Vanesa is the CEO at LuxQuanta and a Telecommunications Engineer who is passionate about learning new technologies, and identifying new business opportunities – with a natural ability to communicate technical concepts to any audience.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role?

I became a Telecommunication engineer almost by accident. My initial idea was to follow in my parents’ footsteps and become a doctor, but eventually, my teachers convinced me to get an engineering degree instead as I was “quite good at maths”. I had no idea which one, so I applied for several and managed to get into Telecommunications Engineering.

I first joined LuxQuanta as a business development manager, prior to becoming the CEO a year later. I am currently defining the commercial strategy, aligning it with our technical team, managing the relationship with current and potential investors, and supervising first-hand our marketing and operations.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Many times. During the first years of my professional career right after graduating as a Telecommunications engineer, I worked in highly technical roles where it became very clear to me that I needed to change career paths. I wanted to be part of the commercial team where I could get more in touch with the customers and contribute to the decisions made at the strategic level.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Oh yes, so many! One that I have learned a lot from quite recently, has to do with my role as a CEO. Every time you start a new job, you are inevitably pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in one way or another, so it means facing a whole host of new challenges and opportunities.

It’s crucial that you remind yourself in the down times that if you are struggling, it’s because you have literally pushed yourself outside your comfort zone as your previous job wasn’t giving you what you needed any more. This is one of the biggest learnings that I have finally recognised: to embrace the struggle as part of the journey of fulfilling your career aspirations as the discomfort is the very symptom of growth and that you are learning something new!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Becoming the CEO of LuxQuanta is by far my biggest career achievement to date and one that is going to be difficult to surpass. I never dreamed I could get a job like this. Because I professionally grew up in large corporations you tend to perceive the top jobs as something that is almost impossible to achieve.

Over my career, I have built solid professional foundations after decades of acquiring new skills in so many diverse areas of business, engineering, market development, marketing, product development and manufacturing. Also, I had seen how large corporations work, so I knew what success looked like in a business, and I had many managers to learn from about leadership styles so I could find mine. It all added up to make an eclectic skillset.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

Funnily enough, this is not something that was clear to me at the beginning of my professional career. It took many years, many jobs and much-appreciated feedback to realise what my managers saw very clearly before I did: my ability to learn new things, learn them fast and learn them well. It turns out that learning makes me happy. Now that I am in my 40s I actually see learning as one of the two main purposes of life.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Being a good, fast and thorough learner is an incredible door opener in any professional career but especially in one in the tech industry. This is because things change constantly, and they change incredibly fast when it comes to technology: I always wonder what incredible things we will be used to when my generation grows old. That is why resistance to change or letting oneself fade off like a flower in terms of acquiring new knowledge or skills in a technology industry is not a great idea.

It is our responsibility to take leadership of our professional development seeking support from supervisors, peers, and friends and being thorough when we embark upon a wonderful journey or learning something new.

What barriers for women working in tech, are still to be overcome?

It is still largely a boy’s club so it is difficult sometimes to image yourself fitting in an industry where everybody looks, speaks and behaves differently to you. Also, once you are in, you do have to work twice as hard to gain a strong reputation. It is getting less common fortunately and everybody is now more aware of how biased we all are. But many times in my career I have been in meetings where the other party didn’t speak to me at first and always directed their questions towards my male colleagues. Until they noticed that over and over again I was the one giving the answers and realised that they’d best include me fully in the conversation!

A few months ago, I was approached by a woman at a conference in Paris about Quantum Technologies. She had seen me presenting at the event, so during the networking break she came to tell me about her business and also share how surprised she was when she learned that I was the CEO of LuxQuanta. Well, turned out that she was a CEO herself and that hadn’t crossed my mind in all the time that we had been talking about her business and how our two companies could work together. I was shocked when she handed me her business card at the end of our conversation and I saw her title there. How biased we all are, including ourselves, including me!

Blending in with the male stereotypes and disintegrating ourselves in the process is not favouring inclusion, in fact, it is killing the very concept of diversity. It is within the cultural mosaic of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc with its diverse perspectives and opinions, where the strength for a genuinely disruptive and continuous path to innovation resides in a deep-tech company.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

We need to take responsibility, own the problem and make it a core corporate objective. At LuxQuanta we start from the very beginning by attending schools and universities to give lectures about what we do and how to join our industry. I try to always present at these events being as open and honest as I can about what to expect from a career in technology. I think it is important that women like me do this kind of thing to debunk that gender-biased perception about our role in the technology industry.

We have asked our recruitment agencies to make sure they dig deeper for diversity in their pool of candidates and told them to constantly bring to us any female profile that looks strong. In particular, we are struggling so much to achieve gender balance in our technical departments that we have even tailor-made a position for a young woman with an impressive curriculum and enormous potential. So instead of them fitting in with our needs, we make our needs fit around new female talent.

For the women that have already joined LuxQuanta, I try to lead by example remaining loyal to myself, and sharing the lights and the shadows when it comes to the specific difficulties that we face being women in a male dominated industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

“Never Split the Difference” is the book that I am reading right now. It is about negotiation techniques, and it is written by Chris Voss. This is a must-read for anyone but especially for women as historically, our emotions have given us an unfair reputation – but as it turns out appealing to emotions is how you can do a really good negotiation.

There is a book that impressed me a lot and helped me massively to understand myself: “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine. This book explains how our brain functions work as we go through the different stages of life from our childhood to old age, due to the hormonal changes that we are exposed to. It is extremely enlightening to discover how and why our brain works the way it does so we can become the best versions of ourselves and, also, not be so harsh on ourselves!

And one little tale, super simple yet powerful, written by Spencer Johnson keeps coming to mind every time I come out of my comfort zone: “Who Moved My Cheese”. It is precisely about the importance of remaining prepared for change. Life is inherently unpredictable, change always comes, some doors close, others open.