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  • Writer's pictureLaura Caicedo

Meili - Python enthusiast, mother, and advocate for inclusive finance in Africa.

Meet Meili, an inspiring women who has channeled her two great passions - Python programming and making a difference in Africa's financial ecosystem - into a fulfilling career and personal endeavors. After deciding to relocate to a new country, Meili took the initiative to establish PyLadies in Berlin, fostering a community for women interested in learning and growing their skills in Python development. Despite her demanding job and role as a mother, Meili continues to balance both aspects of her life while remaining committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in technology. As you read on, you will undoubtedly notice Meili's dedication to these causes and how they shape her daily experiences.


Meili wearing a red jacket and looking at the camara


 

Q1) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?

I grew up in Athens, Greece. I took a bachelor degree and then a masters in applied informatics, both at the University of Athens. While doing my masters, I worked as a research associate in a database research lab.

After 3 years of academia, I decided to move to the industry. I moved to Berlin, Germany to work in web applications in Python.

I started PyLadies Berlin and co-organized it for 6 years.

Since 2022 and after having 2 kids and changing a few companies, I am working as a part time full stack engineer in Wave mobile money remotely.


Wave’s mission is to provide fair and accessible financial services to African countries. It is the most meaningful and challenging role I have ever had.

Q2) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?


As a child, I liked math and STEM subjects a lot. However, I had no interaction with technology. My family didn’t even own a car. The most techy thing I did was a school visit to the stock market, which fascinated me. At that time, I found the stock market and computers almost magical.

In my last year of school, I got a very techie boyfriend who showed me hello world. I realized it was not far from math and logic. I was excited to try this programming more and learn how computers worked. I applied in informatics and got my first computer soon after. I found out that software was like solving riddles which I really enjoyed. 


Apart from technical challenge, impact and engaging with different cultures is very important to me.

Aiming to combine these interests, in 2019 I visited the first pan African Python conference in Ghana and shortly after I volunteered for 2 weeks in a program to support tech companies in Rwanda. 

Now I joined Wave mobile money that makes saving, transferring and borrowing money more affordable in Senegal,  Côte d’ Ivoire and other African countries. I am glad to say that Wave combines the mission with a strong technical engineering team, while people are humble and kind. A rare find.


Q3) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?


I find overcoming challenges to be the most inspiring part, so I will be thorough :)


During my academic years, the main challenge was the lack of impact. Research projects are often very theoretical and experimental and not flexible in unforeseen events. I decided to switch to the industry and there, the impact was immediately quite obvious. In my first job in DeliveryHero, a food ordering platform, my colleagues and I utilized the services routinely, witnessing firsthand the consequences of technical issues—namely, frustrated clients contacting customer support due to meal delivery delays.


I received discouraging and non constructive feedback like “you are very negative” when pointing out potential drawbacks in our strategies or being told that I don't take enough initiatives without any guidance on what actions I should be taking. My way to deal with this was to shut down, ignore it and keep going, in a kind of survival mode.

Pyladies was where I felt at home and it was my sanctuary from the “real world” jobs. 

Another challenge was returning to work after parental leave as I dealt with strong impostor syndrome both times while feeling excluded. As new parent, I had much less time to spend with colleagues outside of work. Hence, I got a remote job in Digital Science, as it would give me much more flexibility and not the feeling of isolation.


During my second parental leave, I decided to change jobs since Wave was such a great fit for me. I am not sure if it was good timing at that time, as after the parental leave break the challenge was much bigger. However, I am glad to have left behind the hardest part of learning a new product, team and technologies while with a small baby and impostor syndrome knocking.

I am very grateful to my current manager, she has been very supportive and at the same time, giving me constructive actionable feedback to improve in all axes.  

Recently I want to overcome zooming in too much and getting absorbed in investigating a bug or developing a feature. Too much focus can make me lose overview of priorities at work and in life in general. It was always easy to get in the zone and lose the sense of time. It was not a problem when I was younger and without a family, it is not an option any more.

Bullet journaling, coaching sessions, my engineering manager and taking many long breaks has helped me overcome this challenges.

Q4) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?


A colleague of mine from academia, insisted and coached me in learning Python.

I fell in love with the language, the expressivity and the extensive libraries which allowed me to build everything I could think of.

