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Breaking into tech

As part of our International Women's Day series, we had the privilege of interviewing Chantel van Wyk, our Product Development Manager.
What inspired you to pursue a career in tech and how did you get started in the field?

It wasn’t something I thought I would ever be interested in. During my five years in the UK, I started working for an online dating company as an office manager and it was a startup company, so they were quite small. Everyone on the team was included in brainstorming and contributing to the growth of the company and it was great, I loved it. After a short while as the office manager, I got promoted to customer relationship manager. During that time, I watched and learned about product management, user experience, and pretty much the entire development cycle, and I thought I want to try that! After four years, I made the decision to leave the company in pursuit of a product role, and I was fortunate enough to find a company willing to take a chance on me without any product experience.

What kind of challenges did you face as a woman breaking into tech?

For myself, I can’t say that I had any gender-specific challenges that I faced, at least none that I’m aware of. It is a very male-dominated industry, I think about only 25% have women in that industry and I think amongst actual developers it’s even less. The main challenge for me was jumping into product without having any technical experience – but I think what helped is that I’ve always been very curious. So, I listened, watched, and asked questions, and over the years I learned about database structures. A lot of it has been made easier with colleagues who share their time and knowledge over the years.

Have you got any advice for women wanting to enter the tech industry?

I think a lot of women don’t consider the technical industry because it’s male-dominated and think that it’s something that we can’t do as a woman because it’s a guy thing, but it’s not true.

If it’s something that you want to learn and you’re interested in, then just believe in yourself, and go for it. I know it sounds a lot easier than it is, but if it’s something you want to do, there’s no reason why you can’t make a success of it. As long as you stay curious, steal with your eyes and ears, and that’s something I’ve always done. So, steal with your eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to play around and make mistakes.

There will be days when some tasks will feel overwhelming, and you just don’t know where to start or how to start. The important thing is that you do start. When I look back on a task that seemed too daunting, I realised it was much easier than what I initially anticipated!

Another tip would be to connect with other women in the tech industry for support and guidance, I think that could help if you have questions and just to get yourself a little bit further ahead.

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