Ever wanted to know more about the people behind your favorite Everyday AI platform? You're in luck — every few weeks, meet some of the humans at Dataiku working to ensure customers and users find success as they systemize the use of data and AI in their organizations. To wrap up this year’s Women’s History Month, we spoke with three women in tech roles at Dataiku: Mopé Akande, Technical Curriculum Developer Manager, NAM; Mélanie Reversat, Director of Product Ops, EMEA; and May Phang, Lead Data Scientist, APAC. We had an open conversation about what drew them to a career in STEM, work life balance, how to overcome challenges, and more.
Read the interview and check out the video below to hear Mopé, Mélanie, and May’s advice for the next generation of women in tech.
We know that many women don't even consider pursuing STEM studies. What made a difference for you? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
Mopé: For me, growing up in Nigeria, there was always this issue of a lack of constant electricity and it was so frustrating growing up. And, as a child, I naively thought I could become an engineer and fix it! But that’s what spurred my interest in becoming an engineer: thinking of how I could fix some of the problems that I saw in my community.
May: I’ve always liked mathematics, so that was a good start. But I think, growing up, I was influenced into picking up a STEM career by my father. He was an engineer, and he liked the fact that I was quite mathematically brained. So he would bring me into his office and show me things. Even the toys he bought me involved building things. So from very early on, I’ve always enjoyed building things. But I didn’t actually start my career in tech. I started in insurance, but it still involved some tech because I would code some prediction models.
The turning point for me was in 2013 when I visited my cousin in San Francisco. After learning more about the tech industry through that experience, I found it to be really cool because it felt really open and very full of opportunities.
Mélanie: I was around 12 or 13 years old, and my father — so that makes two of us with influential fathers — told me, “There are three equally important subjects to learn at school. The first one is mathematics. The second one is mathematics. And the third one is… mathematics!” So, what did I choose to study as a child? Mathematics! I’d say to him all the time, “You didn’t do it on purpose, but you kind of changed my life!” Because from high school to my Master’s degree, I always chose mathematics. Eventually, I had a teacher who talked about data and statistics. I was so relieved to see that studying mathematics had a purpose, and I didn’t just study it for the beauty of it!
May: Me too, I actually used to think like, “Oh what can you actually do with math?” but I didn’t think it would come up so significantly. I used to think becoming a math teacher was one of my only career options if I wanted to continue studying mathematics, but it really ended up opening a lot of doors.
What about your job makes you the most excited to come to work each day?
May: I might sound biased, but we have a really cool product! But, other than us having a really cool product, I also quite like my team, and working with them is something I look forward to every day.
Mopé: I echo the same sentiment. I think the product is amazing! It’s fantastic, and I feel lucky to be able to influence the direction of the product and new features on a daily basis. And just like May said, my team. I work with brilliant people. I love the team I work with. They care about the work they do, they care about the standard of the work they do, and they’re generally nice people to work with and easy to get along with.
Mélanie: I also love the people I work with, and I love the product, but what I like most about my job are the challenges that are changing every day. Every day, I learn something new from someone, or I explain something to someone I didn’t know before, so I get to discover new colleagues and new clients. You have to adapt, you have to be flexible, and you have to learn. I think one of the reasons we went into science is to be challenged.
The tech world is certainly seen as more of a male-dominated field. Can you talk about any challenges that you faced as a woman in tech and how you overcame those challenges?
Mélanie: I have a funny story related to this question! I used to work in the semiconductor industry which is even more male-dominated than you can imagine. As a product manager, I was doing some trainings for process engineers. And everywhere I went, people recognized me. And I felt so rude because I didn’t remember any of them! I kept thinking, How do they do that? How does everyone know me? I must be so bad at my job because I don’t remember anyone who I’ve taught the software to! One day, I realized it was because I was one woman among so many men. Of course they were going to remember me! But at some point, it was definitely a challenge because I didn’t realize it at all.
Mopé: [Laughing] I just love that story, Mélanie! I mean, that’s a challenge for sure, but it’s funny too! And it makes so much sense, because they’ll remember you because you’re a woman — the only woman.
I agree that it’s challenging being one of a few women in a male-dominated field. Sometimes the pressure is there, even though a lot of the time it’s pressure from within yourself to prove that you deserve to be there. And so not seeing a lot of people who look like you can sometimes make you put unfair pressure on yourself. And as for what I’m doing about it, whatever we can do to help young girls see more people that look like them in tech is a win. So that way, when they come in, they won’t feel like, “I constantly have to be proving myself.”
I actually volunteer with a nonprofit called The Joule Foundation and our main goal is to increase the number of young African girls who go into STEM careers. So even if I can’t really fix the problem for my own generation, hopefully those who come after me will have it a bit easier.
Mélanie: I do a similar thing in France, I’m involved with a nonprofit called Elles Bougent and we’re trying to encourage more young women to study science because we have to be role models. When I started in the semiconductor world with all those men, no one found it weird that I was the only woman. But now, people are realizing that something is missing. So we are progressing.
May: You ladies are very inspirational! If I had to think about challenges I faced in the past, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman on the team so I’m used to it. But a more frequent challenge for me is being heard. There have been times where I put together some ideas or recommendations that weren’t received. But if a male colleague presented the same ideas, it’s actually received. Resilience has been key to overcoming this challenge, meaning continuing to persist and trying to understand how I could do things better. It also helps to find an ally within the team that champions you or helps promote you as a person.
Tech jobs are demanding jobs. How do you manage to keep a good work life balance? Do you have any tips?
Mélanie: This is a very good question. I have three kids, three boys. I never stopped working, and neither did my husband. What’s worked for us so far is that we both try not to feel guilty. For example, if I had to work until 9:30 p.m. one day, I wouldn’t feel guilty, because my kids know I need to do that. At the same time, if I have to stop working at 3:00 in the afternoon because one of my kids is sick or something like that, I won’t feel guilty about that either. So if I had to give one tip, it would be that releasing yourself from that guilt is what helps you find the right balance.
Mopé: I really love that you said don’t feel guilty, because you do what you have to do, when you have to do it. I’ve tried to block out time and I try to stick with it, but the truth is, that’s not always possible! [laughs] My tip was going to be to block off time, but now I’m with Mélanie’s tip. Do what you have to do and don’t feel guilty about it! Just try to balance as best you can.
May: One thing I remember very well that really resonates with me is that a former manager once told me, “We’re here to sell bread, not save lives.” And just to give some more context, I was working in the data science division of a large supermarket retailer. So that made a lot of sense. And that helped remind me that my work is always going to be there, and I can have that separation between friends and family, and work. After work, I try to focus on having something to look forward to, whether that’s friends and family or exercise. I train in muay thai which is Thai kickboxing, so maybe that’s another tip, stress relief!
Are you looking to be challenged too? From Dataiku’s EmpoWer ERG to our scholarship fund for women in data science, it is important to us that more women feel comfortable choosing careers in science. Even if you don’t come from a background in STEM, there are still ways to pursue a career in tech! Be sure to check out our article about women in sales leadership roles at Dataiku.