I am a proud mom of two kids, one girl aged 6 and one little boy aged 2.
I started my career as a Software Engineer, working for three years before joining Criteo in 2010. Today, I am an Engineering Program Manager Lead in R&D, meaning I have to develop a team of talented Engineering Program Managers, owning programs across R&D teams. Those are critical as they are directly linked to the company’s strategy. They are also very technical because our systems are complex.
Still, I have lacked a lot of self-confidence in my life. This is my story and my personal thoughts that led me to take more assurance in this tech environment.
WHERE DOES THIS LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE COME FROM?
First of all, I had to take a step back, observe myself, and identify what could have caused this lack of self-confidence.
LITTLE CHINESE, PERFECTIONIST AND FEARFUL GIRL
I was born in France, my parents having immigrated from Cambodia, escaping the war. They did their best to survive and get the best chances for my siblings and I to do so as well as possible in life. We were raised to stay discrete, always do our best. It was better to avoid issues or mistakes but not expecting any recognition, so that we keep trying to do better. Also, in the chinese culture, boys always have priority over girls who are more exposed to risks due to natural physical strengths. Hence, I was overprotected from all possible dangers. My education made me perfectionist and pragmatic. But it also made me fearful. This may led me to Computer Sciences with security of jobs and delivering value.
A HIGH BAR TO PROVE A WOMAN CAN DO IT TOO
Ever since the first years I have been working, I have been asked what it was like to be a woman working in a men’s world. My answer at that time was “well, no difference at all. I knew I would be in a minority since the first day I studied computer sciences. The guys I am working with, are respectful, so I don’t have any particular issue”… and I told myself I could prove that women can add at least as much value as men. It turns out that I was actually putting some pressure on me to prove something that nobody asked for.
This has been a real psychological challenge that I have faced and indeed, one which I have contributed to myself. Being endlessly and horribly perfectionist, even if others were satisfied about my performance, my mind was tortured and that was not necessary.
LEGITIMACY IN A VERY TECH COMPANY
Criteo is a tech-driven company using state of the art Machine Learning technologies at huge scale: our R&D teams are at the core of our business and our success. Everyone who arrives in Criteo, especially in R&D, has to face this unusual complexity and whatever your previous experience, it’s a challenge. For me, being a woman made it an even bigger challenge.
I have felt this a long time. And the worst I felt, the most obvious I made it to my colleagues who, for some of them, didn’t hesitate to take advantage of. Then it was a vicious circle which dug a lack of assurance.
My education, my gender, and my environment, all three contributed to an ever increasing feeling of self-imposed pressure.
HOW CAN I GET MORE ASSURANCE?
PERFECTION IS NOT HELPING, IMPERFECTION IS
While I was pregnant of my second kid, I felt the legitimacy challenge was so hard that I decided to go back to a developer position. I went to my boss, explained to him that I needed a less stressful role where I would feel more comfortable in building back up my self-confidence. He listened but instead of acceding to my request, he offered me a position in his team with management responsibilities. I must say I thought he didn’t understand anything at all until he argued factually one by one why I was legitimate and should take the position. I notably demonstrated I am organized, caring about people and team spirit as well as understanding constraints on the scope he offered me to be lead. From that moment, I was telling myself maybe I was too harsh to myself, focusing too much on each single thing I thought I wasn’t doing right. But if several people were telling me I was doing just fine, maybe I should listen more to them and don’t deny my qualities. Going from a demeaning definition of myself to a kinder one is finally something that helped me a lot. It’s not necessarily more positive but more realistic, more factual, rather than my own feeling. If I diminish my own value, then it means I don’t believe in me so why would others believe in me?
The day I understood what my strengths were, and accepted my weaknesses without focusing entirely on them, not only I wasn’t suffering from them anymore, but also I stopped shooting in my own feet in front of people. And above all, stop being perfectionist helped me releasing this pressure.
COMFORT ZONE IS KILLING SELF-CONFIDENCE
Nevertheless, my self-confidence can be fragile. I am human. Sometimes, uncertainty and the fear of failing are taking over.
Technologies took a very important place nowadays and has a great impact in our business. For instance, our mobile devices usage is evolving fast and we need to constantly adapt. In Criteo, we are encouraged to take initiatives and be empowered. This led me to take risks and go beyond my comfort zone. Today, my philosophy changed: when we are not sure, we better try. Failures are just a way to learn and go further. And success is the immediate reward to reinforce self-confidence and go further too.
Once I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and that I was sometimes too harsh to myself, I was more likely to act rather than complain when I face any frustrations. The values we have, are now making sense to me, and I am more likely to face insecure situations to go further, which is something I wasn’t naturally used to.
It’s finally a win-win deal.
And what is the story with me being a mom then?
MY FAMILY IS MY PRIORITY AND IT ACTUALLY HELPS ME AT WORK
DEFINING PRIORITIES HELPS ME BE MORE SERENE
I am a woman, I am a wife, I am a mother, I am working on several topics. Context switching is at the core of my daily life and I have so many things on my To Do List that I now know that I cannot do everything. Sometimes, work was frustrating and made it even harder.
I needed to be clear on my priorities, be stronger in respecting them and saying ‘No’. That way, I know the most important things will be done and I can’t do much about the rest as long as I am doing my best. No regrets.
FOCUSED AT HOME, FOCUSED AT WORK
When I became mom for the first time, I was very hesitating. I loved taking care of my baby, but this was so exhausting at the same time. At the beginning, nothing was really funny to me, let’s be honest. I was looking forward to going back to work. Once I returned to work, my child was missing me so much. I wondered if I spent enough time with my baby.
I forced myself to leave the office between 6pm and 6.30pm to have a chance to pick up my kid before my husband. It doesn’t work well on rushing times. When I had my second kid, I took the decision to work 80% of the time. It wasn’t an easy decision because not only it is 20% less of income but also it is making my work and career impossible, at least that was what I thought. Then I won’t lie, I had to learn managing my topics in 4 days instead of 5. Yes, it required me to rearrange my agenda, accept I won’t attend some of the meetings or catching up afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging or discouraging this. I think there will always be pros and cons in working part-time.
But the most important learning is to really live the precious time with kids: they need those moments as much as I need them. It takes me so much energy to take care of them but my mind is not busy the same way. Obviously, it’s not easy to handle the exhaustion then. But when I am back to work, I have no doubt I spent a quality time I wanted with my kids, thus I am really focused on my work.
BE A ROLE MODEL TO INSPIRE MY KIDS
When I saw the Ted Talk from Reshma Saujani (Girls who code) called “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”, it completely resonated in me: I was telling myself “oh no, I am doing this with my baby girl while I let my boy do more things”. Ok, maybe it’s because I am more experienced and relaxed with the second kid. Now, I want to raise them to same way, teach them failures are necessary to learn. It’s ok to have fears but we need to face them rather than being paralyzed by them. Just think before doing to avoid silly things.
I did have issues when working as a minority. One of them could be the lack of self-confidence and it could be due to many factors. My maternity finally gave me a new dimension in my career: new challenges but it also forced me to step back a bit. It’s not what I initially thought: being pregnant is not necessarily a big brake in a career. In my case, I think I went more mature.
Now, I know I have to be kinder to myself, be factual and weight qualities as much as weaknesses; be a brave and imperfect role model for my kids and keep going out of my comfort zone to feel motivated to go further. Finally, I am building my experience with both failures and successes, and I am much happier and more serene about that.
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Senior Staff Engineering Program Manager Lead
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