‘It takes courage and a village’ - Testlio co-founder on what it takes to make it as a woman in tech

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Kristel Kruustük
Kristel Kruustük
  • Kristel Kruustük is the Chief Tester and co-founder of Testlio, the originator of, and leader in, networked testing supporting clients like Microsoft, Amazon, CBS and Etsy.
  • Forty-six percent of the Testlio’s employees are women, while the leadership team is more than 50 percent female too.
  • Here Kristel gives us a glimpse of what her work as a woman in tech entails.

The company is going from strength to strength, which is why it’s kind of funny that Kristel got into tech completely by accident. “When I graduated high school in Estonia, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” says the entrepreneur. Her sister, who was living in London at the time, told Kristel to come and live with her and waitress while she figured things out.

“…I hung out with a lot of my sister’s friends and they were all in tech and they told me ‘tech is the future’,” she smiles. “Even though my relationship to computers was minimal. I never even had the curiosity about what kind of work goes into the programmes that I’m using or how these games are being built. I was like ‘I have nothing to lose. I’m going to study programming’.”

And so, a love story with software testing began.

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There were some strong stereotypes presented to her in the beginning. “…like it’s a boy’s thing and it’s all these introverts sitting behind their computers and men with long ponytails and glasses,” she laughs, but she soon changed her mindset even though her class was only 10 percent women.

Was she intimidated? No. “I try to live my life by looking for examples and my sister, for instance, worked for a bank and she was leading big projects. She gave me the confidence that I can get by,” says Kristel. And that’s part of why she thinks that examples are so powerful for women and marginalised groups who need someone to look up to.

She believes that women are an “untapped ecosystem” and could drive economic growth. “When we started Testlio, I think that more women were drawn to the company because there was already someone like them working there,” says the 31-year-old.  “This is why role models are important. It’s an untapped opportunity for many companies. Companies will be so much more successful if they have people in the company who look like the people they are serving.”   

This is why she hopes that the story of Testlio will inspire more women to either go into tech or start their own companies.

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She recognises that it’s harder for women to enter this industry with strong stereotypes being presented or going into a company where the culture doesn’t foster inclusion. “Sometimes women go to work for a company where there is a very male dominated culture and they don’t like it and it drives them away from the industry and they assume that it’s like that everywhere. The percentage of women who leave the tech industry is crazy high,” she says.

But she has simple advice for women who feel this way: “Just go for it,” Kristel says with a determined look in her eye. “Do whatever you want and don’t worry about what everyone is constantly thinking about you. If you feel something isn’t right, have the courage to speak up. Don’t hide your feelings or needs because otherwise we can’t make a change.”

For companies who are looking to make a change? Start hiring differently. “I really think that people from diverse backgrounds are going to make a difference for any company. At the end of the day, if you want to become big and successful, you can’t just hire one group of people,” she says.

But being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean she doesn’t sometimes have doubts. How does Kristel deal with imposter syndrome? “My cure for it is that I can do it and that’s it. Seriously,” she says.  “There’s so much doubt in myself, but at the same time there’s so much opportunity in front of me, I’m going to give it a chance. I’m not going to let my mind, or fear, take control.”

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She continues: “There’s obviously been a lot of doubt in me and there’s so much that you risk when you start a company. When we started, I had an apartment and financial stability, but then I gave all of that up to move back to Estonia to live with my husband’s parents for a while. I got a lot of negative feedback from other entrepreneurs and people that I looked up to and it hurt me a lot, but at the same time, I was like ‘there are so many more people out there, someone is going to believe in my idea’. I just kept going and at the end of the day, every problem has a solution.”

Kristel is passionate about getting more women to start businesses or get into tech. She does a lot of public speaking where she encourages people to contact her for advice. Her advice for newbies who want to grow their career? Find someone successful and learn from them.

“Find a person who has been through some hard things as well and you’ll get the best support and advice. I think it’s extremely important for people just to connect,” she says. “Before Testlio, I wanted to become the best software tester in the world, so I went to different meet ups and conferences. I contacted different industry leaders on Twitter and invited them out for lunch so I could just learn from their experience and get connected with people who were like me. I think that’s the best way to become better and learn.”

She recognises how important it is to have a good team around you to fall back on. “Communities are so important. Find a community that have people with the same interests and want to have the same career paths. It just takes courage and a village.”

You can find and connect with Kristel on LinkedIn or Instagram.

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