International Women’s Day with Buket Konuk-Hirst

Buket Konuk-Hirst

Data Engineer, Data Science team, CognitionX

What do you do?
I am working on Machine Learning models for CognitionX, applying cutting-edge technologies on the CognitionX platform such as Auto-tagging, Recommendation Engine, and Skills Explorer.
My background is in Data, and I worked as a Data and Analytics consultant in various industries before I joined.

What is something about yourself that many people are surprised to learn?
People are surprised to learn that I left an established career and a social life behind in Istanbul to move to the UK in my early thirties.

Describe yourself in three words
I completed a very popular and reputable “personality tendency” test recently and came out as a part of a very small minority group of people who are defined as “rebels”. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They choose to act from a sense of choice, of freedom. Inspiringly, the three words I choose for myself are freedom, integrity, and hard work.

Who is your greatest inspiration?
People who have the grit and perseverance to do extraordinary things, even when this makes them odd in some ways in the conventional sense. Humanity has progressed thanks to those oddballs, and many of them who are women do not have their names in history books.

What advice would you give to a young woman getting into tech?
STEM is a very rewarding field, and I see more and more women who are role models in tech. It can be frustrating at times, so my advice is do not give up! There are more resources and opportunities than before. Also, don’t ever hesitate to ask for help and mentoring from your experienced women circle. You will find there’s plenty of people who are willing to help if you choose to reach out. Another piece of advice I have is to research the company culture before you join them. Ask about the diversity stats, female/male ratio, and empowerment culture in the company.

Have you experienced discrimination as a woman in tech? Tell us about it.
I don’t think I was discriminated against when I worked as a woman in tech in Istanbul, actually the opposite. My managers liked testing me and throwing me into situations I was completely inexperienced with, maybe sometimes just to see if I can make it 🙂 Whereas in the UK, on many occassions, a task I had a competency for was given to a male colleague, for no apparent reason. I also remember a few times where I voiced an idea in meetings, it was listened to without comment, and when a senior male colleague repeated the exact same idea half an hour later, it was celebrated as if I never mentioned it :)) I think we still have a lot of unconscious bias in the workplace, and it needs to be tackled with haste.

What do you do in your workplace to challenge gender norms?
Since I have been there, I do my best to mentor and support women around me and encourage them in every opportunity. I have been lucky enough to be supported and upskilled by the women I work with, and I always try to do the same. I also research the company culture before joining and ensure there are female managers in key positions.

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