Sabine Geithner: “Bertha Benz is a developer.”

Sabine Geithner works as the Lead Link Mobile Engineering at Mercedes-Benz.io. She combines 13 years of experience, working in different leadership roles from Project Management, Online Marketing to Software Development.

Until recently, she worked as an iOS developer for the Bertha app. In her current position, she is in charge of hiring the right mobile developers to drive the mobile strategy of the company, fostering a culture of knowledge-sharing and providing an environment for professional growth for mobile developers.In her second role as People Promoter she helps MB.ioneers set meaningful professional development goals and supports them to achieve these goals. 

Sabine’s career starts with her studies. She owns a university diploma in Biotechnology. The requirement for her first semester was an introduction to Java class. It may seem that Sabine has a bit of unusual career background, although it is not uncommon to find people with diverse backgrounds in software development.

In this interview, we want to find out what makes tech jobs interesting to women and how we can inspire young girls to strive towards such jobs. Hello, Sabine!

You’ve had quite the unconventional career journey—what did your start as a Developer look like?

My journey to software development kicked off when I turned 30 and looked back at my life where I was and where I wanted to be. At that time, I was working as Head of Online Marketing and Consumer Insights. My responsibilities included: writing HTML for our SEO landing pages, as well as analyzing consumer data to get valuable insights. So, I had already learned some web development and was using my rudimentary programming skills, for things like writing VBA scripts for my Excel Sheets and SQL statements for MS Access. 

I realized I actually liked programming and wanted to learn more. I started to look for classes online and in Berlin, where I live. Coincidentally, an in-person program called Rails Girls Berlin (now called Code Curious) had just started. They offered free programming workshops for women. I had missed their first workshop, but I liked their idea so much that I offered to join the organizer team and support with marketing. This was the turning point!

What made you decide to completely pursue a career in tech?

By organizing the mentioned workshops for Code Curious I was able to witness women of all backgrounds quitting their jobs and pursuing successful careers as software developers. It was so inspiring that I decided to leave my own job, spend a few months learning with online courses, find myself an internship, and become a software developer. I was 31 years old when I took that step.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?

When I started seriously considering software development as a career, I received some unwelcome comments from people. They said things like “You won’t be able to learn this so fast. You are learning the wrong programming language. You should learn [insert a preferred language] instead. I would never hire someone who hasn’t been writing code since they were little.” I could have easily been discouraged by their words. Luckily, I like to prove people wrong and understood it as a challenge to show them: it can be done and I will do it.

In the early years of my career, I sometimes wasn’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts and had to have several critical conversations confronting people with their behavior. Often they were completely shocked that they behaved this way and every-time things improved significantly afterwards. I wish I didn’t have to jump into these conversations, however, I can only encourage everyone (especially younger women) to confront such behavior. It helped me, and no one should ever feel intimidated and helpless.

What are some of the positive experiences you have gained throughout your career?

There were positive ones that encouraged and supported me to pursue my dream of becoming a Developer. For example, most of the coaches for Rails Girls Berlin were men and the whole Ruby community was actively working towards increasing the number of women in their field. Also, the people who gave me my very first iOS internship were super trusting in my abilities (I had only done online courses before that) and made me feel at home and welcome in the Developer scene.

There are also many men at Mercedes-Benz.io — who understand the value a diverse workforce adds to our team culture and performance and are actively working on hiring more diverse people.

What does a day-in-the-life at Mercedes-Benz.io look like for you?

There is little to no routine in software development. A “typical day” could look like this:

The day kicks off with a meeting that we call Stand-Up, where everyone gives an update on the progress of their current tasks. We also discuss blockers or topics that need more clarification and then talk about what we plan on doing today. Afterwards, everyone starts working on current tasks. If we work on a new feature, we will meet to talk about how to approach the problem.

These conversations can stretch over several teams, including backend and design. We talk through different approaches or give feedback to someone else’s result. At the end of the day, we publish the code we wrote to the whole codebase and have a coworker give us feedback on our solution. We also create a new internal version, that the team can use to test the new features we implemented during the day.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture. According to a 2019 study by the UK Department of Education, parents and teachers are less likely to be encourage girls to study STEM subjects. Since only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice, a lower female participation in STEM fields equates to fewer female role models for girls.

