Darya Luganskaya did not begin her career as a tech reporter, but has nonetheless achieved success with both Russian and English publications. She shares her story, an encouraging one for tech reporters in India.
Technology, gadgets, the process involved in making and fixing them are considered to be a man’s area of expertise. But women are slowly entering the field of technology as well. There are so many female engineers, but very few female tech reporters. Even today, the field of tech reporting is dominated by men. For many of us, when we have to fix our gadgets, we usually leave it at the disposal of any young male member of the family or the handyman. This notion is slowly changing.
Women are proving that nothing is off-limits, including tech reporting, although the path to success as a tech journalist isn’t easy.
Meet Darya Luganskaya, a 27-year-old tech reporter from Russia. She is well-known in the field of technology and business, for her precise and in-depth reporting. She has worked for Forbes, BBC Russia and written for numerous English as well as Russian publications.
She has interviewed several big names in the tech and business world and received various accolades for her work. She shares with us the challenges involved in tech reporting, and her thoughts on opportunities for Indian tech reporters.
Were you always interested in technology?
When my parents bought my brother and I, a computer, I became really interested in using it. I used it to create blogs, played games and tried to write my own programs. I moved into journalism because I like to communicate with people. I can’t say that I was always a geek or something like that, but perhaps I was always an early-adopter trying new technologies to make my life easier.
Which aspects of technology allured you?
I like that technology is actually making our life easier. It enables people to do lots of things they could not imagine in the past, like calling their relatives abroad for free, and connects people around the globe. I see that this area is actually making progress every year. You can’t say the same about politics, for example. The leaders of the tech industry often have a different outlook on life than traditional businessmen. They are not focused solely on money and power.
I listened to Mark Zuckerberg talking on stage about his Internet.org project that would bring the Internet to remote places at the Global Mobile Congress in Barcelona. He sounded actually passionate about these issues. Many leaders in IT are self-made. Once I interviewed Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp in his office in California. He is an immigrant from Ukraine who started out in the US from nothing, and made it with his programming skills and ideas to the level of the Silicon Valley-based billionaire. He had a simple grey T-shirt on him and jeans – nothing fancy. He does not have his own office and sits next to the developers. I can say the same about less prominent people in tech – they are not trying to show off and just cash out.
Is it hard for a freelance tech reporter to earn money?
I think freelance in general is not for everybody. You need great skills in time management to meet deadlines as well as your expectations in terms of money. You need to have some skills in presentation and sales – you are selling your ideas all the time. Many companies – at least in Russia – pay you only one or two months after you submit your work. So it is hard to get a permanent, salary-like, income.
It is quite easy for me for find gigs in Russia because I have a wide network here, and people in the industry approach me themselves. It is way harder when you do not have your name built in a foreign country. I tried freelancing in the UK starting with zero publications in English in my portfolio.
Usually companies offered me exposure, not money for my writing. I was not brave enough to demand money and was happy to get at least something, so I got several by-lines, but no money. I think it was not a great idea, because labour should not be free.
I was always paid in Russia, even when I wrote for a local newspaper being a 16-year-old schoolgirl. To sum it up, it is possible to make some money if you are an aspiring journalist, but you should have another source of income as well. If you are an established journalist, you can make a living, especially if you lead a modest lifestyle.
When did you decide to become a tech reporter?
In 2014, was invited to cover this beat at RBC, a popular business publication. I used to work for Forbes as a Lifestyle editor. The team of Forbes editors was building a new team at RBC, so they needed fresh blood. They asked me to jump on board. I was reflecting on being a lifestyle journalist at the moment and did not feel in my shoes in this area, but I did not want to go back to covering politics and social issues. So I was keen to accept this challenge.
There is a belief that technology is too complicated for women to understand, that’s why it’s a male dominated field. Why do you think this belief exists?
I think it comes from traditional roles in a patriarchal society: men get educated to earn money, women learn other things to support the men and children – from cooking to music for entertainment. It was not too long ago when women were first allowed to go to universities and study physics or math, and they had to fight for their rights. Still, the belief exists that humanities are for girls while STEM is for boys is widespread, I guess.
Probably parents push their kids in corresponding directions. I think girls limit themselves as well due to stereotypes – the commercial ‘Like a girl‘ shows this tendency using the example of running. But there are many global initiatives pushing girls into coding and STEM, so I believe it is going to change. Even now there are quite a lot of women in tech such as Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. Google in Russia was led by a woman for example. I met a brilliant woman from India leading one of key products at Google – Aparna Chennapragada. She joined Google years ago, and she made it to the top management. I think there will be more leaders like that. Speaking of its complexity, and of course many girls can understand difficult things.
Do you think there are enough female reporters writing about technology around the world?
I see more guys reporting about tech in the US and Europe, but there are prominent female reporters as well. A TechCrunch conference in London, which I attended last year, was led by a woman. In addition, the key writer at TechCrunch covering Europe and Russia is a woman. Finally The Information, a subscription-based website about the tech industry, was launched by a woman, and it has a high reputation in Silicon Valley and many other countries. Is it enough? I think there could be more, there is room for many more women.
Did you ever find people surprised at finding a woman with an in-depth knowledge of tech?
I would not say that. I talked to many people in the industry in Russia and abroad, and I can’t recall an incident when I felt such an attitude. Usually, some negativity comes from PR people – they are often unhappy with your report and demand to change a headline or general framing. But you should not be manipulated by them. Quite the opposite, many times people thanked me for understanding the subject.
Actually, I think it is easier to get information if you pretend that you don’t quite understand things. Quite a big part of my job was about meeting people (sources) for off the record chats to get insights into the market. People feel important and share more if you treat them as experts, not when you show off your knowledge.
Do you have any advice for women who believe that technology is boring or those who are scared to embrace technology because they believe it’s too intricate?
Just try CodeAcademy, if you want to code and see how easily you can build a basic website. It is not boring at all: you will be an interesting person in any chat if you can share something special about technology, because everybody now uses Facebook, WhatsApp or other technology.
What are the challenges you faced as a tech reporter both in Russia and around the world? How did you overcome them?
I was just starting out with zero knowledge on the matter, but my editors demanded me to report scoops – exclusive unreported stories. So the main challenge is how to find sources in the industry fast enough to report original stories. You learn only with experience. I do not know much about the type of people reviewing new gadgets and features. I think you must be critical and funny for this. I am focused on scoops and long reads, so my primary responsibility is to find unreported stories or brilliant tech entrepreneurs who are below the radar.
She believes that I think international media too are now more interested in India because it is a huge market with a lot of new developments, and therefore believes many opportunities will become available for tech reporters in the coming years.
So if you are a woman looking at a career as a tech reporter, start honing your skills and sending out your pitches now!