Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Hello, my name is Lisa. I’m 29 years old and I’m currently working as a Software Developer at iCure.
I did my studies at Namur, first at the IESN to do a bachelor’s degree in Software Development. Afterwards, I completed my master’s degree in Computer Sciences at Namur University in the evenings, while working at my first job as a mobile Developer. I then worked as a Java Back-End Developer for some enterprises and decided after 4, 5 years to become a freelancer.
I also worked as a teacher for one year in the college where I did my bachelor's. I met a lot of amazing students (one of them is now working with me) and I really appreciated that year. However, I was missing working on complex projects like I do today.
A few years ago, I began to do some research about Sustainable IT and how IT impacts our society, on a social but also on an environmental level. I gave a conference on that topic at the last women.code(be) TechTalks and a few others as well. I continue to read up on this subject in order to deepen my knowledge of it. My goal in a few years is to propose a series of training courses to help people in IT understand this topic as well, and discover how they can decrease the impact of the services they create.
What is your job (or specialisation) and what does a typical (work)day look like for you?
Today, I’m working as a Software Developer at iCure, more specialized in Back-End development, using Kotlin mainly.
iCure is a solution proposed to e-health enterprises to protect their medical data. We take care of securing, anonymizing and replicating them, while providing easy-to-use SDKs to the developers. That way, they can focus on their own algorithms to interpret the medical data, create their frontend, … This permits the enterprises to avoid re-creating for each of them a very complex solution to protect their data, which requires a lot of resources (time, money, people, …).
Therefore, our day-to-day work involves a lot of cryptography to secure our data model, of optimization (algorithmic, DB optimization, …) to make our solution efficient, and a lot of work to make this complex product as easy as possible for our users.
At iCure, we’re a team of 6 developers, including our CTO. As a Tech Lead, I help my colleagues as best as I can. A typical day then is to check their different pull requests, make them some suggestions if needed, discussing with the team about some challenges we need to resolve, and completing some functionalities / resolving some bugs on our solution.
That’s quite a generic description but when working at iCure, no day is the same. You can work on dedicated cryptography features one day, debug a WebSocket issue the next one, and investigate a CouchDB problem later. A few days ago, we did what we called a “Docuthathon” to work all together on the documentation of our solution. Before that, we worked on a tool to avoid us pushing passwords / RSA Keys in our Git repositories.
That’s one of the reasons why I love my job: You never stop learning and challenging yourself.
Does iCure have an office in Belgium or do you work remote?
iCure has an office in Belgium, near the gardens of La Hulpe Castle. We sometimes work from home, but we’re at least 3 days at the office.
As Tech Lead and mentor, what tips do you have for people who want to mentor others?
Use your strengths. We’re all different and if we want to follow a mentee efficiently, we need to do it our own way, with our own strengths.
For example, mine is my empathy. I can feel when the person I’m talking to is feeling well or not, if they understand what I say,… and so I correct. I always try to adapt myself to the person and change the vocabulary / the rhythm if needed. If the person is not feeling good, I listen. It’s not time to overload them, it’s time to slow down.
I’m also not afraid to discuss emotions, feelings if the mentee needs it. I find the mental state can greatly influence the learning process, so it’s very important for me that the person feels safe.
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
I’m playing accordion during my free time and I began Crossfit very recently. I was doing archery some time ago as well. I like to read, playing video games (for now I found back my old Nintendo 64 I’m going crazy) and just chilling at home.
My boyfriend and I started taking ballroom dance classes (for now, we’re learning Bachatango) and we love going to the Opera. The last one we saw was “The Pikovaya Dama”, from Tchaikovsky at La Monnaie. It was amazing.
One more thing, I also like walking in nature and occasionally like to take pictures about nature itself.
What games do you play on your Nintendo 64 now that you brought it back to life?
Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart 64 and Pokemon Stadium
This is so enjoyable : It reminds me of so many memories, I feel like a kid again!
I didn’t forget the commands to play and it feels like it was yesterday we were playing those games with my sister.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
Well, my father is working in IT, he is specialized in networks, infrastructures,… So when I was young, thanks to him, I knew some people were working in IT, but nothing more. And to be fairly honest, I don’t like his job, I’m really not into network, infra,….
I began to study Software Development at the end of high school, but totally randomly. I first wanted to study 2D, 3D animation but my parents were not ok with it. So they suggested that I start studying software development instead, because “it’s kinda the same”.
Of course, I figured out quickly that those were completely different, but still, I love it. So I stayed at the dark side of the force.