Why could (or should) women be interested in becoming a Developer?

Let‘s stop putting people into boxes. The job is interesting for anyone who loves logic, no matter the gender. However, I’ve also observed that children’s interests are largely formed by their environment. If you offer girls only dolls and boys only cars, it’s no surprise they end up having a preference for one. I don’t have kids of my own, but I know that my interest in science was sparked at a very young age by getting microscopes and physics toys, so I give the same toys to my nieces. 

Qualities of high-performing teams are made up of a wide breadth of holistic skills, such as empathy, sensitivity, creativity, and more! Regardless of gender, many roles benefit from having these qualities, e.g. the Plant, the Coordinator, and the Teamworker in Belbin’s model of Team Roles. Thus, I am certain that anyone can be interested in becoming a Developer but success does not depend on your gender.  

What is the benefit of working in the tech industry?

Oh, there are many! From a lifestyle perspective, I think no other job allows for more freedom. Working remotely and asynchronously at weird hours has been common for software developers for a long time. This is absolutely perfect for those who want to have lots of freedom or need to juggle jobs and family. It’s also easy to find a job because software developers are always in demand—and always will be!

For me — the biggest benefit is actually the effect it has on your brain. When I started out, it really felt like my brain was growing. I mean it! You often need to keep a lot of thoughts and ideas in your head in order to figure out how to solve an issue. On top of that, it’s a job that requires life-long learning and keeps you mentally fit in the long-term.

Let’s talk about needed skills and interests. What do you think is the most important strength for software developers to ‘develop’?

According to a study published in Nature, the most important strength for software developers is fluid reasoning and memory capacity (the ability to solve problems with logic and to keep several solutions/ideas in your head) followed by language ability. Funnily enough, numeracy (being good at Mathematics) has the lowest correlation with programming abilities.

However, being a successful software developer requires more than just being able to write good code. Developers need to be able to communicate their ideas to their client, their colleagues, and their boss. Communication skills are key. And of course, if you juggle several projects, you need to be organized, too. These skills become more and more important the more seniority you gain, the more you interact with stakeholders and the more projects you juggle at the same time.

How can I start getting into developing? 

  • To figure out if coding is their interest, I recommend codecademy. It’s a gamified way to learn basic programming principles and highly addictive to people who like logical challenges. 
  • For taking a step further, there are plenty of online platforms that offer pretty good courses, many of which are free. For example, most courses on coursera can be attended without paying. I started 7 years ago with team treehouse. I really liked their curriculum back then and it helped me stay motivated. You are learning software development by working on small projects that grow bit by bit and it is extremely rewarding to see the result so quickly.
  • To go the academic way, there is even a women-only Computer Science study course offered by the HTW in Berlin.
  • There are also meetups (e.g. code curious, women who code, women techmakers) in bigger cities where women in tech help others get into and continue learning software development.

What can I do as a parent to bring this professional field closer to my child and spark their interest?

  • For parents of young children, there are also plenty of opportunities. There is the code.org where kids can learn programming while building or playing a game.
  • Some toys help children practice logical thinking and learn the basics of computer instructions, e.g. Osmo.
  • There are hardware kits, like Kano, that allow kids to assemble their own computers and gives them an insight into how computers work.
  • And don’t forget free meetups and workshops (often called “Coder Dojo”) for kids in bigger cities where they can learn coding in a group.
  • One of the founders of Rails Girls Berlin also wrote a children’s book for girls called “Hello Ruby,” which also has a website to help parents with their kids quest to conquer the world with code.

What is your wish for the future of women in tech?

I hope that more women consider software development as a career and find more and more representation in their teams, at conferences and in technical leadership positions. My wish is that we can at one point drop the “female” in-front of the introduction and refer to people who happen to identify as female, just as “software developer” or “CTO” instead of “female software developer” or “female CTO”.

And lastly…why this headline? Why do you think Bertha Benz would be a Developer and active in mobile engineering today?

