TL;DR: Our second entry in our World-class Talent series focuses on Johana Saldarriaga, an accomplished developer from Colombia whose relentless drive and passion has helped her overcome all sorts of challenges. To her, leading projects at Blankfactor is a great opportunity to prove herself, work on her leadership skills, and provide a different perspective on how to lead.
When I was asked to talk about disruptive leaders, I immediately thought of Johana (or Joha, as everyone calls her). She brings to the table a unique combination of technical expertise, tenacity, and humanity. In this blog, we’ll learn more about her life’s story and what makes her a world-class talent.
Women leaders in technology create more women leaders
Before diving into Johana’s life, let’s go over women leaders in technology. In a previous post, Sofía talked about how diversity in the workplace leads to creativity and innovation. People with different approaches and experiences can challenge each other, and work around solutions that push businesses and organizations forward. Diverse teams, especially in technology, require an important female representation for such challenges to happen.
Once the glass ceiling begins to shatter, the situation begins to change. A UC Davis study indicated that companies with women at the helm had, on average, 38 percent more women leaders. Women in positions of leadership help women provide more opportunities and better mentorship to women in different positions across the company.
Companies with more women in leadership positions perform better financially. The same study also concluded that companies with the highest percentage of female leaders ranked 74% higher for Return On Assets (ROA) and Return On Equity (ROE). More women in the workplace has also been linked to higher job satisfaction, higher organizational dedication, more meaningful work, and less burnout.
But enough about data! Let’s learn more about Johana.
Joha loves challenges. And she saw Systems Engineering as one she was ready to take head-on. Fascinated by mathematics and technology, she wanted to learn more about the topics she was passionate about and bring forth her own perspective to such a promising field.
At the time she began studying, Systems Engineering was a male-dominated career in Colombia. She saw the presence of female students as a challenge to the system, as well as an open invitation for women to explore new disciplines. To her, the presence of different points of view and experiences enriches any discipline and gives greater room for innovation and disruption.
In Colombia, universities require all majors to complete a short internship before graduating. Students are able to practice their knowledge in a real environment and learn new skills along the way. Yet, in Johana’s case, the client she was working with wasn’t aware she was an intern. “I was terrified at first. It was a very sophisticated project and this was my first professional experience. I was afraid of messing it up!”, said Johana over our interview.
But she didn’t. In fact, the client was very pleased with her work and she continued working there once she finished.
Her first experience with a client also gave her one of the most important lessons in her career. In her own words: “Career-defining moments come once you start working. No one tells you how to apply what they taught you in class, this is something you learn as you go. My first client was an incredible experience because of the steep learning curve and the challenges they meant for me. Handing in the first deliverables and being able to step up your skills made it very gratifying, at the end.”
Learning is an ongoing process
In Johana’s case, learning didn’t stop with a university degree. “In my first job, I spent additional time learning new skills that would make my job easier. For example, because this initial client required in-depth knowledge in .NET, I took advanced courses to strengthen my grasp of this programming language. At work, your knowledge now responds to something much more complex than a test; your abilities and problem-solving skills can make the difference”, she said.
Johana says that, at Blankfactor, she has been able to hone in a different set of skills. She has been able to work on her English skills, learn how to work in a fast-paced environment and develop important leadership abilities.
“A dynamic workplace also helps a lot in your growth,” says Johana. “On a normal day, you’re in a meeting, talking to your coworkers, learning new skills, and jumping from one project to another. This level of activity puts your flexibility and adaptability to the test. It’s a constant challenge and it’s a cool one, too. It’s cool to constantly evaluate your skill set and push your boundaries.”
Johana considers that professional growth also goes hand-in-hand with a supportive environment. As a matter of fact, she says that “the support I’ve had at Blankfactor is magnificent. I feel I wouldn’t have improved as much, as a person and as a software developer, without the opportunities Blankfactor has given me.”
Thoughts on women leaders in technology
Because of Johana’s impressive performance as a Full Stack Developer and her natural ability to work in a team, she soon began leading important projects at Blankfactor. “At first, it was an enormous challenge and one I enjoyed a lot. I had to really work hard on getting my message across as clearly as possible while working with people in different parts of the world,” she adds.
Johana’s first leadership role was an opportunity to showcase her skills and work on other important abilities required in higher-level positions. Through those initial experiences, Johana also learned the importance of having women in leading positions. “I think people are now starting to see that women in leadership or executive roles yield great results,” she says.
In her experience, female leaders have a unique approach to handling a team. In her own words: “I always try to bring something very humane to my leading style. You may be a very knowledgeable leader, but if you don’t focus on the human aspect, your team won’t respond very well. Teams work better when you’re warm and empathic.”
There’s no doubt Johana is an excellent developer and a great leader. Yet, part of what makes Johana so great at what she does is that she’s a great human being. She’s friendly and approachable, but she’s also fearless, and she loves taking on new challenges. Such unique combination of characteristics makes her a very refreshing leader, and a great example for so many of us at Blankfactor.