Women in IT: Annarita De Biase

Welcome to the next part of our Women and Diversity in IT editorial series. This series aims to speak with women about their experience in the IT and Testing industries. Focusing on their stories, their highs and lows, their role, their advice to aspiring women testers and engineers, and who/what inspired them to pursue a career in IT and climb the ladder, we will explore what is it like for women in tech industries: from the diversity and inclusion to the challenges and successes​. 

Annarita De Biase is QA Lead at Soldo. 

So, we talked to Annarita, to find out more about why she joined the tech industry, what was her experience, what are the challenges she faces as a woman in Testing, and her advice to aspiring women engineers and testers.

 

First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I am Annarita, a 36-year-old tech-world fanatic. I like everything about IT, starting from the conception of ideas, to the way in which they are developed and released.

I have been working in the Quality Assurance world for about 13 years, dealing with all quality aspects: requirements, testing, automation, DevOps culture. We can say that it’s my lifestyle, not just work so that some years ago I started feeling the need to take around my experience to conferences when it’s possible.

Now I am the QA Lead in Soldo, a fantastic and super dynamic company dealing with financial technology, that gave me a wonderful chance to put into practice my quality assurance vision, not only in “testing” activities but also in terms of approach to the product and state of mind.

What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?

IT world has not been my first love (when I was young I wanted to be an artist), but it is something I have always been attracted by because of its fast evolution and, when I started my career, I wanted to understand if I could be part of it or not. The real inspiration came later and made me go on with this path. I am inspired every single day of my life… from the continuous evolution, the continuous growth, and the real chance to contribute actively to whatever happens.

Nowadays, the IT world is not seen anymore as made of people in an office with a screen in front of their eyes. Now, IT is seen as a set of persons that have some visions and use technology to put them in practice, in a choral way.

Let’s think of open source… what a wonderful thing! So many ideas, so many cultures, so many approaches, all together to develop a product that can be useful for everybody. Sometimes an idea can be totally crazy, but there will be always a person ready to do some experiment with you. This is the real engine of the IT world.

And, as an extreme declination, it is art: there is the inspiration, there is creativity to understand how to do something, and then the creation. It is definitely an art, so maybe I did not betray my first love.

Did you study IT and if so where and what was that experience like?

I did not study computer technology, I am an electrical engineer. This study helped me in developing a methodology in studying, in thinking, in experimenting, in creating, in going deeper in various topics, and in not making me convince that easily about a theory without a demonstration.

Can you tell me about the journey and how you got where you are now?

My IT career started several years ago, after my electrical engineer graduation and a fast experience in artificial intelligence university research where I did not find that sense of pragmatism I was looking for.

So, I started with IT consulting, which is a good way to understand what the “real” world wants and to put yourself in discussion since you have the chance to change company even without resigning, just changing project. I was a java developer, but in a few months, I was sling in the magic world of Quality Assurance that involved me so much that I still work in the same sector. I switched from IT consultancy to client companies, some bigger than others, but however very different from each other.

I started working in quality assurance about 13 years ago in a company dealing with air traffic control. I did not have any knowledge of programming, but it was not very important because they hired me for manual testing on traffic controller consoles. The first months were strange since I had to understand the context I was working in and I had also to understand my role because it was the first time for me. I was interested also in what there was out of my QA limits, and first contacts with developers were fundamental, it was a totally unknown world to me, it was exciting to understand their work, and I started studying. The next step was an automatic testing platform building. Just to give you some context, everything was written in C language and the debugger was GDB (old debugger from the command line).

After 4 years I understood that it was the time to see something else and I went to work for an international company dealing with hotel reservations. Finally, more advanced technologies, java language, and an agile approach. In that new company, I started thinking of “quality assurance” not only as “testing” but as something related to all software lifecycle. All theories read in books started to make sense. I could contribute to some product decisions, I started being interested in software architecture, I contributed to some opensource products, also developing some open source project by myself. And using the international context, I understood that the main key to work my best was having contacts also with the world out of the company I was working in. So, I started attending conferences, meetups, and communities. I was part of several cross teams dealing with DevOps, Aws, agile approaches, team management, and so on.

After 8 years I felt again the need to change and to better understand what the world could still offer me and what I could offer the external world. So here I am.

With Soldo company, we had a kind of professional love at first sight.

In all people involved in my interviews, I noticed a dynamic, an open attitude to new ideas, a consciousness of their abilities, and a seriousness that you can find only in a reality built on a solid and real basis. In this company there is a strong community feeling, things are well organized and are done together. All voices are listened to. And I also found a great opening to my personal concept of “quality assurance”, very different from the “tester” one (and “tester” is a word I don’t like at all, by the way). I honestly think that now I could never imagine being in a better place than this one.

What do you think of the gender diversity in testing and in the tech industry, in general?

As an IT professional, I do believe in people skills, independently from gender. I do think that each person has their own wealth of experience and skills and they can contribute with ideas, approaches, and soft skills.

Yes, it’s a matter of fact that the number of women in the IT world is not that high, even if I think that the trend is changing. Maybe the cause is that women are not that attracted by some study paths (I remember that during my last year before graduation, my course had about 5 women on 300 people), and this is a point to analyze!

Personally, I also hate some initiatives about woman hiring… for example, I have been told about companies giving money awards if the employee introduces a woman for an interview. The official reason was something like “studies demonstrate that women have some soft skills very useful for the companies”. Well no. And as a woman, when I hear about something like this, I feel quite offended.

I would like to have more women among my colleagues, of course, but because they are incredibly good in their role, not just because of their soft skills. I want colleagues good, smart, open to collaboration. Women and men. Each of them will have some soft skills and the company will have a lot of benefits from this for sure.