The headline is 100 percent correct. Bertha Benz would be a software engineer because she was a woman who valued freedom and independence and wasn’t afraid of entering a male-dominated area.

Want to support and inspire women for tech professions, want to change the game, and know talented women who need to become developers?

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Way Forward: Digital House Product-Centric Organization

Mercedes-Benz AG and Mercedes-Benz.io strengthen their product teams within the “Digital House” initiative – realizing a product-centric organization. 

Customers expect the best digital products and services worldwide. Hence,
Mercedes-Benz aims at strengthening its operational e-commerce environments on an international level. Therefore, they will enhance the collaboration with 
Mercedes-Benz.io by scaling digital deliveries for e-commerce and online sales even further. 

The goal of the “Digital House” (a joint initiative of Mercedes-Benz AG and 
Mercedes-Benz.io) is to optimize the business units behind the company’s digital sales and marketing platforms and channels by restructuring them to the upcoming and growing needs of markets and regions worldwide. Within this context of digital products for Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz AG will continue focusing on business and market enabling, strategic portfolio management and respective phase measurements, while Mercedes-Benz.io will be responsible for the development and operation of digital products even more independently. Within the next two years, Mercedes-Benz.io will strengthen its digital product teams in Lisbon, Portugal. The Lisbon site will become the development core unit and a dedicated product organization that focuses on scalable product organization, vehicle leads, and sales-generating products. More than 100 additional digital product development positions will be established at Mercedes-Benz.io in Lisbon. The core of the alignment is a product-oriented organization with the aim of concentrating digital product responsibilities for online sales according to a clear business strategy.

mastering remote work

I have always loved working at the office and enjoyed the routine of having a place to go to, interacting with my colleagues, collaborating and developing ideas that I continue working with. So, working remotely without a physical location hasn’t been easy for me. I was hit by a challenge for which I felt not prepared at all. What did the result look like? Constant adaption! 

Lockdown presented many different challenges, so productivity often felt like the last thing I wanted to think about. Staying connected with my team and using all communication tools hasn’t been a big challenge, but I wanted to motivate myself to stay productive. Little did I know – the coming months would prove to become a period of innovation and adaption for me, in which I would learn a lot about myself and my ability to work remotely and productively

Recently, my company has taken further measures to support all colleagues working remotely and we are actively adapting our culture and communication to it. Mercedes-Benz.io is continuously providing insights on the topics of mental and physical well-being, podcasts, videos and articles, guides for meditation and we are supported by ergonomic tips and tricks for home office. But at the start of the lockdown, the currently available tools and measures weren’t fully in place. Therefore, I invested some time into research and found out how to work from home more efficiently, which I want to share with you.  

Surprisingly, today remote work no longer scares me. In fact, it has become the exact opposite! I can see a lot of benefits to remote work and I have adapted my lifestyle to it – as well as possible. Along with a personal ‘survival guide’, a few other things helped me making the remote office situation productive and fun. So, before going through my personal recommendations, here is a quick list of the tools that supported me working remotely:

  • Location screens & ergonomic working posture
    One of the most excellent perks of working at Mercedes-Benz.io is that you are well cared for as an employee. We even got our screen delivered to our doorstep! Having access to the best working conditions with e. g. an additional screen has helped me a lot. Sounds easy – it’s the simple things that make the difference.
  • Tribe Space
    Well, Mondays used to be my weekly highlight at Mercedes-Benz.io. Our Tribe Space is designed to bring MB.ioneers from 3 different locations (Stuttgart, Berlin, Lisbon) together and exchange company updates, changes and upcoming goals. The idea of replicating Tribe Space with a fully online and digital only version, at first, seemed a little astonishing to me. Today I have to admit that transforming our Tribe Space from a physical to a solely online event was, indeed, the best thing ever that could have happened! The new Tribe Space format brought all employees even closer together, it became something similar to a TV show that I look forward to participating in. The meeting format has surely been improved tremendously. Now, really everyone can attend the event, even from home and also on the road. Last but not least, we recorded an increase in participation and our meeting format is continuously being developed further by several colleagues.
  • Weekly tacticals
    Weekly meetings with my team members help me to maintain an efficient workflow. Our tactical is held once a week over Microsoft Teams and allows me to gain needed transparency about what the team has accomplished and to plan upcoming tasks and goals. Another tool we are using to organize our circle meetings is Glassfrog. These meetings, the tools and internal alignment help me focus on most important topics and using the available working time and energy wisely.
  • Slack activities
    Slack is a center of the company’s communication. There is something for everyone, with tons of channels for different circles and fun groups dedicated to MB.io dogs, women of MB.io, music, movies, photography etc. At Mercedes-Benz.io there exists tons of slack activities one can get involved with. My personal favorite is #randomcoffee. MB.io Slack connects you with a random teammate you mostly haven’t talked to, and you get to know each other over an online coffee meeting. Isn’t this a fun way to network?
  • Social Media
    I simply love our social media channels! From social activities to fun dog posts, you can find a diversity of creative content online. My all-time favorite is the #remotainment post on our Insta channel, where MB.ioneers have shown up with creative ways to survive the home office situation.

