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Five Things Women Can Do to Make the Most of Their Inherent Talents in the Male-Dominated Tech World

Alina Vandenberghe talks about what skills she developed in order to be successful in her role as the Head of Mobile at Pearson.
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On the way to work in the subway I saw across from me a baby avidly using an iPad covered in a thick foam cover. This little girl could barely say any words but could take photos of herself, browse existing ones and played a loud game with colorful animals.

I was reminded once again that I was lucky to be in this space at the time when iPhones started the touch screen revolution. I’m now part of several teams who help the pinch-&-swipe generation get better education through new technology.

Lucky? That’s what we women do - we blame our success on luck (at least according to Sheryl Sandberg in her new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) . So I thought long and hard about what really made me successful on my path so far -- besides luck. I came up with 5 things that helped me stand out in a tech world dominated by men.

1. Deep empathy and obsession for my users

I’ve worked on products in very different industries: from social networks to enterprise solutions, from media to law, from physical sensors in the vineyards in California to end-to-end mobile solutions for shop keepers in Colombia. Now on super exciting education mobile based solutions around the globe.

The only times those products would become successful was when my obsession for the user prevailed over any other activity. Helping users achieve their goals is more important than the technology behind the product, than the hundred-feature list, than pleasing your stakeholders or making money. Happy users eventually bring profits, but never the other way around.

Spend enough time with your users to the point where you can talk and walk like them. That’s when you know you’re on the right path. And that’s when you’ll know what they want before they do. And that should come easy: most of us females are highly empathetic

2.  Passion for visual design

Although I have a deep understanding of the technology behind the scenes (Java, .NET, Node.js,  you name it), I can’t help but being super particular when it comes to visual design. My philosophy is make products look sophisticated, beautiful and clean, and users will know you care about them. They’ll feel sophisticated as well.

Some products I worked on were keynoted by Steve Jobs, so I’m convinced that my obsession for perfect pixels paid off.

I was not very good at this skill at the beginning, but I practiced every day. My advice is to start reading designers’ blogs, follow superstars on dribbble.com and practice using Adobe products yourself to get there. All these hours spent on Pinterest may pay off.

3. Problem solving attitude

Many many times things go wrong. A server with all your data crashes. Your most valuable developer in the team gets sick. The product development is slow. It’s inherent. The attitude that saved me time and time again was, “Let’s find a solution.” Blaming others is much easier. Not digging into the details is also easier.

Always ask why, and don’t let people around you shrug their shoulders. Help them find an answer alongside with them. Don’t criticize and don’t nag.

4.True appreciation of hidden talents in people

I would have done very little had I not been surrounded by brilliant people. I constantly search for talents in people that they never knew they had. I then nourish the talent, and remind their owners of it as often as I can. I can’t count how many times people smarter than me saved the day--because they knew I’d notice it.

No one person can do it all, no matter how many hours you put in the day.

5. Always Learning

I never stop. There’s so much to learn about in this world, including in my industry. There are new tools, new technologies, and new methods every week. While you may not know everything, allow yourself to learn something new. Every day.

If I don’t get myself better every day, the tech world around me will change too fast. And that baby girl in the subway will make me obsolete.

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