Berlin Buzzwords Success Stories is our brand new blog series where we ask people in the bbuzz network to share their own story.
Part of ensuring a wide range of opinions and ideas can be shared at Berlin Buzzwords is ensuring that people from underrepresented groups within the Berlin Buzzwords community can attend and engage with the discussions.
Historically Berlin Buzzwords, like the tech scene at large, has been a pretty white and male dominated space. One way we want to change this is to highlight some of the voices of people in our network from underrepresented groups. We want to share their stories and learn what drove them in their careers.Today, we hear from Sherin Thomas. Sherin is going to hold a keynote titled: Democratizing climate science: Searching through NASA’s earth data with AI at scale this year together with her co-speaker Dharini Chandrasekaran who shared her story last week. Welcome, Sherin!
When I look back at my career and life so far, two moments stand out more than others. The first is when I quit my first job after college. I dropped off my laptop and hopped, skipped and jumped my way across campus - feeling free, liberated and honestly physically lighter for the first time in two years. I was fortunate enough to get a job at one of the large FAANG companies, soon after college. But if you ask me to describe my time there in two words, it would be “impostor syndrome”. I was one of the 3% of women in an engineering organization dominated by men. From the very first day, I felt like I didn't belong there, that they brought me on by accident, that I would be found out. This looming cloud prevented me from standing up for myself, from speaking up, from pushing back against loud confident men around me.
I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful support system around that included my boyfriend at the time - who is now my husband, my wonderful friends and my family who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and encouraged me to start afresh, with a company whose mission I was more aligned with, where I felt empowered to speak and voice my opinions, where I didn’t feel burdened by impostor syndrome.
Another time that shines through for me, is when my manager messaged me on Slack one day “Scale by the Bay is inviting speakers, I think you should apply”. I remember making excuses “I am not very good at public speaking”, “I don’t know if people want to hear about my work”. I’m so glad now that in response he said “You are good at communication and of course your work is worth talking about! I think you should do it”. To this day, I’m grateful to him for pushing me to the deep end. The first time was hard, I remember shaking before I picked up the microphone, but when I saw the line of people who stood up to ask questions I had a big smile on my face. People were interested in my work, they wanted to learn more, they wanted to be in touch and continue our discussions. After the first time it became easy, I presented my work at several conferences, meetups, all over the world. Even now, after every project I ask myself “is this something worth talking about?”, and the answer almost always is a loud resounding “Yes!”.
Speaking at conferences has also made me a better engineer and technical leader. I’ve realized how important good communication is as you grow in your career. Ability to pitch ideas, break down complex concepts for a diverse and broad audience is a good skill to have. It has helped me become more empathetic, more tuned to industry trends, problems facing engineering organizations and when I share my work - I’m no longer thinking about whether this is worth sharing or not, but instead “my solution may not be perfect, but this is 'a' solution and someone might find value in it”.
Berlin Buzzwords is an excellent conference. There are so many past technical talks from Berlin Buzzwords, that I still refer to when I'm dealing with an engineering challenge or designing something new. I’m really looking forward to talking about the work I did for NASA and SpaceML there, and I hope someone will find value in what I have to share.
What about you? Do you want to share your story here too? Feel inspired by the stories you read? Don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com