    By the way – beside the Insta channel you find our Facebook channel here, and our LinkedIn channel here. Let’s stay in touch!

    Effective communication and team activities have helped strengthen our tribe spirit, especially during the start of the critical home-office situation. But apart from this, I struggled with productivity, staying motivated and have been particularly anxious about retaining a positive state of mind. My concerns were valid, but after working on each of them with these tools and my ‘survival guide,’ I no longer worry about spending hours in the home office. Nowadays, the longer I spend working remotely, the more I can see the benefits. I even have the feeling that companies will actually get a lot more out of the home-office situation in the near future, in terms of and for their employees.

My personal survival guide for being productive in home-office:

  • Practice planning

    Writing all the tasks down may sound time-consuming, but it saves a lot of time during execution. And with time, creating lists and prioritizing tasks becomes a habit and doesn’t need additional time. One of the techniques that revolve around this is ‘Eat that Frog’where you deal with the most demanding task and then deal with the rest of the tasks.

    That technique made me quicker, led to more efficient results, less fatigue, and a stronger sense of accomplishment than finishing simple tasks. This technique makes prioritizing easier but is also impact-driven. Achieving little tasks energizes and motivates me and helps me gliding through the rest of the day since I am now finishing the most difficult tasks at first.
  • Take strategic breaks
    Meeting deadlines and being productive at the same time has been very challenging for me, especially during the lockdown when you are locked in the same room and have nowhere else to go. Having a feeling that I have endless time to get things done, I sometimes spent precious work hours on distractions. But at some point the necessary duty of care luckily caught up with me after all and I found an efficient way to tackle my never-ending to-do list. 

  • Dive into the Pomodoro Technique
    As tasty as it sounds, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management system and helps people to work with the time they have – rather than against it. This technique works by dividing the workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks.

    And the five-minute intervals are known as Pomodoros. After about four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of about15 to 20 minutes. This technique helps me achieving my tasks within the given deadline by instilling a sense of urgency. Additionally, the breaks cured the burnt-out feeling I had towards the end of the day. Try it out for yourself, it actually works!
  • Decorate your home-office
    I loved working at the Mercedes-Benz.io Berlin office. Large windows, open spaces, sunlight, green plants in the office space always helped me being productive and induced a sense of relief at the same time. During the lockdown, I made sure that I bring the same feeling to my home office. I tried to define a work area. I moved my desk next to the windows as brighter atmospheres help induce analytical and evaluative thinking. Also, decorating my work area with green plants helped me recover from demanding activities and brought aesthetic appreciation and a sense of calmness.  

I’m so looking forward to getting back to the office! But I also view this time working from home, as a learning experience and a challenge. The lockdown, the last year and the recent months were characterized by constant adaptation for us all. We keep on kickstarting new ways of working and transforming Mercedes-Benz with customer-centricity and agility. We keep on translating input from our customers into outputs of digital experiences, such as the Mercedes-Benz worldwide website – currently we do this completely from home.

For me – the global pandemic is nothing less than a constant journey of adaption and innovation. At Mercedes-Benz.io I learned to say: ‘SCREW IT, LET’S DO IT! 

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