Anaïs Urlichs is a BSc (Hons) Computer Science Student, studying online at the University of Hertfordshire. Alongside this, she is a developer advocate at Aqua Security, a pure-play cloud-native security company. Anaïs is also an ambassador for GirlCode, a 20,000 strong worldwide community that aims to close the gender technology gap.
“I think the biggest inspiration can come from conversations, from learning what topics there are to explore and from people showing interest in getting you involved.”
Combining work and study
I grew up both in Germany and in the UK. I finished high school in the UK, and from there I went on to study information management at university, at the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology (HST) in Madrid.
I studied information management for two years during that degree, which was a blend of computer science and business administration. In my second year, I worked part-time for a digital fashion start-up. I enjoyed the work experience so much that I decided to drop out after two years and instead redirect my studies towards a computer science degree online at the University of Hertfordshire.
Since I have been studying on a part-time basis, alongside working full-time for the past four years – I only have one year left of my computer science degree to go! Once this is complete, I will hold a Bachelor of Computer Science.
I never really planned any of my career decisions. I had lots of friends from university who were starting open-source projects related to the blockchain industry. Some of those projects turned into start-ups, and I decided to take my chances and get involved. One job led to the next, which led to the next until I joined Aqua Security. I strongly believe that everyone, no matter the age and existing experience, can get started in tech. In many cases, I firmly believe it is about finding the first stepping stone.
The power of community
Aqua Security provides security solutions for infrastructure and applications in the cloud-native space. At Aqua, my role is a developer advocate on the Aqua open-source team, but I also find myself collaborating with teams working on Aqua’s enterprise offering.
I officially joined Aqua Security a month ago, but the first time I used the Aqua Enterprise product was around a year ago. I’ve been in the DevOps space for one and a half years, but before that, I spent several years working in the blockchain space on different open-source projects. I first used Aqua products in the early days of my DevOps career, working in infrastructure as a site reliability engineer for a cloud-native first start-up. It’s funny to think I’ve come full circle!
Aqua Security is fast becoming more community-focused in its product development, and we are having lots of conversations around how thought leadership in the open-source space should evolve. The cognitive ecosystem of open-source is huge, with lots of companies trying to get involved, however, not many companies are genuinely making open-source a priority.
Many people in the tech industry had the opportunity to work remotely before COVID. All of my previous roles were either completely remote or hybrid – every once in a while, I’d go into an office to see my colleagues in person. So, COVID didn’t directly impact my day-to-day work.
The way I collaborate with my team members has always been remote-first. That’s also something I enjoy about Aqua, the fact that they are embracing a remote-first culture. It’s much more challenging if you’re working for a company where remote work is not the norm or integrated in the way that you communicate or collaborate with your team.
Separate from my work, COVID has changed the way that people collaborate online. The entire open-source community has grown immensely. There are lots of new opportunities for people to get involved that haven’t been there before. Conferences became more accessible for people across the world to join together and collaborate. So, in that way, it has created more opportunities.
That’s something that I’ve seen firsthand moving into the DevOps space as well. My YouTube channel and online content have been very well received during the pandemic. People are frequently reaching out to collaborate, get involved and share their ideas. It’s been quite an accomplishment to see my online presence skyrocket! For my role, specifically working as a developer advocate, I must be as close to my audience as possible and that’s from my own office at home. Working from the ‘normal’ office, I couldn’t recreate the same experience.
My day can be so varied, and inspiration can strike at any moment. Often, I will be working through my daily responsibilities and then I get an idea for a video. The joy of remote-first allowed me to simply switch the camera on and get started recording or host spontaneous live streams for community Q&As.
Those kinds of activities are becoming more and more integrated, which is more challenging in an office environment.
Cheerleading for women
I’m involved with several different women in tech organisation groups, one example being GirlCode. GirlCode has created an online community for women in tech that also provides a platform for employers to reach out to a more diverse pool of applicants for job openings.
GirlCode serves as an anchor point encouraging women to strive, upskill and stay motivated in the space. It also offers many practical tools and insights, for instance, there is a salary indicator on the website that is invaluable in helping to guide women in the industry to realise their worth, helping to close the gender pay gap and level the playing field. It’s so important to try and motivate positive change in closing that gap and providing information to help women make better-informed decisions.
