“I wish there were more people like Charlotte”
She wrote her first lines of code when she was 10. Today, she develops software for the defence industry, and helps NATO with military software standards. She loves her job, horses, and her four children but software architect Charlotte Meinhardt is still slightly annoyed that she never became a fighter pilot.
Shortly before Charlotte Meinhardt completed her computer science studies, she applied for a job as a software developer at Systematic Healthcare with a view to developing software for hospitals and elderly care – or so she believed.
“I wanted to work with municipal data or software for the finance sector – I was keen to make a difference for people. Therefore, I was pretty disappointed when instead I was offered a position with Systematic Defence – but only until I discovered that we actually save lives with our defence software,” she says.
Today, almost 21 years later, she is still busy developing communication solutions for the defence sector worldwide, and she is proud of what she does.
“I help to ensure that soldiers can communicate with one another, even under very challenging conditions, and at the same time have a clear overview of where allied troops, the enemy and civilians are located in a conflict zone. It helps to prevent friendly fire incidents, and civilians and listed buildings from being hit,” she says.
Developed games on her Commodore 64 as a 10-year-old
Developing software solutions for the defence sector requires having a complete grip on all the details and every single process, which suits Charlotte down to the ground.
“It appeals to my inner nerd. I work with military standards, which requires a certain degree of meticulousness. I’m part of a NATO working group that develops standards for military software. It’s theoretical, complex and dense – but also crucial in order for the allied countries and their systems to be able to communicate with one another,” she explains.
It was almost in the cards that Charlotte should work with software, yet it took some time before she became aware of the fact.
“I’ve loved computers ever since I was a child. Back then, you had to borrow books on programming at the library if you wanted to learn how to code. And I did. The boys in my class at school loved playing computer games, and I was able to write games for them in BASIC and with the COMAL 80 plug-in with a manual which I saved up for when I was 10,” she recalls.
Economics was incredibly boring
When she started at business college in 1992, it became possible for the first time for women to train as fighter pilots, and Charlotte consequently tried applying, but she had to give up her dreams of flying after developing asthma.
“Asthma was a showstopper for any dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. Since then, the rules have actually been changed, and it makes me feel a bit fed up that if it had been today, then there wouldn’t have been anything to stop me from becoming a pilot. But it’s a bit late now,” she says with a wry smile.
After letting go of her dream of becoming a pilot, Charlotte decided to read economics, which she found incredibly boring and a bit of a mistake. She dropped out of university, and looked for something more interesting to do with her working life.
“When I decided to study computer science, I was worried about whether I would even fit in on the course, let alone on the labour market afterwards. Fortunately, two female developers had already been employed in the department when I arrived at Systematic, and Belmina became someone who I really turned to for advice and guidance. I’ve learned so much from her. I think it’s important to bring women into the spotlight, so we can show others the way into tech and IT. For some reason or another, women often choose economics when they’re good at figures and logic. Just look at how difficult it was for me to find my way, even though I’ve loved programming since I was a child,” she says with a laugh.
An inspired problem-solver
Charlotte does not experience anything standing in her way because she is a woman – but she often sees differences in where her and her male colleagues’ interests lie.
“There’s a lot in the technical world that doesn’t interest me. Of course, I can certainly replace a hard disk and install a CPU. But I’m not exactly passionate about hardware, programming language or new extensions. For me, it’s about the problem I’m faced with, and how we solve it. The other things are just the tools we use for the purpose,” she says.
Charlotte is an excellent trouble-shooter, which becomes very clear when her boss Kristoffer Foldbjerg starts explaining where her strengths lie.
“The Australian Defence Force still talks about Charlotte’s visit, when she was down there to run a test that caused major problems. The customer had given up on a solution, but the day after their first meeting, Charlotte showed up with a fix she had made the previous evening in her hotel room. It solved the problem, and was a game changer for the customer relationship because they had never experienced a supplier who could deliver solutions so quickly,” he says.
Four children, eight years of maternity leave and a hobby farm
Charlotte is described as a colleague with “her head well and truly screwed on”. She does her job to complete perfection, and in fact Kristoffer Foldbjerg doesn’t quite understand how she manages it.
“I’m full of admiration – and amazement – at how Charlotte manages to find the time. She does everything I send her, but she also takes the tasks that would otherwise fall between two chairs. Everything is fixed – but she also has four children and a hobby farm that she runs with her husband. I sometimes wonder whether she gets any sleep at all,” he says.
Charlotte laughs at the description. It’s true that she and her husband and four children live on a small farm with chickens, ducks and horses. And horses are another of her great passions.
“In my 20 years at Systematic, I’ve actually been on maternity leave for eight of them. Maternity leave does something for women’s careers, but the children come first in my world, so I’ve chosen to work reduced hours for periods so that everything can hang together,” she says.
The world needs more ‘Charlottes’
As the children grew up, Charlotte returned to working full time, which is completely in line with the agreement she made with her husband before they started a family.
“I’ve travelled a lot in connection with my work in recent years, which has meant that my husband has been left on his own with four children, two horses and a poultry farm, so you could say that now it’s my turn to make hay after all the years I spent managing the show at home, and he was pursuing his career. It’s something we’ve planned together,” she says.
Kristoffer Foldbjerg is very happy to have Charlotte back in the department full time. If it was up to him, she should be cloned:
“I wish there were more people like Charlotte” he says.
Charlotte backs him up with advice for all the women who are considering a career in IT: “Go for it. It’s great! And there’s really nothing to hold us back,” she says in conclusion.
Want to join Charlotte in developing software for the defence industry?
We are always on the lookout for people similar to Charlotte who strive to be the best in their fields and for whom delivering good quality software is paramount.
See all our vacancies for software engineers here