“As long as women in tech is not a topic, that will be a good sign” – The interview with Žany, Senior UX Researcher
Žaneta Kučarová (Žany) has been at Kiwi.com for more than 3 years already and is a UX Researcher. She recently attended the Config conference in San Francisco as a speaker and talked about “how to make the research insights more actionable with Figma”. Žany is passionate about yoga and also loves taking pictures and promoting them on Instagram. She studied Computer Science and before Kiwi.com worked on research projects in different industries – from big data visualizations to apps for arborists. Žany also lived in China, Norway, and Hungary.
“I’m very curious and I really like challenges. I have many interests and I try to do things the best I can. Open and honest communication along with transparency is something I really value in people,” said Žany. Read on to meet a self-reliant, daring, and inspiring woman, hear more about her experience as a speaker at the Config conference, and learn about her views on women in technology.
You recently went to the Config conference in San Francisco in the US and gave a speech about how to make your research insights more actionable with Figma. Could you tell us more about the idea behind going there?
Actually, in the beginning, I didn’t even think that I could go to a conference like this as a speaker. Config is huge, there are around 100,000 people registered to watch it and it lasts for 24 hours. But, one day, our colleague posted about an open call for speakers on Slack and I was like “hmmm that’s Figma, and we have really cool reporting in Figma!” I know that Figma is mostly a tool for designers and I’m a researcher but I really like to break stereotypes and make the impossible possible! So I told myself that I will just apply with our reporting and see what happens. And yeah. It worked out!
How did it feel when you got accepted?
That was really funny. Firstly, the application was quite long and detailed but I took my time to fill it in, but they reached out after more than a month, so I already thought I’m not getting in. And once they sent me the congratulations email I didn’t believe it. Do you know what was the worst part? That I couldn’t tell anyone for three weeks until the schedule went out. It was the longest three weeks of my entire life!
You applied, got accepted…and then what did the rest of the journey look like?
Every week before the conference we’d be getting some instructions via email. We’d show the concept of the talk, slides and so on and this really helped tremendously because I got some validation from their side and they would be bringing your talk to a much higher level. My colleagues supported me a lot, they would listen to my dry runs, work with me on it, help with design, and so on. Everyone was super happy for me. I really take this as a team accomplishment.
And the conference itself was perfect! They thought about every single detail and thanks to this conference I met a lot of Figma people, everybody was chill, super professional but also humble. I just love the culture of Figma. We also got professional make-up artists and hair stylers! Only on the day of the conference when I knew that many people were watching it live, I got a bit nervous, but I told myself “Hey, don’t stress, let’s go there and have fun!”
After it passed I was just super happy that so many people found it helpful. My colleagues were sending me a bunch of supportive messages since the morning of the conference, and they gathered to watch it on a big TV in the office and cheered for me on live chat during my speech as well!
How has this experience changed you?
My answer could be super cliche, but I think it’s just proved to me again that everything is possible. Now when I need to prepare some reports, it feels so easy in comparison to the slides I was preparing for a few months. Also, daily things at work don’t stress me anymore because I know I achieved something big at this conference and it also made me realize how great team spirit we have and how supportive my colleagues are. Meeting all these successful, clever, and cool people felt incredibly good. It also widen my horizons and I could see in what kinds of businesses UX can sit, from fashion to technology. It was such an eye-opening experience seeing how UX is getting more and more visibility in organisations.
And now if we go a few steps back, can I ask how you ended up in the technology sector?
When I was a child, our father bought us a computer and this is how it all started probably. At the age of 13, I was even a blogger for one cosmetic brand, I learned how to work in Photoshop and similar things. When I decided to study Computer Science many people assumed it wasn’t for me because it’s difficult, they said I won’t manage it. So, well, I ignored it and proved them all wrong. I love doing the job I do because here you can learn a lot about people, and I feel this is very important.
Many women feel they are not taken seriously when working in technology because of their gender. Have you encountered such a situation and how do you deal with it generally?
I would say that Central Europe is still very specific when you compare it to the rest of Europe. I was facing situations where I wasn’t taken seriously at the university; people would be telling me I can’t do programming because it’s not for women. Only then I learned to choose to work with people who were really respecting me as a professional and not looking at me differently just because of my gender. I also try not to have this bias in my mind, so then I don’t take these things personally and don’t feel the need to prove myself just because I’m a woman.
And how I am handling it? Well. I continue being a woman. I think women often try to fight bias by trying to be like men, acting from this masculine energy, focused on performance and tasks. I think we have so many strengths and we should use them, for example, empathy. If we can use it, we can definitely make advantages out of it.
Now that you mentioned empathy, what other skills would you name as sort of advantages of women in technology?
For example, emotional intelligence. I believe emotional intelligence is super important. I’m not saying it’s connected to the gender nor that there are men who are not emotionally intelligent but if women are, we can make a lot out of it. Also, that influences communication as well. You need to see, for example, the learning style of your stakeholders or their way of communication. I feel I’m quite emotional, and I can use those emotions to actually “sell” what I mean.
Did you ever feel that you need to over-perform to prove your position?
Hm…It can be subconscious. I had these situations earlier but it feels that I don’t encounter it anymore. When I feel a bit intimidated, I always put on my super confident face. Self-confidence is the key here and if you’re still building it up, you have to take the “fake it till you make it” approach. For example, I’m really into fashion, so in some important presentations or meetings, sometimes I would wear my favorite shoes or clothes and it would also make me feel more confident. I also try to ensure professionalism in many aspects, for example, how do I look like a professional, what kind of zoom background do I use?
There is something very insightful I heard from my ex-manager from the Marketing agency I worked for. He said, how do you make yourself a professional? It’s really easy. You just call yourself that.
In the end, it all comes to self-confidence.
In your opinion, is there a shortage of women working in technology?
Actually, sometimes I feel like I’m living in a bubble because many women around me are in technology. I think it’s changing but at the same time, I also think I don’t have a good overview. I think Kiwi.com is very supportive of women working in tech. Also, during the Config conference, there were lots of women as well. It’s a never-ending circle, you can be supportive but if there are not enough women as experts in certain roles then you can’t even hire them.
What would you like to see happening in the future when it comes to women in technology?
I would really like to see that we don’t have to talk about women in tech. I think as long as this topic won’t be relevant anymore, that will be a good sign. One way to get to this point is by talking about it but there is also another way, to have an impact locally, on people around you. If you see somebody who is aspiring to these topics, support them.
I try to do it through my Instagram also. To someone making a decision now if to go in that direction, I would say, just do it. It can look scary but everything that is worth it looks scary. It’s just another field, it’s not rocket science. And yes, of course, women can do it! The first developer was a lady, that definitely means something.