Just try out everything once – Yuna Morgenstern, Tech Lead & Software Engineer, on diversity in the workplace
At finleap connect, one of our most important values is diversity. Not just by attracting diverse talent, but simply acting consistently according to our values each day, across all layers. Each and every day we strive to emphasize the importance of promoting openness, inclusiveness and diversification of ideas. We believe that, at the end of the day, it’s not just important to support diversity, it’s just as important to establish a sense of belonging for everyone.
Yuna Morgenstern is a Tech Lead and Software Engineer at finleap connect, working on our Micro Products API. Yuna started at finreach solutions in August 2019, which was one of the companies that later became a part of finleap connect.
Yuna has over twelve years of experience in the tech industry, working in a variety of companies and in a variety of software development positions. In their free time, they volunteer at the Hacker School in Berlin, teaching kids IOT programming.
Yuna grew up in Alto Adige (otherwise known as South Tyrol or Südtirol) region of Italy and thus moved to Berlin eleven years ago. Over their many years of experience in the German tech scene, Yuna has gained valuable experience and insight into how companies think when hiring candidates, assembling teams or addressing the needs of employees.
We recently spoke to Yuna about their experience working in tech in Berlin. Read on to find out more about how and why they got to Berlin and what they think companies can do to bolster diversity.
What brought you to Berlin and finleap connect?
I would say it’s about as complicated as a Dirk Gently novel. I grew up in the Alto Adige region in the North of Italy, without ever even speaking much Italian as the province largely consists of people who speak German. I originally studied to become a hairdresser but, after losing a bet, switched careers to software engineering. Before even getting my final exam results back for my software engineering studies, I started to travel around with the intention of ending up in Ireland. But on my way up there, I fell in love and made a (permanent) stop in Germany 11 years ago.
At some point, I was looking into switching to another company. Funnily enough, due to some frustration at work that day, I actually did not do too well on the coding challenge, which was one part of the finleap connect recruitment process. To my surprise, after meeting many team members during an onsite pair programming session, I was offered the job at finleap connect. I decided to join because I realized this was a company that would recognize my potential and cultural fit beyond a one-time coding challenge.
What is your perspective on the global tech scene in terms of diversity and overall equality?
I really like the approach some companies are taking. It should be obvious to everyone that you shouldn’t treat anyone differently based on something they can’t change. But this can leave room for some wrong interpretations, like expecting everyone to be on the same level or behaving similarly just because everyone is equal. In my experience, this can sometimes lead to treating people like resources, instead of people. The best example I have of this are job interviews where companies start outlining a general guideline of limiting interaction with potential candidates. This policy ignores many of the qualities that make candidates unique, such as their family lives, why they are searching for a new job, and their diverse backgrounds. Based on generic qualities gathered just from a resume or a quick conversation, I’m noticing some companies getting too nitpicky in the interview process, yet constantly say they don’t have a large enough candidate pool.
In my past companies, I led many interviews where the company just seemed to ignore the interesting qualities in candidates, some of whom would have brought in new perspectives on agile methods like SCRUM (which the team was not even using back then). At the same time, however, some companies just seem to look at diverse qualities like a fixed rate, i.e. a certain number of women, a certain number of international people etc. This is a big gap between having the numbers on paper and actually treating employees well, which can be easily determined by KPIs such as employee fluctuation. When employees’ needs are recognized, then it is much more likely that the fluctuation is low, and indicates that diversity was both understood and achieved at any given company.
How would you describe your experience in the Berlin tech scene so far? What is good/bad about it?
After I moved to Berlin, it was a surprise for me to see so many different people in one city. If you’re looking for diversity, Berlin is a great place to find it. However, when I look at many tech companies in Berlin, it seems to me like some of them treat diversity like a number. In my early days in Berlin, I joined some meet-ups about diversity, and at one of them there was a slide with the quote, “If you are not German or a man, you will most likely only survive ten years here.”. Up until that point, that had been true for all of my friends. This absolutely triggered my ambition to cross this line. This does, however, take a lot of energy, as I had to work and fight harder to break those barriers than I had ever imagined had to. I can honestly understand why some people don’t make it past ten years, as it can sometimes be extremely difficult to get promoted or recognized for your work. In my past, I was often praised for working hard, was even recognized as being “the best performer in the company”as well as being promoted to a team lead after my team voted for me to become one. Even after having such a track record, I was not promoted but other employees – always men – got the promotion instead.
The same discrepancy is visible in a variety of other areas as well: in interview processes, applying for bank loans, getting support when you need it, the list goes on. Every time I try to ask myself why this is so hard for women in tech specifically, two things come to mind. Firstly, the tech scene has been dominated by men for quite a long time, and many women are just starting out in tech. I also find that often the approach in the German tech scene is to rely on “old patterns” before really trying out something new or being truly diverse.
What advice would you give to companies to become more diverse? What needs to be done?
In short: just try out everything at least once, in the end it’s the motivation that counts. A new junior employee can be just as motivated, competent, and hard-working as a senior employee, regardless of their background or past experience.
Listen more to the employees’ needs and their ideas, even if it’s from the bottom up to the top. It’s important to speak to the people and to understand their needs. Let employees have space for their personal development. Include employees from other offices / seniority levels to equally contribute to bringing direct value to the business and its customers, especially when it comes to solving business problems that have an impact. There are so many people with so many ideas and solutions who have the potential to contribute beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. From my perspective, diversity alone is achieved by accepting people and their individual ideas.
What are your main challenges?
Well I never had a company with that many different cultures as here at finleap connect. The challenge here is to find the right wording to get the attention of everyone as everyone is listening on different levels and might have a very different perspective.
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self in terms of career development?
I would tell myself to keep things simple with a smile. Don’t start to take things too seriously like I did when I started off my career. Try out new positions as fast as you can cause you will never get the same support/attention when you are already experienced. Don’t shy away from promoting your skills and accomplishments, as you will – at least at some point in your career – switch companies to get a promotion.
It’s always a hard decision to leave a company which you like just because you also want to get paid for your work and motivation.. And don’t be scared/shy. Everyone who knows me won’t believe it, but I used to be a very shy person who nearly never spoke much.
What would you have done differently?
Of course, if I would have had that knowledge/experience in my past, I would have tried out many different things. Maybe I would not have ended up being a developer. 😀 Hm, maybe I could have invented 3D printing? 😛
Do you have any role models, if so who?
- Jacque Fresco, even he was not successful with his futuristic project, I like his mindset and point of view
- Rand Miller showed me with his first games how to archive the most with much fewer resources
- The Movie “Catch me if you can” taught me how easy it is to hack and manipulate things and also showed me that nothing is perfect and thus things are easier than you think.
Thank you for your wonderful insight, and for actively promoting diversity both in and outside of finleap connect!
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