Have you ever thought of picking up 2D or 3D animation after your college / university studies?
No, I didn’t.
As soon as I started working, I considered developers as “digital artists”: Ask 10 developers to write a solution, providing them the same guidelines, they will all do it in a different way. With their own technology, their own writing, their own style.
Development gave me the creativity I was searching for in my job. Plus, every solution to create has its own challenges to resolve: You never get bored !
That’s why when I started working in IT, I never thought about doing 2D or 3D animation again.
However, I like drawing a lot and in the future, I would like to start the “Beaux-Arts” school to learn more about Art, Painting and get better at it.
Use your strengths. We’re all different and if we want to follow a mentee efficiently, we need to do it our own way, with our own strengths.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
Don’t use for loops. These are evil, instead use recursion or stream functions.
Joking aside. Don’t overpush yourself. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone: You’re doing your best and that’s all what matters.
It’s still advice I’m trying to apply today. Since I was young, I always tried to be perfect, to be irreproachable. (Talking about that, the TED Talk of Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and her book: "Brave Not Perfect" were really inspiring). It’s giving too much power in other people’s hands to define your own value. Because when you tend to be a perfectionist, you’re rarely considering yourself as the judge of your actions and you let others decide for you.
So define your own value criteria, what is important for you and when you’re looking back, take those into account. Don’t judge yourself through the value criteria of other people which could be completely different from yours.
Which part of coding do you enjoy the most?
Problem-solving. In iCure, we’re facing many complex problems and I like to decorticate them and think about how to organize the code / which components to write to make it work efficiently and beautifully.
It can sometimes be very frustrating… But it’s very rewarding when you finally find a way to resolve the problem you were working on.
I also like to improve the quality of a solution : Once your code is written, it’s certainly not over : You need to cover it with tests, documentation, refactor it, make sure it is efficient enough, … Generally, it’s at the end of that step that I can look at my code and tell myself “Oh my god, this is so beautiful…”
Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?
I read the book of Dame Stephanie Shirley after watching her TED Talk and I found she is an incredible woman that did a lot in the IT world. She’s a true inspiration.
At another level, I’m extremely inspired as well by Sana Afouaiz, the founder of Womenpreneur-Initiative. She’s not working directly in IT but doing a lot for women in the field and in leadership positions. She’s a strong woman that I admire a lot.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow? (for example certain podcasts, newsletters, tutorials… whatever you can think of)
Definitely, I really liked the TED Talks: The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame from Brené Brown and I’m following her podcast Unlocking Us.
I’m also following a few newsletters, focusing on programming and Sustainable IT: Kotlin Weekly, Programming Digest, Tech Lead Digest, Curiously Green.
As podcasts, I also listen to L’Octet Vert and (Dé)clics responsables, focusing on IT and its environmental / social impacts and how some people are acting.
If you would like to improve your algorithmic skills, you definitely need to read Cracking the Coding Interview from Gayle Laakmann McDowell.
And finally, I’m also reading some blog posts time to time focusing on Sustainable IT like https://phil.tech/2020/tech-climate/ and Bon Pote, a blog dedicated to the democratization of climate crisis / GIEC / … topics (https://bonpote.com/en/)
What caused / triggered you to research sustainability in IT?
After some years of experience and working on multiple projects, I began to think about what my work was bringing to society / humanity.
The last project I worked on as an employee was for the public administration to manage house taxes at a regional level. At that time, the economic context was more and more difficult for everybody. In my mind, I couldn’t accept anymore working on a solution that bled people even more.
This awareness motivated me to have a positive impact on society in my work. One question that was never considered by any developer that I knew was the environmental impact of our job. It was at that moment that I began my own research to discover consequences of IT on the environment and how to act as a developer.
How does the way we write code impact the environment?
For your second question, as a concrete measure, Frédéric Bordage estimates in his book Eco-conception Web: Les 115 bonnes pratiques that 80% of the good practices need to be done before and after coding. Most important decisions to decrease the environmental impact of a solution must be taken during the analysis and the design of it, not during coding.
Of course, every project is different. To define what is the most important action to you to take, you will need to define its main use case. The one that includes 90% of your users. F.e. The main use case of a fashion e-commerce would be to buy a piece of clothing.
Making it the most efficient as possible (fastest / easiest / lightest) will drastically decrease the impact of your service.
Do you have some recommended reading for people who want to dive into sustainability in IT?
