Q&A with Chanel Greco – Founder & CEO at Saperis

Each month we have the honor of interviewing WOMEN WHO INSPIRE US. This month we talked to Chanel Greco, Founder, CEO and Google Workspace Trainer at Saperis. Coming from a non-technical background, Chanel has found her sweet spot in tech at the intersection to education, inspiring others to learn more. Read about her career path and why it is so important to make yourself visible as a woman in tech.

Tell us about where you’re from – geography, studies or professional background, industry and how you made it to your current role.

My background is very international. My mother is from Puerto Rico & the Dominican Republic, my dad is Swiss. I was born in Florida but lived in Switzerland most of my life. Even though I don’t look Swiss, I feel very Swiss. My husband and I are currently planning to move to the South of Spain. I am excited but also scared to leave Switzerland, after having lived here for over 30 years.

I started my professional career with an apprenticeship as an office clerk (german: Kauffrau). I did a number of further education programs for ICT, Computer Science, Project Management and Business Administration, but I do not have a bachelor’s degree.

After my apprenticeship I got a job as a book keeper but soon noticed that it was the wrong  job for me. In the past 16 years, I tried lots of different jobs that were mainly in tech. I did different things like being a coding teacher, software developer, IT project manager, and sales manager for a start-up.

In 2020, I founded my own company. Saperis is about teaching people how to use Google workspace in a more efficient way as a productivity suite. I give training sessions with tips, tricks and hacks. I show my customers what they don’t know yet, for example that they can use Apps Script to code in a Google workspace, e.g to automate certain tasks.

I founded my company in January 2020 – pre-pandemic. The pandemic hit me full force. There were a few in-person events planned, also to acquire new customers. I had a gig through a former employer where I was supposed to teach coding to groups of girls at Informatiktage. This event was planned right the week where things closed up.

I had planned to go to my customers on site for the training sessions. Due to the pandemic, I had to adapt my business model. I had to find other sources of revenue and outreach. That’s why I launched my youtube channel with explanatory videos which is growing nicely and has the potential to earn money.

I am still helping a lot of people for free through the channel. I believe I would not have started the channel without the pandemic. But through the youtube channel, I also gained customers for virtual training sessions. At the beginning I thought it was a curse to start a business during the pandemic, but now looking back it was probably better for me.

What triggered your interest in tech?

What sparked my interest happened long before I had to get an education. I was about 10 years old in 1993 when my Dad bought his first computer. The guy who sold him the device installed a game on the computer, an old Indiana Jones game. That game got me hooked. I remember that I spent hours in front of the computer.

Until this day I love games, but I am more of a Playstation 5 console gamer today. But this game back in the 90’s sparked my interest in computers. From a young age on I started to make sense of computers. That’s where my love for tech comes from.

I originally wanted to do an apprenticeship in IT, but I did not go down that road. In my high school class of 22 kids, we had one boy pursuing IT as an apprenticeship. I had the feeling that I would not fit in as I was scared of being the only girl in a class full of boys. I knew no women in tech. The only people I knew working in tech were men, so I did not see it as something for me.

I decided to play it safe, and do the apprenticeship as an office clerk instead, also because a lot of young women were doing it. Even though the seed for tech was already planted at a young age, I did not immediately pursue this career path.

However, after my apprenticeship had finished, I had this strong urge to get into tech. I don’t believe in destiny, but tech was just perfect for me. I felt deep down that it was my place, where I belonged. But I had to wait more than 10 years to fulfill that dream which started in my childhood.

I do believe the situation is better today. If I were 10 years younger, I would have probably gotten into tech immediately. Or if my parents had female friends that studied computer science. I did not know anyone. In the last couple of years, there are more and more young women and girls that learn how to code. I was lacking role models. I was missing the “if she can do it, I can also do it” moment. We need to help young women to try it, because we are good at tech topics.

I knew no women in tech. The only people I knew working in tech were men, so I did not see it as something for me.

– Chanel Greco

What motivates you at work? Why do you get up for work?

Two things: I found my sweet spot. I am doing what I am good at (teaching, explaining), and what I am passionate about (technology). Combining these two things definitely motivates me. I have to come up with fun ways and intelligent storytelling to explain things in a virtual training session, e.g. to teach about formulas in Google sheets. So the first thing is combining teaching and technology.

The second thing is that I get to help people. I can make a difference in their lives. I am getting these comments on the youtube channel, for example from Vincent who landed a job as a tech analyst where he needs to code in Google Apps Script. Through my YouTube tutorial videos he is  learning how to code and applying this knowledge at work. I am getting direct and unfiltered feedback, of course also negative comments sometimes. But the positive feedback really drives me, for example students saying they wished I was their coding teacher. It really motivates me that I get to help people.

What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech? What did you learn from it?

First, for many years I felt inadequate in my job. I did not have a background in tech. I kept thinking that I am not good enough, that I did not know enough. Only later did I realize that my male colleagues did not know so much more than me, but they played it cool. I did a lot of further education, I read lots of books, to feel more prepared, to feel more confident in my tech jobs.

I mainly worked with male colleagues and was often the only female engineer in a team. In my mid twenties, this situation was not always easy. Most of my male colleagues were nice, but there were also some that made sexist comments, like “Chanel is just pretty, she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about”. I had to deal with stuff like that at work, with these stupid jokes, but I had no strategy to deal with it when I was young. I was not confident enough to speak up.

With age comes more confidence. Today, I speak up. I will tell others that it’s not right. I also think the work environment has gotten better, because male colleagues are more aware of what is right and wrong behavior towards women or anyone else who is different from them.

At Girls in Tech we are all about diversity and inclusion in tech, why do you think this is important? 

