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Women in Leadership
Job Name
Women in Leadership: Natalia Imhoff

Natalia Imhoff was born in Tucumán, Argentina, but lived most of her life in Córdoba, where she studied computer science. After over 10 years working as a software developer and leader, she joined Avature in 2020 as Engineering Manager and later Director, working with different teams in the Development area.

In the process of telling us about her career development story, Naty recalls several people—including her own father and some female mentors—who were fundamental for her to choose a career in technology, find the path she wanted to pursue, and understand her own unique value.

Today she works with passion and dedication to become for other people what those mentors were for her when growing up, both professionally and personally.


When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in technology?

Back when I lived in Tucumán, we used to do these vocational orientation tests in high school, and I remember my results were sort of inconclusive. I didn’t really have much idea of what I wanted to do, and I remember everybody telling me to go for something connected to soft sciences.

But there was one person who saw something else: my dad, who worked at a tech company, and told me that software might be something I could be interested in. Technology was sort of new to me: the high school I was attending had a totally different specialization, so there was little to nothing connected to tech in the curricula, and I didn’t have any connections working in the field either. But my dad had been a technician all his life and there was something about that world that I liked. So I started thinking about it, thanks to his suggestion, and doing research until I found a university I liked and gave it a chance.

It was a bit of destiny, I think, because we moved to a new place with my family and I found a university I really liked, but I can see now in retrospect that my dad’s support was also fundamental to me. It was essential to have someone take me out of the typical discourse: “Would you like working in technology?” “But working with software is so cold, and you’re a people person…”. Well, after years working in technology, I realized that this is not true: the work of software engineers is super social, there’s plenty of teamwork, and the social component is at the very core of our job.

I’ve always wanted to be to other people what my dad was to me at that moment: the one person who told me, “You can do it, go ahead”—my cheerleader. One of those people who open up horizons in front of you and give you the chance to really choose, because choosing is not the same when the horizon in front of you is small and has some options, than when it’s huge and full of possibilities.

And when was it that you started working?

I started when I was still studying. First, as a freelancer, working on routers’ drivers, and after that, at a software company as a back-end Java developer. That was the beginning of my professional life, first in back end, then as a full-stack dev, and finally I started working with JavaScript and slightly moved to the UI side as my career evolved.

Back then, what did the picture look like in terms of gender equity?

Well, I remember when I started studying, there were few women in the field. Out of 100 people in college, I remember there were only two or three women. And then when we started working it was worse, because some of us specialized in testing, others in analysis, and the ones who followed the development path were very, very few.

Then when I started working, it was also frequent for me to be the only or at least the first woman in the team. Then that slowly started to change. I remember very vividly a moment in which I was trying out new things and exploring paths, and all of a sudden, I realized that all the leaders in my team were women—it was a shock, a good one. I never had any issues working with male leaders and colleagues, but seeing a development team with all female leaders felt really nice. I think that moment was a clear reflection of how the industry evolved.

Today the picture looks different, and even though we’re far from perfect, there’s been a positive change. The number of women in the field is much higher and people’s mindset is also changing, precisely because of the presence of more women.

When and how did you start to pursue a leadership path?

I started my leadership path as a technical leader, and as time went by, I built a strong relationship with my Engineering Manager at the moment, and she started delegating tasks to me. It was a time in my career in which I was exploring options to find out what I wanted to do, figuring out what would come next.

I tried with architecture and delivery management, and then continued exploring until I realized that what I enjoyed the most was the management side; I was basically drawn by the human side of our work. I always liked solving problems and, as an engineering manager you get to face more complex problems—which come with more gratifying rewards once you solve them. Technical problems are interesting as well, but through people management, you get to be an enabler, to unlock possibilities, to guide people through their career paths. The impact you can have is huge. I basically found a way to be what my managers and mentors were to me.

As a director, you’re the manager of other managers. How is it to work on that role?

Right now, I’m working with three Development teams at Avature and their managers come from very different backgrounds and are standing at different points in their careers. So what’s interesting to me is precisely to try to understand that: where each of them is standing and where they want to go (both individually and as a team), and figure out how I can help them reach that place. And I absolutely love that.