In Europython 2012, Lynn Root from Pyladies San Francisco was sharing the message of Pyladies. She spent all her free time with the Python community, that really struck me.


Through the years I have picked up various practices from different people, like from a colleague pitching Clean Code or another on keeping a nice commit history. Nowadays I have a lot of colleagues I admire and I am learning tons all the time, from how to deliver concrete context free text, to how to take informed risks and doing blameless postmortems.


Q5) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?


When I switched to the industry in 2011 diversity and inclusion was not a thing at all. Now the lack of diversity is acknowledged by a big part of the industry. It is considered an issue that needs active engagement to change. On top of the social aspect of D&I, many companies knows that diversity is directly beneficial for the business.


Individual companies take initiatives to improve on this. Things such as hosting women meetups, improving their hiring process, and taking unconscious bias trainings. However, there is still much room for improvement in diversity in the workplace. Thankfully, support groups and other inspiring initiatives like Lovelace series encourage minorities to insist.

However, diversity also means flexibility in working hours to keep a fair workplace. Part time hours is now more on demand and fundamental for young moms and dads. I see this becoming slowly more popular and acceptable at least in Germany and I hope it will happen in the rest of the world eventually.


Q6) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?


Currently, I work 6 hours every day. I believe a productive 5 hours a day is ideal and allows a good pace of delivery. I hope that it will become the broad industry standard eventually.

With my first child I took a year off, and then started working 6 hours per day, soon after I switched to 8h. I felt I had no time to breathe. With the second child, I decided to take it slower, and get to enjoy more family time.

I looked for a job of a maximum of 4 hours a day. The interesting thing is that my company was initially not open for part time. During the interview process, I came to talk about that with human resources and instead of convincing me to do full time, they decided to take the leap and start the first part time company contract in engineering. It seems to be working well for both parties until now. 


On the other hand, although it might sound very easy to keep the balance with 4 or 6 hours per day, many days I have to cut out everything in life apart from children/home caring and working.


Q7) What skills are most important in today's tech world?


Tech is so broad and has a lot of complexity, depth in all directions and it is easy to get lost in details or get overwhelmed with non relevant things. Finding the right balance of when to choose opportunities to dive deeper in topics, systems and technologies and when to cut corners to get things done quickly is a very important skill to support productive workflow and steady growth. 


Q8) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?


My current position at Wave definitely gives me the opportunity to have a meaningful impact in the financial life of many Africans. 90% of people in Senegal use our product to deposit and withdraw money every day, leading to fairer fees in financial availability in the operating countries. 


Though my personal most impactful accomplishment is initiating and running Pyladies Berlin for 6 years, the local chapter of a global organization for empowering women who love to code in Python. We organized more than 80 talks and workshops, with the majority of speakers being women and a diverse range of attendees at various skill levels.

Every talk, workshop and networking moment has been meaningful: a new technology learned, new job opportunities opened, new like-minded friends, meeting supportive companies doing interesting tech and above all a safe environment to learn and fail for all.


Many men would also regularly come as well, enjoying the inclusiveness in our workshops, setup events and talks. I am grateful to say that now the community is thriving further with more and more amazing skilled ladies joining the organizing team, regularly giving their love and time to the community.   


Q9) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?


My goal is to live my life to the fullest, which is also a value of my company, nice right? Automate the boring things and spend quality time where it is worth it.  

Tech industry is on a similar path. There are ways to express more complex concepts like infrastructure, infrastructure orchestration or now AI-assisted software development. More complex things are becoming the “boring things”, leaving more time to spend on design properly or reflect on processes. 


Q10) What advice would you give other women considering a tech career?


I often see women putting emphasis mostly in tech skills and applying to jobs only after they tick all the boxes. I would advise to interview early, apply aggressively to get interviewing experience and train also soft skills like clear communication, making allies, negotiation and above all be kind to yourself and others.

And one more thing, life is too short to spend it fighting toxic people in an environment not prepared to support you eg. without a well established code of conduct handling. So when looking for a job, interview them as well to see if the environment fits your needs too. When the company engages in diversifying their workforce and processes can be usually a good sign. 


Q11) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?



Since I moved to Berlin, which is so flat and gray, I have missed sunsets the most. This was a beautiful sunset, I accidentally saw in Berlin 3 months ago, after living here for 13 years. It reminds me how all things can change. 



Sunset in Berlin




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