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Inspiring Stories: Sharon Grundmann

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 Sharon Grundmann, who is based in the Netherlands.

Meet Sharon

Hi! I’m Sharon, a 22-year old intern at Microsoft and MSc Computer Sciences student at Delft University of Technology.

When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?
My ‘woman in tech’ story doesn’t begin with a great ambition for technology per se. When I was younger, I wanted to become a pilot - I still want to fly an airplane one day. I chose Computer Sciences as my bachelor program out of convenience, plus I liked Mathematics in high school. I had just moved to The Netherlands from Ghana to live with my father and I didn’t speak Dutch so I applied to one of the few study programs offered in English at the time. My interest in technology grew throughout my bachelor and I even ended up TA’ing some courses during my second and final year. I’ve always loved to teach, I used to do it a lot in high school back in Ghana.

Technology as such isn’t a goal for me. Yes, it’s cool, very cool – the thrill you feel when the code compiles successfully never goes away. But there is a greater good to be achieved with it, no matter how big or small those steps towards that goal are. I look around and I recognize the disparity between where I am now and the world in which I grew up. I see education and technology as the means to solve a lot of those problems.

Before starting my bachelor, I knew nothing about coding. Yes, I was an avid user of technology but my greatest achievement from my high school ICT class was being able to use Microsoft Word. This relates to issues that go beyond my power – educational systems, funding, governance and politics. But they are issues I’m passionate about. How can I make my community a little better with the power I have? It starts small. It’s sharing my knowledge with my classmates, helping a customer build an application which brings them value, helping my friend set up her brand using social media or doing my thesis work on how to extend [Kasadaka][1] with a payment service so that a veterinarian in [Bolgatanga][2] can generate a new income stream for the services he provides to rural farmers.

Do you have any role models that influenced you?
One of my biggest inspirations has been Dr. Natalia Silvis-Cividjian, my study advisor during my bachelor. I remember my first meeting with her which was during my first week of the program. “Are you intimidated?”, she asked, to which I replied, “No.” To be honest, I kind of was. I had just attended my first programming lecture with about 90% of my classmates being male. Most of them had bombarded the lecturer with questions about these complex things I’d never heard of while I sat there with my red notebook taking notes about what OOP, Classes, Objects and Instances were. “Good! The guys know nothing. They just make noise so don’t be intimidated.”, she replied. What I hadn’t realized until then was that we were all freshmen. We were there to study Computer Sciences so clearly, we all didn’t know anything.

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

In my role at Microsoft, I leverage my technical knowledge to support customers in designing and building their Data & AI applications using Microsoft Azure. So far, no week has really been the same. The only constants are my weekly and bi-weekly team calls and coaching sessions with my manager. Some days are spent organizing workshops and hackathons for customers with a focus on Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning (ML), while other days are spent in whiteboarding sessions, working directly with customers on their proof of concepts. When I’m not working, I’m at my university campus, attending lectures and seminars for my study program.

My career in tech has just started. There are many areas I want to explore and knowing the possibilities are endless can be overwhelming. But I know that my presence is important – my background, experiences, knowledge and skills make my perspective unique and valid.

What advice will you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?
If you’re considering a career in tech but don’t feel like you’re good enough? Remember, you’re not alone in this. I feel that way sometimes too. But you are good enough. Everything that makes who you are is why you’re needed. My smile gets bigger whenever I enter meeting rooms and there are powerful women at the helm. I look up to them and think to myself, “Woah, I want to be that lady!”. There’s a saying in [Twi][3] that goes “Nea onnim no sua a, ohu”, which translates to “One who lacks knowledge can gain it if they open themselves up to learn”. There are a lot of things I still don’t know about but as long as we’re open to learning and uplifting each other, we can build a better world together with technology.

[1]: Kasadaka is a platform that supports easy creation of local-content and voice-based information services, targeted at currently ‘unconnected’ rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa.
[2]: Bolgatanga is a city in Ghana.
[3]: Twi is the language of the Akan people in Ghana.

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