The BiLD Her project arises with the goal of encouraging women to explore the world of data. Today we present an interview we had the honour to do with Marta Mercier, team leader at The Loop Co.
Marta has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science Engineering and a Master’s degree in Software Engineering, both at the University of Coimbra, and her thesis was about artificial intelligence.
In the following lines, you will get to know a little more about Marta, her work routine, what she has to say about being a woman leader in the IT area and the challenges she faces in her daily work life.
Did you always know that technology was what you wanted to be working on? How did you decide to get into the field?
The technology area was never unusual for me. My mother works with management software systems and my father with statistics, so the technological world has always been part of my daily life. When I was a teenager, I became really interested in multimedia and video editing, and I thought about taking the Design and Multimedia course at the University of Coimbra. The Computer Science Engineering course was my second option, and the one I have been initially placed to. During the first semester of the course, I really felt a strong identification with the subjects I was studying, and then I decided to pursue this career.
About working at The Loop, we would like to know: How long have you been working at the company? Has your function ever changed since you joined the company? What is your favourite part about working at The Loop, and what is a typical workday like?
In 2021 I will complete three years at The Loop. When I was still in college, finishing my master’s degree in Software Engineering, I was invited by The Loop to join the team. I started as a back-end developer in a project, and after that as a full-stack developer. Our relationship with this client was solidified and I started to lead the team, initially formed by two people — myself and a colleague. Today we are more than ten people collaborating on the project.
I have the routine of starting my workday with a daily meeting with the whole team. This meeting is very important so that I can notice the needs of our team. I try to keep up with my teammates about the work they have been developing, the schedule of the tasks they will perform that day, clarify any doubts they may have and understand what I can help them with. After that meeting, my day does not follow a very constant path, so I might have a meeting with some people from the team for tasks that are in progress and need my help, a meeting with the client, or dedicate myself to the management of the project. In addition, I consider it fundamental to reserve at least one hour of my days for development and programming tasks, as it is something I love to do and strive not to lose the practical skills as a manager.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think this is the case? How does it feel to be a woman in a predominantly men’s field?
The lack of women in technology is a reality. One can observe it in various industries, and I believe that women are still a quantitative minority in IT due to the stereotype of a gamer/programmer/developer related to the male figure. I think we are still a minority because it was a male-dominated field at its very beginning, and not enough generations have passed to change this preconception. I believe that many women still somehow fear working in IT because of this male predominance, and what I try to transmit is that our gender does not influence in any way the work we deliver.
I don’t think it’s any secret that many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way they are seen or treated. Have you ever been in such a situation? How did you deal with it?
Fortunately, I have never been in any concrete situation where this happened, but I know some cases, and unfortunately, it is more common than we think. Maybe I haven’t felt this because of the position I have. As women in this area, we must be committed, show confidence in the things we know and say because otherwise, they won’t take us seriously. Specifically, in Loop, I don’t feel that they are more demanding with me than a male colleague. In general, to succeed in this area, I think people are much more demanding with women and that we have to give more proof that we are capable.
What were the main barriers you faced in becoming a leader? Most importantly, how did you overcome these obstacles?
I think there weren’t any barriers because, in my case, it was a very natural evolution, and that helps. Still, it also happened naturally because from the beginning, I showed excellent organisational and communication skills, and whatever my function was, I thought it was important to show that everything was organised and that I knew what I was doing.
As a woman in this sector, do you have any role models for your career? Who are they and why do you admire them?
This is a little bit cliché, but my reference has always been my mother, because she has always worked in IT, with leadership positions and I have always learned a lot from her, for example, the firmness not to doubt us. So, it was always natural to be in this area; technology existed in my home since I was a child, and it was always usual to see a woman, who is so close, in this area. I even wish I had other names to give you, but if we think about the big names in technology, they are still practically all men.
Do you think women play a role in hindering other women?
Fortunately, I don’t think so. From what I can see, nowadays, there are more initiatives from women to women, many in the Tech area. There is a common effort to show this is not ‘rocket science’, that this is possible and natural and that we have all the legitimacy to be in these positions.
What is the worst advice you see or being given in your area of expertise?
Broadly, I do not recall specific advice that someone gave me, and which was bad or not true. But I think there is a misconception when it comes to women in technological fields. People wrongly think that we are, or need to be, more masculine in the way we look and/or behave. But we can be feminine, and we can show our own traits, despite the gender they are most commonly associated with. We do not have to behave like men to have merit or to succeed in their world. We have as much legitimacy as them, and in the end, there are other factors like your team or your projects that play an important role in choosing the right person for the leadership position.
Do you have a quote you live your life by?
Yes, sort of. I mostly see it in terms of work-life, but it can also be extended to personal life in some situations. Is from the American author Jodi Picoult. She says, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”. In my work as a programmer and project manager, sometimes problems can get tricky or are most of the times complex. But the most important thing we need to do is start doing something. After that, it is easier to analyse it, break it down and perfect it.
What advice would you give to a woman who is considering a career in the technology industry?
In the first place, I would tell any women to go and do not be afraid of joining the technology industry.
Second to keep your curiosity and commitment because this is a field where change is constant and you need to be updated, by doing this for sure you will be a woman of success.
The third piece of advice I would give is something that I wanted to hear before joining the technological field. When you are at the university most of the times you hear that is complicated to talk with your clients because sometimes, they are not from the same field as you, so it is complicated for them to understand all technical details and impact. So, my advice is to understand the technical level of your client and communicate in the same language as him. If you know this now you can start learning and look for tools on how to do it and for sure this will a success factor in your future role.
If you could give a TEDTalk for the whole world to see what topic would you choose?
Maybe this topic is already too common, but it is something that I really love in my role as a project manager that is organisation and planning. I believe it’s a topic that can be addressed not only for our work but also for our life. For example, an organisation is not only about planning work tasks, it can also be about organising our ideas, personal goals and helps us better understand our feelings. If I needed to choose one, I will definitely do a TEDTalk about organisation and planning and the impact that it has on our life.