Joanna Rindell is the Country Lead of Wunderdog GmbH, a software development and design agency based in Berlin. As a woman in a leadership position in the tech sphere, she believes in the power of networks to share experiences and encourage others in their professional development. Joanna focuses on creating new ways of working by addressing issues such as diversity and company culture and she is eager to see how the future will shift towards new relations between technology, women and workforce.
In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?
I work for Wunderdog, a software development and design agency from Finland with offices in Berlin, Helsinki and Malmö. I am Germany’s Country Lead. My job is very diverse; I oversee strategic decisions, operations and budget related issues. I advise clients on different suitable solutions for their needs. I am a lawyer by training, so I also oversee legal matters at Wunderdog, especially in relation to data protection, compliance and contracts. One of my responsibilities is to enable a sustainable environment, thus I work closely with the teams to make sure they get support and training.
Tech plays a big role in my everyday life. I would say the most important thing is to have a general understanding of what you can do with different technologies and tools. That’s why I keep myself updated with the new changes, discourses and happenings related to tech.
Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?
I have always had a great interest in different cultures. I also love meeting new people, I find that to be the best way to broaden one’s own mindset. During my studies I had several internships abroad, for example in the U.S. (Detroit), Czech Republic (the Finnish embassy), Luxembourg (Court of Justice of the EU) and Germany. My studies also took me to Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania), where I studied human rights, international law and Islamic law for half a year.
When the time came to start my MA in law, I decided to focus on tech and intellectual property law. I saw this field was a powerful path to have an impact on things, also at a human rights level: you have to make changes from within. After graduation I was offered a job as general counsel for Wunderdog, where I paved the path to becoming the company’s country lead in Germany. Two years later I moved to Berlin for that purpose and I set up the operations.
Regarding how I got to where I am today, it was a mix between very hard work, a stream of lucky coincidences and thinking ahead to make good choices. I think staying curious and being open to explore new opportunities were crucial as well.
What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
Our generation went from analog to digital and this is a hard spot to be in a way, because you basically know two different worlds. Our elders have trouble understanding the new digital reality and digital natives coming after us do not relate to our previous analog world. My generation is caught in between both and it’s not always easy to find your place and set boundaries.
Having said that, for me the biggest transformation has been the hegemony of tech itself. Big societal changes have always been linked to technology, and the current trends in AI, machine learning, etc. reflect the moment we are currently in. Social media has also been an important change; it has completely flipped our ways of living in the world, of relating to each other and to ourselves. Deep learning and big data have also had an enormous effect on society; issues such as data rights and privacy are the new big struggles of our time. We can see it just by understanding the value of data, which is now surpassing the value of oil. As a lawyer I find these issues particularly interesting to follow.
What are two of the biggest challenges that women who want to venture in the world of technology face today?
The world of technology is still very male-dominated. This is the main fact. It’s hard to pose two challenges only, because this is very contingent on your job position, country, privilege status, ethnic roots, etc. Mine is being a woman in tech without a tech background, because you have to constantly prove yourself. If you don’t have a title that specifies that you possess knowledge on the matter, there will always be pressure to prove your knowledge to others and yourself. As a woman, especially in a leadership position, you have to assert your value almost constantly. This is even more difficult in a field where the female presence is scarce (although this is slowly changing), and more so if on top of that you have to prove that you are knowledgeable about tech without a certificate that cannot be contested.
For women venturing into tech, I’d say: network! Connect with other women and get support from them. Learn from them. Women networks are a great source of inspiration and can help you grow both professionally and as a person.
Keeping yourself updated and staying curious will probably end up being your biggest asset.
What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?
Although tech skills are useful, they are not always necessary in all job positions in tech. Tech operates at various levels and every tech company needs a diverse pool of employees with different knowledge, assets and abilities. Something that has proved to be very positive is transdisciplinarity: people with different backgrounds (in tech and non tech) working together to reach common goals.
Having an interest in understanding tech can also get you very far. Knowing what you can do with technology and how to use it is even more important. Most of the jobs that will be demanded in the future don’t even exist yet. For example, those related to ethics of certain technologies, such as AI or machine learning. Soft skills are also proving to be increasingly relevant in the field. Thus I’d say constant learning is a must. Keeping yourself updated and staying curious will probably end up being your biggest asset.
When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?
I see possibilities. It’s fascinating to witness how women are fighting to take tech back to their domain, as they did in the 80s. Communities and groups are rising. This is very visible in Berlin, which is a very community-based society. There are plenty of meetups and groups where women get together, share their knowledge and teach each other.
Tech knowledge enables a broader understanding of the world and it’s currently one of the best tools to make societal changes.
Regarding future generations, we need to stop gendering tech. The ways we raise our children will have an unquestionable effect on our future societies, and actions need to be taken. I am from Finland, a country where coding is already being taught at school. I think giving more access, mentoring and encouraging girls to play with technology will have a very big and positive effect on tech in the future. Tech knowledge enables a broader understanding of the world and it’s currently one of the best tools to make societal changes.
What and who were the influencers of who you are today?
As cliché as it might sound, friends and family have been the main influencers of who I am today. Your environment shapes you and the way you think; the more people you meet and interact with, the broader perception of things you get. The communities and networks I’ve been part of throughout my career path have also been crucial. From the people that I’ve worked with to my mentors, the conferences and talks I’ve attended, the Berlin Meetup scene, etc. All of them have had a profound effect on my professional development. I prefer face-to-face interaction over social media; I still think it’s the best way to get to know a person. I use online networks mainly as a medium to connect with other people in real life.
If you could host a dinner party with 3 influential people in tech, who would you invite and why?
It’s a common place, but it would be incredibly interesting to invite Sheryl Sandberg. It would make sense to invite someone with that much power and influence to talk to and get answers. I’d like to know how she copes with her power position, but also with the gender aspect, the pressure and the life-work balance. There are also many critical reflections that would be fascinating to share with her, ranging from moral and ethical questions to her leadership culture or insight on the current global state of affairs. Her work has had a profound effect on society in many levels. A lot has been written about her, but much of it probably nobody else but her can answer.
I’d also invite Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal and Girlboss, a fascinating character. She exemplifies very well what can happen in business when decisions are not properly made. She managed to build an empire with everything against her: no formal education, no business knowledge, being female and being very young. It seems it was too much for her and she filed for bankruptcy due to mismanagement a few years later, which is another side of the story that we usually forget. Amoruso is relatable: she had no place in business but she happened to be at the right place doing the right thing at the right time. And, in the end, a big part of our success is also a product of luck mixed with hard work and taking risks. She would be a great counterpart to Sandberg, who is almost the product of a corporate manual, and has played much safer than Amoruso.
The third wheel would be someone local, Berlin-based, that represents the community that we are based on. I thought of Lubomila Jordanova, because her work is extremely important. She is the founder of Plan A, the first data-driven action platform in the fight against climate change. In one interview I read recently, Jordanova was asked what technical skills she picked in previous roles that she applied to her startup, and she answered: “Excel, Powerpoint and writing emails”, which I find very cool. Usually we don’t see how a lot of the important work in impactful businesses starts at a ground level, with small things.
Joanna Rindell is the Country Lead of Wunderdog GmbH, a software development and design agency based in Berlin. As a woman in a leadership position in the tech sphere, she believes in the power of networks to share experiences and encourage others in their professional development. In her daily work, Joanna focuses on creating new ways of working by addressing issues such as diversity and company culture. She is eager to see how the future will shift towards new relations between technology, women and workforce. In her spare time she’s a committed runner.