Breath of Fresh Air: Diversity Heroes – Barbora Buhnova

As a community, we embrace our diversity; diversity makes us better, stronger. We cannot do enough to applaud all of our heroes in their diversity. They are people who are ACM members, volunteers or experts in their field.  We’ve been talking with a number of heroes about their tech career journey, their perspective on intersectionality and reflect on initiatives for equality. This month’s guest is Barbora Buhnova.

Czechitas 26.10.2018 | David Poul |
Barbora Buhnova is an Associate Professor and vice-dean at Masaryk University (MU), Faculty of Informatics in Brno. Following her research career in Germany and Australia, she now leads multiple research teams at the Faculty of Informatics MU (software architecture), the Institute of Computer Science MU (big data analytics), and the Czech CyberCrime Centre of Excellence C4e (critical infrastructures). Next to her academic activities, she is a Co-Founder and Governing Board member of Czechitas, a non-profit organisation aiming at making IT skills more accessible to youth and women. Bara is a leading member of multiple initiatives engaging more women in tech (e.g. Informatics Europe working group Women in Informatics Research and Education (WIRE), EU COST Action: European Network for Gender Balance in Informatics) reaching across entire Europe. Furthermore, she is a devoted speaker and author of multiple research studies on gender-sensitive education.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What was your inspiration, the driving force that led you to study or work in computing?

To me, computing is an invitation to innovation, which is beautiful. Joining computing was one of the best decisions of my life. More so that my community, which is Software Architecture, really makes me feel I found my place, the place where I belong and where I can turn my skills and interests into an impact. I made my first step towards computing when I applied to university to study computer science, which I did totally unprepared. I had no idea what computing is. It simply looked interesting, challenging, and different from what I did before. And that was it, a big leap of faith.

What has been your career highlight? What are you most proud of?

For all the recognitions I have so far received from my communities, which I am so grateful for. My main scientific community is Software Architecture, and namely, the community organized around our flagship conference, International Conference on Software Architecture (ICSA). In October 2018, I was nominated and elected as the chair of the ICSA Steering Committee, which was the biggest recognition I could have ever dreamed of. In October 2020 I was re-elected to serve as the ICSA SC chair for the second period. Besides, I am proud I have been appointed in 2018 to become the chair of the Association of Industrial Partners at Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, where I chair the collaboration of our 20 research teams with 30 companies.

Czechitas 26.10.2018 | David Poul |

And then there are many recognitions of my activities connected to women in tech. In 2014 I co-founded a non-profit organization called Czechitas. What started with a simple idea to bring tech closer to girls and girls closer to tech, has by now grown into a major social change in the Czech Republic, with over 25,000 graduates from hundreds of computing courses. I am very happy for the opportunity to share the experience also in my academic networks, e.g. the European Network For Gender Balance in Informatics (EUGAIN) COST Action, where I serve as the vice-chair.

 What challenges have you faced? Were you able to overcome them? How?

I did not really have many examples to follow, so I did not believe I could be successful in computing. The first years at the university were hard, as I had zero experience with coding and even using technology was new for me. But my curiosity kept me going, and my passion for math helped me enormously. I soon realized that my results were not bad, but it still felt inappropriate to have ambitions to reach higher. Fortunately, my environment recognized my talents much sooner than I did, and pushed me higher. I feel fortunate I have been surrounded by wonderful people all my career. People who pulled me into projects, positions, and places for which I would never believe I am ready.

If you were to change something in the way we run tech communities and networks, what would you change?

I have been part of numerous communities over my professional life and I must say that I always felt great about the way people within the community are pulled together, help each other, network, and interact. Yet, I believe there is quite some room for improvement in the way one community views another. For instance, we need to improve the way communities respect and celebrate the ways other communities achieve their results, instead of arguing why their community is better and their results are more important, which we unfortunately still see sometimes. In September 2021 we plan to organize the 8th ACM Celebration of Women in Computing (womENcourage 2021) around the theme “Bridging communities to foster innovation” to change this. Join us! 🙂

 Can you comment on diversity or intersectionality issues that you have experienced, seen or been made aware of?

I talk to many women in software engineering, who are overall very happy to be in the field. Yet, they are experiencing some preventable frustrations. One of these frustrations is connected to defensive culture, where they feel they need to keep proving they are good enough. Sometimes they admit they are proving it to themselves, as they were raised with the perception that women are not likely to succeed in tech. The second crucial aspect is that these women are often quieting some of their talents just because they do not want to be confronted with somebody judging them as “too female”. I know many wonderful women in tech who are excellent in multiple facets of software engineering, but hesitant to bring some of their talents to the table for this reason. And that makes the whole community losing lots of its potential.

 Who is your Diversity/Equality Hero and why?

Dita Formankova, the leading founder of Czechitas, the non-profit organization I have mentioned earlier, and now also the Director for Diversity&Inclusion and Communities at Avast. Dita is a beautiful example of humanity, with her vision of making the world a better place for all girls who dream of joining computing and STEM, and the ability to project her visions onto people who follow her.

What would you recommend to young people thinking of a career in computing?

Go for it! Computing is a beautiful field with limitless opportunities, open and welcoming. It might feel hard to get your knowledge to the level where you start believing you can make it but don’t give up. Everything feels difficult until you know how to do it. You will get there sooner than you think. Keep in mind that computing is so huge as a field that nobody understands it all. If you keep learning, you will soon level-up with the experts.

Thank you for this interview!

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