Q&A with Six of Altair’s Female Leaders in Technology

In the United States, the month of March is celebrated as Women’s Month and this recognition seeks to honor the past, inform the present, and inspire the future. The technology industry has historically been dominated by males but this is rapidly evolving. Females are changing the tech industry all over the globe and at Altair we’re proud to have intelligent, creative women at the forefront.

I had the honor of interviewing six female leaders that represent different domains in technology across Altair. From data intelligence to technology partners to global web management, these women are inspiring leaders in their respective space. Two thirds of these women have been with Altair for over 10 years! I asked each of them questions related to their interest in technology, path to leadership, advice for young women interested in technology, and more. It’s inspiring to me that these women from all different walks of life are such strong role models for the next generation of technology leaders!

Rachel Bland: VP, Product Management – Data Intelligence

Coffee Shop Order: Tall, sugar-free vanilla latte with almond milk, an extra shot of espresso and 2 splenda

1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

RB: My Dad was very interested in technology, he taught me to program in BASIC when I was 5 and throughout my life he had me working on computers doing drills for math and grammar and later doing book-keeping to help him at work. I was on a math/physics path in university until third year when I took my first computer science elective. That was it for me, I loved the algorithms and when I hit databases, there was no doubt I had found what I was good at AND enjoyed!

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?

RB: I began work as a programmer, all sorts of things, datawarehouses, GIS web applications, but when I started at Cognos, focusing on data is when things became clearer for me. I made my way into product management and with some great mentors guiding me, I began to grow, first into a manager and over time, into a leader. I’ve had the opportunity to work in huge organizations like IBM, and small organizations like Datawatch; to go through cycles of downsizing and growth as we’ve weathered two major economic events in the last 20 years. The challenging times have taught me the most about the different aspects of leadership, focusing on strategy, focusing on execution, focusing on people. Becoming a parent has taught me even more about the role of leaders as nurturers in an organization.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.

RB: At Altair I’m responsible for Data Intelligence products, specifically Knowledge Hub and SmartSight as well as contributing to the plan to expand Knowledge Works platform to meet strategic goals. My role in the team is diverse as an individual contributor as well as a team leader. Together we survey the market, build roadmaps & release plans, conduct technical enablement, speak at conferences, and work with clients.

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?

RB: Have an opinion, find your voice, know your strengths and weaknesses – but take risks. The greatest regrets and missed opportunities come from being afraid to take a wrong step or make a mistake. Even if you get it wrong, you’ll learn something.

Everyone is different, in some way, so even if you are the only woman in the room you aren’t the only one who may be feeling shy or out of place; take this as an opportunity to be an includer and an ally!

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?

RB: Parenting is one of my greatest joys. Stories, Marvel movies, and Legos take up a lot of my life. For my ME time I’m split between adrenaline and couch potato, I enjoy training, a mix of MMA and kickboxing to chill out after a long day. I’m also a book worm and a knitter – both relax me and help me enjoy some rare quiet time. Last year I completed the Inca Trail which was a major bucket list item and next year I’m planning a hiking trip to Iceland.

Fatma Koçer: VP, Engineering Data Science

Coffee Shop Order: Café Latte

1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

FK: I went into engineering because I liked math and enjoyed using it for practical applications. I liked working with numbers and I was thinking of pursuing economics or engineering.  Later on I decided on engineering because I thought it was very cool to work in technology. I narrowed in on civil engineering as it had more job opportunity in Turkey at the time. I never worked as a civil engineer and that’s just how life is. My mom was very sad that I was going to study civil engineering as she thought construction sites were not for a girl. I did two internships while I was in college. One was in a construction site, the other was in an engineering office. I loved the construction site. That was where the action was. I also got the best part of the lunches provided as I was the only female; the cook would always save me the good parts. I did however have to survive a makeshift women’s bathroom!

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?

FK: After I got my engineering degree from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, I started my masters in Structural Optimization at the University of Iowa.  I chose optimization as it was the mathematical part of engineering and also because of its importance in resource reduction and environmental impact. I chose Univerisity of Iowa for two reasons. Prof. Jasbir Arora’s optimal design lab was one of the most reputable optimization programs and my parents knew someone at University of Iowa. If you are sending your 22 year old daughter 5800 miles away to other country, this becomes an important deciding factor.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.

FK: I work on the engineering data science team. The objective of this team is to leverage data science, such as machine learning, to solve engineering problems. We focus on CAE and IoT applications. For this we explore emerging data science technologies and identify use cases for them. We then apply this knowledge to customer cases. We also use the new acquired knowledge to give feedback to Altair’s Data Science products. Part of my responsibilities include forecasting projects and building the team accordingly, engaging with customers for projects, and overseeing their execution and delivery. Most days I get to engage in physical or virtual customer visits where we listen to their challenges and try to find solutions. This is my favorite part of the day.

