Melanie Freilinger is a talented and accomplished software engineer who possesses a deep passion for game development. Melanie's expertise extends beyond the gaming industry into the realm of Fintech. She embarked on a successful career as an Android Engineer, gaining valuable experience across various startups. Melanie's innovative mindset and unique perspective make her an invaluable member of the Erste Digital team at George Labs, and we are thrilled to feature her in our Women in Tech series.
Hi Meli, great to have you. What sparked your interest in software engineering?
As a girl, I was captivated by my Nintendo Game Boy, a gift from my grandpa on my 6th birthday. During my teenage years, I made a transition to PC gaming, which was considered highly unusual for a girl at that time. I also had a deep appreciation for animated movies. So, when I accompanied my mother to FH Hagenberg's open-door day, I was filled with excitement as I envisioned myself creating video games or working as a 3D artist. I applied soon after and embarked on my journey with a major in "mobile computing." Honestly, immersing myself in programming was quite challenging initially, as I had no prior experience. However, with the support of my colleagues, professors, and extensive effort, including utilizing resources like YouTube, I managed to fare well in the end. It was through this experience that I discovered my passion for programming, or rather, "problem-solving."
Why do you love your job? What drives & motivates you?
The main driving force is the aforementioned love for problem-solving. It is incredibly satisfying to continually encounter interesting problems to solve, varying in size from small to large. The challenge lies in finding ways to break them down into smaller, achievable chunks. Witnessing the plan come to fruition brings a great sense of fulfillment. It can be a profession that provides instant gratification. Being a person with diverse interests, I constantly strive to acquire new knowledge. I wasn't naturally a good student in school; I had to work diligently and dedicate countless hours to learning. This experience taught me valuable lessons about the process of learning itself. Interestingly, this transformed something I initially considered a weakness into one of my greatest strengths!
What do you think needs to be done, to encourage women to learn programming languages and coding? Does the educational system need to be altered in any way? Do you have any other ideas on this?
So even though I loved games and had a thing for computers early on, I never had any idea that I could work on a game myself (I can gladly report that I worked on one over the course of my career by now 😉). A job in tech was just not in my sight at all. The first real touching point I had was on that open-door day, which my mum encouraged me to go to.
My parents didn't push me into any specific career, which I am grateful for. On the other hand, the school didn't really show me any IT options. Thinking back today, I am pretty sure they had no idea either about tech careers. But times are changing, and I still do not see many women in tech, so maybe not much has changed in schools. In my opinion, skills like programming should be taught early in schools. Not only is it an essential skill to have in our modern world, but it also opens up a pathway into a major job market.
How does it feel being one of the few female engineers in a room full of men?
It varies. Starting my first job as an intern, my first week already contained one of my colleagues saying, "Oh great that we have a woman here now, you can cook lunch for us every day!" My response was simply that I would do it if he pays me properly for doing that job. Today, I would probably react quite differently to such a comment. Over the years, I have had different occasions where I heard comments related to my gender, often highlighting how special it is to be a woman in tech. It often felt very strange to me because I didn't ask for this unicorn status among my colleagues. I just didn't want to receive any special treatment in any way.
Recently, I started thinking differently about it, though. It has become a sort of superpower because it enables me to help, support, and encourage other women in their tech careers. In all fairness, I have to say that I also had many great male colleagues who supported me a lot, and my gender was never even mentioned.
What advice would you give to women who would like to start a career in tech?
The same I would give my younger self: Embrace the fact that you don't know everything. It's fine.Nobody really does. You just need to know how to fill the knowledge gaps, and on the flip side, don't just focus on what you don't know but be confident about the skill set you already have. I saw this in myself and other women, that we tend to think that we must know everything in order to be valuable enough for a company or a certain position. Try to also surround yourself with supportive people who are always open to having your back.
Thank you for your time and for taking part in our little interview series, Meli!