Wrap up in the shortest sentence possible what your role means.
I work with brands and engineers to make the future tangible today by analysing technological and sociological trends that will change consumer behaviour and building prototypes to prepare brands for that future 3-5 years ahead.
What is the interesting / challenging part of your work?
- Interesting – to experience daily that no longer any of the technologies can be studied in isolation; IoT, XR, AI and even robotics are all becoming interdependent. And this is a fact for every single industry you can imagine!
- Challenging – to be accurate with timing predictions for consumer adoption, for example the pandemic is helping tech adoption leapfrog 2-3 years and that has caught everyone by surprise, but companies that were testing emerging concepts had it much easier to adapt.
- Challenging – to visualise RoI (return on investment) measured as opportunity cost and PR investment, instead of actual/direct returns as those manifest much later.
“Emerging Tech R&D positions the company as a thought leader and surprises the market with innovative propositions“
What attracted you to choose a STEM field? How do you find navigating your career path as a woman in tech?
In short, I started my career in the Humanities, I studied Law and then Art and Design. I came to technology quite late in my career, learnt interactive web design at age 24 and electronics at 26.
I do believe that the unique angle I see in all the technologies I work with comes from my philosophical, sociological and aesthetically background. So I promote the use of STEAM and to promote the inclusion of Art in STEM I created a youtube channel to share my experiences, hacks, unboxing vids and so called #YoSTEAM.
My career path has been very self-taught with a life-long-learning approach, and I have found many supporters, and mentors, both men and women along the way. Looking back, the few times I felt any gender biases have actually made me stronger.
What is your biggest achievement that you are most proud of?
One of my biggest achievements was being asked to speak at TEDx, and then another big achievement comes, and then another one, year after year…
“So I realise that the big achievement is to keep going, enjoy the rewards of your work, but always keep pushing the comfort zone!“
In my case it is not about raising upwards, as in wanting more and more in a vertical way. What I care about is pushing myself to learn new skills horizontally and to show what can be achieved when one’s expertise is to be multidisciplinary. I do believe it will be one of the most valuable career choices in the future.
How do you track and express your achievements in the workplace and beyond?
I use social media to share my experiences. I give talks and workshops, write articles, etc. so I take every opportunity to share and discuss my thoughts as anything one keeps just in one’s head can never grow.
Who are your mentors or role models that helped you either directly or indirectly?
Where to start?! I truly learn from everyone and reflect on the values I admire in others to create new habits. I am one of those that didn’t know how to ask for help and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Then one day I realised that people truly want to support others and are happy to provide time if they see a strong commitment on your side. Now I find highly rewarding being a mentor myself, helping someone talented to keep their drive and energy alive, especially other women in tech.
To me that tends to be the key to overcome most challenges, together with adding clarity on goals and prioritisation, which is often easier to see from the outside. None of us have it all figured out! In the past I have mainly mentored startups, and in that case, using one’s network to expand the reach of an idea is also highly valuable and very hard to start from scratch.
How do you think women can be game-changers in time of crisis?
Anyone can be a game-changer in time of crisis, in fact that is the history of innovation. Some believe that women can be more thoughtful or empathetic, but throughout my career I have seen these qualities in work lead by either gender.
So to me the key is in the diversity, not just of gender but in cultures and disciplines, the more variety in a team the wider the perspectives of the conversations that can lead to impactful change. 💯
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader? Are there any technology resources that you would recommend?
What differentiates me from other futurists is that I am hands-on and like to build the concepts I imagine for the future to properly explore the possibilities and understand the flaws. For this, I need to acquire new skills with each project and work collaboratively with freelancers, academics and industry.
Most recently I have had the opportunity to do this by working directly inside of a corporation, and it is something I want to do more of by leading an R&D team in a company that has global impact.
Resources are everywhere, and more now that colleges had to provide their content and lessons online. From Harvard to Youtube, everything is at your fingertips now. However, it is hard to get started on something completely new, I face that constantly, so I reach out to a friend or colleague that has that skills and ask for a 40min hands-on intro – that’s usually enough to break the ice and continue by myself knowing there is someone I can reach out to when I’m truly stuck!
It’s your day off. What do you do to relax?
In lockdown, either in a VR experience 📹, diving into a great book 📚, looking after my plants 🌿, playing piano 🎹 or making crafts 🎨. But if I can get out, I go for a run or swimming 🏊♀️, if sunny ☀️, definitely picnic with friends in a park or at the beach if I can go back home for a few days 🏖. I was born in Lanzarote.
What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?
I was doing law back then, it is not what I wanted to do. It was my father’s wish. One day, I came back home to bring the “bad news” that I wanted to switch careers into Art. You can imagine that didn’t go down very well…
Now I understand that the rejection I felt by deceiving my family is what pushed me to be where I am now, and to value every single minute and achievement. I would say to myself to trust my instinct and I wish I had known back then, that I was going to be more than fine. Because having self-doubt at a young age without family support was truly difficult.
“The reality is that no matter what, one always figures out the way“
What makes you RARE?
My endless curiosity – it is not rare, it is in all of us, but by choosing an R&D career, I can dedicate quality time to being curious, exploring, experimenting, testing. This informs my way of thinking in unique ways and by being multidisciplinary, I can also connect the dots in unique ways!
Together with the fact that I enjoy communicating my vision, I learnt along the way to make videos, animations, or whatever was needed to visualise a concept. I also trained for public speaking. Over time, being open about my work and using social media, made me realise it is not only about what you can create, but how you communicated it remaining approachable.
Want to know more about Elena? Connect with her on LinkedIn