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Inspiring Stories: Isabelle Van Campenhoudt

As a society we tend to focus on titles and roles, and we forget that behind each title there is a person who has a story to tell. And truly every person’s story is unique.
In honor of International Women's day, we interview inspiring women from the community on the story of how they got into Tech, and where they are today.

In this post, I interview Isabelle Van Campenhoudt who is based in Brussels, Belgium.

Meet Isabelle Van Campenhoudt

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Hi! I'm Isabelle. I'm a Microsoft Data Platform MVP, co-founder of www.shareql.com, and have been working in the world of databases for more than 25 years. I'm a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and a consultant working with developers, and the infrastructure team. I'm a user group co-leader (GUSS.pro) and I frequently (co)organize events such as Power Saturday, SQL Saturday and 24HOP.

When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?

When I finished University in 1993, I randomly picked an ad for a course to learn how to use a word processor and a spreadsheet. To be selected, you needed to pass some tests. I finished very quickly, and they asked me to do some extra logic tests. During the interview, they advised me to go for the Networking and Telecommunications courses. I had no IT education at all but still decided to take the challenge. In my first week, during the first database course, I managed to block the system. My teacher asked me to fix it by myself and gave me a big book. I found the solution, and this is when I fell in love with IT. Ever since, it has been my passion as it challenges my brain every day.

What education do you have?

I had a very traditional education with ancient Greek and Latin, and then a degree in Political Sciences, actually nothing related to STEM.

Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?

During my year of training, we were told to ask for an internship. I had an enlightened moment, and spontaneously proposed to be an intern in the training center itself. They were very surprised, but they accepted. I created a training course during my internship, and I was hired right after. Worth mentioning is that this training center today still exists and is dedicated to educating women on Information Technology.

Do you have any role models that influenced you?

My first IT teacher was also my tutor, and she was a woman. She inspired me a lot. Then, when I started my consultant's life in the 2000s, I was really driven by Kimberley L. Tripp, and other people like her.

Who were/are your biggest supporters in your career?

My daughters have always been very proud and supportive of me, even with all my travels. But my biggest support I find in the community of speakers, user groups, and MVPs. They inspire me to share and to keep learning every day.

Tell us more about your current job – e.g., what do you like most about your role?

I have been a freelancer for 12 years. I work on different projects to help people with their data roadmap, the adoption of the Power BI technologies, and the data literacy of their teams. I have also done a lot of very technical things like architecture and migration project on SQL Server farms, worldwide monitoring systems, farm auditing, and code tuning. I also give training and workshops. My driver is always to share the road to excellence, and the optimization of solutions. Teaching people how to leverage their data technologies is my most favorite thing. Once or twice a month, I travel to speak at meetups and conferences, which I enjoy a lot.

What does your typical day look like?

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I typically head out of the house at 7am for a 25-minute walk to the tram station. I quit using the car six months ago and now walk 10000 steps a day. It helps me meditate and mentally prepare for my day.

Around 8.30am I arrive at the customer (I usually work on 2.3 projects and customers in parallel). I first process my email with the GTD prioritization and check up on my tickets and issues. Then I prepare my task list for the day and at 9:00am we then have our "stand-up".

My work can be very hands-on: audit of a system, refactoring, building a proof of concept, testing of new features. And I also need to present my ideas, document my solutions, or give trainings. When I have meetings during the day, I like to keep them short and efficient!

By 5pm-6pm, I leave the office to return back home. My children are old enough to not need me for their daily activities. It was different before, but I always managed to be there for them. Being a freelancer helped me to organize my own schedule. Before that, I worked as a Microsoft Certified Trainer, which meant that I had a regular schedule, which was good when my children were still babies.

At 8pm, I am usually back to my computer to work on my community activities: tech-talk preparation, blogging, a conference call to organize an event... Not every evening, though!

What do you do in your free time?

I like to use my hands: cooking, sewing, and gardening. My technical community contributions are my hobby as well, they keep me passionate about my work, and give me the opportunity to travel to other cities and places. And I also like to read, anything from sci-fi novels to feminist essays.

What advice would you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?
A career in tech is an excellent opportunity to have a choice. There are a lot of different roles and possibilities, so there's always a job that fits you. It is an exciting environment with very smart people, and you can stay enthusiastic about it because the playing field is constantly evolving.

You can be part of that change! From start-up to the public sector: the sky is the limit!

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