group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Collaboration and culture in technology – the solution to get us through COVID and beyond

Article by Leena Koskelainen, Tecnotree

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company cultureIt’s fair to say that this year has not panned out quite the way we would have expected back in January.

However, as 2020 draws to a close and the talk of a vaccine become more and more positive, I think it’s important to try and find positives where possible. And one of the key positives for those of us that work in technology has been a far greater understanding and acknowledgement of our sector amongst the wider public. From Zoom calls and food deliveries to mobile tracking apps and content streaming, there has been a much wider appreciation of technology and how fundamental it has become to so many aspects of our lives.

As refreshing as this external recognition has been, 2020 has also forced many of us that work in the industry to cast a critical eye on how we engage with own colleagues and workforce. Within my division at Tecnotree, I lead teams involved with digital transformation programmes to bring legacy business support systems into the modern age with the latest technology, automation, analytics and machine learning capabilities. However, I’ve also found myself conducting a similar process on my teams to ensure that we’re getting the best out of our teams and colleagues during this time!

One of the key areas I’ve discovered is the importance of collaboration and getting the balance right between managing and autonomy. In situations like this, I actually think it helps to be a woman. There have been various studies and articles written about how women are more naturally collaborative then men and with us having a female CEO, I feel that feeling has naturally cascaded down to all of us and has been reflected in the ethos of our company. I am responsible for teams in the Middle East, Bangalore and other places and used to have constant calls with 170 people reporting, updating and more. It was often a challenge to know where to focus my attentions. Now, thanks to internal training and removing some pre-existing hierarchies, we’ve started to see results emerging. As a leader, I’ve had to get the balance right between putting best practice in place, but at the same time aiming to improve productivity, and according to our most recent results, it seems to be working!

The other area that has been a focus is team culture. It’s a cliché but at the end of the day, any company is only as good as its people. As Vice President of Product Engineering, I work with some truly brilliant scientific minds on a daily basis, but with COVID, there’s also been a danger that people become even more isolated and siloed in their work. So, I’ve made it a priority to ensure we’re doing what we can to balance things out and bring people together / make them feel valued. We’ve also sent care packages to employee’s home addresses so that they can share gifts with their families and let them know we’re thinking of them. Also, on the family engagement front, our HR team has been running “Kudos to Kiddies’” program, where we have invited the children of our staff to post pictures and videos of their crafts, art and hobbies which we then publish for entire company to see and appreciate.

It’s definitely been a strange year, but in a funny sense, its actually been a good one for Tecnotree and me personally. It’s reminded me of the advice I always give to young women coming into the industry - don’t be afraid of the unknown. The COVID situation has actually made me adjust the way I lead and manage my teams and provided the impetus to do things differently. It’s bringing results and had set us all up for further success even further down the road post-COVID.

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Leena Koskelainen featured

Inspirational Woman: Leena Koskelainen | Vice President of Product Engineering, Tecnotree

Leena KoskelainenLeena Koskelainen is Vice President of Product Engineering at Tecnotree Corporation, a position she has held since 2018.

In this role she heads up global operations for Tecnotree’s Product Engineering division.

Before becoming Vice President of Product Engineering, Leena held a number of other roles having started with the company in 2006.

Leena is a technology specialist having started her career as a software developer in 1987. She has held several demanding positions, leading large multicultural teams from all over the world. Leena is highly respected and trusted throughout the telecoms industry and an inspiration to women and girls wanting a career in tech.

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

I have a background in mainframe software engineering from the 1980’s. After that, I moved into the telecoms domain essentially to help people communicate more easily across the world. I’m currently supporting communication service providers by offering high quality customer service and I’m involved with digital transformation programmes to bring legacy business support systems into the modern age with the latest technology, automation, analytics and machine learning capabilities.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not particularly, I have simply always been curious and hungry to try new things and keep on learning. This approach has opened up many opportunities; some I was able to handle well and others were a challenge, but this helped me to grow. I have worked for Tecnotree over many years and I have been very fortunate to experience different roles and activities.

