Today, we have the final instalment in our short series of interviews ahead of next week’s ‘Up Next’ event. Today is the turn of Margriet Groenendijk, a Developer Advocate in IBM’s London City team. As a Data Scientist she has a passion for exploring different ways to work with and understand diverse data, using open source tools such as Python, Spark, PixieDust, and Jupyter notebooks. She has a background as a climate scientist, researching large observational datasets of carbon uptake by forests and the output of global scale weather and climate models.
It’s no secret that tech is a male dominated industry, currently only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women and just 3% of women stated that tech was their 1st choice of career. Was it always your ambition to work in tech? Can you give us a brief view of your journey into tech?
At school I always enjoyed maths and physics, but felt insecure as I was only one of 2 girls in my maths class. I was interested in a technical degree and chose Physical Geography where there is a mix of maths, physics and other subjects such as hydrology, geology and cartography.
What really got me interested in tech was the computer labs writing code to build models and do statistical analysis. During an internship and my first job I learned to write more code and analyse data from groundwater models and observations. After 3 years I started a PhD in Amsterdam where I used observations from forest carbon uptake to try to understand how this relates to the weather and climate. This got me so interested in climate research that I moved to the UK to work as a postdoctoral research fellow in Exeter, where I worked with the large climate models from the Met Office and a lot of observational data.
My work was becoming more and more technical so after about 5 years I started to explore my options outside academia as I wanted to learn even more about tech, especially about data science and the cloud. I was very lucky to find a job as a developer advocate for IBM where I get the chance to both learn more about all the tech and tell other people about it. I never planned a career in tech, I did not even consider it at first. It was only when I discovered how fun coding was and after learning more and more I decided to find a job in tech.
What advice can you give to other women wanting to move into tech?
It is totally ok to not know everything as nobody does. It is ok to ask and learn! I was, and still am sometimes, insecure about my tech skills as I have learned all of it on my own over the years whenever I needed a new skill to solve a problem. The best way to learn and explore what you are good at is by trying and asking lots of questions. The main skill in tech is, I think, being curious how things work, and if things are broken being creative in finding solutions.
We know that the issue with women working in tech starts at school. What words of wisdom would you give to a school age girl to encourage her to pursue a career in tech? Why is it amazing?!
It is amazing because so many things we use every day are built with tech. And I think these are really exciting times with so many new developments in for instance Artificial Intelligence. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this!
How did you first launch your speaking career? Do you have any tips you can share based on your experience?
When you are just starting out, but also when you have a lot experience, the main thing is to always be comfortable with the content you are talking about. Talk about something that excites you, or talk about something you found difficult and then turn this into a story about how you solved a problem.
I think the best talks all have a clear story and teach the audience something. A talk is not about showing how much you know, but about teaching your audience. Leaving things out to make you story clearer is better than trying to add in all the details of the project. Also, what’s very interesting for the audience, is explaining why you decided to use a tool or solution.
What words of reassurance can you offer to someone who is feeling really, really nervous about speaking for the first time?
People in the audience are there because they want to learn something. When you are the speaker you are always the expert! As everyone is unique there will be nobody in the audience with the exact same experience as you. This means it is a super exciting opportunity to share your ideas with other people who want to learn your point of view.
What can participants expect to gain from participating in the Up Next event?
Building a talk takes time, from coming up with the ideas, creating the story and then turning these into slides. A very important step is practice, which is a lot easier with a real audience. Only then you will find out how long your talk is and if the story flows. During the event you get the chance to practice and get lots of tips that will help you to get ready to give a talk at a conference! Also, you will learn a lot by watching others present and hearing even more advise.
To take advantage of this great opportunity, either as a speaker, or a member of the audience just follow this link.
The event is happening on 2nd October, and places are limited so make sure you register ASAP.