This is part of our HERStory campaign, featuring women who are changing the world with their innovative work in STEM fields. In interviews conducted by Technovation Girls alumni and student ambassadors, we’re sharing stories and advice from women in STEM. 

Get to know Grace S. and Kate Stepp, who recently sat down to talk about being women in tech, the process of developing into a leader, and women who inspire them. Grace is a Technovation Girls Student Ambassador, which means she’s currently helping recruit girls for the current season. Previously, Grace participated in Technovation Girls herself, developing a literacy app called Lexis Learn. Kate Stepp is a Senior Director of Engineering at FactSet. FactSet is a financial software company that provides content services and analytics to financial professionals. Watch their interview below or read on for some of our favorite moments.

On working in STEM and loving technology

Kate has been working at Factset for about 10 years, and is currently a Senior Director of Engineering – but she started out as an engineer with the company. “When I started out at FactSet, I was very hands-on, coding and working on small pieces of applications. Over time, as I got more familiar with the codebase and was able to take on larger projects, I moved into a manager role for a small team. I was still coding, and I was mentoring other team members to all work on one larger application.”

Kate continued to manage and mentor, and over time began managing more teams. This continual progression and the learning opportunities it afforded is something Kate loves about engineering as a field too. “At some point you feel like you should have mastered a certain skill set, but in technology, with everything changing so quickly, there’s always something new that you can be learning, and it always keeps things interesting. I’m never at a point where I’m feeling bored or complacent. There’s always something new to explore and discover.

“I think that’s probably the best thing about technology in general. It applies to so many different areas, if you’re ever bored in one particular industry, you can always switch to something new and always find something that is very applicable to what you’re interested in at the time.”

On getting started in STEM 

Kate loved mathematics and problem solving from an early age, and her interest in computers was born, in part, from a computer game about dogs! “From the earliest time I can remember, I always really liked computers. I wanted a dog growing up and my parents never allowed me to have dogs, [and] there was this computer game that was all about virtual dogs, which I was playing. I learned how to edit the files of these digital dogs, to change their characteristics. At that age, this [was] really fun and exciting, and I learned how to create a website, so I could upload these files, and people could adopt these dogs. So, at an early age I overlapped this obsession with dogs with what I was learning with technology.”

Kate was able to keep exploring this interest through her programming classes in school, which she also loved. “I think it was hav[ing] some problem you need to solve and not hav[ing] an exact way to get there, but be[ing] able to come up with your own creative solution through code and programming.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Grace wanted to know what Kate thinks can be done to welcome more girls to engineering fields. For Kate, “the biggest piece is making sure that there is enough awareness and learning opportunities for people to try out this field and understand if it’s something for them.

“And then beyond that, it’s feeling like you can participate in something, and a big part of that is representation. If I try something out, really like it, and go to participate and notice that no one else who looks like me is participating in that group, I start to have this feeling that maybe there’s something I missed, and really it’s not right for me. So, we need to have a welcoming environment when someone gets into technology, to see more people like them, and say, ‘this is something that I like, and there’s other people like me who have succeeded in that as well, so I can see a clear path to join in and be a part of it’. Getting more girls involved really starts us off in the right direction so people see a way forward to participate in technology. Additionally, different backgrounds and diversity in general just brings different ideas to the table. When you have to debate something, it always comes with a more thought-out solution. More innovation comes from debating ideas and bringing different points of view.”

Grace was also curious to know more about Kate’s work with diversity and inclusion at Factset specifically. “At FactSet we have several different groups that help us create communities around diversity and inclusion. Whether that’s women’s groups, or different minority groups, it brings together people who have the same background and can come together and share, and support each other. I’ve been participating in some of those groups, and the biggest responsibility for me is support[ing] the group in any way I can. In one way that’s participation. In another way, it’s when I’m advocating for the needs of the group or raising any concerns of the group to different levels of leadership at the company, so that we make sure we’re moving in the right direction to support everyone’s needs.”

On advice to a younger self 

Looking back, Kate wishes she could have told her younger self that it’s okay to ask questions, and we should ask questions. “Early on in my career I was very quiet and I would try really hard to find answers on my own. As I moved through management and coaching larger teams, [I learned] the qualities that I’m looking for in someone are that they’re inquisitive, they’re curious, they’re looking for a solution to a problem. I’m not looking for someone to know the answer immediately. We don’t expect everyone to know it all. Technology is such a wide field that there’s no possible way to know everything.”

On feeling like an imposter – and remembering you’re not

Grace and Kate also spent some time talking about obstacles to being a woman in STEM. For Kate, the biggest challenge was her personal confidence, and imposter syndrome, which makes you believe that you’re not qualified, that you don’t deserve to be on a panel, or in a career, and that someone will find out and expose you for pretending to be something you’re not. Kate notes that this is a common feeling, not specific to women in tech – “when I have that feeling and I’m in a space where I look around and the representation isn’t exactly what I would hope it to be, it kind of accentuates the feeling that maybe it was a mistake that I found myself in this position. The challenge is reminding myself that actually I’m quite qualified for the position I’m in.”

For Kate, the ability to remember her qualifications is developing her confidence, but also noticing the support she receives from other people. And in part, she’s fueled to fight imposter syndrome so she can “help others to get to that position as well, so that we have those women in leadership that we can look to, to be that example of someone who’s been there and has done it, and it’s not a scary place to be.” A lot of this also comes down to Kate remembering to tell herself (and others) “it’s not a mistake.”

For a field lacking in diversity, it can be a challenge to find the representation you’re looking for, but Kate reminds Grace (and us) that we can look outside our immediate team or field. “I’ve had so many different role models and mentors across the company who really give me additional votes of confidence.” That vote of confidence might mean “always being there to bounce ideas off of, or provide different perspectives that may help me when I’m putting together a certain presentation I might be nervous for, or an interview that I might be preparing for” but it’s all about feeling supported and having people willing to “step in and help me see the different part of myself that I may take for granted.”

Advice for Technovation participants

“My biggest piece of advice would be, if you’re enjoying it to stick with it. Maybe branch out to look at a different type of technology. I think the reason that I have spent so long in this field and never felt tired of it at all is because of ever-evolving new technologies… At this point in time, everything is so accessible and there’s really no reason not to try something new. So if you’ve seen success with the apps that you’ve built so far, maybe think a little bit bigger for the next one and pair up with other like-minded people who want to solve the same problems, and just continue to go after it.”

We’re so grateful to Grace and Kate for sharing their time and conversation with us. Stay tuned for more interviews between women in STEM and Technovation alumni as part of HERStory. You can make HERstory too – help us support more girls and families this year.