Interview with Heather Kozak

Published October 8 2021
Cheryl SIms, Marketing specialist
Cheryl SIms
Marketing specialist
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Starting a career can be difficult, but it can be even more challenging as a woman working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) fields. Women make up just under a third of the workforce in these industries and, as a result, struggle to navigate and succeed in STEM fields. Despite numerous studies that found greater diversity strengthens innovation and performance in business, these industries continue to struggle with women being underrepresented in the workforce.

We sat down with Heather Kozak, a junior Software Developer who was hired during the pandemic, to discuss some of the challenges, experiences, and advice that she has for young women entering STEM.

Heather Kozak

 

Job title: Jr. Software Developer

Years working in STEM fields: 2 years

Years working at Alithya: 1 year

Degrees/Education: B.Sc. in Computer Science

Fun Fact: I played flute in a marching band in university, and I got to play at the Juno Awards one year.

 

 

 

When did you first become interested in working in STEM? What influenced your interest in and decision to work in STEM?

In high school, I struggled a lot with not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was an artsy kid who loved technology. I loved music, drawing, film/photography editing, etc. However, I felt I wasn’t good enough at any one thing to really make it and earn enough money to live. At the time, it was getting really close to university deadlines and, at the last second, I asked my mom if switching my Grade 12 Chemistry to Grade 11 Computer Programming would be okay. Turns out my mom is a programmer herself, and she thought it was a great choice for me as someone who enjoyed art, technology, and math. So, I started Grade 11 Computer Programming, and everything just clicked. I don’t know why, but it was like a lightbulb moment of realization that this is what I wanted to do. With about a week and half to university deadlines, I frantically signed up to computer science programs, and I ended up going to Western and here we are now.

Why did you choose to work for Alithya? What are some of the ways Alithya has helped your career in STEM?

I was hired at Alithya through the referral program. I had heard good things about Alithya and thought ‘let’s give the interview process a shot and see if this can work’. At first, I wasn’t sure if Alithya was going to be right for me. It was a pretty different style of work, as I have a very software heavy background, but it was in the interview process that I started to get excited about the opportunities that I could potentially work on. Since starting at Alithya, it has been amazing. The project I was placed on was quite large, and my hard work was quickly recognized. I was very quickly trusted with new technologies and focus areas, with support from some amazing team members. From my perspective, I can see Alithya being somewhere I can grow my skills quickly, both technically and into potentially a leadership role in the future.

What advice would you give to women who are starting their careers in STEM?

The biggest up and downside to being a female in STEM is that you stand out. There were quite a few times throughout university where I hadn’t realized I was so noticed until people came up to talk to me, both fellow students and professors, and I was shocked that they knew who I was. The real advice I can give to any female entering STEM is to take that opportunity to stand out and turn it into something great. I tried to be active and friendly in a few communities throughout university, and I didn’t realize until the end how helpful that would be on my resume when amazing opportunities were sent my way.

What are some unique challenges as a female leader in the STEM industry?  Are there any special skills or perspectives that you rely on to navigate through challenges that arise?

My biggest piece of advice when it comes to skills is to take time to research and then just be confident in your answer. It’s better to show your work and have an opinion on the matter than to just go in and say I don’t know. At the same time, however, you are never expected to know everything, and when you don’t know something, show that you are willing to learn. In all circumstances, confidence is key.

At Alithya, diversity and inclusion are engrained in the company’s corporate culture, and numerous initiatives have been implemented in recent years to address a wide range of much-needed discussions and actions. One such initiative has been ensuring that we are actively supporting and engaging with women and diversity activities outside of our company. One such activity is the upcoming Women for STEM Summit held by the Ontario Tech University, as well as the Women in Nuclear Annual Global Conference that Alithya will be attending.

This is the first installment of a series where we sit down with Alithya coworkers to discuss some of the challenges, experiences, and advice for young women who are interested in entering STEM. To read more, you will find Brandy and Dipti’s interviews posted soon.