Celebrating Women in STEM – Ksenija Brankovic
This is the fourth instalment of our ‘Women in STEM’ series, which focuses on the different experiences and achievements of Riverlane’s female scientists and engineers. This week features Ksenija Brankovic, who joined Riverlane as Senior Project Manager in May 2020. Ksenija discusses the challenges of moving to work in the UK as a Serbian, and the positive outcomes of a collaborative company culture.
Hi Ksenija! Tell me more about your role as Senior Project Manager
I work with the Deltaflow team, organising the project, meeting with people and making sure that everything is running smoothly while tackling some of the administrative and organisational work. I also work on improving the existing development processes at Riverlane and setting up new ones, whilst putting into place best engineering practice.
Tell me about your career leading up to Riverlane
Do you have time?! I studied electrical engineering in Belgrade [Serbia] and I’ve got an MSc in computer engineering and information technology. Then I moved to product development in communications and network infrastructure, embedded systems, complex network controllers and gateways. My background is really in software development but all the companies I worked for were product development companies rather than service providers, so I’ve got lots of commercial experience and I’ve worked with customers and suppliers. I enjoy the end to end experience, from initial design, developing the product all the way to delivering and maintaining it with customers in the field.
I’ve never been an official project manager, but when I saw the job spec at Riverlane, it was love at first sight! It’s not like a general project manager role, it involves more than that, both working with people and looking at technical stuff. Having some technical aspects in a job is very important for me because I have been technical all my life. I was always interested in new technologies and new areas, so working in quantum computing is a big opportunity for me to learn something new, and to contribute my skills and experience.
So, engineering and maths are your passion?
At school I was good at maths. Both my parents were teachers, my father was a maths teacher and my Mum was a language and literature teacher, and at the time that seemed like a terrible job to me! I didn’t want to study pure maths, because I was afraid I would end up being a maths teacher like my Dad! Where I come from, and especially at that time, electrical engineering was a very promising profession, there were lots of future job opportunities.
Did studying and working as a woman in a male-dominated sector affect you at all?
Well, I’m kind of used to it. In my country there is a very bad joke – ‘what is the similarity between a female engineer and a guinea pig? A guinea pig is neither a guinea nor a pig’ – it’s a terrible joke, but I find it kind of funny.
At my university there were maybe 30% girls, maybe a bit more, so it never felt like all men. But I noticed when I moved to the UK that the gap is different. There are not many English women in engineering, so it might be a cultural thing here. I just got used to working with most of my colleagues as men. For example, in my previous company, I was the only woman in the whole engineering department for over a year.
Do you feel like you had to adapt your behaviour, you say you got used to it?
No. But I did have to find my place.
I was not only a woman but a foreign woman, so my English wasn’t good. There were a lot of things I needed to adapt, and to improve, and find my place to be recognised.
I never learned English at school, that came later, and so I had that communication barrier. Although I never had any trouble understanding what was required in my technical work, I really struggled with the social conversations – people used to think I was quiet but actually I just didn’t understand what people were talking about.
My English has improved a lot, but what annoyed me the most was not being able to understand what is between words – the subtleties and complexities of English. It’s very difficult to progress from basic to proficient. I still feel like my pronunciation and accent are horrible, but I’ve got to a level of understanding that I’m reasonably happy with.
So, would you say your main challenges were more about communication than gender?
There was a gender thing as well – you come here, you are a woman, you speak dodgy English, you really need to get people to listen to you. If you’re struggling to express yourself, you’re not making a very good impression. I don’t think there were prejudices in the companies that I worked at in relation to me being a woman, but I did need time to show that I was capable of doing something, so you have to prove yourself that way. Also, I think there are differences in how women’s and men’s minds work in jobs like ours. In engineering men often think they are there to fix things and to sort them out, whereas women and maybe myself in particular, don’t have the attitude of, ‘I’m here, so now I’ll solve the problem’, it’s more ‘I’m here, I’ll see what the problem is so I’ll analyse that and talk to people and see what they think’. My approach has always been a collaborative one.
Also, now I’ve got more than 25 years’ experience, I’ve grown out of all the young woman challenges, so where I am now it’s a totally different perspective.
At Riverlane I am really pleased at how I have been accepted and received, how people talk to me. Although I come from a totally different background, I’m so much older than other people in the team but it’s a lovely environment, it’s really refreshing. This new job is the new me!
Find out what it’s like to work at Riverlane here