I have a confession to make – I have never had a 5-year plan for my career.
Yet I have managed to combine several things I love in my working life – research, education and designing experiences. At the crossroads of life, I have always made decisions based on how to open more doors. In the end, this type of reasoning has benefited me. Looking back now, 5-10-15 years ago, I never could have imagined the job that I have right now.
When I grow up, I want to be…
As a little girl I wanted to be at least one of the following: 1) A teacher, 2) A florist, and/or 3) Master of Science.
For some, this list would have seemed odd, but for me it made all the sense in the world. Although, at that time, I didn’t even know what it meant to be a Master of Science. But my dad was, and my dad knew everything about everything. So, I wanted to be like him. My mom was a teacher, but despite her love for teaching, she wanted me to pursue some other career than the one she had chosen. And florist…well, I guess it was just about my love for flowers.
When I graduate I want to be…
Answering this question is probably one of the most difficult things one can ask for from a person in their late teens. At this stage I remember wanting to pursue a career in sports journalism or marketing. But the math-loving little engineer inside reminded me that I could get more options if I enrolled in a technical university.
The use of technology in work life is ever increasing in all industries. Having even basic knowledge about, for instance, information systems, automatisation and manufacturing processes combined with business knowledge opens a whole new set of possibilities career wise. I’ve never considered myself a very technical person, but I wanted to go a little bit out of my comfort zone. I still sometimes have nightmares about not being able to connect my laptop when having to present something in a workshop or a speech.
But I’ve always been aware of some traits that could be beneficial in a technical industry:
1) I’m a researcher at heart – I want to find solutions to problems.
2) I’m process-oriented and analytical – I see the world as a continuum of imperfect processes waiting to be fixed.
3) I’m empathic by nature – I easily jump into other people’s shoes and try to understand their perspectives.
So, I figured that studying Industrial Management would fit these traits. I could study how organisations work and create value for different stakeholders, how industrial firms try to pave their way into service business, and how to define a strategy that would gain momentum. Also, becoming a Master of Science would not predetermine the industry or position that I would work in but give access to a bunch of interesting opportunities.
When my world is perfect, I’m going to be…
After graduation I realized that I wanted to continue with research. Also, my interest in teaching had emerged during my University years. I figured that the best way to combine these would be to pursue an academic career. I taught market research and focused on design and user/customer experience in a business-to-business context in my dissertation. Receiving the funny-looking black top-hat was in a way, and end of an era for me. I loved my work, but my pragmatic nature sought for something other than theorizing findings. I wanted to create functioning solutions to real-life problems. Even though I lacked the technical skills, I recognized I could be the person who can define the requirements of users and customers. And after a very determined search for work, I became a Business Designer. First, at Leadin, then at Gofore.
The basis of my work consists of helping our customer companies do better business and more informed decisions based on customer understanding. Every project that I’ve done includes research – whether with people working for our customer, their customers, users or other stakeholders. Why I love my job so much is that I’ve had the chance to work with people from so many different industries: children’s hospitals, education, manufacturing and engineering, dairy and fish farming, telecommunication, and financial services, to name a few. In addition, I’m responsible for developing our Business Design capability at Gofore.
In the end, I did reach some of the dreams I had growing up; I was able to teach and, occasionally still do whenever I get the chance. I upgraded my master’s degree to a Doctoral one. And though I’m not an expert in keeping flowers or plants alive, I still enjoy having pink carnations on our kitchen table.
Looking back, it seems as though I had everything planned out. And in a way, I guess I always knew what I wanted to do growing up. I just didn’t have the right term for it. Maybe now is the time to make my first five-year plan and see where that path will lead me.
An advice to my younger self: Choose happiness as a metric for success and understand what makes you happy.
Read the previous parts of this Women in tech blog series here:
Value your skills – they are needed in tech
My career in tech – a continuous learning curve
Finding my own material to design
Working as a woman in tech