Girls in Tech Dublin Women. Technology. Entrepreneurship. Mon, 15 Apr 2019 09:20:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Girls in Tech Dublin 32 32 Interview: Brenda Romero, CEO and Co-Founder at Romero Games Mon, 15 Apr 2019 09:17:33 +0000 Brenda Romero is an award-winning game designer, Fulbright scholar, entrepreneur, artist, writer, and creative director who entered the game industry in 1981. She won a BAFTA Special Award in April 2017. Romero co-owns Romero Games based in Galway and is Course Director at the upcoming MSc in Game Design & Development at the University of Limerick.

Interview by Talita Holzer & Coral Movasseli, reviewed by Vithória Escobar.

Talita: Could you start by sharing maybe a fun fact about yourself or something that a lot of people don’t know about?

Brenda: I wonder if a lot of people know, but I’m a pretty hardcore metal head. I’m interested in playing all kinds of new games but I just tend to just say ‘all right, I’ve had enough music’. There’s so much metal. I don’t need to listen to anything new. So, I tend to go between metal and classical piano music, depending on what I’m working on. It’s one of those two extremes!

Talita: How did you get into designing games?

Brenda: I got into game design at a really, really young age. I don’t remember not being a game designer. I just have always enjoyed trying to make games. That goes back to when I was really young and I just didn’t have all the pieces for some games and started trying to make rules up around them. That’s always been fascinating to me. I think another angle of it is that I’ve always also really enjoyed just telling stories. I remember when I was a kid, we would spend a lot of time just sitting around and writing stories with my friends and then that evolved into writing plays. I loved to watch how people felt during certain scenes that we were performing. Funny enough, I don’t remember the scenes. I remember the audience. And when I say the audience, I really mean the parents of the kids in the neighborhood, right? But I have this very vivid memory of facing toward parents and taking particular delight in their reactions. I think that that was nearly addictive, I just loved crafting, creating these scenarios that would cause people to feel something.

Talita: That’s really cool! And did I read somewhere that you got your first job in a bathroom?

Brenda: I did. I know that really sounds quite terrible! So, I grew up in northern New York, which has just a ton of snow and at the time it was not uncommon for kids to smoke. It was not a good thing, obviously! But I was one of those kids. So people would smoke in the bathroom because you weren’t allowed to leave school grounds. So one day I was in the bathroom and a girl came in looking for a cigarette. To be polite, I made conversation and she just asked me if I had heard of Sir-Tech, which I hadn’t, if I had heard of Wizardry, which I also hadn’t, it had just been released, and if I had heard of Dungeons & Dragons, which I had. And that was my job interview. That was it. I’m pretty sure you could not replicate that today.

Talita: You have established two successful game companies to date. Can you share some of the main mistakes you made along the way?

Brenda: God, there’s so many things. I think the most important thing anybody can do when starting a new company is: be very careful who you hire. You can have all the greatest intentions and the greatest skills in the world, but if your team isn’t working together fundamentally, that will undo everything. That is damaging enough that it’s something that money cannot correct. It’s something that incredibly talented people cannot correct. In fact, here we guard additions to our team like they’re exciting and equal parts thread. We guard it very carefully here. So, it’s being careful who you hire and who you found companies with.

There are other things that I’ve done wrong… I think you have to be open to criticism and open to critiquing yourself, not taking yourself too seriously. I probably have done 12 things wrong today, and I know that! I would also like to do one fewer wrong thing in the future. So, learn from these mistakes. It’s such an old adage, but surround yourself with good people. Sometimes, there’s a lead designer, and people will say things like ‘my game’, or ‘Brenda, you developed this game’… No, I got to do this because of these people. I can have the greatest idea in the world and 20 years and I couldn’t make what I could make with the group of people that I’m with. It’s all down to that. If you know nothing else, that is the one thing to know.

Coral: How do you pick the right person? How do you know they’re good?

Brenda: Well, that’s the easy part. The easy part is assessing a person’s skill. There are loads of ways to do that, especially with code and art, it’s quite literally visible. You can take a look at their code, you can give them a coding task, you could take a look at their art, and just see the level that they’re at. So once they tick these boxes, you ask yourself ‘why shouldn’t we hire this person? What do we know about this person that could cause us some concern?’. We do this with every single person that we bring on. I have a couple of examples from not either one of my companies, but a previous company, where we were looking to hire a designer, and this guy was a pretty great fit. He ticked all the boxes, but one of the things that we found when we searching him online was that he belonged to a number of alt-right groups, and he was racist and homophobic. That would have been a huge problem to bring them into our company culture. That was a huge problem on its own, but especially considering that he would have been working with me, a Jewish designer and a gay designer! I just can’t even imagine why he interviewed. So, it’s better to have the right person and take some time to find that person. Good people will bring good people. If I take a look at the caliber of the coders that we have on our team, there’s lots of people who want to work with them. We didn’t build our coding team by putting out any advertisements. People want to work with great people, so they want to work with the coders that we already have here to learn from them.

Talita: Do you see a lot of difference in team diversity from when you started your career in tech to today?

Brenda: When I first started, the gender ratio was unbelievably 50/50 in the company, which is pretty rare. One of the things I’m questioning is, was it really rare? There is a fair bit of anecdotal evidence that I’m finding that shows that women actually were 30 to 40% of tech companies and in some cases the majority of tech companies. In fact, IBM in the UK referred to man-hours as girl hours for code up until the late 60s. So, you know, getting away from the notion of girl hours, which itself is a bit not optimum, right? But in my initial starting state, there were five women and five men. That goes eventually to just me in much larger teams. I would say that at this point the industry is much larger and there are many more women than there ever were. I do believe, however, that the numbers at least of women in Computer Science have gone down. It is a challenge now to find a coder who is female or non-binary, it’s more challenging than it is in any other discipline. That’s something we’re actively looking for. I’ve no doubt that I’m going to speak about this topic until I die and it will not be solved by that time. There are fewer women going into Computer Science and Game Design, and that’s something I would like to see change dramatically.

Talita: What do you think we can do to change this?

Brenda: Well, I think there are a couple of things. I mean, I think one of them is already starting to happen, which is exciting. So, let’s just pretend for a second that we don’t even care about diversity at all. Let’s say I need 40 programmers to join my team. I can probably only get 20. If I really go crazy, I can get maybe 25. If I look around the programming team and it’s still mostly Caucasian men. So now I need to fill these other spaces. Why aren’t I filling these other spaces at this point in time? It’s not a diversity problem. It’s a people problem. It is a diversity problem too, but it’s becoming a corporate people problem. They need to get more people in those chairs. So, what’s keeping people out? This forces companies to get rid of some barriers that are causing people to not come into those environments. That’s still not going to be enough, so companies have to look at the barriers for why women are not entering Computer Science, and there is a massive number of reasons why this isn’t happening.

Every time I speak to a young group of young women, I ask them who’s heard that Computer Science is for boys, and most hands go up. That’s simply not true. In fact, women were behind the invention of many significant programming languages. However, if anybody’s told they’re not good at something, they will tend to live down to that, so they will tend to make choices away from that. In some cases, it is actually institutionalized. If we look here in Ireland, it’s easy for girls to take a Home Economics class, but how easy is it for them to take an Engineering class? How easy is it for them to take Computer Science classes? So, if you start out 4 years behind the other gender, well, who do you think is going to win?

