Lenka, you are the founder and a CEO of EMOTER (Essential Medical Outreach & Treatment Rescue): Can you tell us about your journey with this amazing initiative?
When I was in the fifth year of my studies at The Third Faculty of Medicine in Prague I wanted to do an internship in a developing country as I felt the experience could teach me a lot. Initially I did not know which country but a student from our school had gone to Uganda and had a very positive experience: She helped me set up an internship there for the summer.
Petra Kotuliakova – Founder & Director at Aj Ty v IT, Women in Technology, Deputy of DiversIT working group of CEPIS
Petra, let us start this interview with few words about yourself and your journey that got you where you are today.
I am a strong and passionate advocate for girls and women in the tech world. I am convinced that our efforts at Aj Ty v IT, when supported by companies and institutions will lead more women into IT which will create value for the wider economy and society.
I got my PhD from the Economic University in Bratislava, along with studying in Grenoble and Paris. In Paris, I spent a couple of years in the marketing department of Danone. I am proud to have been awarded the European Women in TECH Award for Inclusion 2020 (delivered by the Department for International Trade of the British Embassy) and Female Role mode of the year 2018 delivered by CESA Award.
You are the founder of Aj Ty v IT to help more women get into the tech industry and address the common prejudice that tech is mainly male dominated sector. Can you share with us what the main motivation behind this project was?
I worked at the Faculty of Informatics and Information Technologies (FIIT) of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (in the area of communication and PR), where I noticed that only 3-5% of the total number of students were girls. I felt sorry that girls are missing out all those great opportunities offered by the university. I had to do something to fix that.
At first, I had no idea what the problem was and whether there was a problem at all: I didn’t know why girls were avoiding IT faculties. However, our very first workshop was a huge revelation: Many girls attended, they were interested in what we did and what we talked about. I discovered that they were interested, but no one triggered their interest or supported them. That was in late 2012 when the story started…
Aj Ty v IT is 10 years old, can you share with us bit more about your journey and what challenges did you face in those 10 years?
As an NGO, the main challenge for us, as for all others in this sector, is the financial sustainability. Every year we start with a blank Excel sheet with zero euros, and we need to work hard to fill it and be able to continue our work. Over the years, this situation has got better but this is still something that wakes me up in the night.
Another challenge for us was also the working style and the organization setting. During the first years, Aj Ty v IT’s team was very small; composed of enthusiastic volunteers without the need for any organisational structure. In 2018, we received a larger financial subsidy from Google.org, which helped us to expand our team and the scope of our activities. At first, we worked cross-functionally, which gradually proved to be very complicated. That’s why we created smaller teams working on specific projects, which disrupted our former system, and we all had to get used to it. People felt fragmented among several projects, and it was also necessary to rebuild our information flow management. Eventually, it turned out to be the right step, which brought us all closer together.
source: Jakub Čajko
Aj Ty v IT is one of the leaders on the Slovak market, you should be very proud.What are your next steps with your professional career?
Firstly, AJ Ty v IT during autumn will undergo some organizational changes including a new COO and CFO. Both positions are very needed and will help the organization to be more effective. For me, it means that I can be more focused on strategy and vision as this is something I like to do.
Secondly, I would like to move Aj Ty v IT more towards Europe. The know-how and experiences we acquired have precious value. We are ready to share and help the European technology sector be more inclusive and diverse.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your professional achievements?
That we built up from scratch, a strong organization with a visible and huge impact, which is recognized in Slovakia but also abroad. That we are truly helping Slovak girls and women to get a tech education, allowing them to be competitive on the job market and to be more independent. And of course, that we are changing the face of Slovak tech sector, this is something so precious for me!
As a female founder in tech industry in Slovakia, did you yourself face some prejudice when doing business?
Aj Ty v IT is more an educational and empowering organization than a standard tech industry company. But speaking about prejudices, oh, we face them so often! They are going together with our mission, as we are a game changer in the tech field. The common prejudice about the role of women in the tech world is still very visible. The strong male dominance here is sometime hard to mentally overcome.
What challenges do you think women face today in tech and business?
Often, the main obstacle are women themselves. Being able to overcome our own prejudices, fears and doubts is the most difficult step when starting a business.
The second problem is access to finances. It’s hard to start a business without investors; this is a hard limit for all ideas. So, let’s imagine this internal fight – first to persuade themselves that they can do it. Second, they need to persuade their family, friends and colleagues. And third, they need to persuade the investors. So it’s a long way to go!
It seems from statistics that companies like Aj ty v IT are one of the reasons more and more Slovak girls and women are getting into IT and tech. Over the 10 years, did you see the growth? Is it growing fast enough in your opinion?
The growth is visible even it could be still higher. When speaking about numbers: Number of female students at IT faculties in Slovakia was growing from 5% in 2012 to 16 %. The number of women working in IT fields grew from 9 % to 16 % (based on EU statistics). This is nice!
Each year, more than 5,000 girls and women are going through our activities. From this number, 1,600 were adults, and 400 from them finished the long-term Women Academies with a direct push to change their job into IT. And it works!
But we need to do more, as the situation with the lack of IT professionals in Slovakia is critical.
What could Slovakia do to empower more women and girls to take on careers in IT, Tech and business in your opinion?
Be more supportive towards girls from early childhood. The stereotypes and prejudices start in our families and society, and often we are not aware of it. Let’s treat girls in the same way as boys: Allow them to try new things and make mistakes. Don’t push them to be perfect. And especially, let them to design their own lives and futures, not the life we would like to have and create for them. This could be in tech or something else.
source: Aj Ty v IT
Do you see change in the male perspective of women in IT sector over the years?
The change is inevitable and happily it happens. Women are a wonderful talent pool for the IT sector and recognized for their abilities. So, if somebody cannot see this potential, this would definitely be their own growth barrier.
From your CV and from our talk, you are very busy woman. How do you keep balance between your work and life?
The better question would be “are you able to balance it?” I am not sure. I like my work, and this is very dangerous because I my to do list is never empty. I need to read books before sleeping, otherwise I do not fall asleep. Running in the forest where everything is green, and calm is important for recharging energy. And time with my family, without a mobile phone, is the best.
What would be your one piece of advice to any girl, woman or boy and man who will read this interview?
Don’t waste your time on things you cannot influence. Just put your focus on the activities where you can make an impact. And the most important is to do things you like to do. If not, your life will be very boring, tiring, and sad.
source: Aj Ty v IT
What book(s) are the “must read” for you?
The book that helps me in my work is “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott. It made me understand that taking care of my team, doing a kind of “baby sitting”, is what I need to concentrate on in my work.
And a soft touch for my soul was “Three Apples Fallen from the Tree” by Narine Abgaryan. Such a nice story, so peaceful but with a strong message.
Find out more about Aj Ty v IT on their Instagram page.
You’re a successful scientist. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an astrophysicist in Zurich, working on trying to understand how planets are formed, and how life came to be. I started my undergraduate studies in physics back in Hungary, then I did a Master in astronomy, then a PhD in astrophysics in France. Between my undergrad and graduate studies I was working for NASA for a year in Baltimore. Since my PhD I work in Zurich at various universities. I am managing a research grant/project on trying to understand planet- and satellite formation.Read more “Judit Szulágyi – Scientist”