IIoana Marussi graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science of the University of Bucharest this year. For her bachelor’s thesis, Ioana chose to create the online platform used by the faculties of the University of Bucharest to enroll candidates in the new academic year. Passionate about computer science since high school, Ioana Marussi stubbornly refused to believe those who told her that this was a “boys” field. She had dedicated mentors by her side who, both during high school and faculty, supported her in pursuing her dream. From the second year of faculty, Ioana started working full-time in a company in the field and, in parallel with faculty and work, for several years, she was part of an NGO whose mission is to create programs of mentoring and introduction to programming. Thus, from a student who, since her first year, was meditating on computer science to young people just a few years younger than her, upon graduating from the faculty, Ioana Marussi is already an expert in the making in the field she has loved since childhood.
I talked to Ioana Marussi about her passion for computer science, about the approach behind the creation of the platform used by UB for this year’s admission and about the influence of gender stereotypes in choosing a career in computer science and programming.
This material subscribes to UB’s initiative to support and promote women in science and opens the UB for Women in Science series of articles
Reporter: You participated in the creation of the online platform that the University of Bucharest used in the 2020 admission process. Give us more details on this platform and its usefulness.
Ioana Marussi: The platform was my undergraduate thesis, coordinated by Professor Radu Gramatovici and based on the idea of the admission application used by the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics to which I contributed last year. After several discussions we considered the possibility of creating a new application that could be used by as many faculties as possible, regardless of their admissions process. This involved developing a fully configurable system that could be tailored to the individual needs of each domain. The possibility to go through the process of submitting and validating the application file online is an advantage in any circumstances, but in 2020 such a platform has become a necessity with the emergence of the new coronavirus. Thus, the application appeared in its current state, allowing filling out an enrollment file in an active session, sending documents, choosing study areas, making payments, managing sent files and many other functions for secretary and administrator users.
R: How was the platform made and how much effort, in terms of time and other resources, is behind it?
I.M.: The application was made over several months. In October 2019, there were some initial discussions with Professor Gramatovici regarding the features that needed to be implemented, but the discussion was broad and without all the details regarding the needs of those who would use the platform. The actual implementation only started in 2020, after the professor got in touch with the faculty representatives and was able to give me a set of requirements that we discussed and agreed on how they would be available in the application. What followed were months of many sleepless nights where I worked an average of 4-5 hours each day after finishing my nine-hour shift at work. Despite the effort it took to have a working application in time for the intake session, it was an experience I look back on fondly and I’m very proud of the result because in the end we got a product that was successfully used by thousands of candidates.
R: Who supported you in carrying out this endeavor? Tell us a little about that involvement.
I.M.: Professor Radu Gramatovici was the one who kept in touch with the faculties, communicating their requirements and needs to me and constantly tested the new functionalities to ensure that they correspond to the requirements. The devops part was done by Rareș Cristea, he took care of the 14 instances of the application. After the production launch and the handing over of the bachelor’s thesis, a wave of new requirements followed, consisting of both new functionalities and the modification of the existing ones, at which point Ana Țurlea worked at the same time as me to be able to finish the new ones as quickly as possible. All this time the platform was used, and the files were submitted and validated.
R: As it is a project with practical applicability, tell us if it has proven its efficiency and usefulness to the level you expect? Were there things you had to optimize or adapt even after the launch of the platform?
I.M.: I think the efficiency has been proven by the fact that more than 30,000 files have been submitted through the platform. No optimizations were needed after the launch of the application, but once registrations started, some faculties requested new functionalities or modification of those already implemented.
R: You are a graduate of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science of the University of Bucharest. What has been your training path so far? What were you interested in during high school and how did you get into this field?
I.M.: At school I was lucky to be in the intensive computer science profile from the 5th grade until the end of high school, and during all this time I had a very good computer science teacher, recognized for her results and the results of the students. After entering high school, I decided that I wanted to work in the field despite being told that programming was “for boys”, and in the following years I participated in several Olympiads and programming competitions. Choosing the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics seemed natural after finishing high school. At the end of the first year, I started teaching computer science, most of the students were in high school or preparing for baccalaureate, then, in the second year, I got a full-time job, and now I’ve been working in the field for over four years. In parallel with the faculty and the job, for several years I was involved in an NGO that aimed to create mentoring programs for learning programming. Here I was initially a student (or “padawani”, as we were called) in the Ruby on Rails program, where I later remained as a mentor.
R: Fields associated with mathematics and IT have been perceived as more masculine until quite recently. Do you feel that perception has changed? Also, what do you feel is the current perception of women going into these fields?
I.M.: Certainly, the perception is changing as more and more women choose a career in the field. From personal experience, IT stereotypes are perpetuated more by those outside the industry. There have been instances where I have encountered some outdated perceptions or sexism from those working in the field as well, but those individuals are the exceptions, not the rule. I think the only way we can change these perceptions is by encouraging women to get involved, to show them that it’s not just a man’s domain and that no one is going to treat them differently.
R: What do you think is decisive in articulating a young person’s interest in a certain area of research or knowledge? Is it about those pivotal and formative encounters we have with certain people, or is it more about some kind of personal predisposition towards certain areas of learning/research?
I.M.: I think it is a combination of the two options. Often it takes a person or a formative meeting to arouse interest in that field, and the predisposition is necessary to be able to work for decades in that field without losing interest and without accumulating frustrations and disappointments.
R: What interactions do you consider essential to your professional development? Are there any teachers/mentors that you particularly remember and how do you feel they contributed to your further development?
I.M.: The person who contributed the most to my decision to work in this field is Daniela Lica. She was my computer science teacher from 5th to 12th grade and was the first person to show me that there is nothing falser than the notion that computer science is not for women. Otherwise, I have met many people who have influenced my decisions or from whom I consider that I have had a lot to learn, and I am convinced that I will meet many more people of this kind.
R: What other similar projects are you currently involved in? Or what other similar projects do you have in mind for the future?
I.M.: After finishing the admission platform, I wanted to focus for a while on what is happening at work, where I couldn’t give everything for a while because of the extremely busy schedule, and now we are in the middle of new projects. For the future, I have several application ideas that I want to implement, probably collaborating with other people on some of them.
R: What are your future plans from an educational, training and professional perspective?
I.M.: I want to be able to successfully create at least part of the projects I thought of, in parallel with my job. The area of web/backend development is constantly changing, and I feel that I have a lot to learn. I am also considering the possibility of pursuing a master’s program in the coming years, but I have not decided whether I want to do this in the country or abroad.