Then once they do get into college, what if you’re the only girl that’s there? Even just for socialization reasons, it doesn’t feel comfortable. That can be addressed, these are not problems that are impossible to solve. In fact, Stanford, Berkeley and Harvey Mudd have gone a long way toward improving the number of women who are in those courses. Not by making them simpler, but by making them much more accessible, by changing the name of the course for example. For example, I just started taking a course in C and the image of the course is some old, dumpy, white guy. I can imagine looking at this as a 13-year-old woman. I would think at this point ‘I don’t want to look like an old dumpy guy, I don’t want to do whatever he’s doing’. Now, what if it was an image of Margaret Hamilton? Who was the woman who literally wrote the code that put men on the moon? Perceptions matter.

When we talk about IT, we’ll say things that are just not interesting. It’s not that they’re gendered messages, it’s just that the message is not taking into account the genders of people who are listening. There’s a great event here in Ireland called iWish, and about 1200 young women go through it. When I say to them ‘how many of you think Snapchat is fundamentally broken?’, most of them raise their hand. And if I say ‘how many of you think you know a fix?’, same thing, they can make it better. So I say ‘well, you know how you do that? You do that with code’. Suddenly, it’s just been transformed from something that doesn’t interest them to ‘wait a minute, yeah, I could absolutely do that’. It’s taking a problem, that they already believed in, and a solution they already believe in, and just saying ‘well, here’s how you fix it’. Having that out there is incredibly helpful, this is a simple way to attract people into Computer Science.

Talita: What about diversity in games? Do you see improvements?

Brenda: Well, it’s certainly gotten way, way, way, better. I feel like we are at a high point for that, without a doubt. I’m one of the judges for an award, and I look at the games that are coming through, and they are continuing to show such a breadth of experience. They’re not all the classic power fantasy. Not that there’s anything wrong with power fantasies, there’s room for all kinds of stories. But I’m seeing a breadth of stories, a breadth of a style of gameplay, that simply didn’t exist before. People can create characters now that look like them, they can customize them. There are female avatars in games when you wouldn’t have had female avatars before. The industry itself now is at a point where I don’t necessarily feel like women are unicorns anymore. There needs to be a hell of a lot more, especially a lot more female programmers, who I’d say they’re still unicorn status. It would be great if I didn’t have to say female programmer and I could just say programmer and you didn’t know who I was talking about. That would be my goal. I don’t believe it’s a goal I’ll see in my lifetime, but I think games are a lot more accessible than they ever, ever were.

Talita: I was reading about a new game you’re working on, Cyber Squad. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Brenda: Yeah, this game is almost out! There’s just a couple of little tech things that they have to do and then out it goes. It was a project between HPE and Girls Scouts and the goal was to teach girls about cybersecurity. So, we wanted to make it something girls would be engaged in, something that wasn’t just a quiz. If you look at who plays narrative games, like Life is Strange and Night in the Woods, those games are really popular among our target demographic. So we wanted to give girls something that felt like it matched their own life. It’s so easy to say like, ‘oh, that would never happen to me’ I know, I’m not dumb, I wouldn’t fall for that’. Yet, if you put it inside of a narrative wrapper where you could see how that happened to her, and now that it did happen to her, how is she going to get out of that situation? So it has a bit of intrigue in it, it has branching storylines, so we tried to create something that we felt that the audience would get involved in.

When the initial design was created, we had my daughter, who at the time was 17, do a test pass. We were trying to identify what situations people her age would find themselves in. Obviously, she’s up to the minute on all the social media things, so she started just writing up these scenarios and I would ask her to take it a little further and then a little bit further than that. In the end, she did all the narrative design for the project and all the writing. The further it went, the more I realized that that was the only way that we could do it. Because as a 52-year-old woman, I don’t have the same perspective.

Talita: Do you remember a point in your career that you thought “This is it. I made it. I’m successful”?

Brenda: I guess there was one point, there was a nice brief window in time when I found out that I was getting a BAFTA, but it lasted for about 1 hour. There’s no greater award you can get as a game designer, but one hour might even be overstating it because you immediately start thinking of all the other people who are more deserving of it. And I’m not saying this to put myself down, I think I’ve done a lot of things, but I haven’t invented a genre. There are lots of incredibly deserving people. There’s also the realization that I didn’t get this on my own, I worked with a lot of amazing people. The fact that I worked with a lot of amazing people enabled me to get to the stage. Then there’s the immense pressure that once you have one now, how do you live up to this? How do you live up to being a BAFTA award winner? I have to be that person.

So no, I think that the expectations I put on myself. I spend most of my days with things that I’m trying to fix, things that are broken. I guess I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do except for this game. This game is ‘the’ game. I’ve been wanting to make this one for 20 years. The pressure doesn’t ever go off. Never. The higher you get, you know, it’s like that Tall Poppy Syndrome. I see the real me and I’m so full of flaws. So, no, there was probably maybe five minutes when I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m getting a BAFTA!’, and then I realised the pressure of having to live up to that.

Talita: Do you have any advice for women starting their career in tech?

Brenda: This applies to everybody regardless of gender, race, sexuality. I work in a place where I genuinely really like everybody I work with. The people that I work with is a group of people who are really interested in supporting other people, they’re good people and I’m never worried about, say, bringing in a woman and feeling like she is going to face misogyny or bringing in a person of colour and worry that they were going to face some degree of racism. We have practically the United Nations going on here in terms of cultural diversity, where people are from. So I don’t worry about that. It’s possible, if you’re early in your career, that you can get yourself into a situation you have problems with specific people on the team. Know that not every place is like that, and that there are ways to research that before you take the job. You can check on Twitter, on social media, see if you know anybody who knows people who work there and get the real deal. Get the scoop on what it’s like to work in that place. Because it’s not like that everywhere, and I would hate to see somebody who dreamed of making games more than anything get chased out of it because they worked with some jerks for a couple of years. That would be absolutely heartbreaking because that person could be somebody who is going to go on to win a BAFTA. Who knows?

Coral: Do you have any thoughts around women entering entrepreneurship in Ireland today?

Brenda: I think it’s important to have a community where you feel that being a female founder is not a barrier, where that’s something that’s accepted. It’s not an abnormal thing to see women as leaders in their community and businesses and as entrepreneurs. I know that Enterprise Ireland they put out calls specifically for female entrepreneurs. I would love to see more stuff like that. I can’t even give any numbers, but I certainly know anecdotally, I’ve heard other women talk about how it’d be more difficult for them to raise investment from VCs than for men.

Ultimately, as an entrepreneur, regardless of your gender, you need to believe in what you’re doing. There’s not a goddamn chance I’m going to let somebody take my dream away just because they’re an idiot. You will come across people who believe women can’t do it and you will come across people who believe that you’re just going to get pregnant or that men are more able for tech, or whatever stupid stuff that they say. That’s just not true. It’s just absolutely not true. If there’s been one constant thing in my life, is that if he told me I can’t, I’m going to. Unless I don’t want to, but if it was something I wanted to do and someone said ‘oh, I don’t know if you can do that’, I’m going to do it. In fact, several of the most important things that I’ve done in my life, one of which I won a BAFTA for, I was specifically told that I shouldn’t do it and I did it anyway. I sometimes joke with that person and ask them if they have any more ideas about things I absolutely should not do!

Coral: Have you been to a hackathon before?

Brenda: Not specifically branded as a Hackathon, but I’ve been to lots of events like that. From the game industry, we would tend to call them game jams. They’re fun because they just spark creativity and there’s not this sense of planning too much. It’s just fast and there’s not too much pressure that what we’re going to create has to go out and impress a large number of people. We were really just looking to have fun, to play with ideas, and just see how they pan out. You can also find people that you might like to work with or, equally important, to find people that you would never want to work with. I do find that it’s also a really low hanging fruit for people who think they might be interested in coding and they can just come in and see what it’s like. There’s also tremendous creativity involved and if you like playing puzzle games, you would probably like coding. It’s all about creative problem-solving.

