Stefanie Chiras

Stefanie Chiras: “Women need opportunities, but also encouragement”

You walk your own way, but mainly let others support you. That is the advice of Stefanie Chiras. She succeeded as Vice President and General Manager of the RHEL Business Unit at Red Hat. She is still very happy with the people who have influenced her throughout her life.

“I like to solve problems. That’s what I was introduced to, because my father always worked on cars. At my high school I had a Physics teacher who influenced me enormously. In a good way: after a career as a scientist he had made the switch to teaching. However, he did it in such a worldly, realistic way that it opened my eyes. I would never have the confidence that I have now if she and my parents had not been there.”

NASA

Soon Stefanie moved on to Harvard where she continued in Science & Engineering within a small program. “I did a summer internship at NASA in materials during that period. A professor advised me to go to a university in California to specialize further. I was able to work with a professor with whom I very much wanted that. I got my PHD in materials there. I was busy doing research for six years to pay for my education. I wrote my dissertation about silicone chips.

It was the first time in Stefanie’s life that she noticed that she only belonged to a small group within tech. “I was in a class full of go-getters. In a room with 300 people I was the only woman. I was silent, I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t shout answers, and I thought that was fine. I knew the answer. Others were so present and really wanted to be heard. A certain professor changed that. ”

This professor walked through the class and hit hard on Stefanie’s table. “I was scared to death every time, but I quickly called the right answer. He did that for three weeks and then he asked me to stay in class. He then told me that I was too quiet and that I had to find my voice. That has always stayed with me. He really tried to help me. Now I am still in meetings and I think if I want to make my point on his words: you have to find your voice. ”

IBM

That worked out well. Stefanie wanted to be a professor during her school days, but that was not what she hoped for. She really enjoyed teaching, but she found writing proposals and looking for funds terrible. Far too competitive. “In the end, I started working at IBM. They knew my dissertation work there and they were experts in that field. I ended up staying with IBM for 17 years in great roles. I was a labrat, but in the end I started working with people more. I led a team and I loved it. I had the technical background, and I was able to work more with people.

At one point she was involved with the team that worked on Power 8. Stefanie knew the technology well because she had worked a lot with processors. In the end, it was IBM’s first processor to also support Linux. “It could have a lot of impact on the Linux ecosystem. After 17 years I left IBM to work at Red Hat, a company with which IBM has a strong partnership. I knew their business model and I found open source extremely interesting. The way they look at certain things: Linux has helped the world make many new developments. I think it’s great to help bring the Linux experience everywhere and to show that you can use it the way you want. ”

“What I find most exciting is that you are a basic layer on which all kinds of developments are being done and in which the world is already being prepared for what is to come. Even things for which we totally do not know what it is. It intrigues me enormously, which is why I switched to Red Hat last July, specifically for the RHEL section. More than 70 percent in the industry is Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I go to customers and see what we can do for them, what value we can add. I still learn a lot about Linux and how open source works. I am no longer as deeply technical as before, but we have experts for that. ”

Add value

“When I was still studying, I thought I could only add value if I knew everything there was to know. If I knew more than anyone. But I have learned that adding value is so dynamic that it requires multiple contributions from different people. You have to collaborate with others, because nobody knows everything. I have come to see so much more value in experts and I have started to trust that more.

“What I find most exciting is that you are a basic layer on which all kinds of developments are being done and in which the world is already being prepared for what is to come. Even things for which we totally do not know what it is. It intrigues me enormously, which is why I switched to Red Hat last July, specifically for the RHEL section. More than 70 percent in the industry is Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I go to customers and see what we can do for them, what value we can add. I still learn a lot about Linux and how open source works. I am no longer as deeply technical as before, but we have experts for that. ”

Stefanie is very happy with her career. “I am not someone who is going to plan for the next three or five years, but the best advice there is is that you have to keep your eyes open for opportunities. Grab them. When you leave somewhere you really don’t have to be away forever. I also went back to research a few times. No decision is forever. I know about what I want to do and although my career may look random, I am very happy how these opportunities have made me who I am. Of all roles I still use certain things in my work now. ”

Stefanie would like to see more women working in tech. “It is not nearly enough. I am worried if it is really essential that we continue to make progress in that regard. Whether it is a girl who is 13 years old and doing maths, or a 25-year-old woman in her first job, or one who is 45: we must ensure that all those women have opportunities. And not only opportunities, but also encouragement to seize opportunities and develop further. I could not have done it without those opportunities and encouragement. “

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