly after, I discovered that a lot of job offers require programming skills, so I felt challenged a lot and regretted that I had not learnt more of it. Also, around this time, I went to one of the “girls in tech” meeting, which was very inspiring. The girls there made me believe that I can be a good programmer, just as others. In order to expand my skills, I signed up for a couple of online programming courses and, after many hours with a bit of frustration from time to time, I built my first web-page. In the meantime, I have been recruited by CERN to develop a monitoring system for a telecommunication service. I felt like this project was a perfect match for me, a telecom engineer with some programming skills. At the beginning, it was not easy to work on a software project on my own. The amount of information coming from the Internet can be overwhelming. But at some point, I have started to connect the dots properly and at that point, it became clear to me that I have reached the stage when I can program and enjoy it.

Katarzyna working at CERN

Do you have role models?
Actually no, I don’t recall anyone.

Did you have a turning point in your career?
Well, I would say yes. During my studies, I focused mostly on electronics in telecommunications. Basically, I was simulating high-frequency circuits and making PCB boards. I thought I liked it, but at the same time, I felt that it is not the thing that I want to do for the rest of my life. And neither was programming at that time! The work I had to do for the M.Sc. degree made me feel extremely tired and exhausted. I wanted to run away from electronics as far as possible. At the same time, I had a good and pleasant experience with microwave simulation, but it was simply impossible to find a job with such a niche skill.

I knew I had to set the next goal in my career, and that is how I started attending “girls in tech” meetings (Geek Girls Carrots) to get inspired and investigate what opportunities are out there.

The community there was really friendly and supportive, especially for girls that want to start to program on a beginner level. Their support helped me to keep programming during online courses and after many hours I built my first webpage. Luckily, I got employed at CERN in the telecom section which was a perfect match for me: a telecommunications-oriented group looking for someone to write an IT system. This allowed me to dive into the IT world fully. I could not be happier.


What do you think is one example of one way you have enjoyed your human rights, in learning or at work?
Well, actually nothing specific comes to my mind.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone just starting in your field?
Never be afraid of asking questions! The sooner you ask, the sooner you will get the answer, the sooner your supervisors and co-workers will be able to help you. It is not admitting your incompetence, it is showing your curiosity. That is the right of being young and inexperienced.

Are there any challenges facing women in your educational or work settings, and if so, what do you see as one possible solution?
The most important challenge we are facing is our thinking that we have to prove men we are also valuable persons. The solution is not easy, but it would be nice to have more women in tech being mothers at the same time. Young girls typically want to be like their mothers, so they would probably treat them as role models. A similar thing already happened in medicine. It is an extremely hard discipline, but women are also very good doctors, and nobody is surprised by this fact. Many women become doctors and then have daughters who often follow in their footsteps.

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