Interview: Khaterine Castellano about women in tech

Khaterine Castellano is the Head of Engineering at Urban Sports Club. She has expertise in Swift and enjoys playing with Raspberry Pi’s and ARKit. When she is not coding, you can find her working towards the inclusion of more women in technology.

We talked to her about being a woman in tech and her experiences of overcoming burnout.

You are Head of Engineering at Urban Sports Club and you have been a developer for more than 10 years – did you ever have the feeling that you are facing specific challenges as a woman in tech?

When I started my career, I had some situations where colleagues would not take my contributions seriously because of my gender such as dismissing my ideas because they felt I didn’t know, or constantly interrupting and not allowing me to present my ideas or being mistaken for someone who was not “technical”. A lot of times, this led to a lot of self-doubt and feeling like an imposter.

To prevent someone else to feel like I did, I decided I wanted to make it different for the women who were deciding to go into tech, so I became part of women-led supportive organizations such as Berlin Geekettes or Women Who Code, who provided a safe space for people to be able to find their community, learn from their peers and showcase their technical knowledge. 

Do you think the workplace, in general, has its specific challenges for women?

I believe It depends on the workplace. In the cases where it is not diverse and inclusive, you will encounter that underrepresented groups will work sometimes even double to be able to be recognized for half for their work, deal with microaggressions or overall have bigger chances to burnout and not be able to have the understanding and support from their company. 

There are a lot of studies that suggest that women suffer from burnout more often than men. In your opinion, what could be the reason for that?

I think burnout is something that affects both sexes equally but it tends to be more discussed on women than men. The reason could be because of the societal expectations that are put on women such as putting others before themselves, taking the invisible job that no one else is taking and also always having a caring and open personality or being judged for the lack of those.

You experienced burnout yourself – what do you think were the main factors for it? How did you find your way out of your burnout to where you are now?

The main factor for it was the extremely high expectations I have for myself. When I was growing in my career, I wanted to overachieve all my goals and say yes to everything so I could prove that I deserved the promotion or praise. This was a vicious cycle that never allowed me to rest or to not feel like I was letting people down if I said that I couldn’t support them.

It got to a point where I was feeling numb, crying before going to work, and dreading the end of the weekend. Given that I have been in therapy for several years, I brought this up with my doctor and my therapist and we worked together on a plan on how to help me overcome burnout. All of this couldn’t have been achieved if I didn’t have peers and friends who supported me during that time to prioritize my mental health. 

What were your biggest learnings? Do you feel more resilient for future challenges having mastered this difficult time?

Even though I feel more resilient for future changes, I am aware that there can always be new scenarios that I have never thought could lead to burnout. The key for me to get past it is to get to know my boundaries and to detect when I am stepping over them. 

I had a colleague who used to run a weekly 1-hour retrospective with herself to check how her week went. This technique does help you to put in perspective how much you have accomplished and what are the things you can modify for the week after. 

What is the best advice ever given to you by another woman?

I would have to say “don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm”. In life, as in airplanes, you should be putting your oxygen mask first before helping others. 

Prioritize your time, your mental health, your needs, and then come up with a plan on how you can support others. 

What advice would you give women in the workplace?

I would tell them to find a community of peers or organizations that support people that might be going through the same issues. Sometimes when we are facing challenges, we feel like we are the only ones going through them, which can be very lonely and demotivating. But if you have the opportunity to count on friends, colleagues, and peers who are aiming for the same goals as you are, approach them and get their/give back support. 

I would also say to know your boundaries and don’t hesitate to ask for help. The fastest path to burnout is to continue pushing through the difficulties and not asking for help because you don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. Don’t fall into that trap! Your mental and physical health is extremely important and should be prioritized.

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