We sat down to talk to our own Senior Data Scientist, Andrea Coifman, about her career in tech, working with data, and why Lithuania has been very successful in getting women to choose careers in STEM.
Andrea Coifman works as a Senior Data Scientist at Devoteam at the company’s Vilnius office. When we call her to discuss a talk she recently gave for the Women Go Tech initiative in Lithuania, she laughs and says that she feels like she is in a job interview. She wants to get the initial details over with quickly and get directly to the substance of the matter.
But Andrea’s own path to Devoteam and a specialized position working with Cloud data is not unimportant to our topic or to her successful presentation at Women Go Tech. She originally studied acoustics and image processing at the university and got her master’s degree in computer vision. Since then, she has worked in tech for more than four years in different positions and parts of the tech sector.
“Everything is about building things that are completely new”
However, for Andrea the decision to work at Devoteam was easy: “Not a lot of companies work purely with Cloud, which is basically what we are doing here. And some of the central skills you need to have when working in fields like AI or data science are Cloud capabilities. On top of that analysts predict that the amount of companies using Cloud will rise from 25% today to 90% in 2025”.
Currently, she works at Devoteam’s governance and compliance team where she handles the incoming data and decides what actions to take from there. For instance, the data might indicate that a Devoteam product could use an additional business feature or that a lot of customers lack support on a specific topic. And this is exactly what attracts Andrea to the job: “There is not a lot that is already made out there, so everything is about innovation. Everything is about building things that are completely new. And that’s the cool part, right? That we don’t have to build the same thing over and over again. It’s varied work, and it’s also flexible”.
58% of Lithuanian scientists are female
On February 15th Andrea gave a talk called “Starting and Bettering Your Career in Data” at the Women Go Tech initiative in Lithuania. As the first of its kind in Lithuania, the Women Go Tech initiative guides and mentors women who want to either start their careers in tech or transition into tech from other fields. It was important to Andrea to contribute because, as she says:
“Data is not a clearly defined field and a lot of companies suffer from not understanding what to do with the data they are collecting. Even tech leadership can have a hard time with data management, and often it ends up being people like me, who actually work with the data, who bear the brunt of the frustration. If you are new in the field that makes it even harder to get a proper overview and see how your skills can fit in the companies. With my talk, I wanted to provide perspective on the possible entryways into the business – but also how you can later leverage your knowledge and position within a company“.
She emphasizes that this lack of understanding and solid strategy in leadership also makes people in the data field change jobs frequently. The data specialists are in high demand – and more people with visions and skills are needed. Those people can be women, and Lithuania has actually had great success getting more women into STEM careers in general. Today, 55% of Lithuanian scientists and engineers are female compared to 29% in the US.
You don’t need a technical background to work in data
Why this success? Well, the answer might lie partly with mentorship programs like Women Go Tech, and Andrea also underlines the importance of conveying to people in other fields that the transition to a career in tech does not have to be long and complicated – on the contrary: you can actually benefit from the skills you acquired in your previous career:
“You don’t need to come from a technical background to work in data. A lot of fields – like psychology, economy, political science, and medicine – already use data, and if you transition to tech through a data heavy field like that you will benefit from your domain specific knowledge as well. Then your background will be an advantage instead of a roadblock”.
As an example, Andrea mentions that a woman at her talk learned from her designated Women Go Tech mentor that her Ph.D. from another scientific area would still be an advantage when applying for a job in tech – and used that knowledge to transition and successfully get her first data job!
“You need to be able to have an unpopular opinion”
Andrea believes in the power of mentorship and role models both when it comes to making the tech field more diverse and when it comes to creating better tech leadership. But learning to navigate her own career path has been “pretty self-taught”, she says, and her advice to women (and people in general) who want to do well in specialized tech jobs and eventually reach for leadership roles is to start with themselves: “It mainly comes down to you. You need to be able to have an unpopular opinion and stand by it. For me it is important to stand up for what I see in the data and to be able to communicate that – that is the way I deal with the frustrating parts of working with data, when processes get stuck, and nobody seems to know what to do”.
She herself never had a female manager to look up to or identify with, and that lack of role models is actually part of what drives her to strive for success: “Role models are important because they give us something to aspire to. Mentors for women entering tech careers can be both men and women – that is not the central point. The most important thing is that people need guidance, especially in such a vague field”.
Not everybody is a saint – but most tech people are nice
To women who are hesitant to enter the tech business because they think that a male dominated field will be unkind to them, Andrea says: “It’s not like that. Of course, there are different types of people – I am not saying that everybody is a saint – but most of the male managers I have had have been quite nice”. She adds that she thinks a lot of women shy away from sharing their experiences – good and bad – or even sharing their achievements on LinkedIn. That makes it even harder to spot and support the women who do well in the tech field.
To Devoteam General Manager in Lithuania, Darius Janulevicius, it is important to encourage women to explore and pursue careers in technology jobs: “I’m proud of having passionate and talented people on board. Andrea walks the extra mile to mentor new talent and share her achievements and experience with communities like Women Go Tech – and that is both valuable and impressive”.
“I would be a hypocrite if I just complained[…]”
While there are quite a few women working at Devoteam and Lithuania is generally doing well at balancing genders in the STEM fields, Andrea emphasizes that there is still a long way to go: “I have always been alone in my work life, so the fact that we are more than one woman on my team is great! But even in the Women Go Tech program that my presentation was a part of there were more male presenters than female”. While she greatly appreciates the men who get behind the initiatives to help more women succeed in their tech careers, the difference in numbers alone is striking – and at the end of the day only women can change that. “I wish more women would be less afraid of becoming role models”, she adds.
All of this has led to Andrea’s own decisions to start speaking up and work on bettering the tech field that she loves. When we ask her what the next step for her is, she laughs: “Well, obviously it’s getting more into leadership, because we need role models. And I would be a hypocrite if I just complained about not having any role models and then didn’t become one myself. With leadership comes power to do things better in the future”.