The thing we have to pay attention to is not to discriminate against women during interviews, for example asking the classic question “are you planning to have children?” or “have you got children?”. We have to pay attention to salary, giving women the same money as their male colleagues. These are the things that we can do in our companies. Out of company we have to insist with the next generation, making them grow up with the idea that it’s not important the gender, but everybody can do whatever they like and whatever they are inspired of.

Let’s study history! Tech history is full of women that have marked their time.

The real “gender balance” will be when we won’t talk of “gender balance” anymore and the coexistence of men and women in all work environments will be something normal.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt that your gender affected the way you were perceived or treated? If so, how did you handle it?

Well, for sure at the beginning of my career, “gender balance” was not a trendy topic.

I have always worked in purely male contexts and I would be dishonest saying that I never felt that being a woman was a kind of obstacle in my career path, even if I had never suffered evident discrimination. It was more the feeling (sometimes confirmed by facts or words) that some older colleague thought “she is a woman, what is she doing here? She cannot do that”.

What did I do? I simply tried harder and harder. I learned more tech things, I learned to be smarter, probably less sweet and sensible than my mum would like me to be, I learned to fight for my ideas and not to be satisfied without reaching my own goals and not the ones others allowed me to reach.

Now maybe I am so strong and sure about my professionalism that even if somebody thinks of me as “a woman” and not as a professional, I don’t feel touched because I know that, “on the battlefield” we can confront each other based on competencies. And there, I can lose or I can win. Independently from my gender.

What do you think are the challenges women come across in that industry?

First, woman presence in a lot of contexts is historically something “new”. For example, how many women have been the USA President? Zero.

But cultural revolutions need time so it’s not useful to look behind just to notice how much something was wrong. It’s for sure more useful to look ahead, learning from the past, but doing what is best for our generation.

IT industry is the same.

But the hardest challenge, in my opinion, is not with the newest generations but with some old-style leadership. Young people are much more mature than we can think since they have the idea of cooperation between women and men, they are not narrow-minded. Not all at least. So we have to do a good job with them, giving a good example.

I do hope that in a while when during an interview somebody will ask a woman “are you planning to have children?”, that woman will be able to smile, stand up from that chair, and feel comfortable knowing that it will be easier to find a better job. And the fact that a lot of episodes are known, demonstrates that the revolution is in progress.

Do you have any ideas or initiatives that could benefit women working in the tech industry?

I do think that we have to give a good example and to advertise realities working fine both with men and with women. A good example is what future generations need. It’s what they will use when they will be leaders, it’s what they will always remember. And talking about long-term investment, I think we have to go on insisting on tech topics teaching in schools, not just to make girls to be involved in tech, but to give all the children the chance to choose what they really want to do.

These are my favorite initiatives.

Have you helped to introduce any other women to the industry?

Some years ago I had an inspirational talk during an Italian community convention, “Django girls”. They asked me to talk about something that could have helped women to get close to technology.

I remember that I took a while to understand how I could make such an important message pass. Somebody suggested me to show some projects I did during my career, others suggested me to talk about great tech women in history. In the end, I simply talked about the first time I copied and pasted 5 rows of some HTML code on my notepad and I opened it with a browser. It was my very first web page. It was simple, but it was the first time I told myself “ok… I can do it”.

After that talk, I had to go away, but in some days, I received a mail from a young girl that was in that audience. She told me “thank you”, she told me that I inspired her and that she was feeling brave enough to try. This email filled me with hope for the future. So yes, I think I could have introduced at least another woman in this wonderful world, or at least I gave her the chance to try something new.

What do you think is the best part of being a woman in tech?

I can tell you what is the best part to be a professional in tech, without gender. The best part is knowing you are contributing to the future.

What is your expertise and what is a typical day for you?

I start at 9 am, after a lot of coffee, organizing my activities, my deadlines, news, and so on. At 9:30 am, I usually attend the daily standup meeting with my team, during which I can understand the status of various activities. Then a lot of meetings with other teams and with stakeholders. I often spend a lot of time on test automation (my expertise), aiming at innovating some processes.

On regular basis, I dedicate time to coach my team members, since each of them has a different approach to activities and different aspirations, in terms of technologies or different skills and I do like a lot maintaining these differences. I think it’s very important also for the team because in this way it can include many points of view and believe me, listening to them while exchanging their ideas is really interesting.

Typically around 7 pm, my out-of-work life starts and I usually play piano, guitar, I sing, and other not-tech things… but sometimes, it happens that some tech inspiration comes and so you can find me also in the night with an IntelliJ side window open.

What is your favorite part of testing?

Testing deals with everything and everybody. It’s not sectorial. It follows some rules, but their declination can be diversified in thousands of different ways.

Testing is not only pushing buttons on a webpage or writing automation tests. Testing is overall capturing the essence of the product to release, it is pretending to be users that will use that product, it is preventing issues.

Probably QA engineers will have to have a wider vision of the product than all other involved actors.

Testing is useful for everybody. We are involved with the product team for some topics, often also developers ask for some opinions of ours. Testing is everything and is absolutely democratic.

Do you have any advice for women considering a career in the tech industry?

Try, try, try! Feel free to try, feel that the power to do anything is in your hands.

Finally, do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you would like to tell?

Well, there are several funny stories….

For example, about 5 years ago I found a bug and the developer told me “but on my laptop, it works” so I told him “ok so please go to sysadmin and ask to put your laptop as a production machine.”

Or another one… Some years ago, when I developed a super simple web app to show how many automation tests my team developed…. But I did not test it (I thought it was too simple to go wrong with something) and during the demo, my team realized that the numbers I was showing were not right… So, never under valuate the product you are working on!

 

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