We’ve improved as an industry, but we’re still not where we should be. There is more awareness that we should not exclude certain people. Even though big tech companies proclaim that they want to pursue more diversity, they are still excluding certain people from jobs, e.g. by only accepting applicants from the best universities.

Diversity also means someone who learned something else. The products that we create will be used by a diverse group of people. Diverse teams should build these products. There is certainly more awareness today, but we are not there yet. And some industries or companies are more diverse than others. We are taking little steps towards more diversity.

Do you have a mentor? If yes, what made you choose her/him? What did he/she change in the way you manage your career or your life?

There have been multiple people along my career who have believed in me and given me chances. But there is one person that I still call up today who also gave me my first chance to get into tech. He’s a very successful business man, but also very kind, and has a good understanding of human behavior. He has influenced me. He saw my potential, even when I did not. He was the first person I wanted to talk about founding my own company. He gave me many great tipps.

I was lucky to find him by accident. He was an acquaintance of my then boyfriend, now husband. My brother in law was working for this company. So my mentor is like a family friend.

Are there any readings, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?

When I decided I wanted to learn how to code, I visited a bootcamp, and I did many online courses on specific topics. What was very valuable for me was doing an internship as a software developer. There, you learn very closely from people that do this job day in and day out.

For books about business I would recommend Crushing It from Gary Vaynerchuk. It is a bit controversial, as I don’t believe we are made to work 24h. But there is great content about building up a personal brand, making yourself visible, talking about your brand. I learned a lot about using social media to position myself. I post a lot about coding and Google Workspace on social media. I realized that people will only learn from me if I make myself visible.

Another book I can recommend is Entrepreneurial You by Dorie Clarke. Dorie talks about setting up multiple revenue streams, which is what triggered the idea for my youtube channel as well as offering online courses, so people can learn at their own pace.

A podcast I like is the High performance podcast. There, you hear and learn from people how to excel at what you are good at. You for example learn from top athletes, how they deal with challenges, and build up mental strength. If there is anything you want to be good at, this podcast is a great source of inspiration.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My imminent next challenge is moving to Spain. There are so many things to be aware of and forms to fill out. After that, it will be creating a life for me and my husband. We want to have a good balance between working with each other and enjoying life. I am the techie, he’s the creative one. Even though we work together, we are also a couple, so we need to find the balance of how to work and live together 24 hours 7 days a week.

I moved to Switzerland at a young age after I was born in the subtropical climate of Florida where there’s lots of sunshine and no snow. I experienced the cold weather for the first time in Switzerland and I always found it difficult not seeing the sun so much during autumn and winter. I always had this urge in me to live in a warmer climate again.

My husband and I would always say to each other on vacation, that it would be nice to live in warmer places. But the pandemic was really the catalyst for the decision. Last year my husband had a difficult period. He worked way too much like most of us in Switzerland do. We started to ask ourselves if this is really the life we wanted? Working crazy hours but almost no appreciation.

I am looking for the sun, and as a couple we are looking for another life. Less working, more enjoying. We have immense security in Switzerland, but it comes at a prize. Almost everyone says it’s so courageous of us to move to Spain. But many people have this desire to leave the system, to see something else, to break out of the cycle.

Another challenge I am facing, that comes with the move, is that I have to change my business model again. 99% of my revenue comes from active training sessions currently. I am planning to diversify more and add revenue in the future through my youtube channel, sponsorships, and online courses.

I want to keep on helping people using technical tools, but maybe in 10 years, Google will not do Workspace anymore, so I might have to switch what I teach. I just know that I will always be doing something in the intersection of tech and education. I can’t imagine a life without doing something with technology, as it is always so interesting.

Make yourself visible if you are a woman in tech.

– Chanel Greco

Anything else you’d like to share with our community?

Make yourself visible if you are a woman in tech. Young girls that would be very good at tech, but might be insecure or unsure whether there is a place for them in tech, need us to be more visible. We need to show them that there is diversity.

We create products for a diverse society, so let’s have diverse teams work at building them and create better solutions. I like going to events where we teach women how to code, where I can provide this experience that you can do that too. Women always ask a lot of great and interesting questions when they feel safe and free to do so.

There was recently the #ThisLittleGirlIsMe campaign on Linkedin. I thought no one wants to hear my story and that it doesn’t make a difference if I put my story out. I also suffer from that fear, but I can move beyond it for some topics. You never know whom you will touch with your story. Someone will read it and can relate to it. Maybe it’s that spark that a person needs, to pursue her dreams. We have to collectively work on making ourselves visible. And if no one reads my story, who cares as long as I had fun writing it.

We are taught to be good at things, and being liked is one of these things. As women we learn how to behave in order to be liked. But learning often means making mistakes. Especially women tend to shy away from failure because of this fear of not being liked. We have to actively create a positive mindset around failure. I would encourage anyone to just try it, you will learn something even from a failure.

My business has gone from terrible, to very good, to not so good, and is now back at good. I had a lot of lessons to learn during this time, and not all of it was nice. I beat myself up for my mistakes, but I learned from it, and now I know what I will do differently in the future. I always have to remind myself: You will make mistakes, it’s inevitable.

The way we are brought up shapes our perception of failure. I had a high-performance mother, and she wanted perfection for me. I had to learn that I have to make mistakes, that I cannot be perfect all the time. We always think we have to be perfect to be successful. But we cannot be successful if we don’t experience valuable lessons through failure. 

We would like to thank Chanel for this inspiring interview, for sharing her insights & experiences along the way. We wish you all the best on your journey to create a life in Spain with more balance. Thank you, Chanel, for being a woman who inspires us! 💛

Author: Lisa Stähli

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