Leitha Matz is co-founder and COO at Zuper, the first mobile financial coaching app in Germany and Austria.
She also has 20+ years’ experience in the tech sector and speaks about growth and personal development.
Leitha spoke to GoDaddy at the European Women in Tech event in Amsterdam about how women can get started and continue to succeed in tech careers.
What piece of advice would you give to women and starting a career in tech?
So I think that starting a career in tech is really, it’s available to everybody these days. Tech is everywhere it’s embedded in everything that we’re doing, even jobs that yesterday and 10 years ago didn’t have a tech element they do now have a tech element.
So I think it’s important to focus for the first part and once you have the focus on like, are you going to are you going to do front end, are you going to do back end, are you going to do data management, what aspect of tech would you like to get into? Look for networks and look for projects that you would like to start working on.
One of the pieces of advice that I always give people who are getting started is “is there something that’s like open source that you can help to contribute to?” Can you create a small project to get going and to understand the area that you’re working in?
So for example if you if you want to pick up Clojure or Ruby, create a project for yourself, start getting into that, and as you do that you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to have better questions and when you go out to your network, your meetups, your friend group, that you’re developing in this community, then you can ask them pointed questions that will help you develop in this area.
I think I think meetups are great there are so many online communities as well that are really open friendly places to find those find those allies.
What changes would you like to see from organizations either large or small to help support women in tech?
Well I think that that organizations, if this is a goal for them, they really need to look within and see you know what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong. There’s a lot that we can talk about with unconscious bias. And first I think making the unconscious bias a conscious bias is a great first step.
You know when you look at your organization do you have diversity? Do you have women in your organization? Do have parents in your organization? Is it all young people or do you have an age range? Are all of your people in your organization coming from like a particular community and a particular perspective?
So I think diversity in general is a great place to start but once you start looking at the makeup of your organization and what your organizational values are, I think it’s easy to see where you have gaps and then you can start correcting them.
Because I think the things that are problematic when you look at an organization are you know is it, for example, all men of 20 to 30 years old you know, that that would be a problem. And so that that kind of an organization needs to ask itself some questions about how supportive, how open [it is] and what its goals are around diversity hiring.
Do you believe female tech business partners face tougher challenges than their male counterparts? And what can be done in the short term to overcome these challenges? And in the long term, how can industry change?
Yeah that’s a really good point. One of the things that I found is that, yes, there is bias and that exists and so I see that I have a partner who is male, so our CEO is male, I’m female and we do get different receptions from certain businesses, from certain people in certain organizations, from certain cultural environments and that is what it is.
I mean you might not be able to change a particular organization, but what you can do is, again, you can find you can find the allies right, you can find the investors who understand and who get you, and you can you can make sure that you’re not wasting your energy on those organizations that really have a bias about who you are and what you can do.
For myself I like to look at those as challenges. You know it’s like “oh really you don’t think I can do this but watch me”, you know? That’s so for me I think. That the haters become kind of motivational force but I do see that, and I think ultimately when we when we look at the industry we have to have more women who are in investment and in VC funds, we need to have more men women in analysis for startups, for accelerators and for VC funds as well. So there needs to be diversity across these organizations in order for there to be diversity in the startups that are coming into these organizations.
How can women considering a career in tech develop the skills they need to succeed?
So I think there’s a few things. One of the first things that I always recommend is create a fanclub around yourself, who are your mentors, who are your supporters. Find those people, the people who are going to encourage you when you have those moments in which you have questions and doubts.
Find those people who are going to promote you when you have successes. Those are the people who are going to make it possible for you to continue through the good times and the bad times.
The curiosity that you have as an individual is also really important, because technology is change, right? The thing that was essential to companies 20 years ago in technology is irrelevant now, or maybe it’s changed over time. But having curiosity ensures that you’re going to continue growing and educating yourself and making sure that you’re staying involved with what’s happening in trends in industry.
So I think I think those two things are going to make you more adaptable and they’re going to make you more relevant as we go forward in the future for whatever it is that the future brings.
You mentioned mentoring, did you have a mentor and who was it?
Well in my first internship I was with a company that was a magazine. I had initially applied to be in the editorial department, but they saw “oh you’ve created a website” and so this was a little bit of an anomaly in 1998. I got involved with the online organization, and there was a woman who was doing Perl development and I thought that was the most interesting career path that I hadn’t been exposed to in my past and so I learned from her.
