Women in Tech: Triumphs and Barriers

16 Jan, 2018

An experienced project manager, a promising data scientist and a determined software developer share their stories about working in IT and chasing their dreams.

The IT industry in Ukraine is very dynamic. Every year, the amount of IT companies in the country grows, and current companies are expanding in size. The job market’s demand is much higher than the amount of available specialists, so recruiters are always hunting for the most talented and educated experts. Unlike a few years ago, the Ukrainian IT market isn’t dominated by male employees only. According to the popular IT source dou.ua, 14,3% of Ukrainian women are IT employees, 34% work in manager positions and just 3% of them work as developers.

Here are three authentic stories of women working in this industry. They all have experience in different areas, but definitely know how to reach their goals against all odds.

Liliya Stupnytska (Senior Project Manager, SoftServe)

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Liliya Stupnytska works as a Senior Project Manager at SoftServe. She has more than 10 years experience working in IT in different positions – QA Engineer, QA Lead, QC Lead, Software Development Manager, and Delivery Manager. She graduated from the Faculty of Applied Mathematics at LNU as Java Developer.

I remember my friends’ reaction when I was about to enroll at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics. They asked me “Are you really going to choose Applied Math?” 20 years ago people didn’t believe that a girl wanted to become an engineer. But I always wanted to do something unusual, like creating robots. My dream came true. I got accepted at the Faculty and dedicated my thesis to image recognition using Hopfield neural networks, which was a very unusual topic back then.

After graduation, I was sure that I would start working as a Java Developer. But it turned out companies didn’t want to hire women for developer positions, because most women take maternity leave one day. I got offered the position of QA Engineer instead. Now, as a manager, I understand why I was refused the developer position. Back then, I was disappointed, but decided to start as a QA Engineer and get my dream job later. A few years later, my career changed direction from a technical to a manager function.

In 2007, I got offered my first team lead position. I couldn’t sleep at night, imagining all worst case scenarios. Luckily, my team was great and I got a valuable experience from it. The following years, I turned down offers for higher positions because we were thinking about having a baby. But I gave in to the position of SDM (Software Development Manager) eventually. Funnily enough, after one month on the job, we got the news that I was pregnant. When I look back now, I’m happy that I didn’t quit my career because of family reasons. I won’t say it isn’t challenging. Often, I have to explain my kids why I can’t attend their school theater, or miss spending time with my husband because of business trips, but I understand that you need to live life to the fullest. Don’t torture yourself imagining things that will probably never happen. Women are always looking for thousands of reasons not to start ambitious projects or hold higher positions. We create a lot of limitations for ourselves.

A few months ago I returned back to SoftServe, the company where my career in IT really took off. I’m responsible for the optimization of presale processes for business units. My task is to get these processes done in no more than 9 business days. I need to speak business language with top management and technical language with employees working on the project. I’m the intermediary between expectations and the final result. This experience is new to me and I don’t always know what to prepare for, but taking on new challenges and being persistent is my superpower.

Career choices don’t happen unexpectedly. It’s a bumpy road and taking the first step can be hard. You need to figure out what you really want. Both men and women have to keep learning and work day and night to achieve their goals. However, in Ukraine, women often have to overcome barriers, built by society and themselves.  Family values are still a priority for a lot of women and many of them are too insecure to sacrifice family life for a career. But I have to say that I meet more and more talented women who aren’t afraid of anything. For example, a friend of mine is a Java Developer and her husband a QA Engineer. He even admits that she codes better. Our society is transforming, more young girls are applying for technical degrees and more women take on jobs with more responsibility.

Of course, there is still work to do. Women like me have to think about how we can help other girls to fulfill their dreams. Me and my friend, a charismatic mom of four boys and Financial Director, Zoryana Bogdan, have been working on Lady in Business, an organization that wants to teach women not to miss opportunities and believe in themselves. We want to help women get back to work after maternity leave and to create a platform for support and developing new skills. Women need to understand that they are not alone – there are others who experience the same thing.

The IT industry in Ukraine offers an easy work environment. It’s very democratic and anyone can build a career in a few years. Most importantly, the industry is tolerant to women’s ambitions. Man or woman, hard work, respect and perseverance will get you anywhere.

Оlga Tataryntseva (Data Scientist, Eleks)

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For the last year and 6 months, Olga Tataryntseva has been workings as a Data Scientist at Eleks. She studied Mathematics, has a PhD in Ontology, and participated in the SemData project, founded by the Marie Curie Foundation.

Applied sciences were always my strong suit, so enrolling in Math and Programming was an easy choice for me. After graduating from the National University in Zaporizhzhya, I did my PhD on the development of formal presentations of knowledge models, developing a methodology for building and refining ontologies. During this PhD, I got the chance to visit the UK as a researcher and work in a product company, first as a Technical Support Engineer, later as the Head of the Technical Support Department. When the company expanded to Lviv three years ago, I decided to relocate here.

In 2015, LITS launched the first course in Machine Learning in Lviv. The teacher was Sergiy Shelpuk, now Head of Data Science at Eleks. I took this course and did a project on smart monitoring for servers, which got me excited for Data Science. The amount of information we can get from data fascinated me, and after a while, I decided to apply my math background to more technical positions.

After participating in the Data Science Summer School at UCU in Lviv, I got an offer from Eleks. I started working in the Data Science department, which now has 20 Data Scientists. As far as I know, it’s the biggest Data Science department in Ukraine.

