Alexandra Steven-Boniecki featured

Inspirational Woman: Alexandra Steven-Boniecki | CEO, 1080 VMC

Alexandra Steven-BonieckiAlexandra Steven-Boniecki graduated in cognitive psychology with the goal of using software to make learning easier for people.

Having acquired over 20 years’ experience in international broadcasting, business (software) analysis & training, and production technology, her biggest project to date is the production of “Searching for Skylab, America’s Forgotten Triumph”, the first feature film ever made about Skylab, America’s first space station. This multi-award-winning historical document captures the memories of the astronauts, engineers and their families and presents them with rarest NASA archive material researched for over 15 years. If you’d like to know more about this subject, visit skylab.space.

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

At the turn of the century, proudly clutching my diploma in cognitive psychology from one of the best universities in Paris I set off for London with one desire: to figure out how computers could help us learn more efficiently. I had been warned, though. Our teacher’s message was clear from the start: the likelihood of us finding a job in our profession was next to zero.

They were right. I found a job a completely different field, with an American TV broadcaster and thus began a quest for my place within it. It was here that I met my husband.

Though I enjoyed working in broadcasting, I longed to be a teacher. But then reality hit. The proposed starting salary wouldn’t even pay my mortgage. I cried my eyes out for a week.

I did not see it then, but my passion has already pushed me towards training my colleagues on intricate software solutions and as the broadcasting industry was one of the fastest-developing and technology-advanced working environments the need for software staff training and support was also growing. I found my niche.

Soon, I was working for one of the biggest software players, delivering training, traveling the world, thinking up solutions, and analysing software. It remains one of my favoured places to be within the industry.

Eventually, my passion for using computers to learn more efficiently pushed me to launch my own company, 1080VMC Here I assisted experts who wished to share their knowledge in the virtual world and wanted more insight into what digital support already existed.

I was approached then by an expert I did not consider – my husband. Having researched the NASA archives for over 15 years and becoming an award-winning author in the process, he realised that he was probably the only person in the world who knew how to make a film about the story of the Skylab missions, the USA’s first space station. And that he had to do it now, so that the surviving astronauts would be able to tell their stories first-hand. And from this the documentary Searching for Skylab: America’s Forgotten Triumph was born.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no.

I look for tasks that best fit my life and my passion. Building “my thing” is my priority. In that sense, I never planned a “career”. I look for tasks, jobs and solutions that I think are moving me towards my goals. Sometimes, it means accepting necessary work while awaiting that perfect, life-changing role.

My ambition is not to become the leader of some tech giant. My dream is to find answers to tough questions and hopefully make a positive difference to at least some lives.

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

During my university studies I found myself homeless at times. I never had to sleep on the streets, but I’ve been forced to squat. I was also living in a Christian shelter in one room with around 40 other young women. Withoutt enough bunk-beds available I was offered space by a kind girl who worked nights and slept when I was at the university.

This part of my life didn’t fit with a childhood of great schools and caring parents, but Paris was as far as I could get away to make my very own start in life. I saw my friends molly-coddled and yes, most enjoy top positions in their field today, but I wanted to find my own path. I didn’t know how much, much harder this would be, of course, but I like to think I grew as a person and am much happier knowing what I achieved, I did on my own.

During my job career, which began for me in London, I was bullied by my superiors. I saw girlfriends driven to attempting suicide by theirs. I have lived through redundancy. I’ve been subjected to mobbing. I’ve gone through burnout.

All were tough experiences and being a woman with no high-ranking male support doesn’t make a career any easier. Think of Anne Boleyn and her relatively weak support network that, unlike in the case of Catherine of Aragon, could not protect her life against the will of a king. Think of the career of Mileva Marić-Einstein as opposed to Marie Sklodowska-Curie. I don’t think very much has changed today.

Of course, you sometimes get hurt deeply and when you do, you need to lean on your environment to get better. Do you have loved ones or great friends who care for you deeply? Maybe, there’s a friendly stranger? A support group? A helpful professional? Recognising that we also need help can be difficult and yet to me, this is the quickest way to heal. Focus on your problems and healing will be hard. Focus on how to get better and you will be rewarded. The support of others is invaluable. You can grow from it and then give back.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without a doubt producing the movie Searching for Skylab.