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

I once made a career move from working in the back-office of a local Finnish company to a front-line role in an international company. It was a wise move as this came at the point when the internet was becoming commonly used and telecom and mobile services were starting to conquer the word. While it was the right decision, it was far from easy. I went through a series of challenges starting from using English as the standard working language and learning completely new technologies and concepts involved in telecoms. Suddenly I found myself explaining the signalling patterns and SMS protocols over the phone to a specialist in Kuala Lumpur and the next day to someone else in Sao Paulo. It was initially daunting with so many new things to learn.  Little by little I started to see the light in the end of the tunnel, and the day eventually came when I was completely in control. I knew what I was doing, customers appreciated my help and I felt valued. This was probably the most important lesson for me – never give up and the reward always awaits you in the end.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Personally I feel that my biggest achievement has been to learn to appreciate cultural diversity and all the victories and challenges it brings. Being able to think differently and learning to collaborate effectively across the world, brings a meaningful sense of community and togetherness.

Professionally the biggest achievement is related to crisis management. I was involved with a production roll-out which didn’t go so well. I had to stabilize the systems whilst reassuring the workforce. Telecommunication systems are known for their availability and reliability and having that stability compromised can be mission critical.  Managing the crisis became our team’s mission and our confidence grew as we resolved the issues.

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

I learned a very valuable lesson as a child: If you undertake a task, do it properly.  ‘Doing it properly’ is a very relative concept, but I maintain that mantra today in everything I do:

  • When I write an e-mail, I try to write it so that the recipient can understand it without needing to call me and ask what I meant.
  • When I make a plan, I try to cover all aspects, make it as practical and implementable as possible.
  • When I make a report, I collect enough data to have the facts right, make it complete and put it in the format which is clear and understandable for the audience.
  • When I prepare training, I always start from training objectives and make sure the training content is relevant so that employees will learn the key points of the subject.

The list goes on, but my principle is to spend a little bit more time doing things properly to ensure there is no confusion from the outset.

I become very motivated when faced with a challenge. If someone says it can’t be done, I’m ready to prove them wrong.  In business things change all the time so you need to be  relentlessly positive in the face of adversity.

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

The technology industry is full of extremely intelligent individuals who often face challenges in communication and collaboration. The industry needs leaders who can listen, understand, bring people together and utilize expertise. Enabling collaboration, creating excitement and a sense of togetherness are such important qualities to demonstrate through any career journey.

Another important point is to do your best to comprehensively understand issues your business faces. Technology is all about solving everyday problems and getting to the bottom of things is crucial. There is no stupid questions in our field, all questions must be asked as many times as needed to achieve 100% clarity.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Generally no, I really don’t see significant barriers. Women have unique capabilities which help them to be successful. I see equal respect towards men and women everywhere I work and I have not faced any glass ceilings hindering my success. Finland is known for its equality, but I think the same thing is also being seen elsewhere. In Asia, Africa, Middle-East, etc. – women are doing well in the field of tech. The only thing stopping women to reach their full potential is not believing in their own capabilities. Women have patience, diligence, accountability and endurance and we are great communicators. This helps us to provide real value in the communities we work in.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Women are great assets to the companies they work for but even greater assets to their families. Especially during the years when careers are often built, women often have children and extended families depending on their care and support.

Finland’s model is to understand the family-related requirements and consciously make it possible for women to work. Some examples of this are the equalization of maternity and paternity leaves, right to stay home to take care of sick child and providing affordable day care for all families even if they work in odd hours or in shift work. Companies can also follow some of these principles and provide support for women who work committedly in the middle of family challenges.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Announce a full ‘Women in Tech’ year campaign and build interesting programmes around it to help executives to understand unique talents and capabilities of women, and make the recruitment of women a strategic priority. Companies must also totally erase prejudice towards women and remove barriers to women being successful.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

In general, networking is very important and exposing yourself to new concepts regularly. It is important to make time for this even when your capacity is limited. Technology changes so fast that if one settles with routines and things already known, they are very quickly left behind in progress.