Sarah Stemmler, Freelance coach for Data Science
A research study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology found that “Gender diversity has specific benefits in technology environments,” which may explain why technology companies have begun investing in initiatives aimed at increasing the number of female applicants and to make them more effective, to last longer and to give them the opportunity to develop further. But is it enough?
Four years ago, we started a diversity series to bring your attention to the most inspiring and powerful women in the tech scene. Today we would like to get to know Sarah Stemmler, Freelance Coach for Data Science.
Today’s woman in technology: Sarah Stemmler, freelance coach for data science
Sarah is a data science coach and freelancer for Malt. At synsugar, she offers training for data science teams and project workshops. She already has more than 4 years of experience as a data scientist and has already designed and rolled out several customer projects. Sarah is also co-organizer of the League of Geeks tech meetup in Passau. In her free time, Sarah likes to do sports, be it hiking in the mountains or climbing.
What was the first thing that interested you in technology?
In fact, I had access to technology as a child. My father ran a digital camera and printer repair shop. We probably always had the latest electronics and loads of tools in the basement. When I was 12, I got a cell phone, a very modern model from Siemens at the time. But I didn’t like the look at all. So I just took it apart and replaced the keyboard and case with those from another device. In hindsight, this was a pretty risky move. Fortunately, the phone still worked after that, otherwise I would have been in trouble.
How did you start your professional career?
After a traumatic experience with IT at school, I didn’t want to have anything to do with this subject. I had checked everything that had to do with science as “not my thing”. I studied business administration with a focus on sports management, as I played golf as a competitive sport in my youth. My dream was to become a golf club manager. However, an internship in this area didn’t really convince me.
Women tend to be interested in jobs where they know beforehand that they have the skills they want.
After my bachelor’s degree, I worked for my father in the workshop for some time. Then I did an internship, this time in marketing at the confectionery manufacturer Ferrero. And so I came to Passau via marketing to study a master’s degree. Two statistical courses were compulsory at the University of Passau.
Sports management and statistics don’t have that much in common, so I first had to study hard. I took subjects like econometrics or panel data analysis and learned to analyze data using the R programming language. The beginning was certainly not easy, but at some point it clicked and I really enjoyed these subjects.
For example, through my master’s thesis in statistics, I got an internship at an IT service provider in Passau. Soon I was given responsibility for my own customer projects and was able to gain experience in analyzing company data. I went from intern to working student and a short time later one of the first data scientists in the company. I worked as a data scientist in the IT company for almost 5 years. When I started, we were a startup with around 30 employees. When I left the company in February of this year, there were already 150 people. To experience this development was a great enrichment for me.
Have you received support from your family and friends?
There is a woman who paved my way into data science. This woman is the former supervisor of my master’s thesis at the Statistics Department at the University of Passau. Her name is Angelika and was a doctoral student in statistics at the time. The idea of writing my thesis at the statistics department was not taken seriously at first.
I was a career changer with a wild résumé who suddenly discovered her interest in statistical modeling. My fellow students thought I was crazy to take such a big risk at the end of my studies. After all, not only was the topic of statistics feared, but the chair was known for its high quality standards. Angelika was directly moved by my cautious request and immediately had some ideas in which direction the work could go. That inspired and at the same time encouraged me, because Angelika’s résumé was just as colorful as mine.
In the end, I successfully completed my master’s degree with an extremely interesting and challenging thesis. Angelika became my colleague and is now one of my best friends. I am very grateful to her for many things.
Has anyone ever tried to prevent you from learning and moving forward in your professional life?
I can’t say I experienced that. On the contrary, I always had people around me who supported my steps. For example, my first boss at the IT company, who gave me the chance to try my hand at data science at an early age. Right from the start I felt his trust and gladly took on responsibility for customer projects.
My parents have always supported me too, although when analyzing the data they probably do not understand exactly what I am doing and what my day-to-day work looks like. And last but not least, the support that I get from my friend Sebastian every day. He gave me a lot of support, especially when I decided to start my own business, and is always there for me.
Where and what do you currently work?
