A couple of weeks ago, we introduced Women in SaaS, our new bi-weekly interviews aimed at passionate young women considering a future in the tech industry. We need more women in the field. And we need to hear more about the women that have already made their mark.
By asking inspiring women from the SaaS sphere to share their stories, our hope is to accentuate the endless opportunities this career path offers. We also want to highlight the challenges women face in a male-dominated industry—and how to not only confront those challenges but help make them increasingly obsolete.
Sharing her journey with us today is Tereza from productboard, a product management software company. An inspiring hard worker, Tereza learned JAVA in her free time, kicked off the Women at productboard initiative and, with a variety of side projects focused on female empowerment, she is a true driver of change.
Hi Tereza, can you please introduce yourself, your role and the company you work for?
Hello! First, a shout out to you and this initiative. You women rock! Every initiative like this counts.
My name is Tereza Macháčková and I build teams and lead productboard’s talent brand. Along with growing my own team and establishing the core people operations and talent processes, I’ve helped scale this tech startup from 20 employees to 200 in two years.
I also have my side projects, such as our first national Lean In Czech circle, mentoring the FemmePalette mentees and empowering women in learning how to code through Reactgirls Prague. Plus I helped co-found DisruptHR Prague, an information exchange platform for HR professionals.
What inspired or led you to enter the SaaS field/tech startup world?
My inspiration was all the people who work and hack tirelessly in an effort to change the world while having fun and remaining approachable. When joining their circles, they welcome you and support you along the way.
I am stunned by all the inspiring accomplishments that have helped encourage more women to enter the tech field. When I moved to Prague, I started following women that were trying to fight biases, gender stereotypes or build communities, all to empower more women to achieve great things. I was impressed by the Czech community Czechitas—while working in Human Resources at a corporation, I would use my benefits card for their coding workshop in regards to learning how to code in JAVA.
Did you study technology? Do you feel it’s important to have a tech education in order to get a job at a tech startup?
I did not study technology. And if I had, I believe I would have been terrible. But I do believe in the correlation between having a tech education and achieving great accomplishments in programming.
Still, not having a tech education should not discourage you; if you work hard, you will definitely be able to learn how to code. Especially if you consider all the available free courses, open communities… there aren’t any limitations if you apply your grit.
What was the biggest challenge for you when entering the tech field, and how did you manage to overcome it?
What has definitely been an interesting experience for me is that I am now constantly surrounded by incredibly smart yet approachable people, with their backgrounds in rocket science or massively impressive Silicon Valley experience. I usually feel like an imposter next to them—though I’m not sure if it’s just a feeling, or actually a very right gut response.
As we hired more and more women to productboard, we realized us women may share similar feelings. Sometimes, when we prepared to express our opinions during meetings, we’d start with apologizing for wanting to speak up.
In case you missed it, here's another story - Silvia from Slido.
Our response was creating a female-friendly non-formal group called Women at productboard. We have recurring meetings where we try to support one another, empower each other and fight our fears!
Thinking back to your journey and how you arrived at where you are today, is there anything you’d change?
I feel very blessed and fortunate to be where I am today. Sometimes, I feel I just got very lucky. I’m now working hard on things I want to improve, just little things like public speaking—which, for me, means talking to more than one person. It would have been great to have improved these things earlier in life. But at least I am still getting myself out of my comfort zone. There’s always a challenge and it never gets boring.
What piece of advice would you give to your freshman self?
I would love to have known about coding, Startup Weekends, hackathon possibilities and all the communities much earlier. That would have been fantastic! So, my piece of advice would be: “Hey Tereza, try Codecademy! Meet Veronika Gabrielová earlier in your life!” (Veronika is a huge inspiration for me. Formerly our coach from PyLadies, and now our amazing team member, Engineering Manager at productboard.)
Do you see a lack of female presence at your startup? If so, how do you think this could be changed?
I’ve definitely seen it, but I feel like we are very actively working on changing that. What really helped was hiring the first female engineer, who referred a few of her female ex-colleagues, friends from the community (such as Pyladies), etc. And hiring our first female product manager, an amazing and inspiring woman.
We are now actively contributing to the community by supporting various projects, like Reactgirls Prague or Railsgirls, where our programmers teach women how to code. We also mentor junior women via the FemmePalette platform, helping them to achieve their professional goals faster.
My colleague from SF and I started Women at productboard to work on initiatives that would attract more women to apply to our company. And, recently, I also started the Czech circle Lean In! In this circle, we are committed to empowering all women by creating a culture of support and inclusion, providing networking, mentoring and professional development opportunities—all of which helps with developing, retaining and growing female talent and leadership.
What do you see as the added value of having more female teammates at a tech company?
Monoculture is indeed bad for business. If we hire more women into product, design, engineering and leadership positions, it will create a healthier workplace. It's already been proven that this gets better business results; high performing companies have women in senior management.
You need to have a wider range of experience and a wider scale of emotional intelligence to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels great and empowered to speak.
How can male teammates support their female colleagues in growing professionally? Do you have any first-hand experience with this positive behaviour?
My awesome male colleagues are all super supportive. Most of them joined me and entered many of the above-mentioned mentoring platforms, or agreed on becoming coaches at the ReactGirls workshop. It really helps!
I definitely have many male mentors. The first was Matej Matolin, who supported me in making my decision to take a job at productboard. There are many, many more.
Can you recommend any educational/reading material to women who would like to enter the tech field?
Definitely! What I do every morning is listen to podcasts and audiobooks on Audible.
I have plenty of favourite books, and I often come back to many of them. Loads have helped me, especially in such a male, radically candid industry (sometimes, I feel it does seem like a less empathetic industry). These books are Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone and Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
When I find something really interesting or extraordinary, I write down notes and then convert them into blog posts. This decreases my chances of forgetting about them. You can find all the literature and podcasts that I find most influential here.
People working in startups are usually very busy. How do you manage your work-life balance? Do you find time for passion projects?
Oh, one very impressive product design advisor from San Francisco said: “You go hard, or you go home. If you want to make an impact, you simply don’t do an eight-to-five job.”
I need to be passionate about what I am working on, otherwise, I do not work on it. And when I am passionate about something, I don't stop. I do what I love—and one of the things I love in my work. I still manage to combine it with other projects, such as Lean In, FemmePalette, Les Mills, horse riding and travelling. I love my life and I love to work hard.
Women in SaaS initiative
Did you know that only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice and only 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by a woman? With our new initiative - Women in SaaS interviews, we want to inspire more women to join SaaS field & technology and combat prejudges connected to technology.
Every two weeks, you can look forward to interviews with inspirational ladies who decided on a career path in SaaS. In our next article, we will talk to Zuzana Vancova, Head of Operations from minit.io.