Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!
It all started in France, where I pursued engineering studies. Towards the end, I had doubts and decided to add economics undertones to my knowledge, hoping to start a career organizing musical events. Right then, California called in the form of my PhD advisor and I was given an opportunity to be an engineer in Silicon Valley. It was only okay for me because it would be a part-time job and I would still be taking time to start with event planning. And so I went for a year, which actually turned into more than 12 years 😊.
Sure enough, I founded my non-profit for events within three months, rallying a fantastic team of creative minds around the project. We started a series of performance right away and then secured a few partnerships with notable arts organizations in the US. I really appreciated that I was given a chance to follow my dream, be judged on my performance only and not on any diploma asserting my qualification for the job.
When Sennheiser came along wanting to start an innovation outpost in California, I jumped on the opportunity. I transferred my need for creativity into building an office (literally, managing construction was the first part of the job), building a team and projects matching the needs of our German headquarters with the unique trends and resources available in the area.
In 2014, I felt it was time to be closer to my family in France so I seized an opportunity to extend my technology team with a user insights team that could inform our exploration focus based on market trends. This is how I landed in Switzerland where our newly created user insights team was located.
Then in 2016, after the entry of strong players in the Virtual Reality industry, Sennheiser decided to bring to light decades of research in immersive audio technologies, and launched AMBEO, our brand for immersive audio products, which I have been leading since.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
There is a great deal of inspiration that I drew from several family members, starting with an astute sense of customer service that made my mother a very successful business owner. I liked how she privileged and took time for one-on-one relationships with her customers who felt understood and, in some way, “loved”. Also with her team members who each had their motivational drivers that she would identify and encourage and their own unique personal challenges that she would help them address.
My dad was a builder and couldn’t stay still. I really liked that no dream was too “Herculean” for him – all it needed was a solid start with a pen and paper to sketch a plan.
How did you become interested in tech?
Technology, especially audio technology, was the perfect career entry point for me as the intersection between what I was good at – namely: maths – and what I most enjoyed, which was music. That’s why, after my studies, my first job was in the field of computer music, developing software tools for composers.
Since then, as life uncovered existential challenges for myself and my loved ones, I have grown even more aware and fascinated by how much people can contribute to improving other lives thanks to technology. I am most interested in the field of robotics and how it may help physical rehabilitation post-injury or increase quality of life for an aging population.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I am very proud of having built several world-class teams throughout my career and retained these highly creative talents significantly longer than the industry average – especially in California. With them, great achievements have been reached such as unparalleled time-to-market for a new product, our AMBEO Virtual Reality microphone, taking shortcuts in our traditional development process to focus on build -measure-learn cycles and earn the first-mover advantages in this new market.
The team’s fearlessness also led to very innovative technology breakthroughs, like the automatic dynamic beamforming, a patented technology that is fueling the growth of Sennheiser’s Business Communication segment with unobtrusive microphones for meetings.
What drives you at work?
What excites me is creating and building. A new team, a new product, a new business. I like to hire and interact with people who are smarter than me. I love nothing more than studying new territories and finding the path to frame a new venture, nurturing the required alliances, and energizing a team behind that vision.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?
Working in tech has been great but if I take a deeper look a few challenges of course surface. Becoming a technical expert is something that can hinder you later from branching out of your specialized field, often because you are good at it and few others can replace you. Therefore, you have to think hard about the career path you desire to pursue and not be drawn too deep into a narrow technical field if you wish to have a career managing teams.
Having said that, becoming a leader in some technical areas requires you to keep a very hands-on understanding of what your team must accomplish, like software development, for example. You can never really let go of your technical learning journey, except of course, if you decide to completely step out of a tech career.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
I believe in never stopping to learn and challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. I was fortunate to be born in a country where education is affordable and I pursued education for as long as possible before starting my professional career. In doing so, I learned methods to address many situations, applicable to my professional life. I was confronted with all kinds of personalities while still in a safe environment, which later helped me to better read social interactions at work.
When it comes to the content learned, especially in tech, it soon becomes “old news”, and it has been essential for me to keep pushing myself to attend events, seminars and to do some homework afterhours to stay ahead. A dose of risks to move into uncharted territory is also healthy. For example I ventured beyond tech into user-centric design, a field guided by sociology skills, trend scouting and market research. In learning new methodologies to deploy these skills, I discovered a very complementary angle to innovation that made me a better technologist, one with purpose, which opened a new variety of career opportunities.
Are there any books, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?
I took quite a bit from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” which includes very actionable advice on how to bring one’s career to the next level, or from the biography of General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra “Road to Power” which provides a very inspiring overview of how she made her way to the top. I regularly listen to the Swisspreneur podcast to get to know our community of Swiss leaders and learn from their experience. As a music enthusiast, you have to know the Song Exploder podcast, where artists walk you through the creative process that led to the genesis of their most popular tunes. And finally, for a broader perspective on politics and society, I follow Ezra Klein starting with his Vox Conversations podcast (recently taken over by other talented producers).
Who is your role model and why? And if you had the chance what question would you ask her?
My role model has long been Tina Turner, for the unparalleled joy that she exudes when on stage. She is fully engaged in the moment, in all her difference and uniqueness and happiness, which is contagiously transmitted to her audience. She represents values very important to me. In particular the importance of living in the present – as opposed to getting lost planning for tomorrow, and of having fun doing what you commit yourself to – for me: starting with my job.