Karin Nijssen – Supervisor Development and Product Owner at Hoffelijk

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To me the paradigm that ‘tech is not for woman’ has been shifting for a long time here in the Netherlands. The stereotype that only “geeky male nerds” would enroll into IT-orientated studies is behind us. Sure woman are underrepresented in most tech-departments, and sure the more technological savvy the job position is, the less woman you will find on average, yet I don’t think that it will prevail 30 or 50 years from now.

Karin Nijssen is a Product Owner and the supervisor of the Development Department at Hoffelijk Group. She loves working in start-ups, establishing new departments and help growing the business by software and innovation. In the future she hopes to found her own business in the MedTech industry and work as a CIO.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

I’m the supervisor of Development department at Hoffelijk where I also work as a Product Owner. Within our Development department we have UX designers, Dynamics CRM specialist and PHP developers. As a PO I am the connection between the business and technology. Based on the desires from the stakeholders, I draw up functional, legal and technological requirements that fit with the vision. We brainstorm about concepts and create wireframes or designs together with the UX designers. After the concepts are approved, the functionalities are broken into epics and user stories ready for refinement with the developers or CRM-team. Once they have finished developing a feature, I perform the Functional Acceptance Test. If it is ready for release, (data) migration and adaptation among the users has to be managed.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

When I started working at Hoffelijk 7 years ago I was one of the first eight people working there. To land a new customer and stay afloat, we had to build a tool that could check certification in large numbers and calculate which courses to take to meet the legal qualifications imposed by the government on financial advisors. Before this we and our competitors used to perform the diploma checks by hand, but it was impossible to meet the capacity required without automation. It was because of this project that I fell in love with software development and what it could mean to an organization strategically.

I started following innovation courses at my master and became responsible for further development of Hoffelijk’s application landscape that we insourced. The highlight of my career was 1,5 year ago when I established our own inhouse development department which consist now out of 14 professionals and is still growing. It is amazing to see how quickly things go with great results. Since the start of the development team we have released several new SaaS solutions and next month we will change the entire educational learning environment connected to our CRM with a new customer portal. You can really notice that the company is becoming reliant on technology for its services, replacing traditional education with for instance digital classrooms or educational games.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

The first thing that comes to mind is the rise of (tech) companies adopting platform strategies and overtaking markets. A platform business model is not necessarily new; things like tv’s or video games have been around for long time which are also platform business models. However, now that we are all connected and online, businesses could easily disrupt existing saturated markets. Examples like Uber with cabs, Airbnb with hotels, and Netflix with TV Broadcasting are just a few. If you look at the most fast growing organizations of the last decade, it often are companies with platform business models. They can grow this fast because they only need to connect the consumers with the ‘producers’ not needing many resources themselves, thereby creating infinite potential. 

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

Perfect fit! To me the paradigm that ‘tech is not for woman’ has been shifting for a long time here in the Netherlands. The stereotype that only “geeky male nerds” would enroll into IT-orientated studies is behind us. Sure woman are underrepresented in most tech-departments, and sure the more technological savvy the job position is, the less woman you will find on average, yet I don’t think that it will prevail 30 or 50 years from now. Technology used to be intangible, consisting out of ones and zeros on a server somewhere in a dark backroom. Nowadays it is all around us, and with that awareness more people become interested in working in the tech domain, including woman.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Studiousness, analytical and creativity. 

Technology is fastmoving and to move along with the change you need to be curious and constantly wanting to learn about new technologies, trends or opportunities to prevent falling behind the curve. You need to be analytically strong to understand the problem and find solutions. If these solutions are also creative, yet simple and effective, then you are two steps in front of your colleagues.

If you could host a dinner party and invite three (tech) influencers – who would you invite and why?

Hosting a dinner and inviting three guests, it would be to thank them for their inspiration and their legacy. What inspires me most is woman who are venturesome and go against the status quo. Self-made woman who choose to give back the moment they can and influence people around them to do the same.

What inspires me most is woman who are venturesome and go against the status quo. Self-made woman who choose to give back the moment they can and influence people around them to do the same.

The first invite would go to Oprah Winfrey. I find her an amazing business woman who has built a media empire. She is a Philanthropist often donating to educational causes.

The second invite would go to Jini Kim. She is only 9 years older than me and therefore relatable where she stands in her career now, and where I wish to be in 9 years. Why I admire her, is that she took something that matters to her personally, and make that her driver in every chose she made. Maybe I also just love her story because I am interested in MedTech, and how data driven innovation could improve healthcare system.

If I could invite the dead, it would be an honor to meet Madam C. J. Walker as my third guest. I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially how it shapes our society in how we think and how we act. Madam was born only 4 years after Emancipation Proclamation in 1867 in the US as a free woman. Orphaned at age 7, married at 14, mother at 17 and widowed by the age of 20. In a society that did not except African Americans as equals, she became the first self-made female millionaire in America despite everything. She invented hair & beauty products targeted at black women to treat severe scalp disease which causes hair loss; a market other entrepreneurs ignored at that time. She started with nothing, knocking on doors to sell her products. Doings so her company was actually one of the first to adopt direct-marketing. Around 40.000 African Americans worked for madam, paying the woman 10 times more than what they would have earned working elsewhere. She educated young girls, invented products and business models, provided jobs for females, and fought against racism. How more inspiring could it be?

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

It is okay to relax, you are going to be fine, you are fine! When I was young they said I could never write a cover letter because of my dyslexia, let alone go to university. After losing my mother at age eleven I started escaping by burring myself in school work and side jobs. For a long time I felt I had to work this hard to survive even at 14 years old but especially when I left home at age 16. 15 years later, three degrees in the pocket, I’ve came to realize I am capable of a lot. I do not have to fear to fail nor should I underestimate what I could bring to the table for an organization or team.  

Which job in tech, other than your current one, would you like to have?

I’ve always wanted to become an entrepreneur with a business combing traditional craftmanship with technology. One of business concepts I dream about is based on three pillars: Fashion, Craftmanship, and MedTech.  I won’t spill too much about the idea – but I find it important that the business I start contributes to society: by using the data and investing in innovation in the MedTech pillar it could contribute to healthcare.

Karin Nijssen is a Product Owner and the supervisor of the Development Department at Hoffelijk Group. She loves working in start-ups, establishing new departments and help growing the business by software and innovation. In the future she hopes to found her own business in the MedTech industry and work as a CIO.

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