“You can’t be what you can’t see”! Alexandra Anghel, Co-founder & CTO of Appticles and Co-founder of Codette, talks about her projects, the job opportunities for women in the IT industry and about the mentality in society in CEE.

Alexandra Anghel, Co-founder & CTO of Appticles and Co-founder of Codette

Where and in which position do you work?

I’m co-founder and CTO at Appticles, a platform for creating Progressive Web Apps. Before founding Appticles, I owned an outsourcing company. I’m also co-founder of Codette, a community for women interested in Information Technology and Communications (IT&C) with more than 2000 members. Codette promotes education at all levels and creates opportunities for women to fulfill their potential through workshops, meetups, conferences, hackathons and grants.

Which projects are you currently working on?

My time is currently divided between building JavaScript applications at Appticles (Progressive Web Apps, iOS or Android apps) and machine learning. Last year, our startup has been awarded with a grant from Google Digital News Innovation Fund for building a new product called MorphL – a tool that uses machine learning to predict users’ behavior in mobile and web applications. Regarding Codette, I’m involved in strategy meetings, planning the NGO’s expansion in Romania and organizing our next series of events. This year, Codette has been awarded with an Educator PD grant from Google and as part of this grant. We will organize JavaScript (Angular JS) workshops for high school students, with the purpose of creating professional development opportunities for their teachers who will participate as well.

What fascinates you about your job?

My most important professional achievement was stepping out of my comfort zone and delivering business or technical presentations in front of large audiences. This was difficult for me because, having been educated as a developer, it was much more comfortable to stay behind the computer screen. Stepping out on the stage has helped me grow a lot personally and professionally and I understood that growth happens only when we challenge ourselves. This is the most fascinating part of being an entrepreneur. There are always opportunities to improve, learn new things and apply them immediately.

Women rarely work in IT. What experiences have you made?

I do not believe this statement to be true, at least not in Eastern Europe. I may be biased, since through Codette, I have the opportunity to meet plenty of female engineers. For example, last year, the Automatics and Computer Science Faculty from the Politehnica University from Bucharest had about 30 percent female students – a solid number, with the potential of closing the gender gap, given that it continues to grow. I think the situation is not so great when it comes to management positions. Based on my personal experience participating in many startup events, I can say that female CTOs are still a rare occurrence.

What do you think has to change, so that more women choose technical education?

It all starts with the education. I am one of the fortunate ones – my parents guided me towards choosing a Computer Science university because they had a small business in the field (mostly repairing hardware). However, I have personally witnessed girls being discouraged from pursuing a technical career – from moms telling their daughters “this is not for you” or teachers telling their students “it’s too hard for you”. This is not just my experience. I have heard the same story being recounted over and over again. To give you an example – an acquaintance called me last summer and asked me about my experience going through a CS university. She’s in high school (in a small Romanian town) and she was worried about her choice because her parents and teachers are all telling her she won’t be able to do it. Fortunately, she is a strong and smart girl, who was not so easily persuaded, but I couldn’t help but wonder about how many future hopes are lost because no one believed in them. There is no easy way to change this mentality. We have to give examples, create role models and speak out with every opportunity that we have. There is a saying that “you can’t be what you can’t see” and I think it applies perfectly in this case.

What career opportunities exist for women in the IT industry?

For everyone willing to pursue this, there are a lot of opportunities to step into the spotlight. Since there are fewer women than men in the industry and even fewer people in general that are willing to give a presentation, sometimes you stand out on stage by just being a female technical founder or female senior engineer. A lot of large companies and startups with headquarters in Romania are actively creating role models by promoting women from their teams, so there are good opportunities for creating a professional image.

What should companies do in the future to support female IT managers in their position?

I think many female IT managers could benefit from a strong support system when they are ready to make that step. I’m talking about flexible hours, daycare and so on, just making things easier and avoiding a career penalty. Companies should also encourage diversity (and a lot of them of actively doing this) and not limit themselves to gender diversity, but also take into account racial, age, background and other types of diversity.

Next week, Alexandra Anghel will give five tips for women who want to become IT managers.