Today we’re featuring Smaranda Fournier, our Director of Engineering, and discussing the future of real estate technology, being a woman in tech, and what it’s like working at Union Street Media. 

Keep reading to meet Smaranda!

What drew you to work in the engineering field? Was there a specific moment that sparked your interest? 

My dad practiced software engineering for a few years when I was little, at a time when this profession couldn’t support a family in Romania. He ended up switching careers and becoming an entrepreneur, but his love for algorithms and logical thinking stuck with me. Both he and my mom went to the Informatics High School and I used to draw on old punch cards of theirs growing up. 

I followed in their footsteps and started programming early in high school and knew this was my favorite thing to do. My initial plan was to go into this field thinking that working with computers would be easier than working with humans – I quickly learned that one cannot avoid working with humans and in fact – it is essential to making computers do what we want them to do. 

Did you ever experience any uncertainty that this was the path for you? How did you overcome it? 

Right before I started college, I had to decide which college to go to and had to grapple with the question – is this a suitable profession for a woman? I remember asking myself that question and thinking that this is what I love doing and it’s gotta be enough. Later in my career, I oscillated between management and highly technical roles.  

What has your experience been like as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field? 

Starting my career in Romania, I was privileged to grow in a more even split environment. While not 50/50, the landscape is more balanced than I found it to be in the US, where being a female in tech was more of a novelty. 

What opportunities do you see to make that split a little more even in the US and other parts of the world? 

I started learning computer science in high school and being exposed so early was so beneficial. Everyone got to learn the basics all together and it was obvious that this field was accessible to everyone. I think early exposure and trying computer science out is the key [to making that split more even] and also, being able to see yourself [as a woman represented] in another technology leader. We need to make space for other women. 

“I’m just going to be myself. If it’s not good enough it’s fine. I’m going to do it my own way –  it doesn’t have to look like others.” 

What drew you to Union Street Media?

I knew of Union Street Media through my network and I was interviewing with a few local companies in 2018, soon after moving to the United States from my hometown Cluj in Romania. I remember the first interview I had and coming into the office and receiving a warm welcome from Francis [Gravel, one of our most experienced engineers]. I quickly learned how incredible the people are and also found that my work here can have an impact. 

Working with a small team with a core belief in independence was new to me and I was ready for the challenge. Union Street Media offered the right mix of flexibility, a team to collaborate with, and challenging business problems to solve through technology. There was room to learn and grow in an environment that felt safe to try things out. This is why I’m still here.

 What’s your favorite part about being on the engineering team at Union Street Media? 

The people – I truly work with an amazing team. We’ve grown a lot over the past few years and I’m really proud of the engineering culture we’ve built. I might be biased when I say that we have a world-class engineering team. We have a diverse team, with people coming from different backgrounds and having wide-ranging interests. It’s such a delight to watch the magic happen when teams come together and collaborate on a shared goal. We’re still fairly small and with our belief in independence, we’ve created an environment where teams are empowered to make decisions and try things out. At an individual level, I feel that my work has an impact.

Where do you see the future of real estate technology going or are there any opportunities that would significantly impact the industry?

I think the future of real estate technology needs to serve local communities. Real estate has always been a local affair, and while companies in this space now cover much larger geographical areas, the user experience needs to be localized in order to stay relevant. Local communities also need fair access to affordable housing and I think there’s an opportunity to design technology solutions with this in mind.

 Any advice for women looking to get into the engineering field or make the next move in their career? 

Do it! Women are just as capable to do engineering jobs. It doesn’t have to look like the traditional nerd – it can be anything you want. The highest-performing teams in my experience are the most diverse. 

Start small and have fun with it as you go – the technology landscape today can feel overwhelming because there are lots of options and things are changing constantly. Give yourself space to explore and imagine what you want to do and then go and find that.