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 Stéphanie Visser, who is based in the Netherlands.
Hello!! My name is Stéphanie and I work as a Software Engineer for autonomous driving projects at Microsoft. The road that led me there is quite unusual – more about that later 😊. I am convinced that technology should be developed by people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, since the solutions we build will also be used by everyone around the world. And the world is not a homogeneous place. I’m passionate to bring this message out, so you can often find me (on- and off-stage) talking to young adults to inspire them to follow their passion, even though they do not fit into some sort of ‘stereotype’ of whatever that passion may be.
When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?
My parents were quite computer-minded, so we always had a bunch of computers standing around in the house (at a time where ‘a computer on every desk and in every home’ wasn’t reality yet 😊). I remember the excitement of getting those computers to work LAN-party style (which could take hours) so we could all play Age of Empires together. My first contact with programming was therefore at quite a young age, when I found a book on how to program your own website in HTML, which kept me busy for months.
What education do you have?
And that’s where stuff gets interesting! For some reason, I never linked my early excitement for technology with an actual career path. So, life happened, and I went to study Hospitality Management at Hotelschool The Hague instead. This was an wonderful experience where I learned so much about customer-centricity (something that we sometimes lack in the world of technology) – but I knew I wanted to dive deeper. So after obtaining my Bachelor's and a few years of working experience, I went on to pursue a Master’s in Business Information Management at Erasmus Rotterdam School of Management.
Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?
Most of you probably recognize that uncertain feeling towards the end of your education – what am I gonna do with my life, what is the right company, where can I learn most, etc.. I knew I wanted to work either at a big tech player – or at a startup (so in retrospect, I had no clue at all 😃). A friend of mine told me about a traineeship at Microsoft, and in a hunch, I just decided to sign up. Because why not. And fast-forward a few months later, just when I was finishing up my Master’s, Microsoft offered me a traineeship! That felt unreal – me, coming from hospitality management, now working for one of the largest tech players in the world! Wohoo!
During my first 3 years at Microsoft, I worked in tech-strategic roles – and although I enjoyed those roles, I really missed coding. Microsoft recognized this and, based on my passion and motivation to learn, gave me the chance to pivot my career by offering me a job as a Software Engineer. And here I am today!
Do you have any role models that influenced you?
To be honest, I’m inspired by anyone who does amazing things and masters their art against the expected – drag queens, professional athletes, people in tech coming from unexpected places, musicians that disrupted their industry.. Authenticity excites me, just like a willingness in people to strive forward, to innovate and to be different.
Tell us more about your current job – e.g. what do you like most about your role?
In my current job as a Software Engineer, I code with automotive customers on autonomous driving scenarios, where I am mainly focusing on the ‘operationalization’ aspect of machine learning. Big words, but what that simply means is that I make sure that those epic ML models (that recognize where other cars are, or if a pedestrian is crossing the street) can be brought to production, in a DevOps-y way.
My role is heavily focused on ‘coding with’ customers instead of ‘coding for’ customers. That means that I am not hired by customers to build stuff for them – instead, my team truly partners up with the customer to sit together and pair program with them. This way, we can educate the customer about our technology hands-on, and show how our tech stack can help them make an impact. This knowledge-sharing component of my job is something I’m really passionate about.
But what excites me most about my job, is that I have the opportunity to contribute to such an industry-changing topic – in an industry that just needs to be transformed. I mean, if we could re-invent mobility now, would we still create environment-polluting, human-killing, personal steel boxes that you are only entitled to drive when you have money, good eyesight and fully-functioning limbs? An autonomous, electric and shared transportation system could drastically reduce environmental pollution, reduce deaths, and give more transportation options to those with special needs. And although this is such a massive, massive, global problem, I’m super grateful I can work on a tiny tiny piece of this.
What does your typical day look like?
My team works in sprints, about 25% on-site with the customer, and the rest of the time remote. This means that if I’m not travelling to code at the customer’s office, I work from home. The day always begins with a team standup, and then – picking up user stories and code, code, code! And, of course, the occasional Teams call with a colleague when I’m stuck, because I’m always learning 😊, and it’s so much easier to solve an issue together than alone at your desk.
What do you do in your free time?
I am huge on bouldering – you can find me 10+ hours per week hanging on a wall 😊. Next to that, I manage a theatre company in which I act and co-create plays; I regularly play Dungeons & Dragons with friends; and recently I started co-hosting De Dataloog, a podcast about data and machine learning.
What advice would you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ background to work in tech! The great thing about tech is that our field is evolving so rapidly, that everyone is always learning. You are your own amazing and unique story – own it, without compromise, no matter what the expectations of others are. And if you sometimes feel a bit lost – connect to those who believe in you and who want to help you become a better version of yourself. You can do it.
Thanks so much for reading! If you want to connect, you can find me on LinkedIn and feel free to reach out in case you have any questions or thoughts!