Could you tell me a bit about your background?
Hey, I’m Mihaela. I’m a Romanian with a British passport, currently living in Portugal.
I have 12 years’ international experience in Product Management and Digital Marketing across education, affiliate marketing and automotive sectors, working on global B2B and B2C platforms.
I’m currently working as a Product Manager for Volkswagen Digital Solutions, in Lisbon, where we work on software solutions to change mobility for future generations.
How did you get into tech? What made you choose it?
It’s an interesting story. I’m a marketing girl turned into a tech girl.
I have a BA degree with a major in English and minor in French and a master’s degree in advertising.
My career started in events management, then events marketing. I moved on to communications and digital marketing at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a top global provider of international higher education services, until one of my previous managers, who’s been a great mentor to me, involved me into something completely new and different – building an affiliate network for promoting international higher education, from scratch. This is how I started into Product Management and that’s when I also realised how much this role fits me, since I could make great use of my previous knowledge and skills while also learning more about technology.
Considering how much I value working with people and building features that solve problems and contribute to improving people’s lives, this evolution proved to be a great professional change. Being a Product Manager helps me develop my passion for product and strategy and translate my previous knowledge of digital advertising, business strategy, and skills in communications & negotiation.
What personal or professional milestones would you highlight?
There are quite a few key moments that had an impact in my life and career, and I’ll name some of them in chronological order.
The first of them is deciding to join a great student NGO, ASLS, while at university in Bucharest. I was actively involved in supporting the career development of young students and graduates through conferences, social awareness campaigns, career and educational fairs or internships. That’s the first moment when I had contact with the corporate world, other organisations and institutions, local and international media and also when I started working and growing my professional network.
This led me to a second key step: moving to London for an internship in marketing, at QS, which turned into a ‘real job’ and I ended up staying in London for longer than I had initially expected :). This meant a great step in my life and career. I’ve moved into Product Management, I’ve built new teams and contributed to organisational change, even set up a new QS office in Romania, together with my now best friend. Throughout these years. I’ve met wonderful people, I’ve created lifelong relationships and friendships that I will always value, and I’ve grown as a person.
The next important change came in 2016, when I moved to a different company, Awin, a key global affiliate network. Mainly because it was the first big shift after working in the same company for about six years. I was in a completely new work environment, getting in contact with people from various departments and regions, working in a big agile Product & Technology team, building products in an industry that’s continuously changing and innovating and this was a great experience.
Joining Girls in Tech London, has also been a highlight of my recent years, as I got involved in something that is in line with my commitment to empower the people around me and help shift the status quo when it comes to gender diversity in tech industries.
Lastly, my recent move to Lisbon, a new job and new life plans, after 7 years in London. Let’s see where this takes me next ;).
What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?
Never stop learning.
Do you regret not having done something today for not finding time?
Oh, I used to let myself overwhelmed with the thoughts of ‘there’s not enough time’ or ‘I don’t have enough time’. And that’s tough on everyone…
It took me a lot of time ( ironically), a lot of reading and a lot of working with myself and practicing, to learn how to organise myself and reduce this feeling and pressure of not having enough time. I now rarely regret not having done something today for not finding time. Usually, I’ve now learned that if I leave something for tomorrow, it wasn’t a priority for that day and I accept that there’s only a limited number of things I can do.
Some quick examples of what you can do to feel less pressure:
- Make lists. List all the things you need to get done in a day or a week.
- Prioritise the items on these lists. Identify what’s important.
- List the things you have accomplished in a day. Don’t tick them off the initial list. Write them again. This will give you a great sense of how much you’ve achieved.
- Say ‘No’ more often. I know this is a really hard one, but it helps a lot to remove potential distractions and keep you focused.
- Make time for things that make you feel good every day – sports, meditation, reading. Anything that can help you stay positive.
What books and podcasts do you recommend reading and listening to and why?
I have been recently listening to a lot of talks and presentations by John Hagel, around the future of work. It’s a topic that I’m highly interested in and actively following. It’s about the big shifts in workforce demographics and behaviour, technology and tools available, increased mobility and the pressing need to focus on a continuous learning environment, to be able to face the disruptions on a society and economy level.
When it comes to reading, there are a couple of books that I would highly recommend.
The first one is ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hseih. At this point, some of my friends or colleagues reading this will smile.
This book has been a guide for me – in my work and principles – over the last 5-6 years. It’s about the start and growth of the online shoe retailer, Zappos, which was subsequently sold to Amazon for $1.2bn in 2009. But it’s really about how to build something successful by finding a purpose and a passion and making those more important than making profits, by focusing on the company culture and actually by focusing on the people, and by ‘delivering happiness’ to customers, employees, everyone around really.
The second book is ‘The Idiot Brain’ by Dean Burnett, a doctor in neuroscience. He is great at explaining, in a very humorous and witty language, how the brain works, why it’s so fascinating and also how it influences, sometimes in a stupid way, what we say, do and experience. Topics range from explanations about our eating, sleeping and sleepwalking, handling of criticism, social interactions, memory, intelligence or the lack of it, to information about phobias, anxieties or depression. It’s a delightful read that helps us learn and understand more about our brains! And he’s also had a podcast.
How did you get into Girls in Tech and what made you do that?
I have joined Girls in Tech London shortly after the relaunch of their chapter at the end of 2017.
Having worked within tech departments for a couple of years, it became obvious to me that I could make an impact in helping women bridge the gap of under-representation in the IT departments and tech industries. And joining Girls in Tech was the right choice as I could engage with like-minded women sharing the same concerns and values. Being part of such a movement from the early stages, allowed me to work towards my mission and values of empowering people – and specifically making a difference and contributing by using my experience, skills and connections to help support and promote women working in tech industries.
And now, in London, after tens of events and initiatives, impacting thousands of women and a growing number of volunteers we can proudly say we’re doing a great job.
After so many years of being in STEM fields, what do you think about diversity and inclusion in sector?
Working as a Product Manager for 6 years now, I’ve closely seen the impact of the gender gap in tech sectors, although I can’t say I’ve been much affected by it myself. However, I have actively worked to challenge and change the current status. And I’ve been proud to see initiatives of London based tech companies, including Awin, to internally address their culture and workplaces to support female employees.
There have been a lot of steps made over the years. For example, on a larger scale, technology innovations, like mobile banking ventures or e-learning platforms, have helped women get access to learning and more opportunities. In the UK, the change in the Equality Act from 2017, required all companies of 250 employees or greater, to report their pay gap figures each financial year. The WEF 2020 Gender Pay Gap Report shows that globally, gender parity is at 68.6%, which is a positive. However, the report also says the gender gap will take 99.5 years to close…
Also, women own only 5% of tech startups, and there are still considerable pay gaps in big tech companies: at Apple last year, women earned a median of 76p for every £1 men earned. Numbers show we’ve still got a long way to go.
That’s why more and more people, companies and institutions should get involved in fighting for a fairer and more inclusive tech industry for women. There are many aspects to cover, from encouraging more girls to go towards STEM subjects, to creating a more inclusive work environment for women. And we need to act fast, considering the impact of the gender imbalance will have in current and future tech developments involving AI or robotics.
What advice would you give to a person who wants to get into tech?
Find a mentor. I strongly believe in the power of good mentors.
So, if you want to get into tech, I would advise you to find someone who is happy to guide you and counsel you and help you on your path. It’s important to have someone championing you.
And when you’ve made it up there, become a mentor yourself. We need more women in this industry and one thing we can do is help each other.