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MongoDB and Girls in Tech Join Forces to Empower Women in Ireland Tue, 09 Apr 2019 16:11:47 +0000

MongoDB and Girls in Tech Join Forces to Empower Women in Ireland

Dublin, April 10, 2019 — Girls in Tech Dublin, the Irish chapter of the well-known global organisation focused on empowerment, engagement and education of women in technology, is proud to announce its most recent corporate partnership with the leading modern, general purpose database platform, MongoDB, Inc. (Nasdaq: MDB).

MongoDB and Girls in Tech are both committed to supporting and empowering women to lead and innovate in the tech industry. Both organisations have a mutual ambition to increase female engagement and increase the number of women in senior technology roles.

Commenting on the partnership, Coral Movasseli, Managing Director Girls in Tech Dublin, said: “Dublin continues to be a central hub for technology companies to set up their international headquarters, because of the availability and concentration of diverse and multicultural talent. The hiring landscape has never been so competitive, and attracting and retaining the right talent has never been more important.

“Through our partnership with MongoDB, Girls in Tech Dublin will have access to a wide range of learning, mentorship and networking opportunities. We see this as a terrific opportunity for Girls in Tech Dublin and MongoDB to tackle diversity head on in Ireland, by equipping women in technology with skills, knowledge and an international outlook that will help them succeed and stand out in the war for talent and diversity.”

Clare Scally, Escalation Manager at MongoDB and a member of the MongoDB Women’s Group, said: “Twenty years ago when I started in technology it was a very different landscape. I was at times the only female on the team and occasionally felt isolated. For me, the love of technology helped me overcome that. Then more recently while working at places like MongoDB I didn’t encounter those issues at all. I think that’s down to a strong culture as well as specific initiatives like the Women’s Group, equal parental leave, signing the Parity Pledge and many others. We are making progress as an industry but we still have far to go. I hope our partnership with Girls in Tech Dublin can help create an industry where the next generation doesn’t even have to think about it. So that we think of ourselves not as ‘women in technology’ but simply as great technologists.”

MongoDB will also support one of Girls in Tech’s most important programs in Ireland. The Stepping Up mentorship program is a unique initiative that provides women across generations with knowledge, tools and access to the right people.

Joe Drumgoole, EMEA Director of Developer Advocacy at MongoDB, said: “It has been fantastic to see what Girls in Tech Dublin is achieving and we couldn’t be prouder to get an opportunity to support them. Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to MongoDB. Not only is it the right thing on a societal level, it’s also the right thing for the business and the industry at large. I’m excited to be involved in encouraging and nurturing the next great generation of developers.”


Notes to Editors:

About MongoDB

MongoDB is the leading modern, general purpose database platform, designed to unleash the power of software and data for developers and the applications they build. Headquartered in New York, MongoDB has more than 13,000 customers in over 100 countries. The MongoDB database platform has been downloaded over 60 million times and there have been more than one million MongoDB University registrations.

About Girls in Tech Dublin

Girls in Tech Dublin (GITD) is a women in tech non-profit based in Ireland and established by Coral Movasseli in 2016. Girls in Tech is focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of influential women in technology and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to promote the growth and success of entrepreneurial and innovative women in the technology space. Girls in Tech Dublin is the Irish chapter of a global organisation, founded in 2007 by Adriana Gascoigne and headquartered in San Francisco, CA.


About the “Stepping Up” Mentorship Program:

The Girls in Tech Mentorship Program, Stepping Up, is designed to build and foster an organic community promoting good mentorship. The program does this by providing women with the knowledge, tools, and access to influential people to enable them to take ownership of their own success. The Stepping Up program was designed in Ireland by Coral Movasseli in 2018 and has since empowered hundreds of women. You can register for the next event on March 28th here.


About the all female hackathon “Hacking for Humanity”:

The Girls in Tech Hacking for Humanity competition is a social innovation code-a-thon to tackle local challenges at a global scale. Developers, designers, scientists, students, product developers, entrepreneurs, educators, and NGO’s gather to collaborate on projects that solve local social problems. This event gives participants the chance to flex their skills, work with fellow hackers, and learn something new, such as a programming language or API. Mentors are present to guide the attendees on the platform or technology chosen for the event.

Hacking for Humanity is an open event (both male and female participants are welcome) promoting gender equality and bridging the gap in the technology and startup spaces. The work developed in this event is judged for its innovativeness by an experienced local panel of judges; every participant will be rewarded for their contribution, but extra prizes are available for standout Hacking for Humanity stars! This women in tech hackathon will be held for the first time in Ireland from May 24-26 2019, you can register here.

For further information please contact:

Céline Heemskerk

Head of Public Relations and Communications, Girls In Tech Dublin

Jack Costley

Director, Corporate Communications MongoDB


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Hacking Homelessness with Simon Community Mon, 08 Apr 2019 12:52:09 +0000 Written by: Vithoria Escobar 

We’re thrilled to announce Simon Community as our charity partner in Hacking for Humanity. Dublin Simon Community fights homelessness in Ireland by helping people find a home.Today, the housing crisis and homeless are one of the most important issues faced in Ireland. Department of Housing revealed that there are 10,294 thousand dependents of emergency accommodation, among adults and children.

These startling numbers are clear evidence that we need solutions. And by joining us in Hacking for Humanity you can make a huge difference! In our female-led hackathon, our participants can expect to be solving Simon Community business challenges. There is so much potential to use technology to tackle homelessness. Our Hackathon is a fantastic opportunity to put your support into practice.

Shane Brannigan, Corporate Partnerships Executive at Simon Community, talks about teaming up with Girls In Tech and Simon Community’s expectations for the Hackathon:


Hacking for Humanity is an inclusive and open event, where everyone with ANY background has a chance to contribute! The marathon will take place from 24-26th of May at The Digital Hub, Dublin. Check our article for more details and our Hackathon Guide for some pro tips. 

Make to REGISTER HERE to guarantee your participation and be part of history in the marking in a bespoke and inclusive environment. We’re looking forward to seeing you there! 

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I am a women in tech and so are you! Wed, 27 Mar 2019 10:13:08 +0000 My name is Galadrielle Heinrich and I joined Salesforce as a Renewals Manager back in May 2017. In Salesforce every employee is inspired, myself included, to become a trailblazer for positive change and to truly make a difference in their own communities. Equality starts with our Ohana, which means family in the extended sense of the term in Hawaiian. One of the many ways we champion Equality in Salesforce is through our Ohana Groups, one of them being the Salesforce Women’s Network (SWN).

I am a woman and a great supporter of woman empowerment. As per definition, women empowerment is the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling our own life and claiming our own rights. For as long as I can remember I have been called ‘A Feminist’, probably because I have always dared to speak up and use my voice to defend those who couldn’t speak, in particular women & girls. I cannot say if that nickname is a positive one. What I know is that I want to see more fairness of treatment and equality between genders.

Salesforce is such an incredible Champion for Equality in the workplace, I wanted to really contribute to our company culture. In November 2018, I added a philanthropic aspect to my daily job by becoming the Leader of the SWN in Dublin, and later the Global VP of the SWN in EMEA. The SWN is an inclusive and active community of women and allies. Our allies are all the employees who support women’s rights. Our catchphrase is ‘you don’t have to be a woman to join the Women’s Network!’

On International Women’s Day 2019, the SWN welcomed Joan Freeman, Founder of Pieta House, to our Dublin office for an inspiring speech. On the same day, we also welcomed a group of 100 girls aged 12 to 16 years old from St Dominics for a workshop about the importance of celebrating women and supporting each other. In 2019, the SWN will host a total of 25 events in Dublin that will tackle topics about personal and professional development, as well as raise awareness about gender equality and how to bring positive change in the workplace.

