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Interview with Paula Herold, working student at CIM

Interview with Paula Herold, working student at CIM

Paula Herold is studying computer science in Munich and is currently employed by CIM as a working student for software development.
The WMS provider offers students the opportunity to balance their theoretical knowledge with practical learning and on-the-job experience.

We talked to Paula about working at CIM, her decision to study computer science and her experience as a woman in IT.

Paula, you’re currently in your fifth semester studying computer science at the Technical University of Munich. Why computer science?

I took computer science at school and really enjoyed it. The focus at school tends to be on programming skills, so more on the practical side. I carried on with it right up until my final year and then felt I’d like to get more of an insight into the academic side. That’s why I decided on the degree course at TUM.

What is it that you particularly enjoy about computer science?

There’s a lot more to it than databases and programming – it’s extremely diverse and I find it all really interesting. But it was a bit of a shock to discover that computer science at university has nothing to do with what you learn at school.

Can you say a bit more about that?

As I said, the focus at school was on programming and application tasks. These are things that hardly feature at all in the course I’m doing at uni. The programming language is seen as an accessory to the theoretical principles. OK, you can improve your grades slightly but it’s basically not important. The theory and maths weren’t covered at all at school. That was a bit of a surprise at first, but it’s also the big advantage of the course. You don’t have to limit yourself to a handful of languages like Java – you get an insight multiple different languages and can then choose the one you like working with most.

An issue that often comes up is the low percentage of women in IT. Would you say it’s really the case?

I think I can count the number of female students in my semester on two hands (she laughs). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: I made friends quickly and I don't think gender matters in that respect. It’s definitely not an issue at uni. It was maybe mentioned at some point during the first semester but that was it. I get the impression that the number of women studying computer science is on the up, though. There definitely seem to be more female students in the lower semesters.

Did it take courage for you to enter a traditionally male-dominated sector like IT?

I had a female computer science teacher at school so there was nothing unusual for me about the idea of women in IT. From that point of view, I never questioned my decision. But I was obviously aware at some level that it wasn’t that common to be taught computer science by a woman.

Why did you choose to be a working student at CIM?

I did a placement at CIM while I was still at school. Then last semester I saw the working student post advertised on LinkedIn and thought I may as well give it a try. I started in December 2021 in the software development department. I'm still in the middle of my training period and working on things like bug fixing. But I’ll soon be supporting the development team on a larger project along with another working student.

And how are you enjoying the work?

I feel very comfortable here – the team’s great and I really like working with them. I also enjoy working on enhancing the product. I’d never had anything to do with warehouse management software before so it’s fascinating when you gradually begin to understand the underlying processes. Plus, CIM is a company that values diversity and agile methodology. So it’s all very helpful in understanding how modern software development works.

Would you say that women in software development have a special standing?

Not at all here at CIM. There are at least two other female colleagues in the software development department. But gender generally doesn’t seem to be a big issue at CIM. I don’t feel as if I’m treated any differently than my male counterparts. It probably has something to do with the corporate culture. It’s not unusual here for women to be part of the development team, but that’s by no means the case in every company. I know that some of my fellow students are very aware of their role as women because they’re literally the only ones. Whether women are given a special role, in whatever form, depends very much on the company and the corporate culture, I think.

Is IT is a better choice for women than its reputation suggests?

Yes and no. I think gender is irrelevant in terms of the appeal of studying computer science. The problem lies more in the expectations you go in with. It’s a subject with a very high dropout rate because school doesn’t prepare you properly. What you learn in computer science at school has more or less nothing to do with the content of the degree course. This is the core of the problem. How can I choose a course when I have practically no idea what to expect? I was lucky to have a bit of an insight through a family member who works in IT. But if school is seen as a preparation for university and a taster of what awaits you, then I see a clear need to improve computer science teaching.

Have you personally encountered discrimination against women in IT?

No, I can honestly say that I haven’t. But then I can only speak from my own experience. Before I started studying, I suppose I did kind of expect that entering the IT world might be more difficult as a woman. But I’ve had no problems at all, either at school, university or work. I hope this is the experience shared by other women and that the fear of discrimination turns out to be unfounded nowadays.

Thanks for your time, Paula.

Number of computer science students in Germany by gender in the winter semesters of 1998/1999 to 2020/2021 (source: Statista)


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