Behind The Scenes: Masha

A Junior Frontend Engineer and Neos alumni, Babbel’s engineering mentoring program, talks to us about making a career switch from the non-profit sector to tech, and explains why she became an LGBTQ+ activist.
June 24, 2020
Behind The Scenes: Masha

At Babbel, our endgame is getting people to have conversations with other people, in a new language. There are fantastic folks here making that possible. In our “Behind The Scenes” series, we sit down with them to provide a glimpse into who makes it all work, what they do, and where their heads are at. 

This round we’re talking to Masha Balganova, a Junior Frontend Engineer in the B2B department.

What’s your role at Babbel? What do you do on a typical day?

I am a Junior Frontend Engineer. I work in the B2B engineering team, which mostly consists of backend engineers, so frontenders are a minority here. For me this opens great opportunities f.ex. to drive (with the support of my team) the refactoring of a corporate customer’s portal. Every morning we have a standup meeting to align with the whole team, then I work alone or pair with colleagues. I like to pair with my colleagues, because it’s good knowledge sharing and you get to know the approach of the others. Besides this, we have a lot of ceremonies during the sprint, and meetings with the B2B department.

Where are you from and which languages do you speak?

I am from Siberia, Russia. I speak Russian, English and a bit of German. Four years ago, I moved to Berlin to marry my wife, Elke. She is German, but we speak mostly English to each other (besides made-up words in mixed languages). We are sure it’s better to speak a neutral, third language for us as a binational couple.

My wife is learning Russian using Babbel. I was a volunteer to record my voice for the Russian course in the Babbel app, and Elke is always happy to find a dialogue with my voice there. I hope one day I’ll be able to speak better German than just for survival, but so far I was too busy with changing my career and adjusting to life in a new country.

This is a pretty international workplace. How does that influence your work?

I love that Babbel is so international! Seeing so many diverse people, cultures, approaches, I become less critical of myself and have the courage to work more confidently. Also it’s never boring to be in such a multi-cultural atmosphere.

What learning/growth opportunities have impacted you most?

The opportunities, which Babbel gave me were life-changing. I used to work in the non-profit and human rights sector, but in Berlin I had difficulties finding a job in this area without good German. I decided that learning coding is easier than learning German… that’s why I changed my career path and learned coding in a 3-month bootcamp. After that, I was selected for the first Babbel Neos engineering mentorship two years ago. Babbel Neos is a 6-month learning program for career changers who want to become Software Engineers, but don’t have enough education or work experience in engineering. It literally changed my life – thanks to very dedicated mentors, I made all the way from a totally newbie in engineering to a Junior, and hope to become a Professional Engineer soon.

What challenges are you most animated by?

For a while, I was very much inspired by the goal of become a Mentoring Program Lead (like my colleague Aimee, who is the Neos Lead). I made the job interview with Aimee, and I thought, wow, she is a perfect fit for this position, and one day I would like to be like her. The idea of Neos is brilliant, I would like to help people change their careers, to mentor, inspire and support them in their paths. But right now I’m very happy about my team and my everyday work. It’s fascinating to have an overview of the whole application, refactor it, develop new features and write creative tests. For now, I would like to move to a professional engineering position, and only after I will be able to think further.

You are a part of the Femgineering group here at Babbel. Can you tell us more about the group?

Femgineering is an initiative for female Engineers at Babbel, and it’s amazing, because women are a minority in the tech world. They are challenged by gender stereotypes and results of female socialization. For example, in my bootcamp there were 50/50 female and male students, but mostly men asked a lot of questions. The women were more shy and very often started their questions from “It’s probably a very silly question, but…”. I’m very happy and proud that Babbel has this initiative, where I can feel safe and empowered. 

June means Pride month, not just at Babbel, but all around the world. What does Pride mean to you?

Being a lesbian from quite a homophobic country, Pride means a lot for me. After many years of dealing with internal homophobia I became an LGBTQ+ activist and can now say out loud that there is no shame to be a lesbian or just different from others. I appreciate my identities and I’m very proud of who I am: lesbian, woman, expat, Asian, Siberian, person living with depression, bad ukulele player… (I can continue and continue). We should celebrate all the differences that make each person unique!

Since we are now all working from home, how have you adjusted to this situation? Do you have any tips to share for WFH productivity?

For me it was a bit more difficult, because I changed the team directly before lockdown, so I met my colleagues in the office for only 3 days, and then we all started to work remotely. In the beginning it was really tough, all this stress to organize my workplace, deal with a lot of video calls and lack of direct communication… but step by step everything became better. I found my rhythm, I started to enjoy the occasional virtual coffee breaks with my team just to chat, plus I have a very supportive manager, Lana, who has helped a lot with my adaptation. So my tips would be – find when you are the most productive during the day and use it smartly, organize coffee breaks with your colleagues if you miss them, and talk to your manager if something bothers you. Good luck and be effective working even in your pajamas!

Want to work with Masha? We are currently hiring for various Engineering roles!

Author Headshot
Ewa Cabaj
Ewa works in the Internal Communications team in Berlin and heads up Babbel's Employer Branding. She likes to think of herself as a trilingual Polish-German-American nomad and is a big fan of all things noodle, travel, and dog-related content.
Ewa works in the Internal Communications team in Berlin and heads up Babbel's Employer Branding. She likes to think of herself as a trilingual Polish-German-American nomad and is a big fan of all things noodle, travel, and dog-related content.

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