Kátia thinks a lot of young women are led to believe IT is a job for men and she wants to change it
“I never felt afraid,” Kátia Nakamura says. “I started in informatics a long time ago, maybe I’m kind of used to it.” Kátia and I are discussing gender representation in technology – particularly the lack of women working in the area.
She continues: “I haven’t had any problems but when I’ve met women who work in tech I’ve heard many things, many stories – like, oh my god this is actually happening. So I know it’s not easy for many women.”
Originally, Kátia had planned to go into computer engineering, but decided to follow a different path. “I like math so I wanted to go to engineering but I went to computer science instead. It’s actually better for me because I prefer software to hardware.”
She was studying in classes that were 80 per cent male; Kátia was maybe one of ten women taking the course. But this never deterred her – she barely even thought about it at the time.
Instead, she concentrated on her work, which eventually led to a course at Masaryk University in Brno. The Czech city is also the home of Kiwi.com, although it had not yet been founded during her studies. But it was here that Kátia began the work that would eventually lead to her working for the company.
There is an iconic problem in maths called the Travelling Salesman. It is almost two hundred years old and is considered to be NP-hard, or very hard if you speak proper. At its most basic, there is a salesman who is travelling from home, between a number of cities, and back. What is the most efficient way?
Oliver and Jozef provided Kátia with sets of data for her research, and she worked on the problem for the next three years. Her master’s thesis examined an even more complicated version of the proposition.
Kátia wrote her own code, studied with a group of professors in Canada, and worked with one of IBM’s most complicated programs to find a solution. By the end of her masters, she had solved the problem, in different permutations, for up to 24 different stops.
Having stayed in contact with Oliver and Jozef throughout her studies, Kátia soon began working for Kiwi.com. In Brazil, she had been involved with a community called Django Girls, which aims to inspire women to work within the Python programming language, and she carried this on into Kiwi.com.
The week after we sit over a coffee in Kiwi.com’s bistro, Kátia flew back to Brazil to take part in a Python conference where she spoke on a panel about inclusivity, as well as giving her own presentation on Django migrations.
According to the National Centre for Women and Information Technology, in 2016 only 26 per cent of professional computing positions were held by women in the United States. A 2017 report by ISACA shows that 48 per cent women working in technology report that they have a lack of mentors in the workplace, and that 42 per cent say there is a lack of female role models in the field.
“I can see some difference from two, three years ago,” Kátia says. “I think they are doing a good job, they are trying.
“At Python Brazil, they’re trying to get more women to hold talks to help inspire people. I think this year 40 per cent of the speakers are women.”
Along with other influential women from the tech world, Kátia spoke on the panel about how to inspire female students to work with computers.
“I think a lot of young women are led to believe it’s a job for men but I don’t know where this idea came from,” Kátia says. “For a lot of them it can be really hard to just go; they’re not used to these classes dominated by men.”
Kátia has carried out a lot of work with Django Girls in Brazil. However, in Brno the language barrier makes this a little bit more difficult. Czech people can be reluctant to speak in English on occasion.
Nevertheless, Kátia still organised a Django Girls event in Brno, and there is now one person who attended working at Kiwi.com. Kátia says: “It’s nice to see her. She’s working with Python – not exactly with Django but still in Python
“She’s studying something related to artificial intelligence. It’s good to know that she was there and now she’s working at Kiwi.com. There are a lot of girls here now.
“At these workshops, girls are less afraid. They can go there because there are a lot of women like them; they feel more comfortable and I think it’s really helpful.
“They really like it. They know that they can do it, and say: ‘I’m going to work at this.’ So that’s the first step for them into the industry.”
Hopefully, this is the sort of work that makes itself redundant. There should be no need for girls to feel afraid, or to need to be inspired to work in tech. It should be a natural step in their lives, like finding any other job.
Kátia says: “I think everybody deserves to have the chance. You need to be good, but it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a guy. It’s really important for the time we are living in right now to have equality.”
Unfortunately, as the Google memo and Gamergate, among others, have shown, that’s not yet the case. Women still face a multitude of barriers to careers in technology. Perhaps someday in the future, there will be many more women, like Kátia, who are able to say: “I never felt afraid.”