On Wednesday 13th March 2019, I attended the 2nd edition of the Technology Playmaker of the year 2019 organized by in London. Every year, this award ceremony aims to celebrate and recognize women – at all stages of their career – who are disrupting and transforming businesses, industries, and communities with technology. This year nominations were received from over 66 countries and this year’s finalists represented no less than 20 countries!

I was very honored to receive an invitation from Coral Movasseli, Managing Director of Girls in Tech Dublin, to celebrate together her nomination for the Community Impact Award and to be part of such a wonderful crowd of inspiring Women in Tech. Coral’s initiatives and passion is positively shaping up the future of girls & women. For that I would like to applaud her!

As I sat there, surrounded by so many powerful women from all over the world, I felt very grateful to be part of this celebration, very proud of to be a woman, and – I have to admit – intimidated too. Every story was inspiring, every initiative was mind-blowing, every nominee was worthy of winning. It was the first time that I was exposed to a room full of women who had the same mission. As Maya Angelou said ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style’. The feeling of Sisterhood was very strong during this award ceremony and that is everything I could have hoped for. It is important that we keep supporting and recognizing each other’s work, for this is the only way we can hold the Equality card up. Until one day the mindset changes and this Equality card is no longer needed.

I am a woman working in Tech in the 21st century. I know this may seem trivial, but when I look back to how how far we have come, this is a fantastic achievement which should be celebrated. I believe that organizations such as Girls in Tech create a platform that should be used to inspire appreciation, respect, and love towards women in tech. This is one of the many ways we can salute the political, social, & economic achievements of women and bring positive change in our communities. Girls in Tech is a great example of an inclusive and active community of women & supporters of women’s rights. It encourages women empowerment in tech with the purpose to achieve balance for a better life and gender equality.

I heard from Girls in Tech through a male colleague of mine in Salesforce who attends their events regularly. As I was planning the relaunch of the SWN in Dublin, he suggested that I got in touch with Coral, which I did. I invited her to be on the panel of speakers for the relaunch and we became friends since. We are currently discussing the possibility to organize future events together. I think it is a wonderful thing to connect with other women’s networks and support each other’s initiatives. We work together for the same cause after all!

Written by Galadrielle Heinrich March 2019.

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Girls in Tech Dublin honoured at the Technology Playmaker Awards Tue, 26 Mar 2019 10:14:03 +0000 We are humbled and thrilled to have participated in the 2019 Technology Playmaker Awards by The aim of this awards ceremony is to celebrate and acknowledge successful women in tech that contribute to disrupting businesses, making a difference to their community and inspiring future generations. We have been nominated under our Managing Director, Coral Movasseli, for Community Impact of the Year.

The ceremony was held on Wednesday (13th)  at The Brewery in London. Eight prizes were awarded, with seven individual categories and one employer award Technology Playmaker of the Year. The event included speeches from inspiring female leaders including Gillian Tans, CEO of, Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital and Hadeel Ayoub, Founder of BrightSign. This year’s edition was also open to global nominations, which drew entries from over 60 countries.

We at Girls in Tech Dublin are so honoured and delighted to be among such brilliant women who are changing the world with their work in technology. We are extremely grateful to have been nominated and for the support we have received from all our team and friends.


Here’s the full list with the 2019 Technology Playmaker Award categories and respective winners:

Community Impact: Female leaders or entrepreneurs whose technology initiatives are contributing to solve environmental and social issues.
Winner: Martha Omoekpen Alade (Nigeria), founder of Women in Technology in Nigeria (WITIN), an NGO using technology to drive socio-economic empowerment in Nigeria in order to help 20,000 women and girls out of poverty by 2022

Role Model – Inspirational leader & role model in technology that is driving changes and inspiring next generations.
Winner: Linda Liukas (Finland), founder of Rails Girls and author of Hello Ruby. Hello Ruby is a children’s book about computer science translated into 25 languages. Rail Girls is a global movement in over 300 cuties to teach young women programming

Business Leader – Woman in management or C-Level position who is driving real impact using technology.
Winner: Beena Ammanath (US), Global VP of AI, Data & Innovation at HPE and Founder and CEO of Humans for AI, a non-profit organization who is leveraging AI to increase female presence in tech.

Young Technologist – Woman who started recently in technology and is making an early business impact.
Winner: Betelhem Dessie (Ethiopia), founder and CEO of Anyone Can Code (ACC) in collaboration with iCog Labs, empowering children and young people through technology.

Tech Innovator – Female leader who is driving innovation in her company by using technology.
Winner: Sophie Hombert (France), founder of Aglaé, the first agency specialized in glowing plants. The initiative is a sustainable solution for reducing energy consumption.

Digital Leader – Woman who has created a digital initiative to solve business or who is using new technology in innovative ways.
Winner: Jill Zeret Jiménez Rodríguez (Mexico), founder of Zytreon Tecnología Infinita, a technology firm that launched a detection system to locate earthquake survivors.

Technology Playmaker Employer Award 1 Million Women to Tech (US), a global online technology education program dedicated to reaching one million women with free coding education by January 2020.

For more information about the winners, please visit:

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Girls In Tech Hackathon Guide Tue, 26 Mar 2019 09:56:52 +0000 Written by: Vithoria Escobar
Edited by: Talita Holzer

Most workers today have come across the word hackathon. If you haven’t, you surely will.
But what are hackathons? And are they for you?

The Idea & Structure

The word hackathon comes from a combination of the words marathon and hack, here meant as solving a problem. Hackathon is an event where workers get together to create and deliver a product or solution. Basically, you join a room with all kinds of workers where the theme and challenge are presented. You come up with an idea, teams are formed and you have to build a prototype and a business plan from scratch. Once time is finished, you pitch your idea to a panel of expert judges, who selects the best ones. Sometimes, there are prizes for the winners.

Hackathons are conducted in a short period, usually between 24-36h. They are well-known in the tech industry among coders and developers. However, there is a need for people with different skills and background to compose diverse, multidisciplinary teams, which can deliver complete solutions. There are also mentors, industry-experts that are available during the marathon to help teams present their ideas.

The main idea of a hacking marathon is to stimulate those skills and collaborate with different people. Very often, hackathons promote a solution for real-life problems. It is a great opportunity to work your creativity, meet talented people and have an incredible learning experience.

The Benefits

Business Idea

In a hackathon you teamwork to solve problems with technology. All the teams will walk out with a basic product prototype, which can be incorporated as a business. Hackathons can be the right first step to create a successful startup.


A work environment full of different talents flowing ideas and creativity. Hackathons are the perfect opportunity to connect with people with similar interests and promote your personal brand.

Work Your Skills

In a hackathon, you’ll work intensely towards an idea with people you might not know. You’ll learn from others and practice key skills such as teamwork, leadership, creativity, and communication.

Add to your CV

Participating in hackathons shows you are interested in learning and problem-solving. It also shows you’re creative and a hard worker so it can be a great value to your CV.

Self Esteem

Hackathons are hard work but once the job is done the feeling is rewarding. Facing the challenge to build an idea from scratch is definitely something to be proud of. Plus, you have fun and get a chance to contribute to a greater good.

#GIT Top Tips

If you’re a hackathon newcomer, here are a few tips:

Value Your Skills

Don’t worry about not having tech knowledge or being inexperienced. Every skill is welcomed and necessary in a hackathon. You are good at something and will contribute to the team.

Take Notes

There will be tons of ideas floating around the room and plenty of new information. Make sure to take the knowledge back with you and do your research.

Don’t be afraid to talk

As we’ve said before, hackathons are the place to network. So make the most out of every opportunity, show your skills and engage with people you’d like to learn more about.

