Hamburg Geekette of the Month: Susanne Kaiser

Susanne Kaiser - or Susi as we know her - studied Computer Science and is the CTO of JustSoftware

- an interview by Theresa Grotendorst

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Susanne, you are the CTO of JustSoftware. Please walk me through your day, what does a CTO of a software company do?

One thing you can rely on is, that every day is different - aside from that every day needs to start with a indispensable-to-life-coffee followed by a standup-meeting with my colleagues to catch up with the current development status. Everything beyond is pretty dynamic and varies from day to day.

At some days you can see me attending meetings, workshops, conferences. At other days you can watch me putting heads together with my colleagues and digging into heap, thread and tcp dumps tracking down technical issues. At some moments you will notice that I am programming (including ranting and raving when my tests fail), but these moments of programming became - unfortunately - very rare.

My tasks at Just Software range from designing new ideas with colleagues and customers, discovering new options to extend our technology stack and infrastructure, establishing and finetuning processes and assigning responsibilities, supporting our customers to seamlessly integrate our product into their infrastructure, solving technical issues, interviewing new potential team members, giving feedback to my colleagues

What do you love most about your work?

What I love most about my job is to work together with a fantastic crowd of people developing a cool product that enables everyone to easily collaborate, communicate and to share knowledge within their organizations. I love the combination of creativity, technology and team spirit. It's fascinating, that we can create our own product derived from our own ideas by just the use of our brains, our laptops and the internet. And to develop not only a product, but also your own company with a lively culture is one of the most thrilling experiences that can happen to you in your work life.

Just Software provides the online collaboration software suite Just Connect. How do you see the role of communication and collaboration within a company?

An open and transparent internal communication is the basis for effective collaboration – resulting in higher motivation, innovation and productivity. Although our social software provides the technological infrastructure to support, intensify and optimize such collaboration, a company’s communication culture plays a huge role: it eventually determines how sustainable a company’s success will be.

You hold a computer science degree. How did you discover your passion for IT?

My career path is not straight forward at all. It took a while with a detour in sales before I discovered my passion for IT. But this detour helped me to figure out what I do not want.

I caught a first glimpse of programming by coincidence during my traineeship. I remember this exciting moment picturing myself as a future rocket science architect: when my very first and very tiny program printed the single (!) line "Ready for takeoff, space cowboy?". The universe will be mine! 

When beginning to program small, silly pieces of "software" my passion for technology ignited. I started to study computer sciences in 1997 (oh, really _that_ long time ago?) and have dedicated now more than a decade to software development.

What is the biggest misconception about working in the IT world?

The stigma of uninspiring, inflexible working places dominated by lone warriors sitting in front of their computers all day long without social interaction might still adhere to technical jobs. Well, that's wrong!

Working for instance as a software developer at Just Software requires a lot of creativity and communication skills to solve problems and developing new ideas together with the team and customers. Meetings, workshops, conferences with a lot social interaction and networking are essential parts of the IT world. Especially jobs in the IT provide flexible working models and hours that allows to easily work from home or part time. 

You are now a woman in a role of leadership. What advice would you give to young women who are considering starting their career in IT?

Be curious, try out a lot - e.g. by getting impressions and inspirations at conferences, bar camps, meetups - and grab every opportunity to train your skills, for instance by attending hackathons, creating your own little project or contributing to free software/open source projects. Join networks - such as Hamburg Geekettes - to share experiences and find supportive environments. And follow your passion!

If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

"Next time" I will be an astronaut! No just kidding, I just would like to discover my passion for tech a little earlier, but that's not really bothering me. I like it as it is and I am excited what kind of challenges the future will provide ... rolling up my sleeves now.

What do you think about the lack of women in leadership positions, especially in IT? What do you think holds them back and what are the barriers women face?

Research results revealed, that especially young women reluctantly select job careers or classes in school where they would be one out of only a few girls - they feel uncomfortable with picturing themselves in "nontraditional" jobs. They rather pick a job where they believe they will fit in and belong to. Lack of self-confidence and underrating the own talent are psychological patterns that women are often struggling with. And the negative stereotypes and social stigma of technical jobs do not make it easier that women are entering the tech world in droves.

The more gender-balanced a workplace is the more diverse the working-environment, products and company culture will be. Approaching problems in different ways is a key factor of success.

What do you think should be done to get even more women interested in technology?

Spread the fascination of tech! How can we do this? Those women that are already in tech needs to be more visible to other women - as role models. We as Hamburg Geekettes can be a supporting part of encouraging other women to enter the tech world. To name a few options: let's make this network becoming lively, let's participate in Hackathons, let's demonstrate the excellent opportunities in technical positions to young women in schools and universities, e.g. as a guest speaker, let's attend tech conferences - also as a speaker, let's spread the word of opensource and free software by contributing and blogging about it... let's ignite women passion for technology, because technology and passion rules it all!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned while being a CTO? 

The most important thing that I have learned is: Embrace your mistakes! Quite everyone fears to make mistakes - including myself. But this fear should not be such dominant that it blocks you in your decisions and your development. Mistakes give you the most brutal but most effective lessons. The important thing is: Accept your mistakes and learn from them to avoid them in the future.

Thanks to Theresa Grotendorst for conducting this interview.