If there’s one way to attract young girls to the fields of IT, math and computer science, it’s to provide them with a role model like Julia Saburova. This thirty-five year old general manager of an international software development company is challenging female gender stereotypes and is proving that, with passion, dedication and a whole lot of hard work, anything is possible.
Julia has the world at her feet. Currently the general manager of Derivco Estonia, she is leading a group of seventy-five software developers, artists, testers and project managers, and integrity specialists in their mission to create slot games for mobile and desktop platforms, including web applications and casino services. Managing technical people in the online gaming industry is not a role traditionally associated with women. However, Julia refuses to focus on skewed gender stereotypes, and instead follows a passion that she discovered at an early age.
“When I was a child, studying computer science seemed like a dream, like magic, like something that only happened to other people in other countries,” she says with a laugh. But, by the time she graduated secondary school (grade 12), the subject had become more popular and accessible. And although she enjoyed studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at school, she found the subjects relatively easy. “Computer science looked to be a difficult subject, and that is what attracted me the most. Studying CS was the first real challenge I had set myself, and I have never regretted it for a moment,” she said.
The rarity of women in this field became evident when Julia started her first job and was the only tech woman at the company. “I was lucky to have so many supportive people around me,” she said. “I just focused on giving my best,” she said. And it seemed this was the formula for success.
In 2004, Julia joined a software development company as a QA specialist, and after five months decided to take the role of Software Quality Assurance Lead at Voipster Estonia. After two years of running the QA team, her leadership skills were recognized and she was promoted to General Manager, a position she held for seven years. Then, in 2014 Julia had to navigate the company’s way through a momentous change: Voipster joined forces with Derivco, a renowned and respected international software development house which develops online gaming content for one of the biggest suppliers of online gaming in the world: Microgaming.
Instantly recognizing her talents, Derivco Estonia asked her to stay on as General Manager and also to take up a position as board member. Julia hasn’t looked back. At thirty-five, she is now in a top management position at a top tech company which creates software for the world’s leading supplier of online gaming. In that role, she also grew Derivco Estonia from ten to seventy-five people. To say she is successful is probably a bit of an understatement. And how does she feel about her achievements? “I am where I am today because of my attitude and dedication. It doesn’t matter what job you are in or at what level you work. The only thing that matters is your attitude,” she said.
However, the road to success hasn’t been without its challenges. As a general manager, Julia can’t just rely on her technical prowess. “In this position, I am dealing not just with product development, but also with people and the organization as a whole. The only way you can learn to deal with every piece of the puzzle is by getting on and doing it. There is no ‘how-to’ book. You have to reply on your experience, have a readiness to take on big responsibilities and make sure you have a ‘can-do’ attitude,” she said.
Julia says she is extremely happy in her job and feels privileged to work with such intellectually gifted people. However, she would like to see more up-and-coming women tech specialists and believes more could be done to encourage women to consider careers in math, physics and computing. “I think our culture and our perceptions have a lot to do with the current status quo,” she said. “Engineering positions and the like were mostly held by men. Our perception today is still that these fields are male-dominated, so why would a woman want to enter the field?”
Although this perception is changing, more could be done to attract women into these fields. Julia believes girls should be exposed to math, computer science and technology from middle school. Special programmes focusing on girls would go a long way in showing them what jobs in these industries would entail. “Why not hold IT camps for girls?” she said. “It would help spark an interest. Invite female IT professionals to attend these camps and act as role models and inspiration for these girls. We need to show women from a young age how exciting and challenging these careers can be.”
And what advice would Julia could give to young women looking to become engineers, IT specialists or computer technicians? “Go that extra mile in learning something you are interested in. Be confident in yourself – do not be concerned you are entering a male-dominated field. There is a lot of space for women, so go out there and claim it,” she said.
And claim it she certainly has. We can’t imagine where Julia will be in ten years. All we know is she will continue to smash through glass ceilings and achieve great things.