Coral and Talita, our Managing Director and Head of Content, answer the most asked questions & share some pro tips for the Hackathon: 

Hacking with Girls In Tech

Girls In Tech would like to invite you to our first women in tech and women led hackathon in Ireland, Hacking for Humanity. Our hackathon is a hack for good, where we work with local NGOs/Charities. Therefore participants solve pressing and relevant business challenges that will make a difference in their community. Hacking for Humanity is a successful global initiative by Girls in Tech and it was held in other places around the globe.

Here’s what past participants thought about their experience:

Amazing second year running while Hacking For Humanity with Girls InTech! The condensed experience of hacking on requirements, product, code, team, and pitching feels immensely valuable. [I’ve heard some thought leaders refer to these as Accelerated Work Experiences, rarely do you get an opportunity to practically learn so much in such a short time.] The GITG team did exceptionally at making sure we were all comfortable and well provided for, the community is so welcoming, upbeat and inclusive. This year our team’s project won prizes as we built an interactive, educational game to teach tourists how to read our local animal’s expressions and body language – for the safety of both the people and the animals.
Great team, great fellow hackers on other teams, great organisation, great snacks, and great prizes! – see you next year!” – Chris Harris, Software Engineer, Founder at


Participating in this year’s Hacking for Humanity has been an amazingly refreshing experience on all levels. It has totally exceeded my expectations and more. There were a great ambiance and good vibe to the event which was buzzing with passion, purpose, and positivity from start to finish. To be able to apply my knowledge, expertise, and skills to give back to the community is not only rewarding but highly empowering and I cannot wait to take part in the next year’s event.” – Georgina Morello, Executive Assistant at Playtech


The Girls In Tech hackathon was amazing fun. I’d totally recommend it. Really well organized and challenging weekend working in a cross-discipline team of developers, designers and marketers were really exciting, under the pressure of solving the problem in just 2 days. This particular weekend the teams of hackers worked to solve a tech problem local charities were suffering. And to know the charities gained from the event too was a massive plus.” – Stu Tippet, Web Content Manager at Ladbrokes Coral Group


Hacking for Humanity is an inclusive and open event, where everyone with any background has a chance to contribute. The marathon will take place from 24-26th of May at The Digital Hub, Dublin. Check our latest article for more details and REGISTER HERE to guarantee your participation and be part of history in the marking in a bespoke and inclusive environment

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Is the Girls in Tech Hackathon for you? Fri, 08 Mar 2019 10:18:46 +0000 Written by Vithoria Escobar

Have you ever wanted to use your skills to make a difference in the world? To combine innovation with social good? To collaborate with professionals from the most diverse backgrounds? And to win amazing prizes for your ideas? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, we would like to invite you to join us. Girls in Tech Dublin proudly announces their first ever Hacking for Humanity in Ireland. The event will take place in Dublin city from 24-26 of May at The Digital Hub.

The Winners of the Girls in Tech Gibraltar Hacking for Humanity in 2018

The Girls In Tech hackathon was amazing fun. I’d totally recommend it. Really well organised and challenging weekend working in a cross discipline team of developers, designers and marketeers was really exciting, under the pressure of solving the problem in just 2 days. This particular weekend the teams of hackers worked to solve a tech problem local charities were suffering. And to know the charities gained from the event too was a massive plus. –Stu Tippet, Ladbrokes Coral Group

Hacking for Humanity is a global event where professionals and entrepreneurs of all genders and backgrounds get together to collaborate and create technology solutions to address social problems. The three-day marathon is a huge opportunity for anyone interested in learning something new, showing up their skills and networking.

Panels and workshops on relevant topics will be held, such as design thinking, social business model canvas and investment for startups. The event also counts with expert judges, such as Ruth Fletcher, COO of CurrencyFair, and a full lineup of keynote speakers, including the game designer superstar Brenda Romero and Trinity’s Head of Research Linda Doyle.

If you want to make a difference in your community, this event is for you. We welcome tech and non-tech people. Regardless of your background, there is a place for you at Hacking for Humanity

How will it work?

For the hackathon, the participants will be first divided into teams. After the introduction of the assignment, the teams will work on their respective ideas. Mentors and industry experts will be present to guide the participants throughout the competition. Once the task is completed, the teams pitch their ideas to a jury of experts. Finally, participants will be awarded for their contributions, including a promising prize for the standout group!

Is it a Hack for Good? YES!!

The Girls in Tech Hacking for Humanity is a hack for good. We work with local NGOs/Charities so that attendees can solve pressing and relevant business challenges that will make a difference in their community. Hacking for Humanity hackathon is a successful global initiative by Girls in Tech and it was held in other places around the globe. Out latest 2018 edition held in San Francisco had a 92% positive feedback. Hacking for Humanity aims to encourage people to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship spirit while promoting gender equality in tech.
Interested in hacking with Girls in Tech?

Register Here!

REGISTER HERE to guarantee your participation and be part of history in the marking in a bespoke and inclusive environment.

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Interview: Louise O’Conor, Chief Digital Officer at Abodoo Mon, 25 Feb 2019 17:25:02 +0000 Louise O’Conor has lived in 10 countries, speaks 6 languages and has an exceptional track record across multiple sectors – having worked in startups, multinationals and even the United Nations. She is now Chief Digital Officer for Abodoo, a smart matching recruitment technology platform matching employers and smart workers. In this interview, Louise speaks about her current and past roles, smart-working, and the importance of diverse teams, among others.

Interview by Talita Holzer, reviewed by Vithória Escobar.

Talita: Could you start by introducing yourself and talking a bit about your role at Abodoo?

Louise: My name is Louise O’Conor and I’m Chief Digital Officer for Abodoo, a platform connecting companies with people who are searching for smart-working roles. These can be full-time remote working, like home working or using co-working spaces, or hybrid models, which is part home and part office. We just don’t allow anyone to post full-time, 9-5 in offices, because we just don’t believe in this model, we don’t believe it’s the future.

So, my role in Abodoo is… I was actually telling somebody today, I think I have 7 roles! As a startup, everyone works on multiple roles. On the digital side, I’m responsible for the overall strategy of channels, brand, optimisation, lead generation, content, social, PR, communities, events and scaling the business. In the past, I used to run teams of UX designers and developers – understanding the product as a whole and the technology behind it is crucial, as it then relates to how you brand and market it. That’s kind of what I do.. everything digital related, including the use of available technologies such as Slack, Asana, Jira, Zoom, Canva etc.. there are so many platforms and we’re using a little bit of everything. Whatever is free!

Talita: What is smart-working? Why do you say it’s the future?

Louise: How long do we have? Because my parking is up in 1 hour (laughs)! Smart working is simply offering flexibility. Let’s start by looking at it from an employee perspective and the commute. People spend on average up to 2 hours sitting in traffic every day. It’s stressful! They wake up 2 hours earlier than necessary just to get to an office building, which is only a building at the end of the day. A lot of their work could be done from anywhere, as long as they’ve got the technology and connectivity to do it. In addition to the time wasted commuting, people then go to an office building and waste a lot more time sitting around chatting, going out for breaks, unnecessary noise and interruptions. It’s insane when you actually stop to think about it! When I wake up, I have my shower, coffee, read the news, and I’m at my laptop by 7:00 AM. I have no commute or stress to deal with and am ready to work straight through the day. I sometimes have to set reminders to have lunch or go for a walk because I often don’t see the time passing. My productivity levels are higher than ever because I have the freedom to work with fewer distractions, have missed the stressful commute and simply have more hours in the day for me. 

