To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked Dr. Ronke Babajide, VMware Lead Solution Engineer Security based in Austria and creator of the Women in Technology podcast to describe her career journey to date, and her advice to women starting out in a career in tech.
People are usually surprised when I tell them that there’s no blueprint to making a successful career in tech. There’s no one way to become a woman in tech because there’s no singular tech field and no typical path to follow.
If you look at the world today, there’s no area of our lives where technology doesn’t play a role in some way. Technology permeates the way we live, love, work and die. Accordingly, there is a multitude of roles and opportunities that you can pursue.
The good news is that there’s a place for you in IT, no matter what your interests are. Whether you like sports, art, cooking, travel or crafts, there’s a role where you can combine your interests with a career in technology.
Just like mine, your path to the tech industry will be completely unique to you and your interests. When I was young, I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be where I am now. I’d no idea a job like mine would ever exist.
Curious About How Things Work
I was born into a family with traditional roles in a time when computers and digitalization were the topics of science fiction movies. There were no smartphones no Internet. If you wanted information about something, you had to go to the library to find a book on the topic.
My father, a Nigerian, met my mum while studying in Austria. He was the breadwinner; my mother was a housewife. When I was 8 years old, we moved to Nigeria where I went to an International (German) school.
There was a strong emphasis on education for my brothers as well as my sister and myself. My parents expected all of us to do well and go to University regardless of gender which is very typical of African families.
I was always interested in natural science and curious about how things work. After high school, I moved back to Europe to study Chemistry with a major in Biochemistry.
Back then, University was analogous in ways that are hard to imagine today. To find out about available courses, you had to leaf through a catalogue that was printed and distributed each semester. During lectures, you jotted down important information on notepads. And you learned from lecture notes that were compiled in paper manuscripts.
3-D Modelling of Proteins
In 1994, I was asked to work on my thesis at the Institute of Theoretical Chemistry. I had no idea about programming or computers but was invited by my professor, who had more confidence in my abilities than I did, to work on 3-D modelling of proteins. At that time, the Institute was one of the few places in Austria connected to the Internet.
It was amazing and I immediately fell in love with the technology. The possibilities it offered were endless. Suddenly I had instant access to information.
It was clear to me that the Internet was going to change the world.
Learning Unix and Linux
So, I decided to change my career path. I didn’t want to spend my life doing research in a lab; I wanted to be part of this technological revolution.
While working on my thesis, I learned how to program and administrate Unix and Linux systems. I built my own websites and studied the basics of data transmission on the Internet.
After graduation, I found my first job as a web developer at a company that wanted to create free TV for the web. When, like so many startups, they went out of business and laid people off, I quit and looked for other employment.
By chance, I met an acquaintance whose brother owned a company in Munich that made insurance software. He was looking for a Unix/Linux specialist and gave me the job. I packed my things and moved to Munich without ever having been there before.
I enjoyed working on a project migrating insurance software from Windows to IBM /AIX. But it was the stereotypical IT role. I sat in front of computers and worked with the same people day in and day out. I felt something was missing.
So, I took a break from technology to work for a friend who owned a high-end incentive travel company. I hoped that working in customer service would give me more variety and more opportunities to work with different people.
But that wasn’t the answer either; I missed technology and decided to go switch back after a year.
I Had No Idea What a Sales Engineer Was
This time, I struck gold. I saw a job posting for a sales engineer position for IBM p-series servers. I had no idea what a sales engineer was, but it sounded like something I could do well. Fortunately, the company thought so too, and I got the job.
I’ve never looked back. For the last 15 years, I’ve worked in presales. I truly believe that presales roles are the best roles in Tech.
If you love technology, love interacting and communicating with people, enjoy every day on the job being different and you want to make a lot of money, this is the job for you.
My titles have changed: I’ve been a Sales Engineer, Solution Architect, and now at VMware I’m a Solution Engineer, but the core of the job is always the same.
I go to customers and talk to them about what they want to achieve in their business and show them how they can achieve that with the technology we sell. I help our Account teams qualify opportunities, give technical presentations, do demos, answer RFPs (Request for Informations/Proposals).
Insights from Women in Technology Spotlight Podcast
I’ve talked to a lot of women on my podcast, Women in Technology Spotlight. When I ask these different women what advice they’d give to young women who want to make a career in this field, the same themes come up over and over again:
- Be bold
- Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be
- Step out of your comfort zone
- Keep learning and growing
- Build a network of strong women to fall back on when the going gets tough
- Ask for help when you need it
- Don’t be ashamed to fail and get back up
What Makes me Successful in These Roles?
If you ask me what makes me successful in these roles, I’d say that of course, I have the interest and passion for technology that’s the basis for wanting to do the job. But what makes me good at it is my ability to listen and communicate, coupled with presenting complex topics in an understandable way and a willingness to constantly learn and improve.
In technology, you’re never done. Technology evolves, what is true today may change tomorrow. Your willingness to constantly learn and adapt will keep you afloat.
Looking back over the years, I’d say I’ve been successful because I’ve never said no to an opportunity, I’ve been willing to expand my skills, learn new things, and never worried about whether or not I was doing what was expected of me as a woman.