Rafit Izhak-Ratzin wants you to get comfortable with being just a little uncomfortable. Whether it’s traveling to a third world country, getting back into the workforce after baby, or going for a job that you might not be quite qualified for, Rafit knows a little courage and a lot of enthusiasm can take you a long way.
Living her own advice daily, Rafit’s life journey has lead her around the world and through a challenging, but fun, career path in technology. Working as a senior software architect at Robin Systems, Rafit spends much of her time completing in-depth programming work for complicated data systems. Constantly changing technologies, challenging programming languages and a fast-pace industry make comfort zones nearly obsolete.
Yet, surprisingly, Rafit says a technical degree isn’t required and urges more women to take the plunge into tech. “If we are able to support and attract more women … it will really improve the situation for tech,” she says.
How would you explain your company to others who might not be familiar with it?
There is a huge amount of data and our technology [at Robin Systems] breaks it into many different pieces. We provide a cheaper and faster way to sort all of this data. For instance, my company works with major retailers to help them find the right products for customers and enables IT professionals to better manage their resources and save money. The technology also allows the automation of more routine tasks.
You have a fascinating background prior to Robin Systems. Would you share a bit from your previous chapter as a soldier and how you switched careers?
The most interesting chapters of my life were before I attended university. After high school graduation, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of immigrants who were coming to Israel. Many of these children came from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was an opportunity to introduce these children to our customs and serve as a teacher to them in this fragile transitional point in their lives.
In Israel there is mandatory military service, and I served as a second lieutenant on a training base. During this time, I worked with mostly men and led them through various projects. It was a great opportunity to hone my leadership and teaching skills that have served me well even today.
After my military service, I traveled to India—a common practice among young adults from Israel. I really enjoyed the food, people and culture of India. Interestingly enough, I met my husband in India. He also is from Israel. I really enjoyed the beach and tranquil nature of Goa the most. I understand it’s changed quite a bit, but back then it was very calm and relaxed.
What is a typical day in your life like? How do you organize your day?
With kids, it’s a continual balancing act of remaining flexible. I’m blessed to have a helpful and supportive spouse who helps me with the kids and getting them ready for school. After getting everyone off for their days, I arrive at work around 9 a.m., and my days are filled with on-the-fly meetings, one-on-one conversations and in-depth work programming. There is a mix of collaboration and individual work in what I do.
I come home around 6:30 or 7 p.m. and spend time with my family. I really enjoy ending my day with a book. I particularly enjoy non-fiction biographies to learn from others. Historical novels are of special enjoyment to me. Right now, I’m reading a book about the time before the Israeli state was established—a great historical novel!
What do you feel is the biggest challenge women face in the workplace?
It is the balance. So much is expected from women. We’re under expectations and pressure to be the best mom, to look attractive and be smart. It seems like there is no lessening of these expectations. As a result, making time for yourself and your other support networks, like friends, is difficult. As a working mother, sometimes there is guilt about being away from your children. As a dedicated executive, sometimes it’s hard tearing yourself away from work to focus on your family.
Where do you see your industry headed in five years, and how will women change the status quo?
I’m actually worried about women in technology. It’s been my perception that the number of women engineers is decreasing. I also find the messages in many television programs concerning, because they put a lot of pressure on women to look pretty and be cool. The reality is that in many of the social circles I have, a lot of successful women move for their husband’s careers and then stay at home to raise the children. Because of the pace of technology, these women sometimes don’t have the courage to return to work.
However, the truth is that you don’t need to have a technical background or even a bachelor’s degree in a technical field. You need to start with a lot of enthusiasm. Be willing to sacrifice income in the short term in order to learn the technology. Within my own company, we recruited two women who did not have a background in programming, but learned it on the fly. If we are able to support and attract more women like these, it will really improve the situation for tech right now. It’s important for us all to have courage to go outside our areas of comfort and really be willing to take risks.
For those women who are seeking to begin a new career or re-enter the workforce, what advice would you give to them?
There are so many talented women who have been busy raising families, and we need you back in the workforce. Many have degrees, but are questioning how to start the next phase of their life. To these women, I implore them to go to networking events and send a message that you are available, motivated and eager to learn. Refresh your skills and give it a chance.
When you think about building your team, what qualities do you look for in those you hire?
I really look for the spark that a person has, and their enthusiasm and drive. That, along with a willingness to grow outside of his or her comfort zone, are really important. Our company and its technology require a lot of different skill sets, and with this, comes a challenging work environment. To support this, it’s important that team members approach their work with a fun nature and contribute to the feeling that the entire team is building something important and meaningful. It’s also important to have a spirit of collaboration rather than that of competition among the entire team.
If someone were to say “I want your job!” how would you recommend they start?
Specifically, if someone wants to be a technology architect, you need to learn and be open to learning new technologies. Ideally a technical degree is a good entry point, but as I mentioned—you can gain these skills on-the-job. You need to enjoy challenges and enjoy programming. It’s very much like learning a new language. It takes patience and practice. While it’s not easy, it can be very rewarding financially, as well as personally.
What is an accomplishment on your resume that you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of my Ph.D, because it was the toughest degree to obtain. The entire process was difficult, but it really taught me the value of patience and perseverance.
What are three pieces of career advice you’re willing to share with our readers?
- Continuously learn. Stay out of your comfort zone. Based upon my own career, I’ve moved from security, to networking, to big data technologies. All [careers] had their unique challenges, but it’s been fun.
- Don’t be afraid of changes.
- Build your network, because you never know when your next job will be. I’ve used my network both as a recruiting tool and as a conduit for my next job. Keep in touch with good people and be nice to others.
I’d love to grab coffee with:
My favorite purse is:
A plain fabric bag with a pirate doll, stolen from my daughter. It holds everything I need and is easy.
My go-to outfit is:
A dress. Even though I’m an engineer, I prefer to be in dresses.
My favorite dinner spot is:
Fontana’s in Cupertino.
I can’t live without:
My favorite way to unwind is:
With a 4 x 4 on a road trip. I drive a Jeep Wrangler and I love to off-road. Every year, my family and I vacation for two weeks, off-roading in places like Utah and Colorado.
I feel my best when:
I feel like I’ve done my best and I succeed!
It’s important for us all to have courage to go outside our areas of comfort and really be willing to take risks.