Culture and trust are some of the biggest obstacles for companies and employees. Many employees feel they could be passed over for career advancements if they’re not seen every day by their managers. Managers don’t always feel comfortable not knowing what their employees are doing or if they’re working, if not physically present. This is where it requires a change in mindset to make it work. Nowadays we have the technology, the connectivity and if every home doesn’t, there are over 200 co-working hubs around Ireland people can work from. Smart-working is based on output, as opposed to the hours per day. If somebody is taking time out during the day, but working at night then who cares? As long as they communicate and meet their targets. 

Companies offering smart working also reap the benefits of a less stressed, more productive workforce. If that wasn’t enough, research also shows that companies can save up to €11,000 per year, per smart worker in overhead costs. With increasing property and building rental prices, we’re seeing many companies offering smart working options simply out of necessity to scale. They provide office hot desks and encourage people to work a few days from home per week because they just don’t have the space. Through necessity, they suddenly come to realise that they have a happier, more efficient workforce. 

This is what Smart Working is all about – it gives people back time and reduces stress levels. It supports parents, people returning to the workforce, people with mobility issues, people struggling with rent prices and those who may be caring for elderly parents or relatives and want to be close to home. It also supports rural regeneration by bringing jobs to the skills available in towns and areas outside of larger cities, thus supporting communities and inward investment. 

Talita: You’re obviously very passionate about smart-working. Was that a big factor when choosing to join the Abodoo team?

Louise: The absolute opposite, actually. I even requested a co-working space be added to my contract as I couldn’t have imagined working from home full time. The words ‘remote working’ sounded too isolating. I love my home and the thought of making it my workplace too just didn’t sit right with me. Also, building a career, especially in a previously more old-school, male-dominated industry, I felt I had to overcompensate so I was always the first one in, and the last one to leave. Presentee-ism was essential and I never questioned it. As a leader, I enabled teams to work from home but often that was out of necessity to support or retain good people; there was no company policy. We also didn’t have the technology that we have today. We didn’t have laptops for the first half of my career. Technology such as Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom didn’t exist back then so smart working simply wasn’t an option, whereas now there’s no reason we can’t. 

So, that was not the reason I joined Abodoo, but I think about 2 weeks in, I was sold. I could see the trust, engagement and productivity levels of everyone on our weekly Zoom calls. In fact, I remember thinking it was all a bit crazy when I was asked to join the company… I mean the co-founder and CEO had never actually met me in person! It was all done through Zoom calls and that was a very senior hire for a startup company. I had the same hesitancy again when I started hiring interns… I interviewed, hired and worked with two of them via Zoom for over 2 months before we met in person and when we did meet, we all hugged each other as if we’d known each other for years. The trust that’s built when you are looking at someone via video every day is so real; you can’t just pretend. It’s more productive and more personal than any boardroom meeting I’ve attended where people are half listening, answering emails and most of the time disengaged. On video, you have to be engaged, so it’s just completely different.

Talita: So, even though you had concerns, you ended up falling in love with it.

Louise: I did, but the biggest reason was the people. I’ve worked in many different environments, from multinationals, the UN, startups and SMEs .. and as I became more confident in my knowledge and experience, I realised that like-minded people with shared or similar values is the most important thing I was looking for in a company. It all comes down to people. I swore I’d never work with another startup.. the stress, no budget, no team, long hours and add no office to that… Are you kidding me? But at the end of the day, when you see the passion in people and know that you can, and want to work with them it all disappears… I’ve never felt more connected, supported and passionate. We’re spread across 4 continents, have over 6 nationalities, we’re predominantly all women and we really believe we can help make a difference … what more could you ask for!

Louise O’Conor (Abodoo), Regina Moran (Vodafone) and Vanessa Tierney (Abodoo) at Look The Business 2018.

Talita: Speaking of diverse teams – how important do you consider diversity to be to any company, from startups to bigger companies?

Louise: Important is an understatement! Travelling opened my mind to some many types of diversity. The more you travel the more you learn, the more you experience, the more people and cultures you meet, the more new ideas are generated with endless possibilities. Being exposed to different cultures, I learned something all the time. If we don’t have that in the company, everyone ends up always thinking the same way and you don’t get that same level of creativity.

At Abodoo we certainly practice what we preach. I’m Dublin based, the two co-founders are in Gorey, Wexford, our CEO is in London, our lead content writer is from Brazil, our data analyst is from India, our customer success manager is between Ireland and Italy and we have a few others spread around Ireland, the UK and even one on an island off the coast of India. Our diversity means we come with so many ideas from our own cultures. Diversity is vital to any business nowadays. I could talk about the value of diversity all day! I honestly don’t think a company can actually survive or grow or be creative or scale without it. Diversity being much more than gender – that’s culture, nationality, mobility, everything.

Talita: How important was it for your career to have exposure to so many cultures?

Louise: I don’t know if I saw it at the time. Growing up it was just what we did. My Dad was with Enterprise Ireland and we lived in Lagos, Sweden, Belgium and between each post, always returned to Dublin for a number of years … The hardest move was at the age of 14 when I thought we’d settled only to be told we were moving again. However, on the first day of the European school in Brussels, I was among 4,000 students of every nationality and felt at home. 

Those experiences certainly affected my later career choices and opened me up to new cultures. Straight after my masters, I moved to Rome and started working with the UN.. this was another extreme. Despite having 6 languages, I didn’t know how to use them all in one sentence or know that I could understand them being used in that way but somehow I did! I was surrounded by people mixing French, Italian, English  German and Spanish all in the same sentient yet I understood everything they were saying.. but I had no idea how to reply because I was used to speaking either English or French, or Italian not all of the together. After a while, you start getting used to using whatever word comes quickest in whatever language so you can actually have a sentence with all 4 languages in one sentence because they are the words that come quicker and this is mind-blowing. Took me about 3 weeks to actually speak, when one day I answered the phone to a colleague in a panic, and responded in French then Italian.. she then returned to the office announcing to everyone: ‘She speaks! French & Italian!’. 

So, I think from there adapting and learning really influenced my career. I didn’t expect to be in the tech business. I was never techy, didn’t have a mobile phone until my third year of college, hand-wrote my Masters’ thesis and had to get a friend’s older brother to help me type it up! Even email, I didn’t know how to use.. just kept everything in the Inbox until it started exploding. So, you can’t know at the start where you’re going to be, but I think everything happens for a reason and each experience brought me to where I am now.. along with a lot of hard work and determination too.

Talita: From all your work experiences, which ones had the biggest impact on you?

Louise: The UN and being based in Rome. Being able to use languages in that way surrounded by so much cultural diversity had a huge impact on me. I worked in the central Africa division and I was the only mother tongue English speaker. I don’t think I realised it at the time, I was too young to really appreciate it. You understand that you work for the UN, but I wasn’t in a senior capacity as it didn’t relate to my qualifications. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I worked it out, and looking back that was an incredible, incredible experience.

London also had a huge impact. I joined a company which circa 500 people and it was daunting coming from an SME in the Irish market. I remember thinking ‘oh my gosh, okay, I’m here, can I actually do this in London?’. You know the expressions: ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ or ‘imposter syndrome’, where you think ‘I don’t know if I can actually do what I said I can do and at a bigger scale’… I think we all doubt ourselves, especially women, and we all have that inner voice.. but I have amazing, incredible friends and family, who always have my back and make me strong. 

Before leaving for London, I mentioned my nerves to an ex-manager who reminded me of a story. He said he had once asked me (almost 10 years earlier) ‘do you know about PPC?’ and I was like ‘of course!’. He said ‘okay, so let’s set up a PPC campaign tomorrow’. I had never heard of the expression as they had only just been released! He knew I had no idea, but didn’t say anything. So I googled all night going ‘what the hell is PPC? How do I do it?’ Next morning I came into the office and set up my first PPC campaign. He said: ‘Don’t doubt yourself.. you’re the person who told me you could do a PPC campaign when I had no clue what it was myself and you pulled it out of the bag and ran it. You can do anything.’ 

