For most organizations, the measure of successful diversity and inclusion initiatives has become a matter of numbers. However, creating equal opportunities for female leaders is more than a numbers game. Diversity and inclusion need to be embraced as important pillars in the people strategy, not simply enforced. This multi-part series shines a light on how women who work in leadership positions at SAP P&I Enterprise Cloud Services have risen to the top in their field. Each portrait shares insights, lessons learned, and tips for the next generation of female leaders in cloud computing.
In the second part of this series, Anguelina Vatcheva, Senior Developer at Application Innovation Services (AIS) Product Lifecycle Management, shares how women can turn obstacles into opportunities during their career.
Anguelina’s curiosity about computer sciences started in her early childhood, mostly through her parents’ work. Born the daughter of mechanical engineers in Bulgaria, she spent her first four years with her family in Cuba before moving back to Europe. Wherever they lived, the family had technical papers and BASIC programming manuals in every room of their home. Anguelina’s mother told her stories about the mainframe at her workplace and how they used programming. Anguelina was intrigued. She spent hours reading about “science fiction” topics such as connected homes and connected cars. She tinkered with electronic scraps. That was in the early 80s. At that time, these technologies were dreams and visions – today they are becoming part of our reality.
Intrigued by the possibilities and encouraged by her parents, Anguelina decided to study computer sciences at the Technical University Darmstadt in Germany. At that time, she was one of the only women in the classroom, but she was far too curious about technology to consider gender as a possible disadvantage for her career. At the university, she discovered robotics.
Anguelina joined the university’s humanoid RoboCup team, a team of autonomous, soccer-playing humanoid robots called the Darmstadt Dribblers, and later, the Rescue Robot Team Hector, which develops heterogeneous search and rescue robots. She competed in numerous international RoboCup competitions. The ultimate highlight was when her team, the Darmstadt Dribblers, won the Robot Soccer World Cup in 2009. “When we won the Robot Soccer World Cup, I looked around the room. I realized for the first time how amazing it was to be part of this success as a woman. There were so few of us at that time in the computer sciences and robotics fields. It gave more reason to continue that path!” Anguelina said.
She encourages other women to follow their dreams and venture into more technical and science careers: “It only takes one person to break a pattern, and you can be that person. If you have a passion [for] tinkering, technology, or science, nothing should hold you back to pursue that career. That also applies to other career choices.”
Spurred by the Robot Soccer World Cup win, Anguelina continued her computer sciences studies, writing her final thesis on robotics. Graduating university was just the beginning of her computer science career, and over the years, she encouraged others to follow her path. Inspiring the next generation to enter the technology field is her passion.
“I was fortunate to have a role model with my parents. Not every student is that lucky. Role models are important. It’s easier to see what is possible when given examples and have access to mentors. That is why it is important to start giving back and offering mentorship to the next generation,” Anguelina said.
Every year Anguelina serves as a jury member at the SAP First Lego League Regional Competition, a contest that encourages children aged 9-16 to pursue careers in science and technology. She is actively involved in multiple corporate social responsibility initiatives at SAP. Anguelina is also an AQUA-certified decentral vocational trainer—offering and mentoring internships for vocational training students, thus helping to prepare young talent for future success.
One of her career highlights was participating as a developer in a month-long virtual hackathon for the Manchester City Football Group and Boots & Beats, an organization that engages 14- to 25-year-olds in open access football and music provision. The project’s goal was to build a prototype for a mobile app that eases the work of the Young Leaders from the Greater Manchester Youth Network. The Young Leaders support young people, mostly from Moss Side, an economically deprived and crime-ridden area in Manchester, into employment, education, and training through football and music.
“Mentoring and giving back is a two-way street. The Manchester hackathon was an excellent opportunity to help young people with technology,” she noted. “At the same time, I learned a lot from them too. As a technologist, I tend to look at a project from a pragmatic standpoint, such as working in a virtual, and highly diverse environment to apply new technologies within a short timeline. As a business leader, I also need to look at the impact and how we can achieve this impact for the young people together, in collaboration as a team.”
The project also showed Anguelina the power of purpose. “It was the most gratifying experience to inspire young people to see the world from a different perspective, to encourage them to overcome obstacles and to show them that they can be whatever they want to be. Technologists, or soccer stars. Anything is possible!”
Research shows that spending time helping others can make you feel like you have more time. Anguelina agrees. While the hackathon took place after working hours and on weekends, knowing that the work would make a positive impact on children’s’ lives was gratifying and an intrinsic motivation to make the hackathon a success. In her opinion, the pay-it-forward effect has a profound positive impact on the work environment. “Giving is contagious and givers build larger and more supportive social networks. Social responsibility is more than just donating money, it is about contributing to the welfare of society and is something we take to heart,” stated Anguelina.
When asked about the secret of her success, Anguelina points to the power of building relationships by being generous to others. She follows the motto of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman: “The more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.”
Before joining SAP in 2012—the same year Reid published his book The Start-up of You—Anguelina had been working for different companies, including Volkswagen and T-Systems. Her previous jobs gave her the opportunity to gather industry experience and build genuine networks.
“I learned that a career is scrambling at a jungle gym, not a ladder. Having the ability to build strong relationships helps at every step of your career. Obstacles are just challenges and you need to stay focused on your goals. But still, you should enjoy the journey, stay curious about innovations, and give back,” Anguelina said.
With the fast advancement of digital technologies, social skills and empathy will become an increasingly valued skill in the future. Empathy will play an especially crucial role in future success, as it improves teamwork and is the key to any successful collaboration and product development. “Seek and create opportunities to help others and make the world a better place. It’s not always easy. In fact, it can be very demanding, but it pays off in the long run for everyone. And don’t be afraid being a woman. Take your chance now,“ recommended Anguelina.
Anguelina’s mother inspired her to pursue a career in computer sciences. Anguelina now is a role model for the next generation to follow her path. We need more role models at home, at school, and in the workplace to create more opportunities for women. As Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Thanks to women like Anguelina (and her mother), now you can.
For more on women in leadership, see Women In Tech: Taking On The Gender Divide On Their Terms.