Breaking stereotypes about women in the IT sector have motivated Evelina to strive for more.
Evelina Mikelaitytė, a senior engineer and team leader at the US programming services company Devbridge, found IT almost accidentally while still at school. Although few of her friends were interested in the field, she was determined to pursue the goals she set for herself. Today, Evelina is successfully advancing her career, accumulating technological knowledge, and pursuing the opportunity to improve her team of top-level programmers. I sat down to interview Evelina and learn more about her career.
When were you interested in IT, and why did you choose to study computer science?
I started to become interested in computer science quite late, only in the eighth grade. I was inspired by my brother and a computer science teacher. My first goal was to gain knowledge and then successfully participate in the Dr. JP Kazickas School computer science competition. But that wasn't the end of it. The field fascinated me, and as I became ever more involved, it later determined my choice to study informatics at KTU.
In my sphere, only a handful of people my age were interested in IT. None of my friends were interested in computer science lessons at school or technology in general. Males were more prevalent at computer science Olympiads or competitions. During my studies, I was the only girl in my group. This situation was similar in other groups. Either there were no girls at all, or there were only a few of them. Of course, I kept hearing uninspiring stories from acquaintances or friends that the salaries paid to men are supposedly higher, even though the duties and the work performed were the same. But it did not deter me at all nor reduce my desire to work in the IT field. Conversely, it produced the opposite. It motivated me the most to strive and achieve my goals.
Despite the less than inspiring stories, you started working from your second year at university, didn't you? Was it challenging to establish yourself in the technology sector?
During the second year of university studies, I started looking for an internship or a job to broaden my knowledge and apply my acquired theoretical knowledge at work, not only in laboratory work. I also entered the free Sourcery for Front-End Academy at Devbridge that year. After graduating from the academy, I decided to challenge myself in a new field and try out testing. A little later, I started working as a tester.
Why did you choose the position of a tester, and how did you come to Devbridge?
When working in testing, you have to touch all parts of the system: both with the graphical interface and with the logic itself or understanding the data. Over time, I became ever fonder of working as a front-end programmer. I got a job at Data Dog. At the beginning of my time working at the company, I mostly "cut" various designs (i.e., I converted the designs received into HTML files).
This experience led to an interest in UX (User Experience) and an increasing involvement in discussions with designers about what one element or another should look like in designs. For several years, I worked on projects in various fields. I got to work in logistics for well-known Lithuanian e-shops and foreign projects (e.g., in the field of medicine). Later, I had an opportunity to work on a new product related to logistics developed by the company. That was a slightly different experience. I had to create initial designs and tasks for myself and my colleagues. Later on, I even formed a mini-team responsible for the product's graphical interface and logic.
After gaining professional experience, I decided to accept an offer from Devbridge. I had kept an amicable relationship with the team. I attended Front-End community events and, as I like to joke, hovered around Devbridge for five years before I dared to join.
Although you started working at Devbridge just eight months ago as a Senior Front-End Programmer, you were promoted this month to become a team leader. Have these changes brought new challenges?
These responsibilities are still relatively new for me, so really, there is room for improvement. I would very much like to become a genuine team leader in the future. At the same time, I do not want to neglect staying informed of the latest technology, enhancing my technological knowledge. My job right now consists of two components: programming (which takes up most of the time) and team leadership. I have also been participating in the KTU mentoring programmers for the third year in a row, helping students map out a development plan, set goals, and achieve them.
My responsibilities have expanded not only as a programmer but also as a team leader. I work with team members to help them grow both as a person and as a professional, at times pushing them out of their comfort zones. I help colleagues achieve their potential, overcome various challenges, steer them in the right direction, and of course, enjoy the results.
Tell us about the projects you are currently working on. What is the most interesting thing about your current work? What do you like the most?
I am currently working on a project where the primary users are global airlines. The system being developed will help reduce costs, improve work efficiency, and enable customers to offer flights at the most favorable prices. The main functionality is agreeing on, management, and review of contracts. The business itself is interesting in this project, working on a completely different level than the airline services I'm used to seeing (i.e., no ticket purchases or other usual customer operations).
This project has its technical challenges. We have to work with large amounts of data, process them, and provide the user with information in various forms within a few seconds, using tables, various lists, or graphs. It is essential that the system is as intuitive as possible for current and future use and that the basic functions are easily accessible. System speed is also important. Before implementing any functionality, you often have to be very conscious of the tools selected so that you don't have to redo everything later. But therein lies all the charm of this profession. You have to learn quickly from your own or your colleagues' mistakes, try and apply new technologies, and continuously grow as a specialist.
How do you deal with stressful situations or complex tasks at work?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who are real professionals. I'm able to learn something new daily and discover how one thing or another can be improved from them. I am always pleasantly surprised by my colleagues' ability and willingness to achieve personal results and the desire to help each other grow. They always reach out, whether we are working on the same project or different ones.
Sometimes even games on the phone help to redirect thoughts elsewhere. Often, when getting bogged down on a task, I seem to try 10+ different options, none of which achieve the desired result. Then I take a break to play table tennis, a game on the phone, or have a conversation with a colleague. When I come back, I solve the problem in a few minutes. I sometimes get too caught up in one solution, and it's hard to turn my mind in the other direction. Breaks are great helpers in such situations.
You have been in the field of IT for eight years now. Do you still hear those myths and stereotypes about women and IT that were abound while you were choosing this field?
Today, I firmly believe that at work, I am not judged by my gender but by the results I achieve and the value I create for a company or project. I still believe that most stereotypes about IT and women are created by those, not in the field. I have heard opinions that working on a male-dominated team should be easy because I can manipulate men, and they will supposedly do all the work for me. The truth is that even if it were so, it would be difficult to hide behind colleagues and take all their glory. In the IT field, personnel reviews are very common, and feedback from colleagues is collected. The game of "secrets" would end very quickly.
What would you say to anyone who can't muster up the courage to choose IT but still dreams of it?
First of all, we must each choose is closest to our hearts or gives us pleasure. It's best to treat work as a hobby; then, every day will feel enjoyable. But of course, it's sad to hear stories where people sincerely wanted and dreamed of one profession or another, but they didn't take that step because of stereotypes. Encouragement or the dismantling of stereotypes is undoubtedly needed. However, IT should not become a 'fashionable' profession that people choose only because of its popularity, not because they are interested in the field.
Before pursuing a career in IT, one must be aware that it is an ever-changing sector. You need to learn continuously, take an interest in the latest developments, make mistakes, and learn from them. It is also important to mention that you will always have to solve one client's problem or another. You will need good communication skills, be able to recognize mistakes and promptly correct them. All this is to strive forward constantly.