Every two weeks we are introducing you to inspiring women on our network and share their stories. Maybe they can become your role models and lower the barrier to connect online and offline, especially when you meet in our meetups.

Your name?
Donna Roberts

Where do you work, study or are you looking for job?
I am currently looking for my next adventure. I studied Computer Science and Mathematics at Simon Fraser University in Canada and eMBA courses for Strategy and International Business at TAMK here in Finland.
I have mostly worked in Telecomm industry but my roles have covered everything from leading transformations, global programs and service delivery all the way back to coding, testing, integration and network support. I also volunteer with Project Management Institute as a board member for PMI Finland Chapter.

What is your title?
I do not have a title at the moment but some of my previous titles include Program Manager-Global Services Delivery, Director-Managed Services Operations, Manager-Product and Systems Test.

Email address?
MS.DONNA.ROBERTS@GMAIL.COM

What is your story, your background?

My story makes me think of the song: “A long and winding road”. In 6th grade I was planning to become a lawyer. That was the plan but then came more experiences and the plan changed. When I graduated from high school it was a requirement to study something else for 1-2 years before being admitted to law school so I selected pure and applied sciences, basically engineering.

There were not many girls in the program but this was supposed to be temporary and only for fun. In the second year I took one computing science “elective” course also for fun and got hooked. I continued to a BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics and the rest was history.

We had a great co-op education program (optional) at Simon Fraser University where I had the chance to sample 4 different companies for 4 months each during my last 2 years of study before graduating. I learned that I preferred the R&D environment and a fast pace and thus went to work for the company where I did my last internship…starting even before graduating and finishing the studies in night courses. I worked through a fairly traditional career path at first, coding then test, integration and troubleshooting, managing a network support team and being a trainer visiting customers around the world and so on.

I found my hobbies helped me develop skills that became useful in the “day job”. I enjoy scuba diving and became an instructor. The training to become an instructor and the experience of leading volunteers helped me become a better technical trainer, team leader and manager.

When that place closed I was managing a test organization with multiple teams for everything from feature testing, load testing of GSN switch, test tool development and test automation.

While deciding where to go in my career from there, I took a one year contract abroad to move a different test lab and function to China. One year was the plan. I completed the assignment on time but then I could never go back to sitting in any normal office day after day again and so the plan changed again.

I looked around to see where I could work in English and in the same industry and as a result I came to Finland. That was 15 years ago. I came for an adventure, stayed and became a citizen.

When I arrived I discovered the hiring process here took many months instead of the few weeks that I was used and many companies would not consider a foreigner for line management jobs. While interviewing I began the eMBA program in Strategy and International Business at TAMK to round out my techy background. With studies still in progress, I accepted a project management job in Ericsson. Within months, I was working global program assignments for the global services business unit. This role took me across Europe and around the world working with many global delivery centres and provided more connection with the business side within the same industry.

The next step was managed services using my off-shoring and knowledge transfer experience for the bid process and then leading some transformations and eventually even operations.

Now it is time for the next chapter and a new adventure. I am looking forward to it and though I cannot predict what it will look like yet I am sure technology will be part of it.

Is technology part of you work? 

Technology has always been a part of my work starting from my hands-on days in software development and test right through to product deployment programs, network operations transformations and service delivery related to the networks we all take for granted to communicate and stay connected in our daily lives.

If I may borrow an analogy, think of an egg. The shell is “what you do” and the yolk is “who you get to be while doing that”. Technology is a key ingredient of the cool shell that has housed my career to date and more and more tech is an integral part of everything we touch and use daily.

Your biggest challenge at the moment at work or in self-development?

A big challenge at the moment is finding a way to get the attention of the right people in the recruiting cycles with potential employers and to convince them that so much of my experience and skills are completely relevant and transferable to many industries, products and roles.

The consulting firms really get this concept as that is how they view their staff and sell their services to a variety of clients but those who have spent longer in only one company or industry are not so aware of this yet and possibly this contributes to their struggle to fill open positions.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Before coming to Finland I had various line management roles where I was able to hire for diversity (people from many countries, wide age range, levels of experience, and different schools and training) and learn from those individuals what they needed from me and the management team for the teams to be high performing.

Once I find my new egg shell, I see myself sharing or applying that experience again, perhaps not as my primary role but at least by coaching others within the context of whatever project we are working on and impacting in a positive and lasting way the next generation of work teams.

What Future Female network has given you? Or what would you like it to give you?

Future Female has given me a chance to meet many new people beyond the circle I would meet from my previous work places and to get to know more of the local tech community, learn about companies I might never have otherwise found, hear about new ways of working and discover some of the new tech that is behind it all.

I have a photo with Momo the robot and I watched a Tesla “dance” but the meetups also open up thoughtful discussion on serious topics like privacy, social impact of tech, ethics for AI and practicalities of promoting or supporting gender equality and diversity and inclusion.

What is the best and the most important quality in your professional persona from your point of view?

I believe that the most important quality in my professional persona is balance and often that balance is supported by understanding the “why” for any situation.

Understanding why a new process, tool or way of working is to be implemented helps motivation and prioritization along the way. It also helps us recognize decision points when it might be time to stop or change direction to achieve a fundamental business goal rather than blindly implement a plan that will not fully achieve that result. Understanding who the customer is or what are the potential uses of a product, helps guide ongoing development and prioritization.

As a program and project manager, I am known for balancing short term and long term needs to prioritize actions on the “to do” list for today with a view of the strategic long term goals of a program or project. As a people manager I am known for balancing the focus on day to day work with the equally necessary focus on the people side of team leadership including coaching and development of staff.

Also, I have been able to demonstrate balance between professional commitment and a personal life though perhaps in a less traditional way. I may sometimes work longer hours or more likely a very odd schedule supporting colleagues in other countries but then I balance that with time out and personal activities also at unusual times in between.

Quote that inspires you the most?

How about something new instead of a traditional quote? I heard an interesting perspective by Laura Berman Fortgang in a TED talk recently. “Career satisfaction does not come from what you do, it comes from who you get to be while you are doing that job. Who you get to be is the real you.” She then compares our work to an egg. The shell is what you do and the yolk is who you get to be. I used that analogy earlier.

I was having trouble expressing part of what I am looking for in my next role and this analogy helps with that. For me, work is less about a particular product and more about my personal impact with my teams…though having a cool tech shell for my egg keeps it all fun.

Last but not least – name one woman who you admire and why? 

A woman I greatly admire is a friend, Edna Lilian (Moore) Anderson. Edna passed away a few years ago in her 90s. She is not famous in any way but was well known in her community of Queensborough in New Westminster, Canada. She was perhaps born ahead of her time and lived through an incredible amount of change from having water delivered on horse drawn carriages until space shuttled and the explosion of the internet.

She created and shared scrapbooks of news stories and advertisements over decades which captured a movie like view of this massive change. It was less common then for women to work after marriage but Edna volunteered actively in her community for decades both as poet laureate and showing dolls from around the world to children in this mixed neighbourhood which opened dialogue about diversity and culture.

Her life was a demonstration of inclusion before the rest of us knew how significant this would become and she was a role model for me and for her community of how one person with no title can have an impact with the simplest acts of caring and contribution to community.

Let’s get connected and feel free to ask for cup of coffee too!
www.linkedin.com/in/ms-donna-roberts