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Movin’ on up: A femgineer’s journey at Babbel

Tamara Menendez –

This first installment in our series on Femgineers at Babbel, we talk with Pooja Salpekar about the process of transitioning from ground-level engineer to Engineering Manager, and what she’s learned along the way.


Who are you, where are you from? What’s your title, in what team do you work at Babbel?

Pooja Salpekar

Hello! I am Pooja. I moved to Berlin from India and joined Babbel 3 years back. Currently I am working as an Engineering Manager for the Computational Linguistics team at Babbel.

Tell us a little bit about your work at Babbel. What do you do?

As an Engineering Manager at Babbel I wear multiple hats - Technical Coach, Delivery Lead, People Developer, Culture & Community Builder. In practice this means that on some days I am working closely with my team, discussing and brainstorming broad architecture or weighing the pros and cons of different technologies/solutions. And on other days I work to identify and fill any cultural/collaboration gaps in the team.

When did you start at Babbel?

I joined Babbel in December 2016. As much as I was dreading the cold, I was very excited about working here. I started as a full-stack engineer, but was mostly doing heavy lifting on backend and Infrastructure side of the stack. My first few months, my team and I worked on one of the most critical projects for Babbel that redefined our content creation and delivery.

My contribution to this project and my growth in software knowledge wasn’t unnoticed, and I was promoted to a Senior Software Engineer. Working closely with stakeholders on feature lifecycles and delivery management, I wanted to steer my career towards a role that keeps me close to people and community while bringing my strengths from the engineering background. My peers and managers encouraged me to take up this new role, and are constantly supporting me in becoming better everyday.

Recently you became a manager. What has changed for you with your new role?

With the new role came a new set of challenges and lessons. As a software engineer I was used to working with deterministic nature of code. That predictability does not apply the same when working with teams. Getting comfortable with the team, running 1:1s with teammates and managing the change were a few initial challenges that I faced in the journey. Having mentors and peers helped to not be stressed about things. But what really worked for me is accepting that I am clueless. That mindset shift was needed to understand that this is not a promotion, it’s a change of role.

Since this role change was internal, it helped a lot that I was comfortable in the company and had my network of people supporting me. However, some of the changes came as a surprise, but in a good way. I was glad to explore what it means to be an Engineering Manager at Babbel. Detaching myself from the code seemed to be very difficult, but the team and setup I am working in allows me to have both high level and deep dive implementation conversations.

Understanding the dynamics in the team and helping people with their development path was one of the biggest learning opportunities for me in this change of roles.

How did you get to Babbel?

I did my engineering degree in computer science in India. After graduation, I worked as a software consultant with ThoughtWorks, a company that is widely known for its strong software development practices. Before starting with Babbel, I joined an early stage startup as their first engineer hire, which helped me understand closely how businesses and product development work.

What do you love most about your job?

The opportunity to understand and work with people from different backgrounds, and building teams from diverse individuals that work as a homogenous team nonetheless.

Can you tell us something about a project you particularly enjoy working on?

My team has been working on building a personalised recommendation engine to help learners learn lessons with more guidance. The team is a mix of computational linguists and full-stack engineers. Designing and deep-diving into different models with the team and tying it to feature-delivery in small iterations, A/B experiments, and performance optimisations was an exciting journey.

What’s your role in Femgineering at Babbel?

Femgineering at Babbel is an initiative to support and enhance the role and reach of women in tech roles at the company. I am driving the ‘Hiring and Promotions’ pillar of this initiative. As part of this, we identify the gender gaps in engineering and take measures to fill those. We work closely with the Recruiting team to design initiatives that helps us reduce the likelihood of hidden bias occurring during the recruitment process.

More general: What do you think are the biggest obstacles women have to face in the industry?

Alongside the barriers in the tech industry that are prevalent and residue of unconscious biases, studies show that women in tech experience imposter syndrome at work, struggling to have the confidence to speak up or be heard. I too faced similar challenges, but fortunately I had strong female role models, that I’d look up to and learned from. In one of the Femgineering meetings at Babbel, my manager said, we are strong in ways that we usually don’t see. And I couldn’t agree more.

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