Pursuing her dream computer, she worked during an international student exchange for one of the world’s leading technology companies. When asked about her accomplishments, she modestly replies, “It depends on the definition of success being discussed”. Explore the career journey of Bernadeta Śmiałek, Senior Director of Software Engineering at Sabre, demonstrating that the realm of new technologies is an ideal environment for professional growth.

Could you share insights into the beginnings of your IT journey? What prompted you to choose a career in emerging technologies?

Mathematics was my initial choice of study – my passion for exact sciences has always guided my interests. Nevertheless, following my brother’s advice, I opted for computer science. He believed that since I felt comfortable in the world of numbers and algorithms, I should have no trouble navigating a technical field. And this is how my IT journey began, a world characterised by a male-dominated presence at that time.

During a several-month-long student exchange, I solidified my conviction that the chosen academic path was the right fit for my interests. The main objective, alongside gaining initial professional experience, was… earning funds for my dream computer.

What was your biggest challenge at the very beginning of your career?

The biggest challenge at the beginning of my career was managing full-time studies alongside a full-time job, accompanied by early wake-ups to get to work or university. Meanwhile, I was also working on my master’s thesis – many readers likely know or vividly remember what a challenge that could be – those early days served as one of the most valuable lessons in managing my time, with discipline and perseverance proving to be my greatest assets.

Upon graduation, I felt that I finally had the space to grow in the industry, and I seized every opportunity to do so. Beyond my work, which naturally fostered my growth, I engaged in various training programs to broaden and enhance my technological skills. Even though my studies provided valuable lessons, the job market operated under its own rules, and I was keen on staying up-to-date with the latest trends. This remains true to this day – the IT sector requires ongoing enhancement of skills and competencies.

Can you recall any breakthrough moments in your career that profoundly impacted its course?

There were a few such moments, but the shift from an expert career path to a leadership role at Sabre was the most meaningful. I had many concerns about my new role – I knew that it would entail responsibility not only for the project I would be overseeing but also for the career and development, both mine and that of the team.

Looking back, I deeply value the support I received from my then-manager, who recognised my leadership potential. Today, I know it was a good decision – I perform well in my current role, and the teams I build are harmonious and highly engaged. From the role of a team supervisor in the testing department, I advanced to the position of Director of Development at Sabre.

You’ve succeeded in the IT industry, managing a large team at Sabre. What strategies and skills have played a crucial role in your professional growth?

It depends on how we define success. For me, it’s not about my professional title or the size of the team I manage. What truly matters is my impact on shaping the solutions we jointly create and whether I am building teams where everything is possible. When it comes to this, I experience a deep sense of satisfaction. I manage a large team at Sabre, but I am not alone – I am surrounded by exceptional leaders and experts.

Continuous skill development has been a key factor in reaching my current position. I consistently pursued both self-defined goals and those set by the organisation. I believe qualities such as openness and honesty, combined with a collaborative approach and a goal-oriented mindset, contributed to my success. I strive to listen attentively to the needs of the teams, fostering and creating a work environment where they thrive.

With almost 20 years in the IT sector, including over 18 years at Sabre, how do you perceive the evolution of the role and how the perception of women in the IT industry has changed over this period?

In my opinion, there have been significant changes in the new technology industry in this respect over the past few years. Various initiatives and organisations have been instrumental in reshaping the perception that the IT sector is male-dominated. The positive trend is fuelled by companies actively supporting these initiatives, with a growing number of women pursuing studies in technical fields or shifting their career paths towards technology. This shift in mindset is significant because women have much to offer, whether in terms of technical or soft skills.

What are your thoughts on the current state of diversity and inclusivity in the IT industry? Is it moving in a positive direction?

Yes, it is. The trend is indeed moving in a positive direction as IT firms increasingly recognise the advantages of inclusivity and the importance of diverse teams. In my opinion, companies that are open to diversity unquestionably gain by creating harmonious teams capable of generating innovative solutions and delivering better outcomes.

What competencies and skills do you think are essential for women (but not limited to) to succeed in the world of new technologies?

The ever-evolving landscape of IT and emerging technologies is constantly driven by the needs of the market and by the evolution of the ways in which we consume these technologies. It seems unlikely that the industry will slow down in the upcoming decades, and all industry-involved professionals will be expected to maintain the same level of dedication. Flexibility is of utmost importance, including the ability to quickly adapt to a changing environment and a commitment to ongoing learning. Analytical and logical thinking skills are also highly valued.

However, that’s not all. I believe that a broad curiosity about the world is also crucial here, the desire to find out how things work – and if they don’t, what can be done about it. This curiosity pushes us forward and acts as the driving force behind innovation.

Are any projects that stand out as sources of exceptional pride for you?

Every project or goal I had to accomplish provided various opportunities for development –  whether in terms of technology or management. Over these years at Sabre, we’ve successfully completed numerous projects – I’m proud of even the smallest achievements, especially the teams I had the pleasure of working with. Despite occasional obstacles, they remained committed to their goals.

Undoubtedly, one of our major accomplishments in recent years is migrating Sabre’s resources to the Google Cloud. Given its challenging nature, the satisfaction of achieving the final milestone in this project was enormous.

What advice would you give to women aspiring to begin a career in IT? Also, what crucial advice would you offer to your younger self?

Do not be afraid to pursue your dreams. Be determined. Approach your goals with patience and, above all, be proud of every step that brings you closer to achieving them. It does not always have to be perfect – progress over perfection!