I watched her I was really inspired by her I thought she was the coolest and she took the time to mentor me and to show me how this was achievable, this was something that I could do as well if I wanted to. And those mentors those are the people who will enable you, will inspire you and will, you know, it’s almost like you have a drop-down menu of options and a mentor can add an additional option into your drop-down menu that you haven’t even considered as possible.
And so look for those people who are going to be your allies, to inspire you and guide you on the right path, to give you good feedback, and to you know to tell you like okay “well if you’ve gotten this criticism is there something to it or is it something that you should just get past and move away from it because it’s not healthy for you?”.
So that’s one of the things that I strive to do now in my career, to be a mentor to younger people as well.
What’s the key to successful continuing personal development in the tech industry?
I mean part of it is that network. So if you are a part of a network of people who are involved and interested and passionate, those people are going to spur you to move forward they are going to turn you on to like interesting things that are happening in the tech community.
And these people can be real for you, they can be like physically people in your environment, or they can be people that you know on Twitter, you know. Your network can include these strong bonds of people that you know in your in your work life or in your personal life.
They can also be the weak bonds the people that you have relationships with on a casual basis. But find out who those people are, and those people are going to help drive you forward.
Additionally curiosity; staying involved and staying curious about what is happening in industry, I think that’s really important. We have to realize that our education don’t stop after university, we continue growing and changing.
For example for myself I got my university degree, I started in industry years later I thought “you know, I’m pretty weak in statistics and that’s something I want to get stronger in”. I took another course and it wasn’t easy for me but I really focused on statistics and now that’s something that I feel is a credit to my current career.
You have to continue learning and developing and growing.
How have you kept your career developing over the last 20 years?
Yeah, I mean it’s it changes over time. So sometimes when I’m in a company I’ve seen opportunities within that company to grow. So for example in the company that I was helping to grow in New York, I saw an opportunity within the recommendation system and that was an area in which I could grow. I could help develop the system and I could grow my skills at the same time and getting involved with that team and being specific about, like, “I want this” and “this is something that I think I can do” was really valuable for me.
And actually asking the question of, you know, if you’re working in a larger organization sometimes you have to ask a daring question like “can I get involved in this team? Can I get involved in this project? What would it take?”
I actually asked this at one point of my supervisor “what would it take for me to get to a VP level in this organization” and at first he like laughs and then he saw I was serious, and he really thought about it and he took the time to help me develop in that direction but he was also very honest with me about the barriers to success within that organization and ultimately I left that organization, but the asking the question sometimes opens the door for you.
What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling to balance their current workload with the need for personal development?
Yeah absolutely I think that’s really that’s a real thing. When you are in a job situation, for example, sometimes you can develop within your job. The thing I would say is can you see anything that’s within your current system, you know you’re working really hard, can you see anything there that is engaging that can help you grow and can you shift yourself in a direction in which you can you can evolve and pick up the learning there?
Another thing is like do you have any time to supplement skills in your off hours. I mean if you do have off hours that’s great, otherwise learn on the job and ask the questions like “can I take this on? Can I move this piece over to an intern or someone else and can I take on this new role where I can actually grow?”
Have those conversations with your manager and if they’re not supportive of you then you know consider that they might not be the right manager for you.
Your manager should always be helping you to be your best at any company that you’re at, and that’s what I think about as a manager too. Like your manager should be supporting you, should be protecting you and should be making sure that you’re moving forward in your career.
So look for those people, look for the organizations that have the managers who can help you thrive.
How can people choose the right area to focus on when it comes to developing new skills?
You have to know yourself, you have to ask yourself some questions and I think it’s really useful if you create a vision of yourself in the future, you know, and you can go as far out as you want. You can say “how do I want to be the coolest eighty year old in the world?” but create a very specific vision of yourself in the future and then work back from there how does that person have skills that I don’t you know?
In my case I knew that I wanted to move most recently from product operations so I needed to supplement some of the skills that would help me be a great chief of operations. In my next role I might want to be a CEO.
What are the skills that I would need to be a CEO that I don’t have now as a COO?
So create that vision for yourself, and what are the steps that you can take now, that you can take next week? What can you do to get you to that vision?