Abstract image of construction area

Women in Tech – Interview with Lei Zhu

min read

With their holistic approach, women are crucial for the future of software engineering. Let's amplify their visibility and motivate more female talents to pursue a career in this field. Be part of the change and make a difference!

Image of blog author
Christoph Havlicek

Lei Zhu is a tech expert with almost two decades of experience in the field. She was born in Shanghai, China, but relocated to Austria when she was ten years old. Her parents instilled in her a sense of independence and self-confidence, which allowed her to explore her interests without being limited by gender expectations or societal norms. When she moved to Vienna, however, she was taken aback by the gender gap she encountered in different aspects of her life. Nevertheless, she did not let it stop her from pursuing her aspirations. Lei Zhu's first experience with IT was at the age of 6 in a university IT lab where her aunt was a professor. She played a few games as a young girl and was immediately captivated by the world of technology. Later, in middle school, she was the first girl in her Gymnasium class to own her own computer, and she began programming simple games with q-basic. Today, she takes pride in having realized her dream of becoming an IT professional. She began as a C++ programmer during her undergraduate studies and went on to become a Quality Engineer. Following her Master's degree in Business Informatics, she began working as a project manager and eventually became a program manager for a dozen projects and products in the healthcare and telematics sectors.

Hi Lei, great to have you. Can you tell us why you love your job? What drives and motivates you?

I am passionate about my job because it offers me a new challenge every day. Each project presents unique obstacles that require me to not only understand the technical aspects but also to connect with the people involved. As a leader, my role is to empower my team and identify the strengths of each member to ensure that they can perform at their best. I also need to understand the mindset of my stakeholders to facilitate effective collaboration and ensure that all teams are aligned towards a common goal. Seeing each step of the project's success is incredibly rewarding for me, and it motivates me to continue working towards achieving both personal and project-related goals. Ultimately, my aim is always to get the job done in the best possible way, and this is what drives me every day.

What personal achievements are you most proud of?

It's difficult for me to single out a specific achievement that I am most proud of because I believe that every small step, every effort made, and every challenge overcome is worthy of pride. I see every obstacle as an opportunity to learn and grow, and I believe that it's important to recognize and celebrate each accomplishment along the way, no matter how small. Ultimately, my pride comes from the knowledge that I have given my best effort in everything I do, and that I continue to push myself to be better and achieve more.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage women to learn programming languages and coding? Does the education system need to be altered in any way? Do you have any other ideas on this?

I believe that to encourage more women to learn programming languages and coding, we must first challenge traditional gender expectations and free people's minds from limiting beliefs. Instead of limiting girls with beliefs such as "girls can't do this" or "girls should do that," we need to empower them to dream big and pursue their passions without any limitations or biases. This begins with educating parents and caregivers, as their beliefs and attitudes are often passed down to their children. Once we have set this foundation, we can focus on making sure that all students have equal access to resources and education that will enable them to learn programming languages and coding. Ultimately, we need to create a culture that celebrates diversity and encourages all individuals to pursue their interests and passions without any limitations or biases.

Lei Zhu, Project und Programm Manager at Research Industrial Systems Engineering GmbH
Lei Zhu, Project und Programm Manager at Research Industrial Systems Engineering GmbH

How does it feel being one of the few female engineers in a room full of men?

Throughout my academic and professional experiences, I have found myself frequently being the only woman in a room full of men. At times, I've questioned whether I was different from other women, but ultimately, I don't see myself as defined by my gender. Instead, I view myself as an equal to every other individual in the room, with my own unique strengths and weaknesses. While it's important to increase diversity and representation in engineering, I believe that we should strive for a future where a person's gender is not a defining factor in how they are perceived or treated in a professional setting.

What advice would you give to women who would like to start a career in tech?

Believe in yourself and your abilities. Don't let anyone make you feel inferior or incapable of succeeding in tech. Focus on your strengths and interests and find a field that aligns with them. Don't be afraid to take risks and try new things. Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage and uplift you. Most importantly, don't give up on your dreams and goals, even if you face challenges along the way.

Thank you for your time and taking part in our little interview series, Lei!

You are also welcome to read our next interview in the Women in Tech series with Rafaela Artner