We believe every day should be International Women’s Day! So, through this series of article, we wanted to leave the floor to a few inspiring female leaders from the tech field, starting with Pooneh Mokariasl, Site Reliability Engineer at Criteo. Here's her story!
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am originally from Iran. Back when I was a student in the computer engineering field, I started to take a few courses outside of the University. There, I learned more about network engineering and internet architecture, which led me to apply later to a program based in Europe where I learned about engineering but also business and entrepreneurship. After completing my end-of-master internship at Nokia, I decided to pursue a career in Software Reliability Engineering or Dev Ops. It was tricky though because I didn't have a developer background, so I trained myself intensively for several weeks to be better prepared for my upcoming coding interviews. It was a huge challenge for me, so I was thrilled when I got my first job in this field.
What do you think mainly triggered you to take that leap?
I have known since high school that I wanted to work as an Engineer. I knew there were fewer women in the field, but this is something I accepted early on, and it never really stopped me.
What does a Site Reliability Engineer do exactly?
People working as SRE (Site Reliability Engineers) work closely with software engineers. They have a critical role in maintaining and improving the reliability and scalability of the company's software systems. Their work includes designing and building internal tools, databases, data pipelines, etc., anything that product-facing teams need! The bigger the company, the bigger SRE teams are, and it makes our job extremely critical, since the daily job of other engineers in the company rely on us. If a system or product fails, it can impact on our company and its business. Besides that, somehow the skills of SREs are essential and independent of the specific product or industry that the company operates in. Therefore, the need for SREs exists in all companies, regardless of their size or industry.
Is SRE a particularly hot topic in today's industry?
More and more companies are now relying on software to run their operations, which is what makes it a hot topic, I think. It is quite a recent position which requires a diversified skillset. Coming from a network background, my perspective is that the reliability of the infrastructure is even more important than the infrastructure itself. You need to grasp the specificities of a product at every stage of its life cycle; it is not enough to just develop it, we are also responsible for its maintenance, and the way it works and performs. Also, it is interesting to see the diversity of backgrounds in SRE. We have people coming as much from a Software Engineering background as from an Operational or Network Engineering background, like me.
What main challenges have you faced since pursuing a career in tech?
The tech field is a vast, dynamic, and rapidly growing industry so you need to ramp up fast and constantly update yourself, which is as challenging as it is stimulating for me. You will learn to use a tool, and just a few months later the rules of the game will change. It can be tricky sometimes, but it makes you learn new things all the time. Also, as an SRE, you work with different topics for a diversity of products, which makes our scope quite broad.
And how do you update yourself so regularly?
Criteo provides us with quite a lot of learning resources, training, and courses. But to me, the best resources are the people. Criteo’s supportive culture makes it okay to ask for help. Everything moves so fast in tech... For instance, you may need to learn not one but several coding languages as one project may come to you from another team, using different tools. You need to adapt all the time! We are lucky to have many experts in-house who are happy to help whenever you ask.
As a woman working in tech, is there anything you'd like to share from your own experience?
In SRE we work closely with the infrastructure, and it is true there tend to be fewer women there than in the product teams for instance. Every story is different and I can only speak for myself there but, judging from my experience, I'd say this phenomenon is an aftermath of the strongly persisting cliches that exist about the tech world; Like this idea that the infrastructure field is better for men because some jobs require more physical work and so on, which is not true. It also has to do with the way women restrain themselves when choosing their career path, due to these cliches. It is important to challenge these stereotypes and promote diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry.
What would be the solution then?
Things are already evolving but there is still room for improvement. I think we need to raise awareness inside but also outside of tech. It is important to be transparent about what people do in R&D, rather than letting those cliches spread false ideas. This goes beyond just R&D, to our culture and society, right from what we are taught at the university. It is where we build the basis of our skillset and self-confidence, so it is the key to what comes next.
How is this topic addressed in Criteo R&D?
I wouldn't say it is something we talk about daily because people have plenty of work to do, but my male colleagues are open, aware, and, most of all, they want to know what they can do. They talk about how to attract more women in R&D and accompany that change, so I feel lucky to be here. Gender parity is something that has grown more important in our work culture, and it is great that a company like ours has a dedicated DEI department to foster more diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Which tips would you give women hesitating to leap?
Working in tech is fun! Come and see for yourself. I believe it is also up to us as women to overcome this impostor syndrome. I'd advise them to meet the actual female engineers, see how strong they are, and how each has developed her own way to deal with this situation. There is no need to put blame; Instead, let's trade cliches with real experience!
What do you like the most about your job?
I feel valued and free to express both myself and my ideas. Working in tech is incredibly stimulating; there is always something new to learn. And even though our way of using technology might change over the years, it will remain a growing industry in the future. Also, the pandemic changed in depth the way we work in our field. It has made it super flexible today, which is a great advantage! Tech is a vast field of expertise that keeps you from monotony; You can always learn new skills and reinvent yourself! Though I respect experienced people, I have never been too fond of hierarchy. At Criteo, we value ideas, and ideas don't always come from experience. They sometimes come only because you think differently. It is perhaps what I love the most about my job here; everyone is on the same level in a way.