How I got my job in technology
In 2016, after graduating college and solo travelling through Canada, Tabata Vossen landed a job as a content marketer at Qualifio, which describes itself as the leading SaaS in Europe for interactive marketing and data collection. Here’s how she secured an entry-level job at the marketing platform, straight out of college.
What is your role at Qualifio?
We are a typical SME, so my role and responsibilities can vary from day to day (laugh). But really: we’re a small business and we operate with a relatively small staff, so my role was never exactly what was written as part of my job description.
For two and a half years, I happily managed content while watching our amazing international team expand. More recently, I decided to broaden my horizons, so I changed jobs in the company. As a product marketing specialist, one of my key job responsibilities is now to develop learning activities and tools that will allow our users to quickly learn how to use Qualifio.
My role also includes a lot of mentoring, training and encouraging others. The fact that I got hired early in the history of the company (back then there were about 15 employees – now we’re a team of 80+) led me to a position of authority, a sort of “inside” level of respect that doesn’t even coincide with my position or title.
Last but not least, my personality brings additional responsibilities. For instance, I am never calm in the midst of the storm, so you shouldn’t hire me for that. However, I’m a very structured and rigorous person, so that is something I bring with me in my job and that my team can benefit from. That isn’t technically my job or a part of my job description, but this is a role that I take on because of the needs within the company.
Regardless of my specified job duties, I never approached my job as simply going to work, doing my job somewhat efficiently, and going home. From the moment I started working for Qualifio, I felt that I was part of the team and that the success of the company was tied to ours.
How did you get your job?
Ok, this is a little long, but it’s kind of a complicated story.
I started off almost 4 years ago as a digital marketing intern, straight out of school when I was 22 years old. I was actively looking for an internship and found it while scrolling through Facebook. There was an internship opening at Qualifio, a tech company I had never heard of before. I reviewed the job description and it seemed like a great potential fit, so I applied.
A couple of days later, I had an interview planned with Quentin Paquot, our current CCO. The location was out of town and somehow I hadn’t realised I would have to commute from my parents’ in Brussels (lesson learned: do your research!). I had no intention of moving there, so I started thinking it wasn’t worth going in for an interview. I emailed Quentin to cancel the meeting.
He basically replied: “too bad. Your profile stood out. Should you change your mind, we’ll be here on Friday at 4 PM. It’s up to you.” And that was it. My curiosity was peaked.
Long story short, the interview went well. They offered to pay for my gas. They seemed like awesome people. When I got out, I knew I really wanted the internship and had a feeling they liked me. I thought “why not give it a shot”.
In the meantime, I interviewed with other companies (I had basically applied EVERYWHERE), but nothing clicked. Eventually, I picked the internship with Qualifio. We chose my starting date, and I drove down to Louvain-la-Neuve 4 days a week for the next 3 months. (Looking back a couple of years later, it was the right decision. My internship was pretty cool and I really enjoyed it.)
For my first job, I was bold and decided to go after what I wanted. I reached out to Olivier Simonis, our CEO, directly and told him I wanted a job with the company. My plan for the 12 months ahead was to take a gap year, so I also told him that I had plane tickets to Vancouver and that I wouldn’t cancel my travel plans. A couple of weeks later, we had a Skype meeting. I don’t remember much, except that at one point, he said I would get hired as a content marketer if I returned within 6 months. I was overjoyed.
After I finished my thesis on women in tech, I left for Canada. I backpacked alone through the country for approximately 5 months and loved it. Then, I came back to Qualifio.
Fast forward 3 and a half years. I’m 25 now. In January 2019, I landed a new job which I progressively transitioned into. The manager who I am now reporting to had previously worked with me on a series of feature announcements, release notes and FAQs, so he was pretty familiar with my knowledge base and skill set, even before I joined his team.
What did you learn in the process?
One thing to know about me is that I have opinions and I am vocal about them. I also happen to have a Medium blog. Back then, it was mainly about venting a bit of my personal anger. I wrote about things like feminism, rape culture, sexual harassment and basically asking how women are supposed to advance in life if they are constantly reduced to doing pilates or cleaning the house.
During my internship interview, someone mentioned my blog. I got super nervous, thinking it might have been unprofessional to share it or they wouldn’t like my ideas. (Did you know? Women receive negative personality criticism, such as being called bossy or told to “watch their tone” in around 75% of performance reviews. Men, on the other hand, rarely do. Let that sink in.)
A couple of months ago, I was chatting with Quentin, the same guy who had interviewed me for the first time back in 2015. Well, guess what he told me? On that day, I left the room and people started asking how the interview went. He basically said, “Guys, you don’t want to piss her off.”
That’s it. That’s how I got my first job with the company. I’d say being opinionated, assertive or honest, but also friendly, open and eager worked for me so far.
So, my advice: you definitely miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. You’ve got to choose to take the first step, even if it feels scary. At every stage of the process I would think “Even if I don’t make it to the next stage, I’m gaining valuable experience here.” Remember: comfort zones are not progress zones.
Did you always know you wanted to work in tech or marketing?
No, I never planned to end up where I am now. I went to university to study communications and my plan was to go into journalism. I’ve always been a passionate writer, so getting into a job where I could spend most of my time writing was always the goal for me!
Apart from that, I had no concrete idea of what I wanted to do after college, so I had decided to apply here and there for my final internship, to see what interested me. I never imagined I would work for a software company. I mean, how many young girls do? But I ended up at Qualifio, and somehow I was able to find a route into this sector that suited me.
What excites you about working in tech now?
I love the fast-paced environment. Working in tech means moving quickly, learning fast and coming up with new ideas and solutions. There’s a lot of problem-solving involved and it shows that you can truly make an impact. Being around that all day is contagious and makes me incredibly optimistic.
The world of technology is also inconceivably vast and overlaps with virtually every other industry. So you can work in technology and marry that with a love for marketing (like me), travel (think Airbnb), beauty (Birchbox), medicine (one of my sisters was an intern at a rehabilitation robotics company called Axinesis), agriculture, transportation, you name it.
However, my favourite part about working at Qualifio is the team environment and open collaboration. It’s great for learning new skills – especially if you’re not a developer. There’s also always an opportunity to make your voice heard, no matter how wild your ideas are.
Something that definitely doesn’t excite me about working in tech, however, is the lack of diversity. Figures show that females represent only 16.6% of all ICT specialists employed in the EU. I’m not even sure how many of these women also fall into a marginalised group. And we haven’t mentioned equality in management nor the pay gap yet.
There are, of course, many factors that contribute to technology companies’ diversity problems. While the education system certainly isn’t perfect, companies aren’t really doing the work to improve (gender) diversity either. But the fact is, it isn’t just going to show up at your door!
We’ve been talking about diversity in tech for years. There are conferences, books, podcasts… These conversations are important, sure. But now it would be great to see companies doing something about it. I want to see them setting bigger goals. Let’s stop putting it off into the future and blaming everyone else. Time’s up.