Interviewed by Hanna MULLER & Nadège SERRERO
Meet our Talent, Andreea Ionescu, Technical Lead at Orange Services Romania. In this interview, Andreea talks about being a women in a male-dominated industry, the evolution of the IT sector in the last ten years, and she shares with us the powerful advice that her father once gave her.
You are an experienced iOS Developer with a PhD focused on Image Processing. Can you give us some background information on your role as Technical Lead at Orange Services and what set you off on your current career path?
My main role is to ensure the success of my team and our projects. As a technical leader at Orange Services Romania, I develop mobile applications and undertake administrative activities and projects for our mobile team. In the Orange Labs department, we are working on activities around our OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). I am responsible for setting the objectives and key results for each employee in my team. On the software side, my team and I are working on the “My Orange” Romanian application to create a better experience for our customers. We always take into account our customers’ feedback and develop products accordingly.
As well as this, I spend part of my working time on innovation activities in my capacity as Innovation Manager for our Orange Labs Romania department. At Orange innovation activities are strongly supported, for instance we organise internal challenges to motivate our employees, because we believe that everyone can have great ideas. I really enjoy this part of my job because I can pursue my great passion: image processing.
To your question about what set me off on this current path, I believe that it’s related to the fact that I spent many hours working in the IOS environment. I have been an IOS developer since 2011 and since then I haven’t wanted to do anything else. I feel privileged to be able to contribute in the development of key applications used by hundreds of thousands of iOS users. With every application, I believe that I am helping people to access what they need directly from their mobile phones, in the best way possible.
If I had to describe myself in a nutshell, I would say that I'm a people's person; that I ensure that my ideas are heard loud and clear; and that I do everything I can for my team and our projects.
At Orange innovation activities are
strongly supported, for instance we
organise internal challenges to motivate
our employees, because we believe
that everyone can have great ideas.
Drawing on your experience in the IT industry, what would you say is the greatest transformation in technology seen in the last ten years and where do you think the digital revolution will take us next?
In the last 10 years, companies have started to invest more in research and innovation activities. Artificial Neural Networks were first invented in the 1980s, but Artificial Intelligence (AI) only became famous in 2012 because of the appearance of deep learning.
Before 2012, the main issue with these algorithms was the lack of big datasets and computational resources. The first deep learning applications based on big data sets were developed for speech (sound) in 2010 and then images, in 2012. The big image dataset used in 2012 was ImageNet, a well-known dataset containing over 14 million images. As big datasets become widely available, AI become better and better at finding more domains of application.
In the mobile area, the last ten years has seen mobile devices become more and more powerful in terms of computing and hardware functionalities. Nowadays, the development process is easier and faster than it was 10 years ago. I remember developing my first mobile application using Augmented Reality back in 2011 when the framework was not as permissive as it is today. I had to write many lines of code to do what I can do today using a framework and just a few instructions. Things have become much simpler.
In my opinion, the digital revolution will take us towards a more virtual connection between customers, products and services using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. I'm sure we will see it increasingly, as a result of the pandemic, in the marketing industry and it will become better in mobile gaming applications. This will happen because of the 5G connectivity that has started to cover metropolitan areas. In my city, for example, Orange already offers 5G connectivity to clients: you just need a compatible mobile device to benefit from an amazing speed connectivity.
In addition, people will start to receive better services according to their preferences and history. Machine Learning is already present in some applications that we are using daily, even if we don’t always notice it. For example, the search engine from Google and all those chatbots we are talking to instead of human agents.
AI algorithms are becoming a must-have to survive in the competitive marketplace we have today. Not just for advertising but also to create customised offers according to people’s needs. It sounds scary to know that a computer can predict your next move, but it shouldn’t, because everything is made for you to have the best experience possible on the internet.
I do believe in a strong collaboration between IT and Psychology!
In my opinion, the digital revolution will take
us towards a more virtual connection between customers,
products and services using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.
Despite the world’s first computer programmer being a woman, Ada Lovelace, according to the European Commission, women represent only 34% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates worldwide. What do you think are the major barriers for women to pursue a career in one of these fields and what do you think we should be doing to encourage more young girls to consider a career in the software industry specifically?
In my view, women are better at multitasking than men. But in the IT field you must concentrate all your attention on a single task: the code you are writing. I would compare this field to a continuous chess game in which you must constantly think about your next move in order to build a successful strategy.
I think women have been performing as well, if not better, than men throughout history. The problem is that women don't have enough time to invest in this field. You need to be available more than eight hours per day in order to continuously learn new frameworks, since things change very fast in the IT field. The major barrier for women is having more tasks to do in their personal lives, like looking after the house, raising kids and taking care of other people. If we want to have more women in the IT field, we must support them to dedicate more time to their education, and to create interactive workshops to show them that developing software is not as difficult as it might seem.
Nowadays, you can create basic webpages using apps and drag and drop functionalities, and a website may be completed in a couple of hours. There is a great deal of focus on theory at university. In order to attract anyone (men or women) into the IT domain, we have to start by showing students that it can be easy and fun. We must teach them to develop easy applications with many visual elements and then go deeper in algorithms and data structures. Nobody uses heavy algorithms in their daily tasks: only researchers or those working on Machine Learning tasks.
I would compare this field to a continuous
chess game in which you must constantly
think about your next move in order
to build a successful strategy.
What challenges have you yourself faced within in male-dominated spaces and what advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of computer technology?
It was very hard for me to find my first job as a software developer. Ten years ago, it wasn't very popular to find internships and jobs in tech companies, and they were searching for experienced developers, which was impossible for me because, at university, I attended all my classes and didn’t have time to gain experience on the side.
My advice for girls is to invest their time in education: go to workshops, go to private IT classes if you feel your teacher is not explaining things well enough, go to university and, if you can, do a PhD. During a PhD, you have the opportunity to do what you love and meet other people who are passionate about the same topic.
The only way you can pass the technical interviews in IT companies is to be prepared technically as well. I'm 100% convinced that if your interview test is perfect, you won't have any issues simply because you are a woman. Nowadays, tech companies have really evolved and are simply looking for the best skills. Being a woman or a man isn’t relevant for them.
My father used to tell me: “Out there are hundreds of beautiful women; why not try to be one of the smartest too.” I was lucky to have him as a role model and I tried to make him proud. So, girls, find what motivates you, prove to yourself you are better than yesterday, and never stop learning!
So, girls, find what motivates you, prove to yourself you are better than yesterday,
and never stop learning!
You are part of our Women Talent Pool Programme this year. In a few words, can you tell us why you wanted to participate and what you expect from it?
This initiative is a great opportunity for me to develop myself and my leadership skills. I'm interested in following the trainings organised by WIL and to participate in the networking events. I know that women from top positions get invited to WTP events, and their experience and advice for me are priceless. I find them very inspiring. I want to learn from the best!
On the WTP Programme are other talented women from different domains and I'm curious to learn how they managed and progressed in their careers. There is a real challenge in figuring out how to succeed when you’re competing with those with similar skills and capabilities.
We always conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is that I'm an independent woman in every aspect. I'm working in a dynamic environment, which is very desirable and, despite what people say, I'm pretty sure that software developers won’t be replaced by "robots" anytime soon! I am living a happy life and I think that that is what people should be seeking.