Summarize your experience and what you do now. Please give a brief summary of your current role.
I pursued an engineering degree in computer science and a master’s in digital media – combining IT with usability and visual arts. I now work as a user interface developer at web company Opera Software, mainly writing C++ code and helping develop top browser features for their desktop web browser, like Speed Dial and our synchronization tool Opera Link.
Do you think that being a statistical minority in the tech world has given you that extra push that you needed to become a top performer in your field? I don’t feel like a minority in my everyday work, and never felt I had to prove that I could perform well as a woman in technology. To become a top performer in IT, I need to improve the way I work and what I know; I use that as my motivation, not my gender.
How did you choose the technical field from all other possibilities that were presented to you? I followed my passion. When I first encountered programming at school, I enjoyed the tasks and even the homework; it was never something I had to sit down and force myself to do. I was fascinated by it, and I just wanted to write more programs. To continue doing so after school was the obvious choice for me.
Do you think that the tech field provides the opportunity for you to think more creatively or to innovate more freely than other fields? The amazing thing about technology is its endless possibilities. Today, I help create a web browser. In the past, I’ve written computer games, time-lapse software and race track simulations. Tomorrow, I might work on medical or educational software. That’s why I love IT and developing software: if I have an idea, I can just try it.
If you were asked to mentor a young woman interested in a tech career, how would advise her? Whatever image you have of the typical woman in technology, don't try to be her. Simply be yourself. I know women who have dropped out of IT studies because of what they saw as a frat-house culture. Don’t feel like you have to be “one of the guys”; you can be as geeky as them, while still being the woman that you are. If you ever feel that you’re treated differently because of your gender, it will only change if you do something about it and help shape your own work environment.
How does your company encourage women in the IT workplace? For me, a company's role in encouraging women in IT is to create an environment where women feel normal, not special. Opera Software is this week hosting a Girl Geek Dinner at its headquarters and each year hosts an International Women’s Day event. Sometimes I don’t attend because I already feel I am treated like a normal IT developer, and that I don’t need gender-specific encouragement. Opera Software has always celebrated its diversity – for whatever minority you might feel part of.
What stereotypes if any have you faced as a woman working in technology? If I meet someone new and mention I work in IT, they are usually surprised. I was flattered at first, but after a while thought, “Why be surprised? Why am I extraordinary for doing work that’s normal for men?” We’ll only see this reaction so long as there are few women in IT. A colleague once said that women in IT should be treated as special, because 99% of the women they know are scared of technology. Technology is often presented as big and incomprehensible. We have to work on making technology more accessible, for everyone, to show that it’s really no big deal for women to work in it.
Manuela's profile is part of the Women in Tech series, which places the spotlight on women in technology and their contributions. Feel free to open a dialog here to learn more about this series, the women profiled, their accomplishments and the topic of women in technology.