For Karoline Klever, life could have been very different.
Focused on studying medicine after high school, she was convinced that the path she wanted to take in life was one that lead to medical school, with ambitions to become a doctor. But after not getting into the university she initially wanted, a new path emerged.
Now a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft Development Center Norway (and one of Norway’s Top 50 women in technology), Karoline’s foray into the world of technology is an interesting one, and one worth sharing with today’s girls and young women – especially as technology becomes an exponentially more important part of our personal and professional lives.
The first steps
Still focused on medical school, Karoline spent a year studying various courses to earn more points so that she could enter her university of choice the following year, until one day, something else caught her attention.
Some of the people she studied with were also participating in a programming class, which piqued her interest. Intrigued, Karoline signed up herself, and was sold instantly, dropping all plans to go into medical school before starting a degree in computer science.
“Programming is a lot of fun,” she explains. “You know there is a solution, you just need to figure out the best one. It’s all about solving challenges, and it’s a lot more creative than you might think. It’s not just following a recipe and typing the code – you actually need to be quite creative in making it efficient and scale in the right way.”
Karoline’s description of how she fell in love with programming is a stark contrast to the perhaps, more stereotypical images of coders hunched over multiple screens in dim rooms, mindlessly hammering away at their keyboards, and is a perfect example of one of the problems that face girls and young women interested in STEM subjects today:
Microsoft’s STEM research study has shown that one of the reasons that young girls disengage with STEM subjects is confusion regarding the real-world applications that they have.
If you recall back to being stuck in a classroom while carrying our repetitive algebra equations, for example, you might very well have questioned when, in the real world, such skills would ever become useful.
This is an issue which Karoline herself is passionate about: “I disagree that a lot of kids don’t know that they are interested in science. There are a lot of young girls who like maths, for example, but they don’t see the possibilities, and what they can do with it.”
“Having a focus on applied maths and science – taking it away from something you do in the classroom and into the field to see the possibilities – I think that’s very important.”
Another factor in Microsoft’s study, showed that the lack of role models is another contributing factor for disengagement with STEM subjects.
If young children aren’t faced with positive STEM role models – such as encouragement from teachers or parents – then they understandably will have less desire to pursue those subjects at a higher level.
Karoline believes that role models are very important, and that “They serve a purpose by taking something more abstract such as maths or science, and making it something more concrete, that people can work towards more easily.”
With advances such as social media, Karoline also has a more positive attitude towards role models for today’s children, thanks to the emergence of female influencers on sites such as YouTube, which provide the opportunity to anyone to have a voice and a positive influence.
Overcoming challenges and embracing diversity
When Karoline was at university, she recalls being one of only two girls in an entire class of around 100 people – most of whom had started the course with programming knowledge and experience already.
Undeterred, Karoline met the challenge of her inexperience head-on, working harder and harder to ensure that she caught up:
“Getting up to speed was very challenging. I can still remember the first time one of the boys came to me to ask a question instead of going to the rest of the guys and asking them – and that was sort of the turning point for me – I understood that I had reached the same level.”
“I was never scared of asking questions and I think that’s what saved me. They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question but sometimes you feel like you’re asking stupid questions – and if I had been afraid of that I probably would never have reached that level.”
Karoline’s experience as a minority during her studies also taught her the importance of diversity – an attribute that has, for a long time, been recognised as a highly important, positive influence, in any workplace.
Diversity brings with it creativity, motivation and problem solving, thanks to a blend of different perspectives and experiences. In Karoline’s own words “If you as an organisation have an audience that is as diverse as the population, then you yourself need diversity if you want to meet the needs of the audience you’re serving.”
Whether young people today have an interest in maths and science or not, Karoline is of the mindset that people should do whatever inspires them – although she strongly everyone gives coding a try.
Beyond that, she also passionately explains how making a difference is vital: “You should believe that you can make a difference. Even if it’s not on a global perspective, you might make a difference to one person or to several people – that’s important.”
Karoline has embraced her own philosophy by volunteering her time and expertise as part of a team helping the Red Cross develop an application for preventing the spreading of epidemics. You could, in a way, almost poetically argue that through her passion for coding and puzzle solving, Karoline has contributed to the medical field after all.
As for her keys to success and what she’s learned at her time at Microsoft, Karoline says that “Being outside of your own comfort zone is very important –that’s when you see the real magic happen.”
A big fan of the aerospace industry – and someone who watches the incredible developments by companies such as Space X who are pushing the boundaries and advancing space technological development – Karoline’s future could very well see her contribute something that helps propel future generations to the stars. The fun is all in the journey, after all…