We need to make tech “less scary and something more natural” for girls at school.
Silke Zschweigert is the CEO for JONCKERS, a global leader in language platform technology and multilingual solutions. Their mission is to remove Language as a barrier through the AI Platform and managed Multi-lingual Community. Their AI-platform combines the efficiency of the machine with human intelligence and is helping many companies to become extremely fast and efficient in their localization processes.
Silke is passionate about building and developing strong, diverse teams to succeed. She continuously looks for new business opportunities, process optimisation & automation through AI, Machine Learning without losing a clear focus on the customer, the employees and quality. Silke has held various regional and global commercial and operational leadership roles within the language technology and services industry before joining Jonckers.
As a mum to a tri-lingual 8-year-old son, Silke is keeping multilingualism in the family. She enjoys traveling and experiencing different cultures, has a soft spot for good food with a nice glass of wine and loves spending time with her family.
In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?
I am CEO at Jonckers, where technology is at the core of what we do.
JONCKERS is a global leader in language platform technology and multilingual solutions. Our mission is to remove Language as a barrier through our AI Platform and managed Multilingual Community.
Our AI-platform combines the efficiency of the machine with human intelligence and is helping many companies to become extremely fast and efficient in their localization processes.
Jonckers is supporting global enterprises to go global faster and have all content available in any language in a continuous publishing workflow.
Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?
With a Master in translations for Dutch, English, German and Chinese, and after having worked in China for a year, I started my career in the language industry as a project manager at 23 years old. Very soon I took on a team lead role and at 27, I became the General Manager of SDL Germany with 100 employees at the time. From a career perspective, my roles continued to grow continuously and I was part of the SDL executive team looking after their global language business in 38 countries with over 2,500 employees.
After leaving SDL in 2018, I took a break and worked as a consultant for non-language related businesses and later on for Language Service Providers and Private Equity companies interested in the language space.
This brought me back to the language industry. I realised that I wanted to work for a global technology enabled services company that was big enough to have an impact but small enough to be nimble, innovative and agile. In 2019 I joined Jonckers as Chief Revenue officer and since July 2020 as their CEO.
What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
The transformation I have witnessed over the years has been enormous and the speed of innovation has increased dramatically. When I started my career as a project manager in 1999, I remember that some of our customers still didn’t have email. Their files requiring translation were often transferred either via Leonardo FTP or even delivered on a floppy disc in person.
In early 2000 the use of Translation Memory technology became popular (which meant that translators were supported with suggested prior translations) and later on the use of Translation Management Systems (automating the process), Content Management Systems, and the use of Machine Translation.
Even just looking at Machine Translation we have seen massive transformations from rule-based Machine Translation (MT), which was good but very expensive to develop to Statistical MT up to Neural MT, which is what is being used nowadays. Being able to combine the power and strength of the machine translation with the human ability for refinement is a great transformation, which enables companies to go global faster and more cost-effective. This is what I love about my current role and company that we can help companies to go global into any language faster and cheaper.
When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?
Two things come to mind:
Women in Tech & Women in Leadership Roles.
Women in Tech: I was once at the final stage of a job interview for an Executive Commercial leadership role in a substantial, global technical enterprise. Everyone up to that stage thought I had the right profile, the right skills, and competences for the job. There was only one more meeting planned with their CTO. The meeting went well and he was also impressed with my sales and leadership experience in a tech environment. However, he noted that I wasn’t able to program, to code……. And concluded, without programming skills how would I ever be able to lead a technical Business Unit?
You don’t have to be “a coder” to be technical!
This experience showed me that there are very conservative, outdated views out there (mainly male), that are hindering promoting women in tech positions. You don’t have to be “a coder” to be technical!
Women in Leadership Roles: A topic that I strongly support is having a diversified workforce as it leads to creativity and success. One aspect of diversity is to encourage women to take leadership roles. In the language industry, it is quite typical to have a high percentage of women in the workforce. However, once you get to a technology environment like ours, it gets more difficult and it is still unusual for women to take on a management role. We are happy that more than 55% of our mid-management staff is female. In our higher management, we have 4 women including me as CEO so there is still room for expansion here.
Often motherhood is put forward as a career showstopper. My career is important to me and I believe that – if you want to – it is possible to have a leading function and still be a good mother who spends lots of quality time with their child. My son is almost 8 years old now and even though I have always worked full-time, I believe I am doing a good job at it.
I want to help women who need support or confidence in making that decision.
We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that, which steps should be done to achieve gender equality in tech?
What needs to change is the mentality in the current (often male-dominated) executive levels – an awareness that diversity is a good thing and that mixed teams deliver better results.
I don’t see a genetic reason why women should be less interested in tech than men, so it has to a social-driven reason as to why fewer women choose a technical career/ study. Social reasons are something we (as a society) can change.
We need to make tech “less scary and something more natural” for girls at school.
Women-focused groups encourage women in business to network as confidently as men. A female group of like-minded people supports each other and eliminate any unnecessary prejudices.
Incidentally, I didn’t proactively plan to end up in a tech environment. I studied languages and almost accidentally ended up in a tech environment since my company (and the whole industry) at the time became more technical. This natural growth into tech showed me a passion I didn’t realise I had. This supports my view that we need to make tech “less scary and something more natural” for girls at school.
What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?
I believe that in order to progress your career successfully – regardless of whether it is in tech or not – you need a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Social competencies are just as important (probably even more important) than technical competencies.
What and who were the influencers of who you are today?
The people who have influenced who I am today are definitely my parents who have always taught me to be independent, outspoken and friendly and have always supported me in anything I did.
The experience that has formed the foundation of many of the competences I needed throughout my career was my time as a travel guide in China after my studies. The agency I was working for offered very high quality (priced) tours through “the real China”. This meant that my guests always had the highest expectations, which were sometimes hard to fulfill in a country that was so different – especially going off-track to the real China & 20 years ago. During this time (at the age of 22) I learned how to remain calm in stressful situations, how to deal with difficult people, how to lead a team, how to think outside of the box to achieve what is needed and many other things. It was a great experience that has really enriched my personality and skills.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Believe in yourself – you can become whatever you want.
It is ok to have children and still have a career – there is never an “ideal” moment to have a child so just go for it when you have found the right partner even if you feel like you are “just getting traction in your career”.
Silke Zschweigert is the CEO for JONCKERS, a global leader in language platform technology and multilingual solutions. Their mission is to remove language as a barrier through the AI Platform and managed multi-lingual community.
See more interviews of our amazing Gals.