There was once a time when Marie Babineau felt she had to pretend to be one of the boys in order to be taken seriously. Determined to prove herself to her male colleagues, Marie learned how to crimp an RG-45 wire, program a router in command line, and become a fierce Unix system admin, among many other highly technical skills. The more she learned, the more confidence she gained. In this edition of our podcast, Marie explores the theme of building confidence and how we can start at an early age by not perpetuating a frequently held stereotype: that girls are not good at math.
How did you get started in the technology, or payments industry, and what led you to that career choice?
Marie Babineau: Growing up, I followed a science-oriented path although I had always had varied interests. In college, I discovered philosophy and literature and that was a major encounter. While I kept my math and chemistry classes, I dropped out of the health science program to dive into the sea of books, thoughts, and ideas. I was happy like a fish in my first degree in French Literature, but, by the end, I was starting to wonder, "Hmm, what would I do with this degree?" We were in 1981 and there was an economic crisis then. So, to finish my arts degree, I then chose a math course and an initiation into programming, as I thought that computers were going to come into everyone's life, including mine, no matter what, so I better understand them. So doing that, I enjoyed my Fortran programming class on punch-cards very much and I decided I would do my next degree in Computer Science. The department director seemed skeptical, to say the least. He had a funny grin and wished me good luck. Nevertheless, I was accepted into the program, finished my degree with excellent scores, and I've been working in computer science ever since. And enjoying it! I did everything, from programming in C, system administration, network computing and design, system architecture and finally, cybersecurity, governance, and payment card industry, to top my career.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Marie Babineau: I would say my parents. My father strongly believed in me and kept telling me about the importance, as a woman, of being financially independent. This sage advice guided me into a career where I could find innovative and well-paid work, while being intellectually stimulated. My mother was also a role model as she went to university even though she was born in a time when this was rather unusual. So basically, I had a chance of having modern parents that highly valued education to bring out the best in society and its members. Then I would add other leaders I had throughout my career who have been good coaches, with different styles of course, but from whom I learned how to deal with people and not just technology.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date? And what has been your most significant learning opportunity or challenge?
Marie Babineau: I would say that my proudest accomplishment and, which is at the same time my most significant learning opportunity, is probably becoming a QSA at the end of July of 2016, with a two weeks’ notice. And then performing three assessments that resulted in ROCs before the end of the same year. We were audited by the PCI Council right after these mandates and we passed the audit with minor improvements to be made, of course. But all this happened in less than a year. And this all happened because my colleague needed a pause from work for family reasons and he passed it on to me to be an active QSA and take over all of his clients. Of course, he guided me through the first assessment, but soon enough I found myself pretty much alone with the PCI requirements. I sure did learn a lot during those first few months, which kick started my career as a QSA. And all this, because I answered, "Yes" when my boss asked me, "Marie, do you want to become a QSA?"
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? And, if so, why do you think that is the case?
Marie Babineau: Oh, yes, I would say there is truly a shortage of women in technology. Even the few girls that were with me at university now seem to have vanished in the grand scheme of things. And why is this? I'm not too sure. Is it because too often we can hear women saying, "Ah, you know, I was never good at math.” Or which is worse when they say this in front of their young daughters, who soon enough end up repeating the same thing. See, I'm not saying it's women's fault, but certain stereotypes seem to stick around more than others. I believe mathematics, for example, need to be taught as fun, as games. All kids should have fun doing math, boy or girl, and learn how to be good at it. I went to my daughter’s all-girl school for its career fair a few years ago, where parents would volunteer to talk about their work. Students had to register to two different workshops that were of interest to them. Presenting a career in computer science only brought me eight recruits in total, while the gynecologist had a full 35 students and so had the lawyer and the journalist. Well, the good thing is, the few girls who came to listen to me seemed very interested in going down that path and, of course, I encouraged them and talked about the infinite and challenging opportunities that would be offered to them throughout their career.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession, come with confidence challenges that you have to overcome, for instance, doubting your own ability? And how do you overcome it?
