A headshot of Laetitia Avrot smiling at the camera in front of a dark red wall.
Laetitia Avrot. Image: Noël 2018

For a career in computing, ‘maths is not as important as communication’

3 Jun 2022

Developer Laetitia Avrot unpicks some of the common misconceptions around computing careers and shares her advice for women in tech.

While gender diversity in the tech industry is improving, there is still a long way to go. Developer Laetitia Avrot believes one of the reasons for this is that there are misconceptions that still exist around computing.

Avrot is the field CTO of EDB, a software company that specialises in PostgresSQL, a free open-source database management system.

Avrot started working in 2004 following an IT engineering degree. “At the time, the IT world was still recovering from the burst of the internet bubble in France. So, I took the job I was offered, thinking I would gain experience and plan later,” she told SiliconRepublic.com.

“For several years, I kept feeling guilty that I didn’t know where I was going with my career, until I realised that it was precisely how I was leading my personal life: doing what I liked, with the people I liked, so that I can achieve my ultimate personal goal in life. Be happy now, not later.”

Despite working in the field for almost two decades, Avrot does not consider herself a professional developer. “I’d describe myself as an amateur developer who is very passionate about it. After all, amateur comes from the Latin ‘amator’ – ‘the one who loves’. My code might be clumsy, but it’s written with love.”

‘The stereotype of an IT whiz is a young man locked away in his bedroom… This is a completely inaccurate picture’

After five years of writing code, Avrot switched her focus to databases. It was here that she saw many misconceptions about how they worked and how to use them, despite them being a common layer in the IT industry.

“One of the major misconceptions about computing is that people think they need to be very good at maths to be able to write computer programs. Whereas I believe developing needs communication skills,” she said.

“You’re trying to explain to something (the computer) what you need it to do. But the computer needs to be told everything and can’t assume things that are not specifically written. It also can’t speak any human languages as they are too complicated for it. So we created special languages with less than 100 words and a handful of grammar rules. How many languages are that simple?”

Avrot said that when she visits schools she particularly recommends computing as a potential career choice for students who have a flair for foreign languages or those who are highly adaptable.

“I’m not saying maths is not important in computing, but for 90pc of developers, maths is not as important as communication skills. With communication skills, you can better understand the needs explained by the product owner to create a better product and you can communicate more efficiently with the computer to make it understand what you want.”

She added that another common misconception around computing and tech is that it’s just for introverts.

“The stereotype of an IT whiz is a young man locked away in his bedroom, working all through the night on a complicated coding project. This is a completely inaccurate picture of the broader tech industry. There’s a place for extroverts too, and plenty of roles where people skills are essential and teamwork takes centre stage.”

Women in tech

As a passionate advocate for women in tech, Avrot founded Postgres Women in 2018 with several other Postgres professionals.

“We’re a group of men and women trying to help more women enter and contribute to the Postgres community and break down some of the barriers and stereotypes that exist,” she said.

“We do this by doing various things like providing free tickets for conferences; mentoring speakers; helping people fill a complaint to the Code of Conduct Committee and supporting them through the process; providing information to the community about what they can do to help or how they can make their language more inclusive; or simply being ‘friendly faces’ at social events so women don’t avoid mixers where it’s not unusual to see 95pc men.”

Avrot said there are several things that can prevent women from working in tech, including “the intimidating environment a minority of men are creating to push women out”.

“It’s little things like glances, small chats asking you about your kids when they ask others about their work, discussing project-related topics in the football locker rooms, anything that will make you feel uneasy without you being able to point to one specific thing and say, ‘That’s the problem.’

“These small tactics can add up to a major problem, which isn’t taken seriously enough. I haven’t found a better solution than to leave the companies that maintain such an atmosphere. But thankfully, with IT, finding another job is not difficult.”

Avrot said it’s important that women pursuing a career in tech understand that the world is still a sexist place, but in her own experience there have been two encouraging people for every one discouraging person on her career journey. She also said it’s important not to put up with bad behaviour.

“Sadly, many companies don’t take sexism seriously enough. So, if you get a bad feeling during the hiring process, trust your gut. If sexism is making your job difficult, slowing your progression or preventing you from enjoying work, quit. In IT, it’s not difficult to find a new job – and there are lots of wonderful places for women to work,” she said.

“Remember this: It’s possible for any woman with grit and passion to succeed in technology.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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