Plex's Ana Ferreira on Building Your Career as a Woman in Computer Science
Ana Ferreira has her older siblings to thank for her strong connection to technology. Motivated to communicate with them virtually, she recalls writing her very first email at 7 years old and sending them videos from the family computer.
As they entered adulthood, she watched them tap into the engineering field and was encouraged to follow suit. But when she joined her university cohort, she found herself in a minority: she was one of less than 20 women in a sea of 200 men.
“I'm not going to say it was easy because the first time that I faced that reality, I was like ‘Oh wow, so many men, what am I going to do?’ But sticking to it shows others you’re passionate about the topic, even if it’s not a common field for women,” she says.
Since then, Ana has learned a lot from her experience being a minority in the field and is now an Apple Software Engineer at Plex, a media streaming company, where she’s able to work remotely from her home in Porto, Portugal. In fact, today Plex has 166 people, working in 23 countries from around the globe.
We sat down with Ana to hear about her experience as a woman in computer science and her four tips for a successful career in the field.
The Challenge of Being a Minority
Ana acknowledges the challenge of being one of the only women in the cohort. She recalls the unease with which she would speak up or answer questions in class. Perhaps teachers didn’t openly value men over women, but they called on men more often, for example. Ana posits that this may be because they were more used to interacting with men in this context and says that, as a consequence, “women are pushed into a corner.”
Now actively working in the field, Ana observes how gender dynamics are changing. She explains, “I think every year we have more and more women in software engineering courses, which is really good to see and I love that it is changing! Sometimes women feel afraid of doing this degree because it’s typically more associated with men, but I would encourage any woman passionate about engineering to go for it.”
Currently, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of visibility of women leaders in the field, but Ana remains optimistic. She says, “I think the worst part is that right now you don't see that many women as role models because we are often underrepresented in leadership positions in tech companies. But I think that, despite this, the scenario's changing. Companies are trying to improve the gender imbalance.”
Ana shared that Plex’s People Team has spent the last 12 months partnering with a third-party expert in the space of DEI to help them build a clear roadmap with checkpoints to grow diversity at Plex and a big focus is hiring diversity into leadership. “During a recent All Hands, our CEO shared that we’ve seen great DEI growth in the areas of Talent Lifecycle, Employee Experience, and Communication.”
Supporting Equality through Teamwork
In regards to her career, Ana hasn’t missed a beat—she began working in her field before finishing her degree and has held various positions at different tech companies. While working at a large company, she decided she wanted to make more of an impact and figured she could do so at a smaller, tight-knit company.
Already a lover of entertainment, Ana was drawn to Plex’s mission and applied to an opening. From the start of her career there, she has felt there was a clear path for her to follow and grow.
“When I joined Plex, I realized there were a lot of people with much more experience than me. I was really happy to see that. They are nice to help me when I have doubts or want to brainstorm. I’m able to ping them whenever I need help, which is key to growing in your career.”
This sense of teamwork and friendly environment has allowed her to focus on her work, grow in her skills, and speak openly.
“Sometimes in my meetings, I might be the only woman and that's okay, there’s no problem at all. I don't feel like I’m a minority anymore and I feel really comfortable with my colleagues speaking up and participating. One of our core values at Plex is “be kind, humble, and helpful,” and everyone really lives that. I think that when that happens, you are in a good place and working with the right people.”
Tips for Success in Computer Science
Ana is witness to the slow tipping of the scale towards equilibrium between men and women in software engineering. Though she still might find herself the only woman at a table, the progress women have made in the field thus far give her the confidence to carve out her own successful path. Ana offers this advice to those looking to build their career in Computer Science:
- Take advantage of your resources. “Learn how to use Google and optimize your searches. If you know how to look for what you need, you can solve a problem in 15 minutes instead of 5 hours.”
- Manage your time. “As a developer working alone, sometimes you don’t notice the time flying by, so you have to be careful about managing your time.”
- Participate in the engineering community. “Go to meetups and conferences to meet new people and share ideas. Dedicate time to your own side projects outside of work.”
- Speak for yourself. “Be critical and speak for yourself, share what you are thinking. You can be really good technically, but if you don’t give your opinion, people won’t value you.”