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?

FK: Don’t be intimidated, don’t undermine your skillset and potential,l and don’t let anyone else undermine it either. Focus on understanding and learning; not just on getting good grades.  Find mentors of different backgrounds and ask them questions about what you are interested in. It is very rewarding to pass on your experiences to young people who are interested in them so don’t worry about getting rejected or bothering someone. Be practical, as engineering is about finding the simplest solution that works. Be curious; no one is going to teach you all you need. Stay on top of technological developments; there may be opportunities  for you in many different places. Finally, one of my managers used to say “It is not about lack of time, it is about lack of priorities”.

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?

FK: I like hiking and biking and I love travels that involves one of these.

Karin Hirschberger – VP Enterprise Solution Group

Coffee Shop Order: Café Latte

1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

KH: As long as I can remember I was more interested in helping my dad and brother fix their motorcycles than fixing the hair of my doll. My brother loved to take things apart to figure out how they worked, and I loved to figure out how to put them back together so they would work again. Looking at my grades is school in became very obvious where my strengths were –  Chemistry, Math, Physics, you name it. German, English, French not so much… One of my teachers once said that I’d never become a nurse and I remember thinking: You are right because I will be an engineer!

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?

KH: After finishing my studies in Aerospace Engineering in Munich, I went to Liverpool to do my master’s in Computer-Aided Engineering. While I was working as an assistant at the university back in Munich I was exposed to a software from a small start-up company called AnySIM. Fascinated by this tool which could simulate Robots, NC-machines, Press lines and much more, I decided to walk up to the Managing Director during an Exhibition and tell him that I want to work for AnySIM. No matter what the job is I’ll do it. I got the job! I started creating 3D models of transfer press lines. From there I worked my way through the various departments: Customer Support, Training, QA, Product Management, Version Management. I followed the job that would allow me to visit and see the most wonderful places on Earth. My journey brought me finally to US and to Altair.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.

KH: Altair provided me the opportunity to work with a global team with over 100 Engineers operating from 10 global offices. As the Vice President of Altair’s Enterprise Solutions Group the responsibilities lies in implementing Altair’s technology, driving efficiencies through workflow automation and optimization, and tailoring solutions to our customers specific processes and methods.

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?

KH: It doesn’t matter what people think you can do or you can’t do. It matters what you think you want to do. Once your mind is set, start walking. Once you walk, you learn how to run. Never be afraid to fall, just get up again! The reward of feeling accomplished is tremendous when you finally master the challenge. And you will, there is no doubt in that!

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?

KH: I’m interested in a vast variety of things, such as constructions and renovations, flipping houses. I’m tiling bathrooms and building furniture during the winter time. As soon as the weather is warming up I’m out and about biking, hiking, and kayaking or any other outdoor activity. And last but not least I learned to like fixing my hair too, lol!

Christine Barrett: Vice President, Web Marketing

Coffee Shop Order: Pike Place black or double espresso

1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

CB: My older brother, Mike, is the main reason I ever had any interest in technology. Mike was the one who introduced me to MUDding in the 90s and then I followed him to college to become an engineer since that’s what he was studying. I thoroughly enjoyed coding in college because I loved that code was so black and white – it either worked or it didn’t! While I didn’t end up with an engineering degree (thanks to Calculus 216), I think having this technical background helped me in my marketing career at Altair. (My brother, on the other hand, did get his engineering degree and codes for Image Space in Ann Arbor.)

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?

CB: During my college years I had the BEST part time job – I was in the Quality Assurance department of a video game publisher in Ann Arbor – which meant I spent my work hours playing videos games! Well really, I was testing the games and logging bugs, and then re-testing the bugs that came back from development. This experience got me interested in the build process of applications – whether you’re designing a game, a website or an app, it takes many iterations and many people to bring it all together. You need creatives, developers, programmers, UI experts, project managers and you need people to test and re-test to get to that finished product. This is very similar to my other passion: theater. Something magical happens when you have people expressing their unique talents and working together on a show which culminates in an amazing performance in front of an audience.  After college I accepted a job at a web development company managing clients and their digital projects.  While working there I was introduced to Altair as the project manager on the redesign and build of the Altair website. I enjoyed it so much that I was thrilled to join their three-person marketing team in 2002. It’s hard to believe that team has now grown to over 30 in the US offices and double that globally.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.

CB: I manage the public facing websites for Altair. When I started working on the website in 2000, it was a static HTML website with simple text updates and no language translation capability. Now my team maintains over 100 websites including multiple country specific domains, standalone product sites, event sites, an e-commerce site, and many blogs. I get to design new functionality while keeping the focus on the user experience, bring together consistent design and features, and push for building pages using the latest design trends. The website is the centerpiece to showcasing the Altair brand, making sure every product, service, solution and industry are represented. The websites are the only piece of marketing collateral that needs to be accessible globally every second of the day.

