Career Nav #36: The Importance of Philanthropy in Technology With Proton

Career Nav #36: The Importance of Philanthropy in Technology With Proton

Written by Irina Marcopol & Patricia Egger


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Molly Devine, Individual Giving Manager at Women Who Code, interviews Irina Marcopol, Brand and Community Lead at Proton, and Patricia Egger, Security Co-lead at Proton and Co-founder and Vice President of the Women in Cyber Association in Switzerland. Out of 600 potential charities, Women Who Code was chosen as one of 10 to receive a donation from the Proton Lifetime Account Fundraiser. The 2022 raffle raised a record-breaking $784,670, of which Proton donated $71,800 to Women Who Code.

Can you share about Proton’s start, mission, and goals?

IM: Proton is a software company on a mission to build a better internet by making it more private. We do this by creating privacy-first alternatives to services like Dropbox and Gmail that empower people to protect their online privacy and retain control over their data. Our ecosystem includes encrypted email, file storage solutions, calendars, and VPNs. All of this is built on the principle of, ‘your data, your rules.’ You decide what happens to your data and not advertisers or big tech. Our story began over nine years ago in Switzerland. A team of former scientists from the European Organization of Nuclear Research had envisioned a more private and secure way of communicating via email. This is how our first service Proton Mail was born. Since then, many things have changed. Today, Proton is a global company with a team of over 450 people that work across different offices worldwide from our Geneva headquarters and remote.

Can you both share about your role at Proton and any big wins you may have had or big projects you’ve worked on?

IM: I joined the company early on as the first marketing hire. I joined as a jack of all trades, which gave me a unique opportunity to get to know our community, see it grow, and contribute to its growth. I was able to learn about our users and understand their needs, to learn about our products and how they were built from the ground up. I have also worked closely with our founder to understand his vision for the company since the beginning. One of the projects I’m most proud of was when we got to know each other in the Proton fundraiser. This has become a tradition at Proton. It started as an idea because Proton began with a crowdfunding campaign. The community united, allowing us to build our first product, Proton Mail. We thought it would be great to start giving back to the community. We launched a  project called the Proton Lifetime Account Fundraiser, which happens every year. We use our communities’ support to raise money for organizations that do good worldwide.

PE: I’m a security officer, which means I try to understand what our security risks are and figure out how we can measure them, how we can quantify that, and then try to help figure out what we can do about it. I ensure we’re investing the right resources for the correct problems. I work with all of the other teams and all of the other people in the company. I feel like I’m sitting between all of the teams and leadership, as they know what their priorities for the company are. They also know what resources are available and know what they wanna do first and things like that. I translate amongst different teams and ensure we move in the right direction. I don’t do coding, but I think it’s really helpful for me to understand what the engineers are doing daily and the other teams.

What drew you to working in tech, and what’s the experience been like?

IM: Since we work five days a week and probably more than half of our lives, I wanted to find an industry where I could find purpose. Tech was the most straightforward answer to my question. I wondered where I could find a company or companies where I could find people who are kind, smart, and who I would feel I could learn from. I’m sure there are other industries, but tech was that industry for me. I’m not great at math but extroverted and creative, so I thought I could find my way into tech differently. I think about myself as a creative problem solver. In tech, this is something that many companies appreciate.

PE: It was important for me to work for a company that I believed in. I like what I do for work and wanted to do it in a company where it would be important. You can do cybersecurity in any company, but I wanted to do it in one that would be front and center. I wanted more creativity.

What are your thoughts on gender diversity in the tech industry and your experience?

PE: I have a bit of a biased view because more men than women have always surrounded me since my studies. There were 30% women in math, which is not horrendous, but it’s also far from 50%. I was in the cyber team at Deloitte, which was also primarily men. At Kudelski Security, I was the only woman. I’m used to it. I don’t mind it that much. It’s nice when other women are around, but it is very rare. I have occasionally been in conference calls where there were only women, which is just the weirdest thing for me. I kind of love it. I’ve had a generally good experience. There have been instances where things didn’t necessarily go the way I wanted, or someone has made some comment. I think it’s tough because you don’t know whether it’s just a comment for a comment or if it’s because you’re the only woman. Also, I look significantly younger than many of the people I work with.