Own what you don’t know
My advice to women at the beginning of their careers in tech is: own what you don’t know. A lot of our insecurities and frustrations can come from thinking we don’t know something. We can either let those fears take hold of us or we can normalise being on a learning journey. Growing this confidence can help you take pride in your work and stay motivated long term.
In the end, experts are just people who have done something long enough to know the details. We cannot measure our learning journey based on someone else’s experience.
Inspiration from conversation
I did not consider pursuing a career in tech until I started studying at university. That was mainly because no one ever took the time to talk to me about tech and potential career options. Similarly, I was not encouraged to try out activities that would encourage my interest in STEM subjects.
I think the biggest inspiration can come from conversations, from learning what topics there are to explore and from people showing interest in getting you involved. Talking to the women in your life of all ages can drive their interest, so make them feel welcome and show them that they have a place in tech if they want it.
I have always felt the presence of women in the DevOps space. Many are my mentors while some have become my friends and colleagues.
What I love about the cloud-native DevOps and security space is how women tend to be so generous in sharing content, their knowledge and do not hesitate to speak up for themselves and others. These highly-technical women prioritise information sharing and collaboration, which is so important to inspire others. In my opinion, this can often give women an advantage over men in the industry.
Let’s create space to talk
International Women’s Day means awareness, it means “let’s create the space to talk”, and let’s celebrate diversity. The day is giving everyone in the industry a reason to come together to talk about diversity and make tech more accessible.
It’s a day that encourages individuals, community members and organisations to come together and think about common problems and the solutions for those problems. When all community members get involved, it provides an opportunity not only to talk with women in a space about what can be improved, it’s also an opportunity to start a conversation with men in that space, about how they can provide further opportunities.
It’s important to empower all team members – encouraging both men and women to speak up – to work towards gender equality. It doesn’t rely exclusively on women to drive change, everyone should share the responsibility in coming up with ideas to make a difference. While women and minority groups know what they would like to be different, it’s not up to them nor should it be their burden to bear. They are not necessarily the ones who can also make a direct difference or have the highest impact. I think it is important to provide everyone at a company with the tools to work towards greater equality.
This year is the first time in my career that I am working at a larger company for International Women’s Day, and I’m excited for the opportunities that can bring. I’m working with others across Aqua to host events to celebrate the women in our organisation, our clients, their efforts and their roles in this industry. I also have plans to attend several meetups in London where I can share my experiences. As much as meeting online is great, it is exciting to take advantage of in-person interactions as well.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BreakTheBias, has two meanings to me. One of them is on a more serious side, and the other is on a more empowering and fun side.
On the more serious side, a few weeks ago, I was reading a book by a clinical psychologist who is doing research into different biases and how we interact with other people. She mentioned in the book that, based on research, women who put a lot more effort into their appearance are far more likely to get promoted and to get hired into more senior roles. That’s something I was not aware of. I had never even thought that could be a bias.
So when we’re talking about biases in the workplace I think it’s really important for us to realise that as well as obvious biases, there are also biases that we might not consider. Talking about them and making them visible is the first step to addressing them.
On the more positive side, for me breaking the bias is reflecting on myself and why I am unique. When I compare myself with other people in the sector who are presenting, creating YouTube videos, and creating educational content, I feel I stand out with my personality, with my attitude, with the way I teach, the way I talk to people and the way I make jokes on live streams and so on. And that’s a good thing, right?
Embracing my personality gives me an edge at events and in the work I do. Often, women are concerned about how they fit in and the way they might be portrayed. If we blend in, we think we can do things like our male colleagues – but where’s the win in that? I don’t think the solution is to emulate our male colleagues, it’s more about doing things or approaching problems in our way and not considering it as in any way ‘inferior’. There’s power in that and as women, we should not feel ashamed or discouraged to take up space.
Narrowing the digital skill gap
It’s all too familiar to us all that there is an overwhelming skill gap in the tech industry, and the difficulty is because many of the technologies are quite new there’s still a lot of learning to be done. There are people in the industry who want and are willing to learn, but it’s about making opportunities to do so more accessible.
One of the key reasons I create content is to educate and help bridge the skills gap. I want to guide like-minded people who are interested in DevOps and technology, showing them the types of opportunities that are out there – and how to seize them.