After studying Computer Science at the Technical University in Berlin and working at the university, Mirjam Kühne realised an academic career wasn’t for her. She, therefore, started working at the RIPE NCC, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the internet community and the technical coordination of the Internet in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
Mirjam joined the Internet and the field of IP addressing when it was relatively new, and over the years, she’s worked in a number of not-for-profits in the internet industry – mostly as a community builder bridging the gap between the technical community and others interested in internet-related matters.
We sat down with Mirjam to find out more about where her exciting career has led her.
Hi Mirjam, tell us more about your position as RIPE Chair.
The RIPE community was founded over 30 years ago to promote the Internet Protocol – which would later become known as the internet. It’s a forum open to all parties interested in wide-area IP networks, and their main aim is to ensure that administrative and technical coordination takes place for the operation of the internet. Decisions made by the community are based on consensus and collaboration, and last year I was selected as Chair of this community.
My role focuses on ensuring that everyone is heard and that the community functions properly and follows its own procedures and processes. My election was the first time the RIPE Chair was selected by the wider community via a nominations and consensus process and made me the first female Chair – so it’s a real honour!
Why do you believe it is important to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM, particularly in tech?
Women still face barriers to pursuing STEM careers, so we must start early in encouraging girls at school to explore the subjects they love and are good at, as opposed to those they are told they should be good at.
This is where role models can make a huge impact – by having women in visible roles, other women are encouraged to pursue those career paths. That’s another one of my privileges in my role as RIPE Chair.
Women also continue to face inflexible circumstances at work or in society, which is something organisations can help with. For example, we provide childcare at our large community meetings which means parents can then take part.
What have been your greatest career accomplishments?
The unanimous vote for my position as RIPE Chair is my greatest career accomplishment thus far – it showed me that my skills in community building, communications and diplomacy are recognised and valued. It’s not always an easy job having to balance the many different views within the community, but it’s always worth it, and I’m really pleased to be where I am today.
Likewise, what have been your greatest career challenges?
I progressed quite quickly early in my career, leading to burnout by the time I was 30. It was at this point that I knew I needed to take a break and step away from the role I was in, and I used this time to build myself up mentally – something that certainly helps me in my current role. I’ve learned that it’s essential to recognise when you’re pushing yourself too hard, and not to be afraid to admit that you need to take a step back or to ask for help.
What advice would you give to girls aiming to start their own businesses?
Start by working out what you’re good at, where your skills lie, and what you’re passionate about doing. Trying to follow someone else’s journey or fit into a role that ultimately isn’t right for you won’t work. Lean on mentors or role models for advice and guidance wherever you can – it’s one of the best ways to learn and is absolutely something I’ve benefited from throughout my career.
What would you say has been the secret to your success?
People tell me that I can get on with anyone. It’s important to take everyone’s views seriously to build a strong community and earn respect. I’ve always tried my best to be my authentic self, something that I think is necessary to be truly successful. This is something that I’ve also found is particularly important in working with a community full of many different types of people.