April 19. 2024. 9:41

The Daily

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Founder of Tech Start-up Erodes Stereotypes & Creates Role Models


Kristel Kruustük, Co-founder of the software testing company Testlio, was nominated ‘Young Entrepreneur of the year’ by the Estonian Chamber of Commerce (2017) and listed in Inc. magazine’s annual Female Founders 100 list (2022). Recently, Kruustük sponsored and awarded a scholarship, through Tallinn University of Tech, for female students perusing a career in tech.

You often speak about your passion for software testing, but it seems that you stumbled upon it.

Kruustük: “Stumbled upon. Yes, this is exactly how I got into tech. When graduating from high school, I lived with my sister in London for the summer. She had a career in finance working on IT projects.

I got to hang out with her friends. They all worked in tech and told me to enter the industry because there are a variety of roles. I had stereotypes or misconceptions about the tech sector. I thought it was a place, where you have guys with long ponytails and glasses, sitting behind their computers the entire day – like sitting in caves. I’m sure a lot of people have those misconceptions, but my sister’s friends were confident this should be my next choice. That’s how it began.”

Would you attribute the lack of women in tech to stereotypes?

Kruustük: “The tech sector is broad and offers a range of roles. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the lack of women in engineering roles, within the industry, is a persistent issue. Research shows that gender stereotypes and biases can contribute to this problem, as they can discourage girls and women from pursuing STEM fields. Also, they can create hostile work environments for those who do.”

How can the sector make software engineering roles more attractive to women?

Kruustük: “We need to talk about role models. That’s what influenced me, right? If my sister wouldn’t have had such an amazing career, great income, and an independent life, then maybe tech wouldn’t have sounded attractive to me. I wanted to get by on my own. The tech sector was attractive in terms of that.”

We also need to recognise and promote the success of the many talented and capable women who are working in tech to help break down stereotypes and inspire the next generation of women in STEM.”

You have become a role model. Could you share lessons learnt as you started a family while growing Testlio?

Kruustük: “When I started my company in 2012, it felt like I was in a hustle culture and I would never be able to run a successful company, especially a startup, as a parent. I thought the company must get 100% of your time. Again, back in those days, you didn’t see any female role models.

When I got pregnant, I was really worried about how to give the news to my colleagues and our investors. But I wanted to be a parent and continue building Testlio. Over the years, I realised that building a company takes a long time. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon – however cliché it sounds.

The competition is not going to run over me if I take some weekends for my family. You must change your mindset about what it takes to build a successful company.”

Do you feel that stereotypes endure because people start to internalise them?

Kruustük: “Yes, you need to make peace with who you are and what you do. It doesn’t matter what society says. Just do whatever you think is best for you, your mental health, and your health in general.”

Could you speak about a tough decision that you had to make peace with?

Kruustük: “One of my most significant decisions was recognising where my strengths and passions lay, and then stepping down as CEO in order to help the company continue to thrive. I believe this takes a lot of self-awareness and humility, as well as a deep commitment to the success of the organisation. By trusting my gut and doing what’s best for the team, I was able to create space for new leadership and guide the company towards even greater success.

This highlights the importance of being willing to make difficult decisions and prioritise the long-term health of the organisation over individual interests or egos. It’s also a reminder that constantly striving for improvement is key to remaining competitive.”

Why does Testlio use a networked testing model?

Kruustük: “Networked testing is a great opportunity to just get more eyes on the software. Also, networked testing enables you to reach people globally. There are super talented people who studied engineering, but they don’t find opportunities within their own countries. We are such a diverse team (operating in 140 countries) and we learn so much from each other.”

What skills do you prioritise at Testlio?

Kruustük: “There are technical skills and then we talk about soft skills. I love how Simon Sinek put it. He calls skills, like empathy and patience, human skills instead of soft skills and says that they can also be learnt. These are very important skills.”

Estonia is famous for digitalisation. What sparked this?

Kruustük: The success of Skype, founded by Estonian entrepreneurs, served as a powerful example of what was possible. Digitalisation has allowed us to reconnect with the world, share our culture and ideas, and transcend physical boundaries.

As Estonia just celebrated its Independence Day, we are reminded of the importance of standing up for our values and defending our sovereignty. I believe that Estonia’s commitment to digitalisation and innovation is a testament to our resilience and determination to build a brighter future.”

So, what is next for you?

Kruustük: “I totally feel like Testlio will be my life’s work. I also want to enable more human possibilities in the world by continuing to build programs like Testlio Ignite. We help people, who have had very challenging backgrounds, to start careers in software testing.

Hopefully, my short story of Testlio will inspire other people.”