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Interview: Sandra Suarez

How did you start developing with Oracle APEX? 
I’ve been designing and delivering APEX enterprise apps for over three years now.  I’m learning PL/SQL this year, so soon I’ll be able to develop serious APEX apps too. I’ve been implementing Oracle Applications for over 20 years so it makes sense to naturally gravitate to a tool like APEX.  
APEX fills in the gaps that off-the-shelf products leave behind. And there are always gaps.  I can’t think of a better tool to extend Oracle Applications.  Every time I present an APEX solution for a client’s missing feature, the client exclaims, ‘You’re a solution provider!”.  It’s a great feeling. Thanks APEX.

How many women developers work with you?
There is another female developer on the team.  She is a true PL/SQL developer and is learning to develop with APEX too.  Additionally, clients have women developers who support and extend their suite of APEX apps.  And I interact with them on an almost weekly basis.  

Have you ever felt in the wrong place as a woman in IT. If so, how did you handle the situation?
Yes, but not necessarily because I was a woman, but because I was perceived as weak.  I was too nice.  Bullies at work prey on that.  So I had to learn to stand up for myself.  In departments where there are no bullies, one does not need to exercise this muscle.  But in others, I found bullying stops as soon as the behavior is publicly called out.  Yes, it can be very uncomfortable, but once the bully sees you are not easy prey, he/she moves on to the next person, woman or man.  Women just tend to be easier targets because we tend not to speak up due to the 'nice disease' we may carry.

What would be your advice to someone who wants to improve their career, especially if they’re shy?
Learn to interrupt in meetings.  Yes, this can be done respectfully. I learned this from watching others at work as well as from Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, who makes this point in her autobiography.  Meetings are an important power dynamic in corporations and it is important to be in the game and not just on the sidelines taking notes if you have a point to make. It is frequently the case that the option coming from the loudest voice is the one that gets chosen, whether it’s the best option or not.  You owe it to your company, your department and your team to speak up and contribute.  It’s not rude when done respectfully – it’s your job.

If you find yourself struggling with this, be sure to not confuse being nice versus being kind. Being nice is about pleasing others.  Being kind is about doing the right thing.  It is kindness that lifts others up.

If you and others still hesitate to speak up, then perhaps it is not a safe culture in which to speak up.  And if that’s the case, you’ve got to go. 

In my case, I joined a Toastmasters group to help me deal with my shyness and nervousness when speaking up.  It works!  Within nine months, I grew the courage to start a Lean In Group at work, where I presented to 40+ people in a room.  A few months after that, I presented to 800 people at a technology conference.  I owe these successes to Toastmasters. I visited 3 Toastmaster clubs in my area before deciding on one.  You could even offer to build an APEX app for the club to keep track of the schedule for speakers and volunteers each week.  Most clubs still rely on a Google sheet.

How do you think girls can be encouraged to be in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)?   
If you have a sister, daughter or niece, you have special powers here.  School is easy for girls – it is structured, predictable and rules-based with set outcomes. However, it is essential to expose them to the mindset of “try, iterate, fail and try again”. So for projects around the home, get her involved.  Show her how you figure your way out of a home project when it doesn’t work out the first time.  That “fail and try another way approach” is important for her to see.   When the internet is down, have her go figure it out. Help her become the sysadmin for all the technology in the house.

Debate with her. Make it fun!  One day she is going to have to debate with co-workers and it is important she learn to effectively contribute her ideas and points of view.
Here’s a fun one – show off your latest APEX app!  Have her change the color of a page or a button in the APEX Builder.  It only takes 2 minutes to drive home the message that if you can build an app, so can she!

And outside the home, I am impressed with what Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts, is doing for the organization.  Sylvia is a former IBM executive who successfully sold her startup before moving to Washington DC to lead the Girl Scouts.  Since she’s been there, Girl Scouts has created more than 100 new STEM badges.  According to Sylvia, “in 2019, girls earned 1 million STEM badges in everything from robotics to space science exploration, citizen science, digital game design, app development, cybersecurity and more—129,000 in cybersecurity alone!”  Go Girl Scouts!

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