My father is an electrical engineer, but deep down, he’s a true mathematician. Growing up, he never treated me differently than my brother. He helped us both with our science projects and played math games with us, like geometry lessons at the pool table and rapid fire binary conversions for extra dessert. He called us his nerdlings, and he still does today. It was a fun way to be raised.
Over the years, he taught me the importance of hard work. We did chores, but we didn’t earn an allowance. And despite their more traditional gender roles—my mom staying at home to raise me and my brother and my father working to provide for our family—my parents were always proud of me and my career. I was encouraged to be both a great wife and a great engineer.
Young Jutta and her dad
"Hope takes greater courage than despair."
I’ve been an engineer for over 20 years now. I still remember numerous times when I was the only woman in the room. It was hard and lonely. I can recall so many instances where I had imposter syndrome, was discouraged from maintaining my role as an engineer, or felt like I didn’t belong. While I always took these challenges as opportunities to push boundaries and learn something new, I also look back on those times and wish I knew then what I know now.
A couple of years ago, I was feeling defeated about my work. A consistent source of good advice, I took some time to talk with my dad. We talked about the challenges I was facing, and how they were affecting me as a woman, an engineer and a human.
My father told me that we’re only bound by the beliefs we have about ourselves and how hard we work to accomplish our goals. “Hope takes greater courage than despair,” he said. “Be brave. Face this challenge like all the others you have in your lifetime. Remember that I raised you and your brother to be proud nerdlings.”
This conversation was pivotal for me because it changed the way I thought about overcoming a setback.
“I realized that I am completely in control of who I am, no matter what others may think or say.”
It was a simple concept that took me years to truly understand.
Today, this piece of advice guides me in every challenge I face. But what does it truly mean to have hope? I’ve broken it down to a few key things:
1. Take every incident in its own right.
My dad loved probability, and he taught me to look at things with a seven to one ratio. There are typically seven good things that happen for any one negative thing that happens in life, and that one thing is often an outlier. You’ll have bad days and encounter people who don’t believe in you, but chances are, you’ll encounter a lot more good than you will bad. Don’t let one incident set the tone for how you feel about yourself, your work, or your career.
2. Look at challenges as opportunities.
I never imagined I would join the Facebook company as a technical program manager. I was working in privacy and security at another tech company when a recruiter reached out to let me know that Facebook was building a privacy team. I was humbled, but I told her I didn’t feel like Facebook’s data practices were any good. Her response surprised me.
She said, “That’s the diversity of thought we’re looking for. We need people who can identify the problems, so we can better solve them together.” It seemed like a huge challenge, and I saw it as an opportunity. I’ve been at the company for about a year now, and I’ve never looked back. By seizing the opportunity, I’m building meaningful solutions that help billions of people around the world stay safe online.
3. Celebrate the small victories.
It’s important to recognize when you’re making progress. Sure, things may not be perfect, and you might still have challenges, but take a moment to pause and reflect. Recognize the obstacles you’ve overcome and the progress you’ve made over time. The key is celebrating small wins, remembering where you started, and acknowledging how far you’ve come.
Jutta today, working at Facebook
Belief, as my father told me, is a complicated thing.
“External factors can have a profound impact on what we see as our limitations.”
It’s up to us to erase those limitations, showcase our strengths and hold on to our hope. I’m proud of the “nerdling” I’ve become, and I’m thankful to my dad who continues to support me in my pursuit of my dreams.