Successful women in the software industry - Girls in ICT Day at memoQ

Worldwide, only 28 per cent of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are women; in Hungary, this figure is even lower: more than 90 per cent of those working in engineering, science and ICT - the fastest growing and best-paid sectors - are men. It is precisely for this reason that every year on Girls in ICT Day, the Association of Hungarian Women in Science gives secondary school-age girls the opportunity to challenge themselves and gain insight into professions once considered the preserve of men, by visiting companies in these fields. This year, present and future female programmers, data scientists and product managers came together at an open day held at memoQ, the Hungarian company which plays a leading role on both their domestic and international markets.

This year’s was the 12th Girls in ICT Day, enabling students in secondary education to visit companies, universities and research institutions around the country; there, through interactive programmes run by professionals in the field, they were able to become acquainted with the world of science, technology and ICT.

memoQ Zrt. - a Hungarian company operating since 2004 and a defining player on the translation technology market - is a refreshing example in terms of women represented in the technology sector: not only are almost half of around 150 employees women, but there is a similar gender balance at the management level. At the MemoQ event on Girls in ICT Day, female experts presented their eclectic fields of work to a group of around 20 girls from primary and grammar schools; they talked about the tasks they tackle in the course of their work and how their career paths brought them to memoQ.

As the exception which proves the rule, Balázs Kis - the male co-CEO at memoQ - gave an opening speech to welcome the participating students. The day’s only man briefly explained how memoQ grew from a small, niche Hungarian company to punch above its weight on an international market: memoQ’s translation tool software is now used in over 200 countries, becoming an industrial standard in the translation industry... as essential as Adobe Photoshop is to the graphic design industry. IT engineering graduate Kis, recounted that during his university days, there was only a single female student in his class. He pointed out that this massive under-representation of women in his subject had nothing to do with their lack of talent: this sole female classmate came top of the class and now works as a top manager for a US bank.

The day got off to an exciting start with a presentation of the memoQ software and an introduction to the art of movie translation. Anna Mohácsi-Gorove spoke about her responsibilities in her position as solution engineer, illustrating the tasks she faces in a challenging but fascinating role with examples, and explaining that the beauty and complexity of her work arises from the need to understand the requirements of clients from different language and cultural backgrounds. This may not always be easy, but it is never boring. As examples, she referred to those countries and regions of the world where English is spoken, but not as a first language, or nations with customs which are different to those in Europe, such as China. There, while working to reach agreement with a client, it is important to keep in mind that asking direct questions is considered impolite. Following this, Anna Mohácsi-Gorove - who actually came to work in a technological field at memoQ after studying humanities - revealed some trade secrets from her earlier profession: students were able to find out how a movie translator works and how foreign films are dubbed in Hungarian.

This requires creativity, but is a tricky, time-consuming task, since the translator has to focus on the actor’s facial expression and tone of voice, rather than the words alone; interpreting the various names and plays on words is also a challenge. The students were able to see for themselves how complex this is when they translated some parts of just a few seconds from one of the episodes of Friends.

Anna Mohácsi-Gorove, Solution Engineer (Photo: memoQ)

Over the course of the day, the girls became acquainted with a number of interesting career paths, given that the members of the memoQ team come from diverse professional backgrounds. For example, Veronika Pándi worked as a maths teacher in the past, but has been a product manager at memoQ for the past eight years. Although most people imagine a software developer as a lonely soul working in a dark, windowless office, software development has changed a great deal over the years: nowadays, the development of computer applications is a team game. The product manager’s role is to understand the users’ needs and translate them for the developers; then, together with management, assess the relation of the efforts and costs to change the software which the changes have produced to the satisfaction of the users. In a nutshell, this means that if we are working on something, we can be sure that the client will be happy with it. After this, the girls had the chance to try out this type of agile project management in a real-life context. They discussed which functions would expand and improve the Meta messenger app. With the group’s help, Veronika Pándi translated the most popular suggestions into the language of developers. So now it is clear which functions will be included in this popular messaging app in the future, if some of the girls boost the ranks of Meta in the future.

From the presentations and interactive group work, the students were able to find out from women about professions which are supposedly only fit for men (Photo: memoQ)

After the group had lunch together, Orsolya Sas, Andrea Tóth and Krisztina Závecz demonstrated the work of the front end developer to the girls, explaining in what ways this role is similar to and differs from User Experience (UX), and User Interface (UI). This trio are an excellent example of how many different roads professional women can take to work in the field of technology and ICT. Orsolya Sas, who is now a UX designer, worked in a similar field for the media over many years. After completing her degree in economics, Krisztina Závecz tried out a variety of vocations, including working as a fitness trainer, before becoming a front end developer. Meanwhile, after working as an engineer and in positions for large corporations, Andrea Tóth changed course to become memoQ’s UI designer. Involving the students in fun activities, the trio showed them how important speed and a clear structure are for an application, and how the image appearing on the screen to the user depends upon the code behind the user interface.