Tell us about your career path.
Why did you choose a STEM profession?
Was your interest in STEM encouraged?
I come from Romania, a former Communist country. During (at least) the last Communist years there were plenty of women working in different STEM fields and I always believed that that made it easier for girls to choose STEM fields in school and university after the 1989 Revolution, because there was not the cultural view that these are inherently “professions for men”. Of course, Romanian women were also considered (and still are, to a very large extent, unfortunately) solely responsible for the household and raising children and the percentage of women in management positions was close to null, but that’s a completely different story altogether.
In secondary school, I got interested in mathematics and physics and this interest was clearly encouraged in school, as I went to county and even national school contests. I probably would have gone on one of these paths in high school and later at university, had it not been for starting to study Latin the same year I was supposed to choose my high-school track. I hated both the language and my teacher and, discovering that the IT / Computer Science track had no more classes of Latin in the following years, I decided to choose it, despite not having seen a computer but once in my life before that point. This decision was actively discouraged by several of my teachers, because IT was a very new field in Romania in the mid ‘90s and they thought it didn’t really promise a bright future. I’m sure they quickly revised their position in the following years, as Romania soon moved to the Top 10 of IT outsourcing countries in the world and thousands of Romanian expatriates, both men and women, work as IT professionals in much of Western Europe, but also many other countries in the world.
With technology becoming such a big part of every aspect of our lives and digital innovation happening everywhere, from archeology all the way through to zoology, I think it would be useful for everyone to have basic knowledge of some IT concepts that can help them in their field.
How was your educational/university experience? Do you have any memorable experiences to share?
In terms of university courses, there isn’t much that stands out after so many years. One thing I did get asked a lot, as soon as I started working in Western Europe was whether I was the only woman in my Computer Science course. Although I don’t have any concrete figures at hand, it did feel at the time that it was a very balanced mix of young men and women and I never felt out of place as a woman studying Computer Science.
One thing I would like to mention though is not directly related to the courses, but the fact that I joined a student association in my third year of study, because this had quite a big effect on my life, both personally and professionally. It was through a program targeting in particular Computer Science and Computer Engineering students and offering them quite a plethora of soft skills trainings, as well as the possibility to do an internship abroad. Years later, I realized how much these experiences shaped me and helped me move from a very shy person in school to presenting in front of hundreds of people at international conferences and enjoying the experience.
Where do you work?
What would you do during a typical day at work? What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work in the IT & Digital Innovation Department of the National Library of Luxembourg. One of the National Library’s legal missions is to collect, enrich and conserve the published national heritage, both printed and digital, as well as making it accessible to the public. If libraries have hundreds of years of experience preserving paper books, the preservation of digital content is still a very new field and that’s exactly where my job comes in, as Coordinator for the Digital Preservation program at the National Library. For all our collections of digital material, be it digitized content or born-digital (from individual files to entire websites), we have to make sure we have several copies in place, in several locations, so that content stays accessible to the public even in the case of a catastrophe (fire, floods etc.) or a technical major failure (server crash). For individual files and formats, we also have to make sure we have the appropriate hardware and software to read the content and display it for the users. One other aspect that I find quite important in this age of disinformation is that we try to guarantee that once content reaches the library’s Digital Archive cannot be changed without proper authorization and trace (as in the case of a technical migration to a newer format). Working in such a new field is definitely a challenge, because there are still many things we learn as we go, especially with the fast pace of digital innovation. Nonetheless, I find it quite exhilarating and I especially enjoy working together with so many other people in different fields of work, not just at the National Library, but also at national and international levels. I work quite a bit with colleagues from other Luxembourg institutions, but I’m also involved in several international organizations, both at a technical level (in a technical working group) and at a managerial level (in the Executive Board). And last but not least, I’m also quite active on Twitter, in a professional capacity, where I had quite a few very fruitful conversations with colleagues more advanced in the field, which I would have not necessarily been able to meet in person.
What are your plans and aspirations for the future?
As I was mentioning earlier, I find Digital Preservation equally challenging and exciting and I’m really looking forward to the next few years working in this field. I want to not only develop more professionally, but also to advance the Digital Preservation Program of the National Library. Furthermore, I am trying to raise awareness of the importance of Digital Preservation, because it is usually only in people’s minds and sometimes in the newspaper headlines, if a catastrophe happens and an institution lost all or a big part of its material, at which point it is too late to do anything about it.
What do you like to do outside of work? What are your passions and hobbies?
I really love travelling and exploring new countries, which, of course, hasn’t been possible since the pandemic hit us. I also enjoy hiking very much, something my husband and I did quite a bit the past few years and in which we also “co-opted” our baby boy last year. In terms of more solitary endeavors, I love trail running and reading.
What advice would you give to other young girls and women who plan to pursue a STEM career?
My first piece of advice would actually be first for girls and women not working or planning to work in STEM fields. With technology becoming such a big part of every aspect of our lives and digital innovation happening everywhere, from archeology all the way through to zoology, I think it would be useful for everyone to have basic knowledge of some IT concepts that can help them in their field.
As for girls and women planning to build a career in STEM, I would say to try to find their motivation elsewhere, if it’s not possible within their immediate environment. Look for inspiration in women who are working in the field, try to connect to other girls and women who have been or are passing through the same experiences and who can give back positive feedback, encouragement and motivation. If you feel your path guides you to a career in STEM, try to ignore the voices and the cultural lens that paints these professions as masculine and trust your capacity to succeed.