It started off easy. Self shot, self made, self produced – my company could afford a small new project.

I didn’t specialise in movies, but this was about sharing knowledge. I wanted to do a top job and make a movie that would become an enjoyable learning experience.

I have never been hit with so many challenges at so many levels all at once. I’ve never grown as quickly. You make something this big and every weakness you ever had in any area you can think off is likely to hit you.

It’s a miracle the project didn’t crush me. I have no big studio or big money behind me and my marketing is very modest as a result, but I have the support of the astronauts, their families, NASA engineers, experts and fans, all of whom were instrumental in helping me finish the film at all by supporting us on Kickstarter. A vindication of their trust in me and my team has been rewarded with the film winning 11 awards to date.

And then the final challenge we’ve had to overcome in this story of this film was Covid. It’s been nearly impossible for most of us to travel and even more difficult to meet these pioneers of space in person. That’s why we came up with the idea to offer an encounter with the astronauts online, not just being a spectator. The event is for people to spend an afternoon watching our documentary, Searching for Skylab at a digital cinema and then a panel with a rare astronaut reunion. We even have a few tickets for people who want an exclusive opportunity to chat live with one of the astronauts.

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

Resilience, love, trust and resourcefulness are the top factors that come to mind.

  • Resilience – probably a character trait that helps with focusing on your journey and consciously choosing your path.
  • Resourcefulness – what do I still need to learn and where can I find the best teachers? It is to me the ultimate tool finder.
  • Love – in its much broader meaning. Love & understanding of your family, love and support from your friends, love & guidance from various experts. Without them, we would have gone under long before any release of the movie.
  • Trust – possibly the most difficult of them all. Trust in yourself, trust in people, and to trust in life to bring you what you need when you need it. All very tough points when you realise how many skills still elude you, how many people take you for a ride and how many times your ideas about what you need right differ from what life actually brings you.

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

I think that anyone who follows their ultimate passion and is open to take on challenges and grow from them rather than get frustrated and stuck or scared by them, can achieve great things. Two great quotes come to mind: “The path is more important than the destination” and “Aim for the stars, if you fail, you might land on the Moon.".

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

I’ve experienced lower pay than my male and junior colleagues. I was refused promotion for years when I really tried (I only tried that once in a job). I had my ideas presented by my boss as his own, so yes, I believe that many barriers still exist. I think they are mostly due to a power struggle culture. But I’ve been seeing changes around me in the last 10 years, and I work with many skilled women today who are in key tech positions.

I think women deal with business differently to men. They have by nature different priorities and fight differently for their positions. There’s a general lack of understanding between the sexes, especially in business and what you don’t understand you typically reject, right? How do you overcome that? That’s a great subject for a university psychology department to research.

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

There’s a saying in Poland that I like a lot: “A fish always rots from its head.” I’d start by changing the culture at the head of the companies that wish to support progress and introduce an obligatory self-awareness training focused on perceiving, understanding and accepting differences.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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?

I’ve been working with many women in tech jobs, so I’m quite surprised the figure is this low. But if I could, I would start by creating a special self-awareness coaching course and make it a requirement for all heads of the tech companies. Would that be enough? Probably not, but it could be a start.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I probably fit the bill of a tech nerd. Male, female, I don’t think it matters. What I found mattered most was building up self-awareness and personal growth. To get better at business I started a great training in Germany, NLS with Mark Galal, a German NLP and sales expert who mesmerised me by his teaching skills.

I then joined seminars by Tony Robbins, whom I admire greatly. I love to learn on masterclass.com and coursera.org, both offer outstanding trainings on many subjects.

I also am closely following mindvalley.com, Wane Dyer’s teachings and Ekhart Tolle. I find in our world you need to be able to put things into perspective and this is where I find my inspiration.

Last, but not least, I find much inspiration from the story of Skylab itself. Ever since I grasped the overview from the movie, I’ve been mesmerised by the variety of inspirational angles of this incredible NASA project.


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