Over a Swedish 'fika' in Gothenburg, with Samaneh Utter, the founder of Women in IT kvinnor.it Sweden, we talked about women in tech challenges, communities and interventions examples that support the growth and inclusion of women in tech sector.
It was an incredible experience to meet Samaneh in person, learn from her and to join her Women in IT event. Every sentence in this interview is coming out of a wisdom.
[FK] Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Samaneh Utter. I am a woman who has different interests that might not fit into the ordinary stereotypes.
I remember a former manager told me years ago that I am too social to be a software engineer. He was absolutely right about my interest in interacting with other people but I didn’t understand why there was a definition in his mind about the personality that a software engineer should have.
I consider myself an observer and have a genuine interest in problem solving. When I learned about algorithms and flowchart as a 15 year old, it was so familiar to me because that was very similar to how I think. Year after year, as I learn more about myself and gather courage, I try to be more honest with myself and combine my interests whenever possible. I think the pandemic made me question many things such as the way of living and working.
While I am curious and interested in the evolution of technology, I have also developed an undeniable curiosity to understand myself more.
When I worked with connected cars and IoT some years ago, I had an aha-moment. I could clearly see the resemblance between my body and a smart device.
My body has sensors which collect data, and my brain constantly processes the collected data. My body also follows event-driven architecture with triggers that result in actions. I have invested time in understanding the algorithms and models that my brain uses while processing the collected data from my surroundings.
[FK] How did you decide to study and work in tech? Did anybody from your family, school or friends play a role here?
Well, education always had the highest priority in our household; my parents asked a family friend, who was a software engineer, to buy our first PC. My parents were so supportive of me going to different computer classes and have the internet available in our house.
I also think growing up among strong women, especially my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins, left a footprint on me. I remember how my dad’s mom was a strong advocate for women working and having financial independence. As I was fascinated by how the internet opened the world, I was eager to solve problems and build solutions using programming skills.
[FK] What influenced you to start Women in IT (kvinnor.it)? Why did you think it was needed?
When I moved to Sweden to continue my education, I said bye to everyone and everything that was familiar to me. I knew how things worked in my home country but I didn’t have much idea what to expect in Sweden. I was about to start a new chapter in my life which was very exciting. I curiously observed the similarities and differences; I was lucky to be part of a very diverse program at university with classmates from different nationalities and backgrounds.
However, I was surprised to see that there were few other female students in my program. I was wondering where all the girls are. I had the same observation when I started working. Of course, there were many women in my workplace but not so many were programmers.
After some years of working in the IT industry and experiencing some challenges along the way, as well as settling down and making Sweden as my second home, I deeply felt the importance of having a supportive community where the members could relate to similar challenges and find ways for improvement. Well, it started with weekly female developer lunches at Lindholmen in Göteborg with some colleagues and friends in 2016. The lunches repeated for more than a year and the number of participants grew. It was obvious that more women wanted to be part of a supportive community, that is why I created a Meetup group called Women in IT (kvinnor.it) in 2017 to expand this group further.
As my passion for coding and learning more programming languages and frameworks got stronger, I was keen to share this excitement with young girls and also women. It is important to discuss what a software engineer does and what problems can be solved using IT.
I also believe when women are financially independent and are well-paid, they are empowered to navigate through life as they like.
[FK] You have told me before, could you tell one more time for the audience, where does the name “kvinnor” come from?
In Swedish language, kvinnor means women. When I was choosing a name for the group, I decided to add a Swedish touch to the “Women in IT” name. To keep the website name short and easy to remember, I chose https://www.kvinnor.it
[FK] What kind of activities do you do at Women in IT (kvinnor.it) events? Are they all in English or Swedish?
When I came to Sweden, I couldn’t speak Swedish. I remember that I asked the organisers of a Java event in Göteborg if they were willing to have the event in English but it wasn’t possible then. Although I learned Swedish language some years ago, it is important to me to have our Women in IT (kvinnor.it) events in English to be more inclusive and welcoming.
To build a community, I make sure our events have a diverse and interactive agenda, from mingling to sharing stories and technical expertise, and even holding technical and non-technical workshops.
[FK] If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the space of women in tech?
I’d like to see that opportunities are fairly distributed among everyone working in all sorts of industries. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
[FK] You are an incredible woman who is very successful in the industry. And you have a fantastic initiative too. Could you tell us, please, what was your proudest moment?
Thank you for your kind words.
There have been people in my life who opened an invisible door of opportunity for me. So, whenever I had the opportunity to give back and support a person, I felt extra happy that I was able to pass forward the good intention. For example, when helping a person find a job.
[FK] What is your one message to the women who work in male-dominated industries like tech in different parts of the world and who struggle to be visible at work?
I understand the struggle since I grew up in a culture where being humble was encouraged. I know it can be uncomfortable sometimes to promote your work and spread the news about your personal and professional achievements. I recently shared my thoughts about mindful personal branding in https://www.kvinnor.it/mindful-personal-branding that can hopefully provide some tips.
[FK] Where can the audience follow up with the news and events from Women in IT (kvinnor.it)?
To check all our previous and upcoming events, as well as Women Logs where thoughts and news are shared, check: https://www.kvinnor.it
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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kvinnor-it ,