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Laura Czajkowski
Laura Czajkowski

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It’s 2020, here’s to supporting people through their journeys

My Story/How I Got Here…

Many, many years ago I decided I wanted to study computer systems. It was a challenging course, and I can now look back in hindsight and say that I may have been better suited to a more theoretical approach to CS. I got involved in my university’s Computer Society by accident. I turned up to an Annual General Meeting, and as the only woman there at the time was anointed Treasurer.

I was hooked. Working with my Computer Society chapter and learning about open source is what made me get involved, connected me with help from a community, and helped me make friends with people like me. Here, I found myself succeeding. With this initial work, I found ways to think around problems and find alternative ways to just get on with tech, my life, my work, and all of it.

When I left university, I joined a small software house as an internal QA engineer, still doing open source advocacy work in my spare time. I got more involved in the Ubuntu project, joining first the local user group, then the EMEA membership board and finally the Ubuntu Community Council. It was my involvement in communities I learned about many new-to-me cultures through these activities, and I deepened my understanding and patience when working with others. I saw that people come from all walks of life and all have experiences that they can share for others’ benefit.

I contributed regularly to docs, translations and bug reports for Ubuntu. And, my contributions were taken seriously. We all worked together remotely, we had a code of conduct and an expectation of mutual respect, and it was a stark contrast to working in “real-life” tech. It left me doubting if I wanted to continue in my day job.

In the Ubuntu groups, I met more women working in open source, who had similar struggles to mine, not being taken seriously, not a coder or an expert during my regular 9-5 job.

The Biggest Challenge I Faced Was...

In the workplace, I found that men I worked with in-person and online often dismissed what I had to say. They considered me less technical, less of a developer, less of a person who should be heard. I was always less than. This situation is, I think, compounded because I felt and still do at times that as I am not a “real” developer, so, therefore, my opinion was less valuable.

I began to feel like an imposter! Why was I here? It was a real struggle for me and I wrote about it. The worst experience for me was when I was told by a manager that I was being too aggressive when we spoke about a topic I was passionate about. I was shocked as I knew full well that they would never have said that to any of my male colleagues. I’d sat through more company meetings where people were told to be bold and aggressive, to hustle and make deals, and now I was told not to bring the same energy to my work. It stung, and it silenced me. It made me not want to take part in team discussions, as I started to worry; how I was being perceived by others.

Life changed when I had the opportunity to move to England and work at Canonical. I had a manager that believed in me and helped me grow my skill sets by giving me new responsibilities (Thank you Matthew Revell). I worked with a team that appreciated the work I did and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t working with them as a fellow developer. My journey of working with companies that wanted to engage with communities and open-source had begun, and I was loving it.

With future roles, I found ones that complemented my skill set, knowledge, and experience. I’ve grown over time, but it’s still easy to doubt oneself. Especially when you factor in interviewing for new roles and you keep seeing terminology that can be off-putting like ‘rockstar’. When I went for interviews I was seen as neither technical enough or senior enough to run teams, or I was not in the right geolocation, none of which is, I suppose, disqualifying for just the right ‘rockstar.’ It was off-putting.

The Most Rewarding Thing This Year...

I had followed Vonage on LinkedIn and had seen jobs come up there, keeping tabs on the work that Phil Leggetter had done building his team at Nexmo. I ended up joining Vonage August 2019, and our teams are inclusive first and foremost. We want diverse people in our organization, and that doesn’t just mean in culture, ethnicity or location. It means people from all walks of life and experience levels. If you only hire senior people, you never open the door for someone who needs that step up in life to start a new career.

It’s been a rewarding 7 months. Each day I’m amazed I’m here, surrounded by people who care, show empathy and want to help. My manager, Michael Heap supports and enables me to do my job, advises me with an eye to my success, doesn’t dictate, and offers guidance - never demands. As my dear friend Leslie Hawthorn likes to say, it’s amazing that I’m leading two devrel teams in this job, whereas in past roles I was told that I wasn’t the right person to lead the team I was defacto managing. Your environment makes all the difference for your professional success, joy, and personal well-being.

My Message for Others...

Your journey may not always be easy or smooth, but take those bumps and learn from them. Take the lessons you can salvage from even the toughest situations and bring them to your next project - use them to build up instead of letting it break you down. Surround yourself with people who you can ask for help or advice. Make sure you have a network of smart, engaged, passionate people around you who will inspire you with their accomplishments, their support of your accomplishments, and a simple but real appreciation of you as a human being for all you do.

Be the person that can help others in any way you can, even if it’s just lending an ear.

Women should always support one another but also know we do have allies in others.

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