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From hospital to global technology startup: How a young nurse became a successful developer

She is only twenty-seven, but in her biography, she is already a very rich career. If you read at the beginning that Veronika Gabrielová graduated from nursing school and joined the hospital as a nurse, you would not expect her to be a programmer at the current end. And with her story she wants to inspire other women as well.

“As a child I certainly wanted to be an astronaut or princess, but I definitely could not be a programmer”, laughs Veronika Gabrielová today, describing her career story in the Czech technology startup Productboard.

But we are ahead of that. In order to understand why Veronika is a bit of an exception among other women who have also embarked on the career of “girls”, we must go back more than ten years. At the time, fifteen-year-old Veronika finished her elementary school in Děčín and decided what to do next. However, as she points out, at this age you are not destined to make the right decision, which can affect you for life.

In the end, the choice was made for high school. “Stereotypes played a bit in our family. My parents wanted to send me to a field I could do all my life. Moreover, I was a girl, so it was a clear choice, ”remembers Veronika, who found two key things in practice and shortly thereafter.

The click

She enjoyed doing health care, but she realized just as quickly that this was definitely not the job she wanted to do all her life, as her parents had originally planned in good faith.

“The work is interesting, you have to deliver real results every day, you take care of patients. But in hospitals everyone is in permanent stress, dislike and resentment, and they can’t find peace even at home because they live from payday to payday”, she recalls hes one year at the gynecology department in Děčín hospital.

Much more potential

Her motivation to leave eventually increased with each passing day. The standard of living of a young sister who, after school in a small town, takes home a little over 11,000 crowns a month, at that time twenty-one-year-old Gabrielová was unacceptable in the future. She herself wanted to grow somewhere, and she generally saw no way out in the hospital or the long-term underestimated healthcare.

There was a dismissal, a move to Prague, a short experience as a nursery school teacher and a private nanny, but for Veronika it was still just a brigade. “I felt my potential was much greater, and I wanted to do something about it,” she recalls. So she enrolled at a private college where she wanted to study business law. She had a lot of acquaintances in the field, so it attracted her. In the end, even the law was not the right one.

She left school just before completing her bachelor’s degree because she found out that even here she couldn’t fulfill her potential to her liking. When he looks back today, he claims that he has no regrets, because she has not studied because of the title anyway. “I consider it a good experience. I learned a lot and got time to think about what to do next”, she muses.

She studied law at the law firm where she was supposed to be a lawyer, but instead she constantly installed her printers and consulted on computer issues. Not a very common hobby for a woman, but Veronika always understood computers.

Mother, mother…

Thanks to her mother, who was sitting in the office with a few friends, she had a gaming computer at home and not only did they always argue in the evening who would play the games, but at the same time Veronika was still poking at her computer. “Mum played mostly RPGs, I like adventure games and 3D action games”, Veronika laughs. She remembered her hobby again when Czechitas Dita Přikrylová’s programming courses started.

Veronika took it as an interesting opportunity and motivation after a not very successful period among lawyers, so she applied. As she remembers today, the very first course certainly did not leave particularly dazed that programming would catch her for the first good, but it got into an enthusiastic community and she did not let it go.

“The community is helping people to get into IT”

Despite several meetings and smaller courses, she got to the PyLadies initiative and her intensive three-month course, where she met the popular Python programming language in detail, finally broke her to really try her career as a programmer. However, this is much easier said than done.

“The community is helping people to get into IT. But I still haven’t really felt in it for a while. Logically, I still didn’t understand many things, which frustrated me, and so I took the first internship just as an internship”, she recalls.

It’s about corporate culture

We are talking about a several-month internship in the development team of the pharmaceutical company MSD, where Veronika officially started her programming career. In the end she spent two years in the company, during which she always had a person beside her whom she could turn to and learn from him.

That is absolutely crucial. Not every company has such an attitude, not everywhere they are able to find a free colleague for a new person, who is inexperienced in the field. Even if it changes for the better, the IT environment is not always quite friendly. Veronika herself chooses the company today mainly according to whether it fits the environment and the culture being built or not.

“I was in companies where being a woman made a strange atmosphere on the team. I was constantly watched whether I could do it or not. But I also saw companies where no one had dealt with it, there was diversity and they were all helpful”, says Gabriel, who eventually ended up on the Productboard despite a short job at Kiwi.com.

One of the most promising domestic startups today is growing fast and while San Francisco’s co-founder Hubert Palán manages a fast-growing business, the other co-founder Daniel Hejl is building a development center in Prague. It was Veronika who jumped into it a year ago and praises her experience.

Productboard builds a culture of open access, and as the company now has over 100 people from 18 countries, diversity is also at a high level. Although Veronika is still among the developers as a lady in the minority, it is said no one solves it. Even after her experience in hospitals she would not want to work in a purely female team.

“I can say with a clear conscience that I am on a team where you want to work as a girl. I’m convinced that having guys have a girl in the team brings positive things to everyone”, she says. Everybody thinks a little differently, and while girls have a greater sense of order and detail, boys can be more code experts.

This is one of the reasons why she works as a front-end developer in Productboard, and also devotes herself to community events. She knows that the community has brought her to the work she finds herself in, and so she wants to develop her further. You can meet her, for example, in Prague and throughout the Czech Republic performs expats, who eventually anchor in us, for example, in Productboard, but also many other technology companies that build global products from here.

Veronika appreciates such opportunities very much. “I found it great to be involved in something like that. I think about other things here and it is a completely different job than I was used to in healthcare, otherwise it is difficult”, she says.

Rocket science

Speaking of girls and boys, Veronika admits that in many ways she is not enough for her male colleagues. It is logical also because he often has many years of deficits against them. But she doesn’t mind. Technology development is nowadays solving virtually all companies and there are countless opportunities to take hold.

“Not all companies need rocket science. There is a huge room in IT for people who do not have the technical background to program a missile, but still find the perfect application”, she says from her own experience. She learns and improves herself, and at the same time gains more and more freedom, because there are many opportunities not only within the company but also in the market.

And if he doesn’t try again with the school, this time the right one?

“In a couple of years, I can decide to finish it. If I wanted to work for Facebook, Google or NASA, I would definitely be at a disadvantage because a lot of big world companies want a doctorate, but there are thousands of other opportunities”, he says.

Whether he or she will really return to school is still in the stars, but Veronika is now giving her experience to all other women – and not just to them – as a community event. She doesn’t feel like a superhero, but rather tries to show that starting with programming, and indeed anything else, may never be too late.

“My advantage was that we always went for the better. For example, it is much harder for people with family to change their careers, but if they really want it and can learn and move quickly, the IT world offers endless opportunities in terms of growth and ultimately money”, adds Veronika, who believes that one does not feel comfortable or does not fill his work, he should not be afraid of change. And it doesn’t have to be programming at all. It’s just not to be afraid to step out of the comfort zone and go to what he really enjoys.


Also published on Medium.

Published inStartups

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