Marie Babineau: Sometimes the looks you get, the comments you hear that are meant to be funny, but are not that much, tend to challenge you and your confidence. When I was younger, to overcome this and show them, I would try to do all the very male things like crimping an RG-45 wire, program a router in command line, be a fierce Unix system admin, to pretend to be one of the boys and gain the legitimacy to be allowed to take on any task after that. Nowadays, I don't need to do this anymore. I gained confidence, but I still appreciate when there is no distinction made on assignments, promotions, or anything based on gender. It is, therefore, a great privilege and opportunity to have a boss that treats you equally.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? And how did you handle it?
Marie Babineau: So many times! From my first job where I had to ask my boss if he was giving me easier, or less technologically challenging projects, than to my male colleagues because I was a girl. Or when two technicians kept making fun of me between them and loudly doubting me because I had to figure out and fix a problem with an-X.25 faulty link and I was a girl. Or even just recently when a client was explaining a problem to me and a senior consultant reporting to me, he just said, "Oh, you know, it is rather technical, so John will understand." So, totally understating I would not. What I think is there are certain things that will never change in certain people and you just have to proudly laugh about it because it is so unreasonable. On the good side of things, that makes you forget about the bad, there are all these open-minded people that don't make a difference whether you're a girl or a guy. They consider you for who you are and what you are worth, not your gender. And I have to say that, if there's still a “boys’ club” mentality in tech fields and security today, a new era of modern men is slowly emerging, and that accept to share the spotlight with women, or look at the world in an ungendered fashion.
What do you see, or hope to see, as the future for women in technology roles or in the payments industry specifically?
Marie Babineau: I hope to see more women in technology roles, of course. And more managers giving these women a chance to climb up the ladder. And these women daring to go for it. There's actually a lot of positive reinforcement and equal opportunity programs in education and in the enterprise. And hopefully, this can help attract girls into technology and the security industry. When recruiting these days for new hires in cybersecurity, we are often told we need to hire more girls. And it is true. I wish there were more women candidates to help us achieve this goal. At Bell, since 2007, we have the Women at Bell Network, that is an employee-run group that provides networking, professional development, and mentorship opportunities. The group works along Bell's HR team to further support Bell’s leadership, gender diversity, and inclusion program. Bell also offers free memberships to women-focused organizations like WCT, Women in Communication and Technology. All this to say that higher education institutions and enterprises definitely have a role to play in the future of having more women in technology.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Marie Babineau: I remember I had a French client who worked for a large governmental agency where Bell was hired to build a large-scale, highly redundant architecture system. Sometimes we would hit roadblocks and he would always tell me, “À l'impossible, nul n'est tenu,” which translates into, "To the impossible, no one is bound." By this mantra, I take it that I work hard and always try to do my best to make everything good and successful, but if I hit a roadblock, I know that I have to go on without regrets or low self-esteem, despite knowing the solution may not be perfect. But I have to learn from it and look towards the future. Another mantra that I adopted more recently from a mentoring session held at Bell, and that helps me strive with my busy schedule, multiple projects and multi-tasking is: if it takes less than two minutes, do it right away. This could be answering an email, returning a phone call, setting up a meeting, or any other small thing where a rapid answer can make a big difference to the person expecting the feedback. Doing so also helps me alleviate the stress of too many small things left unfinished and dangling in my head. I'm not saying this works for everyone, but it sure does for me. And I thank the mentor that introduced that concept to me.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payments industry, or in any technology-based field in general? Is there anything that you wish you had known?
Marie Babineau: I would say have confidence in yourself and you can do anything. Don't be afraid of challenges. Take them. Look out for them. Sometimes, as women, we tend to think we are not up to the task, although we are. We have to stop doubting ourselves and embrace all challenges. Sure, we can do it. And don't be afraid to be too technical. Actually, in the payment card industry it is definitely a plus to have experienced the different computer science disciplines and know about software programming, network architecture protocols, etc. As technology is always evolving, we'll have to keep up with learning every day, which is good for your brain and keeps it flexible and alert. As one mentor one day mentioned - it could have been the Guru - "QSAs belong to the knowledge industry." It is about technology, business, process and people. And the more you do, the more you become knowledgeable. So, gray hair can therefore be seen as an enabler.