“Women bring more diversity – to the team, as well as to the code”
If you want to become a software engineer, you don't necessarily need to have a Master's degree in Computer Science. Sarah Hirsiger is a good example of this. A movement scientist with a Doctorate in neuropsychology, Sarah studied at the ETH in Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Today she works as a Professional Software Engineer at Zühlke.
The fascination of data and networks
In her studies Sarah concentrated on the field of neuropsychology. "I was particularly interested in research into the connections between brain and behaviour," she says. During a course-related internship, she gained some initial insights into the evaluation of MRI images and EEG data. "For example, we studied the brains of chess players and compared some parameters of the grey and white matter with those of people who had not practised any special skills." Even back then, Sarah – a native of Berne – was impressed by the extent to which the networks and structures of the brain can be influenced by training, concentration exercises or meditation.
Simplifying data evaluation with scripts
This focus on the plasticity of the brain, i.e. its ability to change, continued during her doctorate and in post-doctoral research. Sarah investigated how the grey matter in the brain changes under the influence of drugs and how it can regenerate after the drugs are discontinued. She was particularly fascinated by the possibility of simplifying her research work by means of programming. Sarah occasionally took courses in the programming languages Python, Java and Matlab. There just wasn't enough time for more in-depth study in this area, however.
"I had already started writing scripts for the MRI analyses in order to be able to automate processes," she says, and explains: "Especially for long-term analyses, the interlinking of image-processing steps is relatively complex and consists of several registration- and transformation-steps. In the past, a lot of the evaluation was done by hand, which was error-prone and – for large samples – also time-consuming."
Further training as a software engineer
In 2018, Sarah gave up her post-doctoral research because she wanted to change careers. She got to know Zühlke at the Women's Contact Day and was excited. "I never thought that with my background I would get the chance to train as a software engineer. However, they assured me that I could make up for lack of knowledge, above all by motivation and commitment," Sarah remembers. She was offered a graduate program – an internship – to learn the basics of programming.
Software as a medical device
Sarah, who in the meantime has become a fully trained professional software engineer, has not yet been able to apply her knowledge of neuropsychology to her new work environment. However, the chances of being able to do this in the future are good. Zühlke wants to expand its expertise in the health tech sector. Specialist knowledge in areas such as biology, chemistry and medicine is very important here. Zühlke already has extensive expertise in the field of Software as Medical Device (SaMD). "Of course, software has existed as part of a medical device for some time. But the peculiarity of SaMD is that it's really just the software that is used for diagnosis or therapy, without any hardware at all," explains Sarah.
More diversity – in the team, as well as in the code
An exciting field that she is looking forward to working in. And she believes that more women should look for positions in technical professions. Women can program just as well as men. She keeps seeing that women bring diversity to a team. This applies to coding as well as to social aspects. "With Zühlke, I really appreciate that neither my gender, age nor marital status were ever an issue. On the contrary: we sense a spirit of new beginnings here, with even more women in management positions, even more diversity."
Women in tech: "Take more risks!"
Sarah Hirsiger has a good career tip for her female colleagues: "I would advise women to be more daring and less risk-averse. We have a tendency to make ourselves smaller than we actually are." Women often tended not to respond to job advertisements until they had one hundred percent of the qualifications. It is very important to see more women in the tech sector. Sarah Hirsiger: "We need female role models to be the inspiration for girls' career choices."