In London, I joined a company who were failing to make digital work and started with a team of 3. In 4 years we had a full Digital Department running multi-million campaigns globally in 10 languages, with 30 people in-house and another 40 outsourced. We were smart working, as I’d call it now. I was working with an incredible team and we built it together.. that was phenomenal and really, really special. I would poach any of them in a heartbeat (laughs)! When you have that experience of growing together as a team and you’re learning together, it’s just priceless.

Talita: You are a mentor with Enterprise Ireland and I’m sure you’ve had mentors throughout your career. How important do you think it is to have a mentor and to be a mentor?

Louise: I had an incredible mentor in London, who was a phenomenal man. What he was doing in a small company, I have no idea! I always believed he was my godsend because he put that confidence in me that’s there still, and had my back. Sometimes that’s all you need. When you’re fighting for something, you need someone to have your back or to say ‘calm down’ and make you think in a different way. He did that. I think I would not be where I am right now without him. I’ve had lots of other mentors, but I didn’t think I knew what they were along the way. You learn from people. We learn what NOT to do in some cases, and how NOT to treat people sometimes.

Louise O’Conor

So, having that mentor in London was huge for me. I was the only senior woman on the management team in the company and I didn’t see it as that, but he showed me that it was up to me to also help others and also start mentoring and helping because I was seen as somebody that they could aspire to be. Whereas a lot of the time it’s men in those positions. I know it’s changing, and I don’t like focusing on gender because diversity is equal of everything… but I do think that women doubt themselves a lot more and therefore need a hand up sometimes. So that’s where that started. Then, when I came back and I was looking for the right role, it took me months because I wasn’t willing to settle. I wanted a challenge and I started just working with different companies and meeting with different startups and just helping them. I still do that on the side as well. So, when the opportunity arose with Enterprise Ireland I jumped at the chance – to add to my crazy workload (laughs)! But no, I think it’s really important. If you have experienced something that you can give to somebody else, I think it’s crucial that you do.

Talita: What advice would you give women starting their career in tech?

Louise: Fake it ’till you make it. If you doubt yourself, don’t worry – just keep going. Just don’t let anyone bring you down or tell you that you can’t.. just do it and prove them wrong. Have confidence in yourself and don’t worry about failing. The more we fail, the more we learn.. I’ve failed a million times.. just keep going. Bring people on the journey with you – find mentors, seek like-minded people, and don’t accept jobs for the sake of it. I know it’s hard, we all need to pay rent. But choosing the right job is so important as the wrong one can set you back. Try to only work with people who share your values, trust me on that. Go to as many talks as you can, build your network and always pay it forward. Help anyone you can because it will always come back.

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Girls in Tech Dublin in Vegas! Mon, 11 Feb 2019 22:16:40 +0000 In November 2018, over 50,000 people found themselves in Las Vegas, all with one final destination in mind—AWS: reInvent. AWS re:Invent is a global tech conference hosted by Amazon Web Services for the cloud computing community.

2 flights and 16 hours later, hello Vegas!

As Coral Movasseli, Managing Director of Girls in Tech Dublin, and I touched down in McCarran International Airport, we followed the crowd of people heading towards baggage claim. As if walking past slot machines in the terminal wasn’t surreal enough, we found ourselves at baggage claim, staring at the large AWS: reInvent check-in line. Already, the conference was underway. Dozens of volunteers organised weary travellers into queues, asking everyone to have passports and confirmation e-mails at the ready. Even now, the issue was clear: there were exponentially more men than women. In fact, we would come to find that only 2% of re:Invent attendees would be female.


Global leader in cybersecurity, TrendMicro partnered with AWS to address this issue with their #CloseTheGap Initiative, which included sponsoring 30 women from the global Girls in Tech community to attend the conference. We spent the week attending keynotes, networking, and bonding with our sister chapters. Every day we set out to engage, educate and empower not only ourselves, but also everyone around us, highlighting the lack of and need for diversity in tech.

We found great support in Amazon, TrendMicro, and many others, including governmental agencies—the FBI emphasized the lack of women in intelligence agencies (there were more women in the FBI in the 1970s than there are at present). Companies showcasing their products on the expo floor were very receptive to discussion on what they could do to promote diversity in their own offices.

Overall, it was a week of great success and support, but there is still a long way to go to #closethegap. We must all continue to do our parts to address the gender gap. It is important to work with allies, to be open and welcoming for newcomers, and to keep the discussion going past one week in Vegas in late November. Check out the highlights of our trip here on Youtube.

Here in Dublin, we continue our Stepping Up micro-mentorship events in 2019, and will be hosting our first Hackathon and the first women in tech hackathon for Ireland, in the coming months. We’re making and trailblazing history one step at a time. Will you join us?

written by Vivian Zeng, People Director, Team Engagement, Girls in Tech Dublin

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Interview: Stephanie O’Malley – using tech to help kids build emotional resilience Wed, 09 Jan 2019 15:57:12 +0000 Stephanie O’Malley is the founder and CEO of Education DESTY, which offers a range of online training packages to support children build their self-confidence and emotional resilience. Stephanie is a qualified Educational Psychologist and has worked in educational and child psychology services for the past 15 years. She has built the online platform that is working with mentors across Ireland and the UK, supporting children’s social, emotional and mental health.

Interview by Talita Holzer

Talita: Can you tell us a little bit about your social enterprise and how you came up with the idea?

Stephanie: Yes, so DESTY is an online training and e-learning platform, and the aim is to support children and key adults in their life – those can be parents, carers and educators – to build better relationships and develop emotional resilience. It’s about children and parents, or children and educators, developing that relationship, and how this leads on to the developing of emotional resilience. This is the core of what we’re doing: building relationships to build emotional resilience. I trained to be an educational psychologist and during my training and my work, once I qualified, I found there was a huge focus on the academic achievement of children and I just found more and more in my work that the emotional needs were being neglected. I also found that a lot of the challenges related back to unmet emotional needs. So, many of the challenges both socially and academically seemed to link back to emotional needs, which was becoming a huge barrier in terms of children achieving their potential. It was about trying to develop something that was child-friendly, was interactive, that involved key adults in a child’s life, but also that helped children to process and understand feelings and build their emotional resilience.

One of the key aspects of the programme is the training and support of a child’s DESTY mentor – that’s the parent, the carer or the educator – who has signed up to work with the child at home or in school on the online DESTY Island programme.  We train and develop the mentor’s skills, and we support them throughout the journey working with the child. Once they’re trained, they can access the platform to work with the child on DESTY Island. That is where the child explores feelings, understands them and develops strategies with the supporting guidance of their mentor. Talking about feelings can be quite challenging for children and so the benefit of technology is that it can help to make the experience less threatening.  The fact that it’s online means it’s not as intense as answering direct questions about things. So, it’s a very non-directive and child-centered programme. That has been a really successful part of what we do.

Talita: So, particularly for the child, do they see DESTY as a game?

Stephanie: They probably do see it as a game in some ways, they certainly don’t associate it with school work which is really important. A lot of the work happens before the child goes on to the DESTY Island program, they have a little workbook, and they have a little DESTY puppet and a set of feeling cards to work through. So, we have offline materials that they work with first. The whole idea of that is that the child works with their mentor, talking about different topics and getting ready to go on the programme to meet our little character DESTY which stands for Discovering Exceptional Strengths and Talents in You. When they go onto DESTY Island then they’re engaging with this character and practicing their skills with this character as they’re going along but all of the work is always supported and facilitated by their DESTY Mentor. So, it is seen as a fun and engaging game, children don’t see it as work. The feedback one of the children gave us is that, because of the different ways that they can put in the information – they can draw pictures, find pictures, put in their own pictures, type text – it really helps them to express themselves without having to talk about it if they don’t want to. For some children that is a real bonus because talking can be difficult. So, until they trust the mentor, it’s an easy way for them to communicate what is going on for them, and it’s more nondirective than it would be if they were to have a direct conversation about these things.