The big challenge of being a “manager of managers” is being able to help others boost their own potential and skills. And I really enjoy that, because I’m surrounded by capable, passionate people who are motivated by the same things I am, and the conversations we have are 100% enriching. I enjoy building relationships because they’re all so different.

Also, something nice at Avature is that you always count on a whole framework (your manager, other leaders, and Talent Management) to accompany you and boost your role. There’s a tendency in the corporate world to feel that, as you grow and escalate in your career, you’ll be more and more “alone.” But that’s not the case here. Whether you’re in a leadership position or not, there’s a whole structure to support you, and that really makes the difference.

I lead as a director just the same way I led when I was a team manager. I help people grow, work with managers on the different challenges they face with their teams, and also on technical issues. The only difference is that now I do it from a strategic point of view, with a cross, broader vision of where we’re standing as an organization.

What challenges did you face throughout your career? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I had to face in my career (which is connected to this being a “man's world”) was finding my own place and way of doing things.

Today, I know what value I add, what makes me different, what I can offer. But it was not easy to get to this point: we often tend to compare ourselves and try to be the same as our colleagues. And that’s when we end up focusing on the differences with a negative perspective, which fill us with insecurities as we try to hide them or overcompensate for them.

The challenge for me, I believe, was to stop thinking that those things that made me different were negative. Understanding that it was precisely because of those differences that I could add a new point of view, contribute to the diversity of ideas. Not all my ideas will always work, of course, but they do add value. Always. It took me a while to figure it out, but finding your own way to do things is what will make you different and make you valuable.

Luckily, I’ve had fantastic leaders who helped me in the way, but I also remember some who wanted to force me to fit into a little box where I obviously didn’t fit, to make me be like somebody else when I did not want to be that way. That can be frustrating, but with time, I understood that each person has their own value and that we shouldn’t try to force everyone to fit in the same little box (not even ourselves), because if we do that, we’re leaving out a huge number of valuable things that each person can add from their own unique singularity.

This is why representation matters: having female mentors, seeing them building strong careers in the industry, adding value, and being true to themselves—that was the key for me to overcome this challenge.

What advice would you give to other women who might be facing the same challenge?

Don’t compare yourself in a negative way. Impostor’s syndrome will always be around the corner: ignore it. Go ahead and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. You will learn from them.

Sometimes without realizing it, we can be our own worst enemies if we limit ourselves. I’m going to share an anecdote here that reflects this very well:

Some years ago, I was working at a company who held a contest: you had to present a project, people voted, and if your project was chosen, you won a prize. The prize was a trip to Antarctica to work from there for 4 weeks.

I read the conditions and my first reaction was: “There’s no chance I could win!” So I immediately gave up. Before even trying. But the idea somehow stuck in my head, and when I went back home that day, I talked about this with my husband. His immediate reaction was to tell me that if I didn’t participate, I was completely crazy. “Sign up, give it a chance. What’s the worst that could happen?”

I had a million doubts, but I finally did it. I teamed up with some colleagues, we signed up, worked on a project, and presented it. I did all this with the firm belief that we would not win. But we did. They voted and chose our project. We won. And we went to Antarctica: I was the first woman to develop code on an Argentinian base in Antarctica.

This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t taken the chance, if I hadn’t counted on the support of somebody who told me to go ahead, to dare take the chances.

So my advice is to dream big and believe in yourself. All the big things I achieved in life were because I dared take the chances. So don’t underestimate your capabilities. You can do it, and remember: if you make a mistake, you’ll surely learn something from it.

What do you foresee for the future in terms of your career development? How would you like to keep growing?

Truth is that I like where I am today. On a professional note, I can say I’d like to keep growing on the leadership path, but one of my goals in life has always been to find a place where I felt good; I’ve always felt like chasing a carrot, always thinking about what was next, wishing to reach a moment where I could say, “I’m OK where I am now.” And today feels like that. I am where I want to be and, for the first time, I feel happy and fulfilled, thinking about the present and not about what’s coming next. So let whatever is coming next surprise me. There’s plenty ahead to explore and learn.

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