Now I’m mostly involved in the business domain. For example ProjectHealth, which is a part of an initiative to help make the company data-driven. You have to know that Eleks provides software development and we have teams working on many different projects. The amount of projects is constantly increasing. Our goal is to work effectively, identifying risks quickly and preventing them. The company really needed a system to monitor the effectiveness of projects, recognizing and solving potential problems. First, we needed to build the right model. We talked with stakeholders and professionals from different fields. It helped us understand what “successful project” means for each of them and build a model that systemized all that information.

Now we measure effectiveness of every project. We get the data for this model from various sources: project management and task tracking systems, knowledge base, CRM system, HRMS, Eleks code repository, and CFMS. This process is fully automated. C-level doesn’t need additional communication with project managers to get updates about a project. Moreover, ProjectHealth is client-oriented. It’s something we can show the client to demonstrate the development and success of their project. It looks like a dashboard that shows the state of projects and drills it down to raw data. We will present our project in a workshop Women in Machine Learning during a poster session at the NIPS conference in Long Beach, California in December.

For me, the most exciting thing about Data Science is that it can help facilitate daily life routines and solve problems. For example, you can pick a movie based on your interests, without wasting time looking for one. Recently, I read a story that a smartwatch recommended a guy to see a doctor because it recognized an abnormal heart rhythm. It saved his life. Isn’t that cool? There is a huge amount of useful info around us, we just need to use it.  

Eleks has 1100 employees, nearly half of them are women. In my department, men and women are equally represented. I was never treated with disrespect, just because I’m a woman. The majority of colleagues at my previous company were men, but it didn’t influence neither me, nor my job. I just don’t pay attention to these things. And I think it’s good. We all just do the things we like, and achieve the goals we want. What’s the point of focusing on gender? Girls shouldn’t be afraid of tech professions. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You need to do what you like.

Regardless of gender, being able to argue your point, negotiate, communicate with all kinds of people – those are valuable skills to have. Those skills help me at work. It’s important to find the right balance between your job and private life. A person won’t feel complete if you remove one of those two things.

People in Lviv seem to have found that balance. The city is developing and so are the locals. Lviv offers a very interesting environment with an active IT community. It makes me happy to see that many motivated people here and having people to look up to. The IT industry here is growing very fast. There is always something going on – interesting events, conferences, lectures, meetups, courses, and programs. For me, it’s the perfect combination of innovation, progress and amazing people.


Olha Chayka
, (Senior Software Engineer in Test, PLVision)

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After graduating from the Lviv Physics and Mathematics Lyceum and Applied Linguistics at Polytechnic University, for the last 15 years Olha Chayka has been working as a designer, Java Developer in Test, and as a Senior Software Engineer in Test.

Being a Software Engineer in Test means creating architectural and programming solutions for automated testing. In my case, I created a Python testing framework at PLVision, and now I’m providing technical support for the project. In this job, it’s important to master the main programming language, be able to design and understand the architecture of the module, and know how to explain it to your colleagues. Product development, time management and the calculation of potential risks are equally important. Soft skills are important as well: you need to understand a client’s needs and cultural differences, and understand the main principles of constructive mentorship and teaching.

Because I lacked some developer skills, I started working at PLVision as a QC Engineer. It’s a Ukrainian company with niche technology specialization in network software and IoT development, but it also has strong expertise in software testing automation. In one year, I improved my Python skills, started to develop a new product and got a new position. Now, being a developer, I’m satisfied when my code is working bug-free.

In the middle of my IT career, I started my own business – a design studio. Many graduates think owning a business is easy and means certain profits. A lot of them try it, make mistakes – some succeed, some don’t. Many run back to the safety of big offices. But it’s a learning experience and it helps you develop your soft skills. The only downside: wasting time and downgrading. Launching a startup means a lot of stress, organizational issues and long task lists.

The only fixed item in an IT agenda is the release. Before the release, you can adapt your working schedule as you want. In other industries, you have to work with tighter deadlines. A surgeon follows a very strict daily operating schedule, an accountant needs to keep an eye on deadlines to file documents, etc.

Lviv Physics and Mathematics Lyceum is a very famous Applied Sciences high school. Its students often win Olympiads and get the best scores in the Ukrainian External Independent Evaluation. I’ve always loved Physics and Math, but it was still challenging to enroll there. The majority of the students were boys. Not many girls dream of becoming a scientist. In general, girls get better results and study more patiently than boys, but have other plans for the future, often focused on Humanities.

This type of stereotypical thinking starts early on at school. Students don’t know much about possible professions or what to study to get there. People enroll in universities to get any kind of diploma or because a particular faculty is popular or famous. A lot of them realize afterwards that they don’t want to work in this sphere.

Parents or teachers, do not expect girls to get into Applied Sciences. The idea that girls are not interested or don’t understand it is formed by society. I personally experienced a situation where the teacher didn’t believe that I completed a certain technical task myself. This kind of reaction push most girls away from science.

I try to find the balance between family and work. I obviously love my job, but I think I have arrived at the point where family is more important. I’m lucky to combine both. Me and my husband are working at the same company, on the same project, and we like it a lot. We can have fun together after work with colleagues, we can complain about projects to each other. We have common goals, problems and even schedule. Some may say that it’s too much, but our similar interests only bring us closer together, I believe.

For women, it’s not always easy to exert authority in a man-dominated environment. If you want to succeed as a leader, you have to be professional and earn respect, regardless of gender. Attitude towards women often depends on the workplace. Here at PLVision, I feel good – many of my colleagues are women. We never feel as a minority. However, this is not always the case. At one of my previous companies, the atmosphere was quite different: only a few women worked there and nobody stayed long.

Self-esteem and understanding that women and men are equal, is very important. Nobody has the right to criticize your mistakes based on your gender. Just like nobody has the right to put the blame on you for somebody else’s faults. This is how business works. Of course, female charm has never hurt anyone (Smiles).

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