Talita: What are the benefits for the children and for the DESTY mentors?

Stephanie: We did a pilot study in the UK with 18 schools, when we originally launched the beta version of the programme. We did a pre and post analysis on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and we got some feedback from the children and from the mentors as well. A lot of the children said that they liked that they now had somebody new to talk to, and they found it easier now to talk about their feelings. One child said ‘it helped me to think things through when I felt stressed’. Lots of other themes emerged such as report that children were calmer and less stressed. Some DESTY mentors reported that children might not feel comfortable talking to their teacher for example but that DESTY helped them talk about how they feel first so they then felt more confident talking to others in their lives about their feelings. It’s really a vehicle or platform for them to understand their feelings and then talk to others about that.

Stephanie O’Malley, showing the DESTY programme to a child.

We also get very detailed feedback from our mentors, and the main feedback that comes back from them is about the professional and personal impact the training has on them. As part of the training, all of them have to go through the DESTY Island programme themselves, to experience it before they start working with the child. The key feedback we get is that once mentors go through this process for themselves they feel more confident in supporting children to understand their feelings and in helping them through difficult times as a result.  We know that teachers and parents have access to lots of other resources and workbooks but DESTY is a wrap-around programme in that they are provided with the tools, the training and the on-going support from our team.  This full service helps them to feel more confident in what they are doing and they know if they ever feel like they need some guidance or back-up that they can always check in with us and we will offer them individual support.

Some quotes from mentors and children who have used DESTY:

“This course really shined a spotlight on what is going on behind the scenes in my child’s world while giving me the tools to help the situation. Now that I have the clarity I can deal with situations with a win-win outcome.”

– Parent, DESTY Mentor

“It’s fun and it helps you to express your feelings when you sometimes can’t.”

– Child

“The DESTY Mentor training course has provided me with unique insights into the work of equipping children with a level of self-knowledge and self-esteem which will empower them to grow and thrive in our 21st century world.”

– Educator, DESTY Mentor

Talita: Do you think your background as an educational psychologist has contributed to your success as a founder and CEO?

Stephanie: I’m still evolving into the role of CEO, particularly because for the training to become an educational psychologist has very little to do with a CEO role. In lots of ways my background in educational psychology has been really beneficial because it brought the importance of evidence-based practices very much to the fore for me and it was important that the programme we developed was research based. All of that certainly helped with going into business, and has given credibility to the work we are doing. In terms of developing the skills I need as a CEO, I have to admit it has been a very steep learning curve, particularly in the last couple of years. I have had to stretch way beyond my comfort zone at time and the role encompasses much more than I ever anticipated. I suppose having worked in the area of emotional resilience for as long as I have, that has certainly helped to guide me through challenging times and has often pulled me through. Understanding that there are always people to help, people to talk to, and my firm belief that there is always a solution in whatever you are facing, even if it is not clear at first has been crucial.  At the same time I’m still learning every single day but that’s part of my journey.

Talita: Did you find any barriers starting a new business, specifically in tech? How did you deal with them?

Stephanie: Absolutely. The key barrier for me was and still is to some degree that I didn’t have a tech background whatsoever. I’m still wondering what’s possessed me to develop a tech platform! It was actually because I knew this would work with children, I knew they would respond to it and it would be easier for them. Not having that tech background is a significant challenge, and again this is something I work on continuously, I keep educating myself. Dealing with developers, writing product specifications, understanding how the whole software development cycle works and understanding agile development practices have been real challenges along the way. Also, trying to find the right people to do the work has been a massive strain. We’re based in the west of Ireland, which we’re so lucky to be, but it can be really difficult to get the skillset that we need so we sometimes need to outsource to secure the specific skills we need. That in itsef can lead to a whole set of other problems, people who don’t stay, or they do a piece of work and somebody else has to follow-on and try and pick it up. The more I learn and the better the people we have on board, who know the product the easier it gets.  As a team we are much clearer about what we want and where we are going and we have learned a lot together which has made us very strong as a team.

Talita: What advice would you give for people getting into tech?

Stephanie: I would say it is essential to have some kind of tech advisor, who comes on their board or provides mentorship.  Especially in the early days, I would love to have had an experienced CTO working with the company, that would have been the ideal scenario, but it’s very difficult to source and to be able to afford one at the early stages, you don’t have the finance to secure somebody like that. I think one of the key things is that, at the very least, you have a trusted techy person that you can go to for advice and guidance. I didn’t have that in the early stages, but I do now. Having somebody that I can run things by, not necessarily an intense input, but just a bit of guidance, and making sure the developers you are employing are doing what they should be doing. I wish I had got that available to me earlier and I didn’t which certainly cost us dearly at various points in the very early stages.

Stephanie O’Malley pictured in her home town of westport, Co. Mayo. Pic; Michael Mc Laughlin

Talita: You mentioned you’ve done a considerable amount of research before coming up with Education DESTY. How do you think this has affected your solution?

Stephanie: It has affected it completely and it still does. Every week you’re learning from the DESTY mentors that are using the programme and who are going through the training. We also continuously learning from our own research and from what the market is telling us.  I have learned that if you don’t do the research you can make a lot of assumptions, and I know that in the early stages I was making assumptions about what would work which were completely wrong, so research has been absolutely critical. However, research will only get you so far, you still have to test the product, or a version of it, with users and in the market place to make sure you don’t go too far down the wrong road. It really helps if you want to get something off the ground to test it first. That’s another key piece of advice I would give – don’t spend too long trying to get things perfect. The more research you do the more you want to perfect things, but it’s really a combination of research and testing. Doing the research is important so you know that you’re hitting on the right things, but then, our beta test in 2015 was invaluable. We set that up with a group of mentors, we got the children feedback, and that has changed a lot of the direction in terms of how we progressed. Research has always played an important role in our team. Luckily, I love research, and I love reading. Although I can get too engrossed in the research at times so I have to pull back, but I do think some amount of it is absolutely critical. 

Talita: Did you have any mentors during your journey to become an entrepreneur? If yes, can you tell us a bit about your experience?

Stephanie: Yes, mentors have been key throughout my life and that’s why I think every child should have a mentor that guides them through difficult things. I’ve been so lucky, one of my key mentors over years and years has been Tom Murphy, he’s a local businessman, and I met him through family connections. He has been amazing, we were going through some difficult times just a few weeks ago, and just to have him on the end of the phone has been wonderful. Another key mentor in my life is Martin O’Connor, he’s a Clinical and Coaching Psychologist and he’s been a supervisor of mine for almost 14 years and I touch base with him in terms of the psychological aspects of my work.

I really believe that if you don’t have at least one or two mentors in the early days it can be much easier to crash because you can burn out more quickly.  A true mentor can sense where things are at for you, and they might say ‘look, you need to take a break from it for now, and then come back to this’ and that’s sometimes what you need to hear. I’m not talking about just a mentor from a mentoring programme when you are randomly assigned a person that you have no connection with and that comes in to help you on maybe a very specific task. I’m talking about lifelong mentorship with someone who knows what you’ve been through, the stage you’re at with your business and just knows you as a person and what you can do, and when you need to be challenged. These programmes where you’re set up with someone, and meet them once a month, they’re helpful to a point, but sometimes you need someone who knows you on a more personal level and who can offer that guidance and support especially during the really challenging times.

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