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?

CB: I wish I could have told myself to find a mentor and ask more questions. I think high schools are doing a better job of exposing job opportunities to kids, more than I saw was possible when I was going to school. I think this exposure to STEM careers will help encourage more women to pursue technology degrees. I think it helps for young women to see the many applications of a STEM degree in the real world.

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?

CB: First and foremost is raising my 2 teenage daughters to be strong, independent females who are willing to push themselves to the best of their abilities! Already I can see their amazing qualities coming out and I’m looking forward to seeing what wonderful things they will use their talents for in this world. My current hobby goals are to play piano more often (averaging once a week now), learn to cook (getting a little help from Hello Fresh), and see more live theater and concerts (heading to NYC for the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen in a few weeks).

Myriam Mouyal: Senior Director, Partner Alliance

Coffee Shop Order: Chai Tea Latte

1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

MM: I always loved mathematics and wanted to study it. Thought about becoming a mathematics teacher but realized that it was possible to do both engineering and mathematics so I decided instead to become engineer in applied mathematics.

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?
MM: I was hired to do support and trainings for our pre & post tools as well as macro development. This was shortly after the creation of the French office and the technical team consisted of only 3 people at that time. While the team and the office grew, I was given the responsibility of leading the support and training team. After a few years, I moved to other responsibilities at the European level.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.
MM: I am overseeing today our software partnership program. This program, called the Altair Partner Alliance, gathers more than 50 software vendors with whom Altair has a privileged relationship. My role includes making strategic decisions, onboarding new partners and managing the team responsible of all aspects of these partnerships (business, marketing, finance, technology, etc.)

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?
MM: Being a woman in a predominately male environment is not necessarily a disadvantage 😊. Men are often surprised to see a woman in such a field and this encourages more respect from them.

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?
MM: I spend a lot of time with my friends and families. I also like reading, sewing, traveling, and petting my cat.

Monica Relli: Senior Director of Global Learning Programs

Coffee Shop Order: Real Italian Espresso 
1. How did you first become interested in technology and what propelled you into it?

MR: Since the days of elementary school, I have found myself more attracted to science than to literature. This interest continued throughout my entire education and led me into technical jobs.

2. What has your path in technology and leadership looked like?

MR: At the end of the Secondary High school, I attended a one year class where I learned CAD and CAM technologies. These classes opened a door for me to get a job as a Designer. After a few years, with these new competencies, I got another opportunity to start a new job focused on CAE technology at the company I still work for today, Altair.

3. Describe your current role at Altair.

MR: My role is Senior Director of Global Learning Programs. I focus on Instructor Led Training Management and Global Training Liaison. I am responsible for creating and maintaining all training material relating to many Altair products. Efforts are needed to be coordinated with Program Management, Business Development and Subject Matter Expert teams to maintain consistency with product and focus. Classroom materials need to be updated for each new release of the software and educate people that want to learn our technical software. I am also responsible for making connections with the worldwide Training Managers to gather feedback from the field and managing a team of people.

4. What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self? Or other young females interested in tech?

MR: The tech sector is where women are largely underrepresented. Historically and even culturally, it’s males who have been pushed to pursue these jobs — but that’s changing! Starting at the elementary school level, girls are encouraged and supported to delve into sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, and with more young women opting to explore those avenues on a post-secondary level, tech companies are finally recognizing that. In turn, there are more careers for women and especially women in tech. If you love science, logic and mathematics you’re ready to start! Be creative and technically inclined.

If you are ready to break ground into non-traditional, good careers for women, then the fields of architecture or engineering, automotive, green energy, media arts, or technology, could be a great option for you. With growing emphasis being placed on gender diversity and more companies recognizing the professional talents of women, you could get become a true leader in your field. Young women are breaking tradition and pursuing their passion no matter how unconvential it may be.

5. What are some personal of your personal hobbies or interests outside of work?

MR: I like walking in natural parks and cities. I also love to cook! In addition, I am a sommelier so I like to visit vineyards, nice places, and taste test wine.

Breanne Lewinski

Marketing Manager – Social Media & Communications at Altair
Breanne is part of the Marketing & Communications team and has been with Altair since 2013. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Michigan State University in International Relations and French with specializations in Western Europe and Economics, and a certificate in Marketing from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Breanne Lewinski
Breanne Lewinski

About Breanne Lewinski

Breanne is part of the Marketing & Communications team and has been with Altair since 2013. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Michigan State University in International Relations and French with specializations in Western Europe and Economics, and a certificate in Marketing from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

One response to “Q&A with Six of Altair’s Female Leaders in Technology”

  1. Avatar Anamika says:

    Very nice blog… inspiring and encouraging