Working as the only female in an IT-Startup and finding my way in a world of men. And computers. Many computers.
When I saw Emirs’ number on my phone a few months ago, I already knew what the call was going to be about, which is why I didn’t pick up immediately and took some deep breaths (after locking myself in the printer room in the amazing law firm I am also working at). “Do you remember when we asked you about working for timebite a few years ago? I am calling to officially ask you whether you want to work for timebite. Again, and with all seriousness.”
I replied and asked him if he and the team were fully aware of the fact that I do not have a marketing or a social media degree. He replied “I know, but I also know how you work. I have seen it. Most of us don’t have a degree in what we do either. Look where it got us!”
The start of something new
The guys originally wanted me to just reactivate the social media accounts for the student platform timebite.at. However, after a few hours, I already started writing the first emails to press agencies and public institutions that could be interested in what the boys do. I studied other timebite products, just in case the boys needed me to work on them as well. And here I am. Months later, sitting in an office full of pictures of the team that I hung up on the empty, egg-shell walls, while I think of one of the interviews that I got the timebite founders with one of Austria’s biggest newspapers “Die Presse” after only three weeks in my position. Successful campaigns, such as a new feature for our Coronahelp-app “Hilfma” in cooperation with the ministry of education or a podcast with one of our founders, followed shortly after.
When I got the call from “Die Presse”, I was completely hyped. I was on the phone with the interviewer for almost 20 minutes, the call was a “pre-interview”, where the interviewer thoroughly asked me about everything that I knew about the boys and the platform. After she hung up, I jumped around in my flat and screamed like a little child, I also jumped into the metro to give the boys the good news. It took me a while to get the lines “Please book the meeting room for an interview with “DiePresse” tomorrow” out. While I was the only one who seemed excited in the beginning, the boys finally started saying “this is really sick” to one another through out the day. Deep down I knew and still know that this was just the beginning. The boys are full of fruitful ideas and can manage extraordinary amounts of work. I also felt like they might need someone who does not only throw catchy headlines on Instagram but reminds them about how far they have come.
“CPO” stands for Calmness, Peace and “Oh, this is sweet”
In the first meetings I really tried to follow the CPO’s and CTI’s reports. I am honestly not sure yet, if my definitions of these abbreviations are correct. However, I have noticed that my weakness of not knowing what all of the technical stuff means is actually exactly what I needed in order to show our target group who the boys behind timebite are. In other words: This enlightment of “unenlightment” was what I needed to do my job.
I am a ray of sunshine-person. Really annoying sometimes. I like colorful suits and dancing in study breaks and singing songs that I do not know the lyrics of. I gave the boys in the office a snack bar as a Christmas present because I like seeing snacks in cute fancy glasses and I can not work with hangry people. There is hardly any situation that can actually throw me off the track or a day where I wake up and decide to rather stay in my bed. From all of the days where I went in and out of the office, I remember one day in particular: I woke up early to jump on my yoga mat and work on some kicks on my punching bag, but because of the lack of sleep that I was getting (my roomy was up late), I was totally exhausted and tense. I turned my phone on and read that one of my closest friends was tested Covid-positive and she was having a very high fever that night. That was just the start of the bad news. I didn’t really inhale much peace that day. It was raining in bucket loads when I got out of the flat, I forgot my phone and ran back to get it. Then I was worried that I might be late and rushed myself to the office. OK. Inhale now.
Here is the funny thing, after only 2 minutes, my boss already knew that something was wrong. Maybe he heard me shouting at my best friend in the morning on my walk to the conference room but nevertheless, he knew. Few minutes later the CTO felt like something was wrong too, which is why he consistently tried to cheer me up. After some hours I cracked open eventually. I don’t like sharing problems with other people, especially not at my workplace. It makes me feel heavier most of the time. I know that people say that sharing makes things better because you don’t go through the troubles alone. But sometimes, I do disagree. The problems are still my problems at the end of the day. And now, another person is troubled with my problems as well.
But it did not really feel like that. I honestly just shared what has been going on because everyone was quite annoying about cheering me up that day. I did not feel better about sharing the whole thing, but I felt better because the boys valued my emotions and myself in a way that just made me feel better. And it was no big deal for them at all, they closed their laptops and just sat there and listened. As they are reading this, they probably do not even remember that day but it stuck with me.
I almost never leave the office with my mascara on because I burst out laughing all the time. One second the team tensely discusses sales, and what we will do during lockdown 5.0 (God forbid), while we can almost see synapses fly around and next thing you know is that we share a hilarious story right after we receive a call from futurezone.at, a platform that recently nominated us for one of the top 3 Apps in Austria in 2020.
Coffee for the crew, not the girl
Frankly speaking, the article has not been much about being a woman in an IT-Startup yet. So, here is the thing: I work with very competent women and men. But these guys took my own competence to a very different level. I had to learn completely new things, like graphic design, sound adjustment, film editing or creating ads. Most people think that Marketing and Social Media are just about liking photos and making nice comments, but they are not. It is exhausting. Instead of identifying yourself with yourself, you identify yourself with the brand you represent. You put your head in the heads of the people you want on your platforms. I always recommend not judging jobs you have never done yourself. Every job comes with its own challenges.
What I have learned from the boys is that they don’t differentiate between the value of my work and their own work product. While I have absolutely no idea how they deal with all the coding and the development of their products, they respect me as if I have been there from minute 0. Now take that: I have worked in politics, I have worked in law, and wherever you go, no matter what you do, you will meet people who think that you are less (competent) because of your gender or the color of your skin. Neither of that matteres here. They did not hire me because I am a woman. They hired me because I am me. I feel like I have never received more appreciation at any other workplace. Most importantly, I am not getting the appreciation because of my gender but because, for once, my gender and the color of my skin really do not matter to the people I am working with. Which leaves a lot of space for the actual work, development and encouragement.
Do I feel like the boys treat me differently than they would treat a man in my position? Nope. They treat me exactly the way I should be treated, measured by the time, energy and work I invest in our goals.
Do they actually treat me differently? I have not even slightly noticed so.
None of them get a coffee without usually asking whether someone else wants one too. None of them just leave a room without holding the door open for someone else. None of them comment on my clothes or hair differently than when they make a compliment to one another. We even have the same hoodies (I still need to figure out how to combine them with colorful suits though). Believe it or not, I am sure, if I asked the boys whether I can join them for one of their weekend Playstation sessions, they would be happy to invite me too.
Of course, I (sadly) know that being this comfortable as a women and as a women of color at any workplace — not just in the male-dominated IT-world — is very unique.
Place of unicorns, not toxic masculinity
This is what I feel like working with 7 other men. It can be incredibly frustrating and stressful at times, but not because of my gender. At the end of the day, the stress is nothing compared to the joy that comes from working with these bright minds. I always feel like a unicorn, no matter where I go. I never really fit in with my energy, my ideas and my visions, which never really bothered me too much. I am not a puzzle piece that needs to fit in somewhere. But this time, I actually feel like I am surrounded by other unicorns as well. Almost as if I am not alone with what I believe in and the investments that I would be willing to give and take in order to get a few steps closer to achieving what we all believe in. I found my Disneyland. At the end of the day timebite and the whole team is not here because of the money or fancy Startup headlines in newspapers. Timebite is a platform that unites students. A platform that helps students to find some light in their studies and to not feel alone with their troubles, even if sharing them does not simply dissolve study problems. With timebite and these amazing people sharing is not caring, it is repairing what higher education institutions in Austria and Germany are not able to fix themselves.