I have been working as an independent consultant and freelancer in the field of data science since March 2020. At the moment I’m still in an experimental phase because I don’t yet know exactly what the market needs in terms of offers. Also, it’s my first time doing some things from sales, accounting to social selling on channels like LinkedIn.
My goal in the first year is primarily to gain a lot of experience and then use that experience to develop a meaningful service portfolio that will help the company in the long term. I also don’t rule out developing into a company with employees. If it gets to that, I’ll definitely give it a try.
What did you develop?
I am currently developing workshops and consulting services in the field of data science. I support my customers in two areas of data science: On the one hand, the identification and design of meaningful and implementable AI use cases.
I also offer support in building data science teams. I see both as essential if companies want to dedicate themselves to the topic of data analysis and artificial intelligence. In the long term, it makes sense to build up data skills in a company and to be able to implement projects independently.
In addition, I am currently working with two other data science consultants on a coaching concept to improve the collaboration between business and tech teams in the company. But I can’t reveal much more at this point.
Why aren’t there more women in technology?
I keep asking myself this question and have not yet found the right answer. There were hardly any women in my sports management degree and the degree had absolutely nothing to do with tech. In comparison, I was very surprised at how many women we were able to win over to our data science team at my former employer. We actually had a 50:50 distribution. The cooperation between men and women was excellent and everyone was accepted and valued.
The collaboration between men and women was excellent and everyone was accepted and valued.
There is no general answer to this question anyway. However, I think women are more inclined to enter professions where they know beforehand that they have the skills they want. The requirements described in many job advertisements for technical professions have a deterrent effect. This can unsettle people. While men tend to overestimate themselves, women tend to underestimate themselves. Many women do not apply for a job or a place at university because they feel that they do not meet the requirements.
Can you name a few challenges women face in technology?
Women in the tech industry are now massively promoted, which is understandable given the low rate. However, I believe that this puts even more pressure on many successful women in tech professions. They want to prove to their male colleagues that they are right in this position and that this has more to do with their performance than their gender. If a women’s quota in technology were ever up for discussion, I would probably be against it. Even if it were to bring more women into tech jobs in the short term, women would be subject to the stereotype of profiting from a quota. I don’t think that would solve the problem in the long run.
Can you tell why more women should consider working in the tech industry?
As in all other professions, women in IT teams are extremely important because mixed teams create a better balance. Women just think and act a little differently from men. They often have different approaches to communicating with people and solving problems. I cannot say why this is so. In any case, a heterogeneous, perhaps even interdisciplinary team helps to create more innovations in the company. And to be honest, working in various teams is also a lot more fun.
In the future, more technical skills will have to be taught in schools[…]
On the other hand, more women should work in technology because there are also many advantages. On the one hand, there are many exciting and future-proof jobs in this area, on the other hand, jobs in IT are even very family-friendly. At the end of the day, in IT we are all knowledge workers; the most important good is in our minds. All we normally need is a PC and fast internet. When we have that, we can do our work from anywhere in the world. Incidentally, this makes it possible for men to combine work and family.
The discussion about diversity is picking up speed. How long will it take to get the results of the current debate?
I think the debate will stay with us for a long time. It would be necessary to revolutionize the school system and provide even more insight into the various professions in order to drive the repulsive stereotypes out of our heads. On the other hand, things are getting more technical in all professions, also outside of IT. Our whole life is just getting more technical. I’m pretty sure schools will need to teach more technical skills in the future.
What advice would you give women pursuing careers in tech?
Dear girls, if you want to get into the tech industry, just do it. There’s no reason not to try it at least once. Just like in my story, I couldn’t do anything with computer science during my school days. The lessons at that time also had nothing to do with practice and unfortunately often gave the wrong picture. I really enjoy the IT industry every day.
I also enjoy working with technology freaks because they usually only argue about technical issues and rarely about human sensitivities. I find that very pleasant. If, like me, you want to work as a freelancer and can organize your working hours freely, I recommend that you build strong and resilient networks early on. The IT freelancer marketplace https://www.malt.de/, for example, is a great marketplace that helped me to position myself at an early stage and where I came into contact very quickly with the team behind the marketplace.
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