Women in Tech: Why Bulgaria and Romania are at the forefront of software engineering

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Romania closely follows Bulgaria in terms of women in the tech workforce, with 27.2% compared to 27.7% for its southern neighbor.

Image: Getty Images

In the center of Bulgaria, in the town of Gabrovowhich prides itself on being an international capital of humor, Iva Kaneva meant business when it came to programming.

As a child, she drew her first triangles in Basic, staring at the computer screen like a NASA control room engineer concentrating on a lunar approach. “I was immediately fascinated,” she says. “And I decided that was what I wanted to study.” It was in the mid-1990s and she was 12 years old.

In her school, girls did as well as boys in math and computer science. Kaneva says no one said her tech wasn’t girl friendly. Both of her parents were engineers and they specifically encouraged her to learn to code. Now she is a senior Python backend developer.

Across Eastern Europe, it’s far from unusual for women to work in tech, but Bulgaria has the highest proportion, at 27.7%, according to a recently published study. Eurostat The data. Romania follows closely with 27.2%.

Next come Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania with more than 20%. The EU average is 16.1%, with the UK, Germany, France and Spain falling within this range. The country with the fewest women in tech is the Czech Republic, with a figure below 10%.

“In the Eastern bloc, both women and men have been pushed into engineering and science careers,” says Kaneva. Industrialization, carried out at an accelerated pace, has made these professions prestigious.

The communist regime needed labor, so it did not allow mothers to stay home and take care of their children. Often, he assigned them typically male tasks, such as welding, mechanical repairs, or tool making.

“‘Equal work [for men and women], equal pay,” the saying went. This laid the foundation for today’s large proportion of girls in tech,” says Kaneva.

The other thing Communist toughness taught women was to aim for a well-paying job. Today, developers in Bulgaria and Romania often earn two or three times their country’s average income, working in outsourcing or R&D for companies in Western Europe or the United States. Sometimes tech jobs have flexible hours, so moms can take care of their kids while maintaining a full-time job.

In both Romania and Bulgaria, women are often found in large proportions in jobs that combine IT and economics. Financial software company Misys is proud to have achieved an almost perfect balance in its Romanian office: 49% of its employees are women and 51% are men.

“The diversity of people we work with creates an incredible experience, insight and culture,” says Ioana Cicu, Global Human Resources Business Partner, R&D. “Each member of the team brings their own uniqueness and strengths.”

The nearly 50:50 gender ratio is not only found in entry-level positions, but also in management. “From developers and quality engineers to technical consultants or development managers, we tend to have female colleagues in most of our roles,” says Cicu. She adds that the women have strong technical skills and a strong desire to grow.

She believes that the number of women studying in tech-related fields keeps increasing year after year. And the Eurostat the data support this view. Women make up 29.3% of computer science students in Romania. Yet the country seems to be falling behind. Greece has more than 31.2% and Belgium 32.5%. Not to mention Bulgaria, which once again leads the EU with 34.4%.

According to Kaneva, a Sofia-based developer, the number of women in tech is high in Bulgaria compared to Western countries, but “we still have a lot to do to encourage more girls and women to get involved and stay in technology. technology”.

She plans to step in and provide technical training for future Rail Girls events in Sofia. Along with Python and Java, she wants to teach them not to give up when they run into difficulties, but to try again and explore different approaches instead.

“Essentially, that’s what programming is for,” says Kaneva. “When you get stuck, you explore deeper and from different angles. When you fail or break something, you start over, with lessons learned.”

But technical skills alone are not enough. “We should also teach women to express their opinions and views more,” she says.

Kaneva also wants to help women already in tech find better jobs, through the platform she works for, PowerToFly. Most of the opportunities listed there are from American companies, which promise flexible hours, a friendly environment and family benefits. “I work entirely remotely with colleagues, mostly women, from all over the world, in the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Jordan, India, Argentina,” she says.

Looking back on her tech career, Kaneva thinks she did pretty well for a kid born in a small communist town, with few resources. The harsh realities of the 1980s and 1990s may have helped women get into tech, but are hardly worth nostalgia for.

His native Gabrovo has a joke that pretty much sums up what it was like back then: “Why do the people of Gabro turn the lamp on and off once in a while when they read a book? To save money? energy turning the pages.”

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Gordon K. Morehouse