Blanca Martìnez de Aragon and Bélen Diaz-Mor, creators of the helpcovid19 website, answer our questions!

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1. What is your background?

Belen: I am a telecommunications engineer with further specialization in data science. Since I was little, I have always been good with numbers and curious about new technologies, so this combination made it easy for me to decide to enroll in engineering studies.

Blanca: I was born in Luxembourg, where I had the chance to learn French and English. During my studies, I have lived in six different countries (Luxembourg, Spain, USA, Belgium, Sweden and France). This has made me an open minded and social person. I love meeting and discussing with different people!

I studied telecommunications engineering because I have always been interested in learning about new and innovative technologies. That is the reason why I decided to complement my studies with a master’s degree in Internet Technology, specialized in Internet of Things and a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, combining both the technical and business competences.

2. Can you tell us about your job today?

Belen: I would love to, as I am very happy with the job I have right now! Being a data scientist at Amazon means learning every day and having a crucial role in the company’s growth. As the most data-driven company in the world, Amazon works through us, the data experts as enablers of any business decision.

In particular, I work for the operation’s continuous improvement team, focused on optimizing processes within warehouses across all EU, so you can imagine the vast volumes of data that we process coming from every European warehouse!

Blanca: I work in the data services team of the DG for informatics in the European Commission. We work with the different directorate generals helping them make use of their data. One of our main goals is to help the European Commission to use data analytics for better decision-making in the EU.

As an example, currently I am working with DG Sante on a project to analyse the efficiency of the Convalescent Plasma Treatment in Covid19 patients. We are building an EU database (EUCCP) to collect data from both donors and patients and will do analytics on top.

I am really motivated to work on projects that can make a difference in society.

3. According to you, what role do women play in IT today? Do you think that they belong in this field?

Belen: Even though we are still a minority in both IT studies and the professional world, the visibility that we are gaining is key in motivating new women to enroll in IT studies. It’s really important to have females role models to prove to young generations that tech is not only a men’s world.

To answer your second question whether female belong or not in the IT field, it’s important to remark here that the first computer program was created by a woman called Ada Lovelace, so it is obvious that female can do anything, including coding! 

Blanca: Sadly, there’s a lack of women in Tech careers. In my team, there are very few women, and in some meetings I am the only one. Having studied and worked mainly with men, I can say that there is still a lot of unconscious bias. It is very typical that people question whether I have IT knowledge or are surprised that I do just because I am a woman. 

Several studies show that one of the main problems of women is a lack of confidence, which may be due to the small number of female (especially leaders) in the domain. Also the comments and perceptions people have might make women wonder if they belong there. 

I think it is important to change this perception and show younger girls that IT is for them as well! We should put an end to the stereotypes of linking IT to men. This is a big motivation for me, trying to make IT more appealing for girls – IT is everywhere, girls are as capable as men, and it is the future!

4. Can you tell us more about the website you have launched around the COVID-19 crisis?

Belen: We were extremely worried about how fast the virus was spreading in EU, especially in Spain and wanted to contribute somehow to avoid having a similar situation in Luxembourg, where the virus was starting to arrive. Our IT background combined with our desire to help our elderly motivated us to launch.

Multiple newspapers and organisations like WIDE, l’Essentiel journal, Delano and Lëtzebuerger journal have helped us by publishing the initiative, so that it could arrive to more homes. We are extremely thankful to you all for having helped us so much!

Blanca: We wanted to help in the Covid-19 crisis. My grandfather got sick because he did not stay at home and we wanted to prevent this from happening to others and to help other people. This was the best way to deal with my loss.

We used our IT knowledge to create a website to group all the ongoing initiatives in Luxembourg and to motivate other people to help the most vulnerable people. 

We have over 100 posts  – mainly people offer help to do groceries, but we have some people offering help with kids’ homework, or even one offers to lend his printer! 

5. According to you, how can data analysis help in such a situation?

Belen: Some say that data is the gold of the 21st century, but as a data expert, I am ashamed of the way some governments are corrupting the data in this Covid crisis, even though it is critical to assess whether our confinement is working to control the spread.

Despite the importance of data, each country counts the fatalities using their very own criteria, and then use it to compare it between countries, which is absolutely a wrong exercise, as the metrics are different from each other.

The lack of transparency of some governments is terrifying, so that is why I am thankful that WIDE has let Blanca Martinez de Aragon and myself raise awareness about the inaccuracies we see every day in the news! Please do not hesitate to watch our webinar online! 

Blanca: As mentioned during the International Girls in ICT WIDE webinar, data is information and information is power. Decisions have to be made based on this information!

Now in this crisis, data can be used in multiple fields. It can be used to plan where to allocate more resources, which hospitals are more full and where there is more need for help. Also to perform forecasts, I assume that the decisions being made on when we will be able to reopen the cities are made based on data. At the same time, it can be used to verify if confinement rules are being followed and if not put stricter rules to citizens.  In the health domain data analytics is also crucial, for example to identify if a treatment is working or under what conditions it works better.

Data can save lives, so we have to make sure we collect and analyse it properly. Sadly, this is not the case right now in many countries –during the WIDE webinar Belen Diaz-Mor and I challenged this and showed that the numbers presented in the news are not reflecting the truth.

I am sure that in the future we will tell our grandchildren: the Covid-19 crisis, was a “start” of the big data times, but still we were not capable of using it properly, this is why wrong decisions were taken… I hope this crisis shows the potential of data to more governments and that things will start to change and become more data driven.

6. Do you have any female role models?

Belen: Indeed, more than one, as each of them provides different admirable skills that I would love to acquire myself in a near future. 

In the business field, I admire the hard work, perseverance and strategic mindset of Maria Eugenia Fanjul, Partner and Recruiter Director at AT Kerney, where she is also leading initiatives to break the gender gap in the firm.

As two strong role models of woman empowerment, I strongly admire Amal Clooney and Michelle Obama, they prove that to be successful both in life and at your job, you need to be passionate, motivated and in love with what you do.

Finally, in the entrepreneur field, with an outstanding ability on keeping a family business successful while raising a wonderful family, I absolutely admire my mom Maria Jesus Bautista, whose hard work, smile, advice and care never disappeared despite the terrible workload she may have had.