“Power is not given to you. You have to take it.” – An interview with Dalgis Diaz Leon
I had the pleasure of speaking with Dalgis Diaz Leon, who is an inspiring woman working in tech and also a female leader. She tells us the funny story of how she used to sneak into her parents Object Orientated Programming lectures they taught at University when they were back in Cuba, which is how she first fell in love with programming and computers! She also opens up about her struggles with taming her curly hair (which is fabulous by the way!) and gives some brilliant advice to women everywhere that you don’t have to compromise on your professional goals and becoming a mother – she says “you don’t have to compromise, you have the duty and the right to look after yourself!”. Get ready to smile, laugh and nod along whilst reading this interview with Dalgis, who is truly an inspiration for women in technology everywhere.
HEY DALGIS, THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING PART IN A WOMEN ROCK INTERVIEW – COULD YOU TELL US HOW YOU FIRST GOT STARTED IN TECHNOLOGY?
Thank you for having me! Well, both my parents used to teach Object Oriented Programming in university when we lived in Cuba, so in that sense, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I started sneaking into their lectures when I was fourteen and -in addition to getting an exclusive peak of mum and dad in work mode- I became rather fascinated with programming and computers.
IT’S GREAT TO SEE A FEMALE IN A LEADERSHIP POSITION, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MANAGEMENT/LEADERSHIP STYLE AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE JOB?
I guess my style is largely relaxed and supportive, but firm. I encourage my teammates to be as self-sufficient as possible while working at their own speed in their own style. I’m always happy to provide support if they need it and they know they can come to me if they want my assistance when dealing with situations that fall out of their comfort zone. And this is one of the things I enjoy most: lending my voice in circumstances that make others uncomfortable and that would’ve otherwise gone unaddressed. It is also somewhat self-serving as it puts my rebellious streak to good use. In exchange for all that freedom and support, I hold them to high standards as individuals and as engineers.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME AND GIVE YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF SOME ADVICE, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL HER?
To be honest, my 13-year-old self was doing pretty well at school and life in general. I’d definitely tell her to learn how to handle curly hair though; that was a mess.
YOU’VE BEEN WORKING AS A SOFTWARE ENGINEER FOR QUITE SOME TIME NOW, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU ENJOY SO MUCH ABOUT CODING?
I love the mental puzzle and the logical thinking aspect of it. The capacity for abstraction that it demands sort of taps into parts of my personality that don’t get as stimulated with other tasks. I was very into maths as a child so programming came as a natural transition, and if I’m honest, I truly hope I’m still writing code when I retire.
From a more practical sense, I also like the concept of being able to communicate with a machine and engineer solutions to my own problems. And I do find debugging errors quite thrilling. Even with memory issues. Even if I pretend I don’t.
I FIND THAT THERE ARE MANY WOMEN WHO FEEL AS THOUGH THEY MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN THEIR ROLE AS A MOTHER OR THEIR CAREER – WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS AND WHAT WOULD YOU TELL PEOPLE IN THAT POSITION?
I think as a society we make women feel like children are their main responsibility and mainly their responsibility. Having children doesn’t suddenly negate your value as a person or your individuality. You are more than someone’s mum, and as such, you have the right, and almost the duty, to look after yourself. Whether that means nurturing your career, being a mother, or both, you don’t have to compromise, and no one has the right to make you feel inadequate for having ambitions.
AT SR2, WE HAVE AN AMBITION/GOAL TO MAKE BRISTOL KNOWN AS THE ‘MOST DIVERSE CITY FOR TECH BY 2025’ – DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR US AND OTHER TECH COMPANIES ON HOW THEY CAN ACHIEVE THIS?
Bristol is a pretty awesome city, so if anyone can do it’s us!
There is great value in looking inwards for answers. Consider the language your company uses during the recruitment process. Is there an opportunity there where bias can be removed and gendered words that might be putting women off from applying?
Start community programs to encourage young girls to pursue technical degrees. We are limited in what we can do to significantly impact the diversity of the workforce as is, but we can encourage the younger generation to widen their horizons. That paradigm shift needs to come at a young age.
Consider hosting technical events like meetups, hackathons or workshops, targeted at women and non-binary folk to provide the community with a safe space where they can nurture their technical skills.
IF THERE WAS ONE THING YOU COULD CHANGE ABOUT THE INDUSTRY WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Specifically to the software industry, it’d be good to shift away from the perception that developers are always sweaty guys in t-shirts who spend all their free time playing video games. Only half of my developer friends do that ;).
HAVE YOU EVER FELT LIKE YOU’VE COME UP AGAINST SOME BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER BECAUSE YOU’RE A WOMAN, AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE FACING THE SAME THING RIGHT NOW?
I’ve come across my fair share of inappropriate behaviour and “vanilla” discrimination, ranging from objectification to sexual harassment to the perception that I’m not geeky enough to be a real developer. It took me a moment to shift from the de facto accommodating, almost fearful-of-consequences attitude to a more assertive mindset, but when I did, the right and wrong of each of those situations became much clearer. We’re conditioned to be non-challenging crowd-pleasers, and that’s just another form of suppression. So, be fearless, be strong. Be entitled to your own space and voice, it is yours by right, it is not a favour being done to you.
IS THERE SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE OR EVEN WITHIN THE TECH INDUSTRY THAT YOU LOOK UP TO AND TAKE INSPIRATION FROM?
I tend to focus on individual traits that I admire, rather than revering the person itself. I find it leads to less disappointment! But there are some people…
My mother is an Automation Engineer and got her Master’s degree while raising two children and looking after the house in a country with limited resources, as was the expectation in a very patriarchal society. My father carried the weight of the family on his shoulders when we moved from Cuba to Spain, with all the stress and uncertainty that entailed, to give my brother and me a better chance at achieving our dreams.
There are also a couple of women in my current company -one fierce, one calm- of whom I admire their ability to push back on drama, assert themselves, and carve their space in what is a very male dominated field.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE THE BIGGEST THING TECH COMPANIES COULD DO TO ATTRACT MORE WOMEN? AND I GUESS, IF IT WAS YOU LOOKING – WHAT WOULD ATTRACT YOU TO A COMPANY?
A big one for this is to advertise the perks that would allow women to remain part of the workforce after motherhood e.g. enhanced maternity pay, flexible hours, parental leave, etc. While this is something that will benefit everyone with children, childcare more often falls under women’s responsibilities, and anything that can be done to make it easier for them to not have to choose between their careers and motherhood will ultimately keep more valuable professionals in the market.
Give more visibility to the women in your environment. Reconsider the images and other marketing material your company uses. It is not about misrepresenting the truth, but about giving potential candidates someone they can identify with, and a way to assess whether they’re likely to feel included and understood when they join.
FINALLY, COULD YOU LEAVE US WITH YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?
“Power is not given to you. You have to take it.” I think Beyoncé said that, but this applies to everything: pay rises, promotions, opportunities; don’t assume they’ll be given to you just because you deserve it, you have to ask for it, you have to take it.
Thanks so much for sharing this with us Dalgis, keep rocking!
A voice for diversity in Tech & Engineering <3