Wonder Coder of the month: Irina Kostina

Each month at WonderCoders, we meet an awesome female programmer, get some tips from her and find out more about her superpower.

Hi Irina! Tell us about what you do and who you are. 

Hi! I’m Irina and I’m CTO and co-founder of Skidos Labs. Skidos is a platform for educational games. I am also a co-founder of WonderCoders and have been a part of the organizing team of the first conference about Women and technology in Denmark called WonderTech Summit.

How long have you been in tech?

Actually I got my first job in tech 10 years ago, when I turned 18 – I was working in technical support for antivirus NOD32.

But we also had programming with Pascal or Basic at school, since we were 13.

How did you get into tech?

I guess I was influenced by my brother, who was enrolled at a Technical University and was also an inspiration for me, because he was good at STEM. Also, school had some impact, because a lot of people who follow math classes, were going to tech universities.

How has your your journey in tech been?

It was tough, but also easy at times. For example I’ve always been treated like a woman when it was coming to physical work. Sometimes at University professors would close their eyes because you are a girl – they didn’t have high expectations from us. Some of them were surprised that I was actually good at certain subjects (I was a nerd at that time haha). I just wanted to be encouraged like guys were.

It can be tough also in situations where parents would question or not agree with the career you choose, or in a relationship where you date someone who can’t accept that you are intelligent and independent.
It’s also difficult when people don’t have high expectations from you, it really hurts your confidence. 

Could you share some of the challenges you’ve faced as a CTO?

Well as a CTO I faced challenges with communication and also cultural differences. It took a while to understand other people culture and values and to adjust.

When I was working in technical support I was promoted to be a manager of technical support, meaning managing more than 20 people , some of them were 10 years older than me (I was in my early 20s at that time). Of course I got some sarcastic comments about that.

*** Are you a woman in tech? Please share your challenges?

Well it can be really stupid stuff, but it hurts. I’ve attended Meetup about machine learning these days and a guy from sales asked me “are you here for a pizza?”

Also I see challenges in miscommunication between men and women. And since women are minority in such departments, we have to play men rules. No emotions, stupid jokes are quite common, closed windows and ugly labs. Honestly, the IT crowd TV show is somehow a reality of many companies.

How did you overcome them?

Well, I was opening windows and still was showing emotions. It’s hard to be yourself, when you feel like you don’t fit in. And i still feel the same way, each time I attend a conference –  in 300 people only 10 will be female.

What’s your aspiration in your tech journey?

Other women who are have achieved a lot in the industry and are successful – when I hear that stories I feel like I can do it too (they have done that, right?)

Please share with our readers why they should get a career in tech!

Obviously, there is very high demand tech specialists. Each Industry requires developers and average salary of a developer is quite high. But also, of course machines are going to take over the world (look at what Boston Dynamics is doing), I’m surprised people are not learning computer language as a second language. 😀

Any tips or advice for them?

It’s a lot about trying and experimenting. I spend a lot of time googling, I don’t know the answers but I know how to find them. That’s the most important skill of developer, but I would say not only developer, it will be the most important skill for anyone in the future, because the world is changing rapidly.

Could you give us some ideas on how we can overcome the diversity gap in tech?

Well the work has to come from childhood.

Look at the toy shops – what is there for girls? Of course they will grow up to become ‘princesses’ and not coders. Or what is the image your mind is capturing when you think about scientist? I would imagine old grey-hair man. Girls don’t want to be like that. So in order to inspire young generation into tech and science we have to make them feel welcome and related . I hope to see more projects like Digipippi and introduce kids to programming in schools from early age.

Also, remember that when you are changing any system – you will always find a resistance from it. So no surprise that the situation is changing so slowly, but it does change and I am really proud to have even a small part of this change.

Thank you, Irina!

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