A lot :-)
One of the first books I read was Pour une écologie Numérique d’Eric Vidalenc. This essay made me understand that IT is used everywhere in our society and that we, as people in tech, need to be very careful about what we do. In a way, we are building the world of tomorrow. IT can be very powerful, in a positive as in a negative way. We therefore need to understand deeply how IT is working, in order to use the technology as a tool and not as a weapon.
Second book that I recommend is Eco-conception Web: Les 115 bonnes pratiques de Frédéric Bordage. This one gives 115 good practices to decrease the environmental impact of a web digital service. For the ones who prefer or would like to contribute, here is the Github repositor with all best practices.
Frédéric Bordage created GreenIT.fr more than 15 years ago and is one of the biggest references for Eco-designing and the impacts of IT on the world. Last year, with GreenIT.fr and other collectives, he wrote an European study giving a clear view on the impacts of IT. It is very interesting reading as well (English links are at the bottom of the article).
Other than that, you have more and more books on the topic such as :
- GreenIT et accessibilité
- Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services (written in 2016, so some insights are outdated)
- Developing Inclusive Mobile Apps (Accessibility is part of the social dimension of Sustainable IT)
- L’enfer Numérique, Voyage au bout d’un clic
What are some easy wins for developers to make a project more sustainable?
To make your project more sustainable, you can work on two dimensions: The environmental or the social one (Economic dimension is generally well understood).
To decrease the environmental impact of your solution, the most important is to decrease the physical resources needed to run it.
Images are a big part of websites: An easy win is to compress them, resize them and use the lightest format possible to decrease the weight of your website.
Another easy win is to use standard fonts when creating a website, instead of a custom one; You therefore don’t have to download the custom fonts on the user’s terminal.
Social dimension could include the accessibility of your solution, data privacy, data protection, …
To make your website more accessible, you can for example add clear labels / alternatives to images that could be read by a voice assistant or use contrasting colors for color-blind people.
Ensuring data protection can imply many actions: You need to encrypt your data before adding it in your database, you need to protect the access to your servers, you need to be aware of cyber attacks, … There is a lot to master and no easy win for this dimension for me.
Last easy win:
evaluate the carbon footprint / the accessibility score of your website thanks to one of the multiple tools provided by the browser
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
When joining women.code, I wanted to meet other women working in IT, as it is quite rare to work together. Plus, it is an amazing opportunity to learn from each other and to support each other.
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
That’s not an easy question.
Since the beginning of my career, I experienced some issues being a young woman (sometimes by other women themselves) in the field, yes. But they were quite rare, it is not the majority of the experiences I had.
Before I give my answer, I find it important to elaborate who I met in the tech industry during my career. I mainly worked with kind, open-minded and smart people. True that the majority of them were men. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it because the most important point for us was that we were all working in the same team, for the same goal. We accept each other, and we try to get all the strength of the identity and experience of each member.
In IT, I also met 3 people that took me under their wing and taught me a lot on a professional but also on a personal level. One of them is my current CTO. When I began to work, I would never ever imagine meeting people like them and have such a strong complicity.
I can be who I am, the majority of people I met didn’t judge me for this. I don’t need to play a role. I don’t need to hide because I’m a young woman.
Of course, I met some jerks. Men but women, too, that told me I had nothing to do here. But sadly, you can’t hide those people. In a way, they are part of the diversity too. Confronting them is hard but it’s also thanks to them that you can get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person.
One of the hardest moments in my career was due to some of them. However, I don’t regret it. It helped me to define what I want, what I don’t want and what is important for me in my job.
From my experience, the majority of people working in IT accepted me as I am. The solution for me is not to try to make jerks more open-minded or smarter. If there’s hope for them, it will come naturally. But you can’t force them to change until they’re ready for it. So in the meantime, just avoid those people.
Actually, what I would do is bring more role models into the tech industry. To inspire new people to work in IT and kill this popular nonsense that developers are all weird white skinny guys, only talking to their computer. C’mon, we’re far from that. What’s dangerous with this image is that therefore, you don’t inspire a diverse population to work in IT, just a small part of it.
I’m convinced that having role models is the key. They could talk to students and explain to them their daily work. They could show who they are, as people working in tech and give them a better understanding of the field. That you can be a woman, a man, a black person, a white person, … Well, that’s great ! Because you will bring your own perspective / your own experience to your future teammates.
Lisa was one of the guest speakers at our Summer TechTalks event in Brussels, where she talked about eco-designing digital services to get to a more sustainable IT.
If you're interested, you can check out the detailed recap of the event, which includes Lisa's talk on our blog.
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You can find Lisa on LinkedIn.