IM: My experience has been really pleasant as a woman in tech. I would have liked to see more women, but to be honest, working in communications or marketing in tech is an entirely different experience than working as a software engineer. One enjoyable experience that I had was that I had the opportunity to meet some of the smartest, funniest women I’ve ever met in tech. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of women aiming to be tech entrepreneurs, which was a bit shocking to me because I was expecting to join an industry where there are not a lot of women. I come from Romania, and when I grew up in the ’90s, there was no such thing as encouraging women to follow STEM. If I would have been encouraged, I would have probably done it. This is why I respect and admire the work your organization does. These are the types of things that women need. They need encouragement. If you tell women they can do something, they will likely try.

What advice or pro tips do you have for women looking to enter the field?

IM: Have the confidence to apply. When I applied to Proton, I was not in the same country as the company. I was in Austria. Proton is based in Switzerland. I didn’t have much experience, not international experience at least—brilliant people with high standards built proton. When I applied, getting the leadership team’s attention wasn’t easy. I tried three times and even visited the office. Everything you wanna go after. If you want it, do it with confidence and perseverance without being stopped. That will open more doors and give you more opportunities. As women, we lack confidence. Data shows that women don’t apply to jobs unless they check almost 80% of the job description. As a hiring manager for many roles at Proton, I know that these job descriptions are wishful thinking in most cases. If you find that person that checks all the boxes, that’s a unicorn. Most people will probably not check all the boxes from the beginning. Try and don’t give up. I think women underestimate entirely how much they have to offer in a world where automation is taking over most of our tasks. Qualities that are more feminine generally in candidates, like critical thinking, flexibility, collaboration, and communication, women are good at this. These qualities are needed in the workplace. They have much more to offer than they think.

PE: Go for it and do it. Come with your skill set. Because clearly, Be confident in what you’re good at and how that brings value to the company you would like to work at.

IM: I like to read about gender gaps in tech. One of my favorite topics is the lack of women in developing products, testing, and creating products such as personal protection equipment, like vests for policemen or even car seat belts. The lack of women in tech is a symptom of women having a more complicated life. We have many more responsibilities as human beings. It’s not only up to women to fight for themselves. It’s up to governments, companies, and men to support women in building the right environment for them to thrive. When you’re a mom or need to take care of a home, and you don’t have a supportive partner, you cannot dream of a tech career. Systems need to change to be more equitable for women and men.

PE: People must understand that even in a team like mine, you don’t have to be technical and do coding all day. Some of my colleagues do that, but I don’t, and they need me. They’re pleased to have me on the team. I’ve done coding and learned a few different programming languages. I never really enjoyed it. It was a means to an end. It’s an excellent skill to have. Programming can be seen that way. Get some basic knowledge, maybe try to understand some of it.

Is there any last element you’d like to say or call to action that you’d like to bring forward in closing?

IM: I just wanted to mention the topic of not knowing how to code or not having to love to know how to code. In tech, there’s a role, which is the product manager role, that requires this knowledge of coding or how software is built, but it also requires a lot of good collaboration skills and project management skills, things that women are good at. Some of the best product managers I’ve met are women. I would encourage people, or women, from Women Who Code to try this role if coding is not what they love but they learn the tech behind building software. It’s an exciting role, and it’s crucial to building great products. We do have openings for product managers and product marketing managers because Proton is in a high growth period right now, where we’re looking for many smart people to join our mission to build a better internet.

Guest: Irina Marcopol, Brand and Community Lead at Proton
Guest: Patricia Egger, Security Co-lead at Proton and Co-founder and Vice President of the Women in Cyber Association in Switzerland
Host: Molly Devine, Individual Giving Manager at Women Who Code
Producer: JL Lewitin, Senior Producer, Press and Digital Content, Women Who Code