March 8th is International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. To recognize some of the talented women working in technology, we sat down with one of Elantis’ talented employees, Christine Mikhaiel.
Christine has been working with Elantis Solutions since the company began six years ago, and has grown alongside the organization. She first joined as a Solution Specialist and now holds the role of Team Lead of Business Process Automation, overseeing a team of developers.
As technology has traditionally been a male-dominated field, and we talked about some of the challenges of gender roles in technology careers, how Christine has grown in her career, how she keeps her team engaged, and how she balances career and family.
Tell us a little bit about your role as Team Lead of Business Process Automation. What does an average day look like for you?
My average day at work is you know, basically checking my emails [laughs]. I make sure I have a to-do list of for the day and I always follow up with my team. I have a couple daily stand up meetings for projects and I also have weekly meetings with most of my clients.
I want to make sure the team is engaged and they’re happy, that they know what’s going on. So there’s a lot of communication throughout the day: keeping them informed and making sure I’m available to help the team. Most of my day is making sure my clients are happy and my team is happy.
So that’s been a change from starting at Elantis as a Solution Specialist and then to moving into the Team Lead role. How have you found that change from working in development to managing the team?
Yeah, there’s some differences there. When I was a solution specialist, I was mainly focused on delivering things myself and knowing all the bits and pieces of the technology, all the technical details. I was very much immersed into the technical parts of things. Now the team is doing a lot of different projects and I realized that I couldn’t have all the needed skills. There are things I have to delegate to people who are smarter than me.
I find it enjoyable to work with the team, to empower them in different areas that they are happy to work in, and where they are excited to expand their knowledge. Now I mainly oversee and hop in when I need to. I’m not doing a lot of delivery from a technical perspective anymore, but I’m acting as the liaison between the client and my team and making sure everybody’s on the same page based on the client’s requirements and systems.
Were there any challenges you faced in that transition period between a technical role and Team Lead?
I think at the beginning I was a little bit reluctant to let things go because I had worked so much on it and I knew all bits and pieces. Delegating was not that easy to… you know, let somebody touch my code because I knew everything in it. But now it’s gotten easier to delegate and I find it fun. I don’t have to worry, now it’s like, “you’re the smart person – do the magic.” [laughs]
And I’ve also learned a lot about how to manage the team’s efficiency, and making sure everybody knows what they’re working on and that they’re engaged.
There are times when tasks get difficult and the developer has been looking at it for so long, they kind of get disconnected. They’re not passionate about doing a certain piece anymore or they just feel tired and they want to do something different. So I try to have multiple tasks on somebody’s plate at the same time so that they can juggle things. When they feel like, “I’m bored of this and I don’t know what to do,” I can say, “you don’t have to work on it right now – just put it aside for a bit, do something else. Just juggle it on your own time and whatever you feel like doing, just do it and then come back to it. Don’t get stuck on one thing.” I enjoy that part of managing their time.
Aside from your leadership role, you do have a strong technical background – what made you choose technology as a career?
I think it started when I was a kid. My parents were in the computer industry – they were in the finance department, but they were managing an HP branch back home [in Egypt]. They were always talking about RAM and motherboards and printers, you know, HP stuff. And as a kid, I was like, “Okay, what is this? What is a motherboard, what is RAM, and how are these things put together?”
Then when I reached high school, I got high marks, and so the choices that I had at the time were engineering or computer science. I was more inclined towards either computers and architecture rather than mechanical and civil engineering. And in a third world country, mechanical or civil and those kinds of fields won’t work for a woman – I couldn’t be out there in the field among Middle Eastern men. So I knew I’d have to get into either architecture or computer science.
At the time when I was deciding, it was the dot-com bubble. Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, ICQ and all these kinds of things were getting started. Plus, my parents had computers and they’d come home with a laptop… when I was a kid in the late eighties and the early nineties, it was all really new.
I wanted to go into computer engineering, but then there was a new faculty that opened in [Cairo] University: Computers and Information. I decided to apply and got accepted. That’s how I started.
What would you say you enjoy most about working in the technology field and about your current job?
I’m a more people-focused person – although I do love technology, I like learning new applications and platforms and things like that – but what I enjoy most is when I see the team happy and learning new things.
Also, when my clients are happy, the feeling that I have delivered something that’s of value and actually helped them to do things easier or saved them money. This kind of feedback makes the big difference for me.
I also don’t like doing the same thing over and over and over. I like to learn new things. So technology is a thing that is never ending. Everyday there’s a new thing to learn, so it’s perfect.
Do you think that women in working in technology have different challenges than their male counterparts in the same field?
Yeah, I think there’s a misconception: that women cannot be developers or that they wouldn’t do as good of a job as an enterprise or solution architect. It’s men that have been trusted in these positions. Or seeing a woman doing development or .NET or Java, you know… it feels like a little bit geeky. So women tend to go into a business analysis position or a training position or a support position, not architecture or development.
