women in tech leadership

When Karla Schönicke met a female CTO for the first time, it struck her that even though she had been advocating for diversity in tech and women in tech leadership for some time, the picture in her head connected to the term ‘CTO’ remained a white male. And when she went onto LinkedIn to find other women CTOs, that’s what she saw in the search results. Convinced that there had to be more than one woman CTO in Germany, she ploughed through the long list of profiles. As a result, in November 2019, eight female CTOs sat around a table in a pre-pandemic restaurant in Berlin, and the Women CTO Dinner was born.

Why focus on women in tech leadership?

Asked about why she started the Women CTO Dinner, Karla’s answer is simple, ‘In general, it gets quite lonely at the top but especially for women in tech. Being in a leadership position is probably one of the loneliest places.’ 

Consequently, her goal for the community is to connect women in tech leadership all over Europe for more belongingness and greater visibility. Furthermore, seeing each of the women CTOs leading tech organisations ranging from start-ups to family businesses and big corporates is also a huge inspiration for all the aspiring CTOs (namely Directors & VPs of Engineering) who are part of the community, which has now grown to over ninety women across Europe. 

International Women’s Day 2022

For International Women’s Day 2022, we would like to present some of the inspiring European Women CTOs and their individual journeys into their roles:

1. Catalina Turlea

Catalina is what most would consider a classic example of a start-up CTO. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in Romania and a Master’s degree in Mobile Computing in Austria. Catalina started as an iOS Developer and became a Lead for Mobile Development over the years. 

Then two years ago, she decided to cofound nilo.health, a company determined to change the perception of mental health. Her role started as very hands-on operational, taking care of everything from infrastructure to DevOps, frontend, backend, and of course, finding the right team members. Currently, she leads a team of seven, comprised of 70% female developers. She’s also a mentor in the ReDI School of Digital Integration Munich, a non-profit coding school.

2. Lucia Payo Molina

After finishing her degree in Telecommunication Engineering in Madrid, Lucia moved to Germany and went on to work as an Android Developer first at Futurice and then N26. This is also where she met the co-founder of her current company, Exakt Health, where she’s serving as CTO. Together they are now building a medically certified app to treat sports injuries and make physiotherapy accessible to everyone.

3. Anne Balthasar

Anne spent the initial eight years of her professional career in the UK, first doing her PhD in Mathematics then working as a Quant on the trading floor at Barclays. After another four years in the same role but back in Germany, she joined talpasolutions (a company that offers data insights for the mining industry) as their Chief Data Scientist and eventually became their CTO. 

As a passionate believer in the role of technology in helping others, Anne advises early-stage start-ups for Zinc, a London based VC on a mission to tackle the developed world’s most challenging social issues. 

4. Naja von Schmude

Naja did her diploma in Computer Science with a focus on Computer Vision and Robotics. After that, she went on to get a PhD in Computer Vision Image Processing while working in parallel as a Research Engineer at Bosch. During this time, she also met the two co-founders of her current start-up. 

After graduation, she moved into a field that heavily uses image processing: autonomous driving. First, she led the localisation activities for the autonomous driving team of a TomTom company and, in January 2019, became the CTO of Peregrine.ai. This start-up focuses on building a safer and more sustainable mobility ecosystem for all using video analytics.

5. Elena Kokkinara

Elena’s educational path resembles a road trip through Europe. She did her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in Greece, her Master’s in Computer Graphics, Vision and Imaging in the UK, and she moved to Spain for her PhD in Virtual Reality.

After some time as a postdoctoral researcher developing game-like applications for experiments, she joined Inflight VR as their CTO in 2016. As well as leading and scaling the tech and product department and managing all aspects of the tech platform, she’s also driving R&D projects with partner companies and clients. In addition, Elena is the mum of a toddler and a passionate speaker at local and international conferences.

6. Jane Cummings

Jane did both degrees in the US; her Bachelor’s in Mathematics and Physics in Grinnell College in Iowa and her PhD in Physics at Yale. Her PhD research centred around the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, where she contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. 

Jane stayed on as a postdoctoral researcher before leaving academia to join Cainthus in Ireland, a computer vision company developing products that enable dairy farmers to be more sustainable, efficient, and transparent with intelligent monitoring. There she grew from Data Scientist to Head of Product Science, on to VP of Computer Vision and Data Science and in 2020 got appointed to the CTO role.

7. Sara Stephens

While doing her Bachelor’s degree in Computing, Sara already worked as a Software Developer and a Software Consultant in several companies. Shortly after her graduation, she became the Team Lead Risk Core IT at CreditSuisse in the UK and then moved to the US, taking on the Product Owner role. 

During this time, Sara was also the co-founder of a small event business that mix unique cocktails for any occasion. Then in 2018, she co-founded Rest Less, a digital community for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond to get the most from life.

8. Steinunn Arnardottir

With a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering in her pocket, Steinunn moved from Iceland to the US to complete two Master’s at Stanford, one in Music, Science and Technology and one in Electrical Engineering. She worked for Native Instruments and Universal Audio during her studies, joining the former after her graduation as a DSP (digital signal processing) developer in Germany. 

Over the next ten years, she grew to Senior Developer, Head of Software Development, Director Engineering and finally Senior Director Engineering before becoming the co-founder and CTO of Lottie in April 2021. Their mission is to change the way young kids experience technology and bring peace of mind to parents.

All in all, as demonstrated by these inspirational women in tech leadership, there are many different career paths to becoming a CTO.  Although the role’s responsibilities can vastly differ between industries, company size and age, there are many opportunities and routes to becoming a female CTO. However, the challenges of setting up the tech stack, scaling an organisation, recruiting and retaining talent and building a successful business remain the same. And the Women CTO Dinner community offers a safe space to reduce the loneliness in (remote) leadership and connect around tech and non-tech issues. 

If you’re a woman in tech leadership in Europe or have a friend who is, please join the next virtual Women CTO Dinner on March 15th at 6 pm GMT / 7 pm CET. Contact Karla Schönicke on LinkedIn to reserve your spot.

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