What do you think would help more women to get into these technology roles?
Well, personally, I was raised with a little bit of low self esteem. So I think keeping focus on your communication skills, self-expression, your creativity – things that grow your personality, and help you feel confident about yourself. When you feel confident about yourself, the confidence will be transferred automatically – to whatever you’re talking about. It’s not just for IT, I think it’s for everything. Self-development is the key.
And don’t let anyone turn you down and say, “no, you cannot do it.” Yes, I can! Shut off any voice – internally or externally –that tells you, “you cannot do this.”
Do you think there’s anything companies can do to make it easier for women to get into technology?
I think women talking to women and telling them that they can do this, and sharing what is good about this career and how women are doing it. We need to share the success stories.
Any advice for young women or girls who are thinking about going into career in tech? What would you say to your younger self that you wish you knew?
I think the thing that I’ve learned, now again – it’s not about the technology and digging deep into knowing all the technical details – it’s about the self development being confident that you can do it. Again, there are a lot of things about your self development about creativity – I think this is key. Like knowing sales skills, for example. Because in technology you’re not just sitting in front of the code doing this [mimics typing]. You’re going to be out there talking to clients, you’re going to be selling, you need to be creative in presenting your ideas. It’s not just about the code.
I’m coming from a family or a society, where there was always a focus on study, study, study. We were not given the opportunity to express ourselves or learn things about self development, you just focused on books.
Don’t just focus on studying – the knowledge will eventually come. It’s not about the technical skills, it’s about your personality in general. It’s all tied up together. If you’re confident and you know how to express yourself, the skillset will come in no time.
Do you have any hobbies that are related to technology or that have helped you with that self development?
I’m trying to read more, in all different areas. But as for hobbies… not really as a mother and a wife, I don’t have the time [laughs]. But as a kid, I loved Lego and Mechano, I used to build a lot of things. Even now, if I have some time to play with something, it will be Lego or a puzzle of some sort.
You mentioned being a mom and having kids. Could you share any thoughts on the challenges for women balancing career and family, and how you’ve dealt with that?
The key that I try to apply is if you can’t do it all, don’t leave it all. I’m not a perfect mom, but I’m not trying to be perfect. But I try to do a little bit of everything.
At the beginning of my career I used to spend a lot of hours on work, trying to learn things and then wouldn’t have family time or dinner time or anything like that. Because when you’re starting out, you’re learning, and you’re going to spend more time or want to get up to speed pretty quickly. This can be stressful.
Try to take it easy, you know, work is at work. Once you get out of work, just disconnect so you’ll be able to connect one more time. I’m trying not to take my work problems home or think about my projects at home. I think family comes first.
So for example, it doesn’t have to be a perfect meal, but there’s something to eat. It doesn’t have to be fully clean, but do one little chore each day. Make sure you’re there. I’m trying to make sure that I’m there for my kids’ practices and activities. It’s all about planning your day.
Are there any people that have inspired you in your career or people who have helped you?
I had a lot of people helping me and encouraging me along the way. First of all, my mom and dad, they have always been supportive.
I’m so blessed to have my husband because there are Middle Eastern men that will put a woman down. They just will not encourage her. But I was so blessed to have my husband beside me along the way. There were times I gave up applying for jobs, especially when you’re first starting, it took me awhile – with self-esteem after a baby, being a new mother, a new immigrant, all these kind of things. My husband was always encouraging me. Even sometimes I said, “I’m not going to apply for jobs.” He was still applying for me, he was just like, “You know these things. You can do it.” He was always encouraging me, he was always on my side.
Another person who really helped me in the last six years was Mr. Dave Roe [Elantis CEO]. He gave me the opportunity to learn things and go into new areas. I was given the opportunity to discover areas of project management, release management, estimating and selling, and creating proposals and things like that. These kinds of things opened my eyes and opened my brain to wider areas of the business. It’s not just about one piece of code, or one page, or a workflow to connect a variable. There is a lot more in the IT industry that connects things together as a company. So I’m forever grateful for Dave and the opportunity I had to get exposed to these things.
What’s next in your career?
Well, I try to let it come naturally, I don’t want to force something. But I’m really looking forward to growing the team, having more and more people joining Elantis, and creating more leaders.
Want to learn more about Elantis’ talented women in tech? Check out our posts featuring Elantis’ Director of Marketing, Amy Grendus and Director of Business Process Automation, Rhia Wieclawek.
Amy is a results-focused marketing professional with over eight years’ experience working closely with sales teams to provide effective solutions to customers.
How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in technology? We spoke with Samantha Waters of Nintex, to get her perspective on the value of a career in tech.
Technology roles come in all shapes and sizes. We spoke with Elantis’ Marketing Director, Amy Grendus, to learn about her career in tech.