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Profile: Andrea Nagel, Product Leader, Digital Transformation at VMware Tanzu Labs

Women in Tech: “Find a place where you can gain experience and thrive”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Andrea Nagel, Product Leader, Digital Transformation at VMware Tanzu Labs.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Andrea Nagel, Product Leader, Digital Transformation at VMware Tanzu Labs.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Andrea Nagel, Product Leader, Digital Transformation at VMware Tanzu Labs

Andrea Nagel is a Product Leader at VMware Tanzu Labs, where she focuses on Digital Transformation projects, particularly in App Development & Modernisation. Andrea has over 10 years’ experience in product management for a range of companies, and is driven by a desire to build and retain diverse, successful teams within the product field.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

My interest in technology started when I was a kid playing with devices we had at home. I was excited by the creative side of computers and digital games, and enjoyed sketching out concepts and ideas for new games. I also spent a lot of time making movies with a simple Movie Maker CD Rom.

As I got older, I found I gravitated towards technology when opportunities came up. I remember jumping at the chance to build an online magazine at university – I taught myself basic HTML & CSS to win the job. So, the interest was always there, from an early age.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Initially, I started my career in marketing and made the move into product management later on. I always wanted to work and collaborate with the product team and was encouraged to do so through the support of an amazing head of product that I’d worked with.

For me, the biggest obstacles were knowledge, access, and confidence. I initially assumed I would have needed to study a technical discipline to work in technology and as a result, alternative pathways to a career in technology were not obvious to me.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My friends and family are tremendously supportive, and especially so when I was early on in my tech career: when I was just getting started in product and the path was a lot more uncertain.

Nacéra Benfedda, working as head of product at Viadeo at the time, gave me my first real product opportunity. I still consider Nacéra a great role model; she has a truly humble approach to leadership and created a user-centric, people-first, inclusive, and ambitious product team that was always striving to do better. That really inspired me and informs how I approach leadership today.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

When I first started out, I read voraciously about lean and agile product management. I was keen to experiment with the best methods I was learning about in the organisations I worked in. I wouldn’t say anyone specifically tried to stop me but the opportunities to learn from experimenting with practices weren’t always there. This is one of the reasons I gravitated towards Pivotal Labs – now VMware Tanzu Labs; I wanted to help create the conditions for teams to be empowered to learn, grow and deliver greater value.

I’m always proud of being able to point someone in the right direction or to give them a helping hand.

A day in Andrea’s life

I’m a manager in the VMware Tanzu Labs application services team based in London. As part of this role, I work with clients to accelerate the delivery of software, modernise legacy apps, and provide hands-on agile and lean consultancy.

I also support, develop, and recruit for our Labs consulting team, which is made up of Architects, Software Engineers, Product Managers and Designers.

Every day is different, but a typical day might include a leadership stand-up, which is a space to create transparency, alignment, and an easy forum for people to ask for help or input. Or, it may include facilitating a workshop with an existing or potential client to learn more about their specific challenges and put forward potential solutions.

We also frequently check in with clients and the associated teams on any current engagements; supporting the whole team to overcome any challenges or amplifying their learnings and successes.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of getting to a point in my career where I can help other people who want to advance or break into technology.

I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to talk to people on a similar journey who have had the same aspirations and uncertainty that I felt earlier on in my career. I’m always proud of being able to point someone in the right direction or to give them a helping hand.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

There are many factors. I think a key one is unconscious bias – it’s hard work to recognise and counter unconscious bias; that work has just started but is gaining ground.

There can sometimes be the perception that women aren’t technical, or that if you’re not technical there aren’t opportunities for you to work in tech. There’s the perception that it’s a male field and women won’t be successful or supported. Finally, culture can play a big role as well – particularly the idea or reality of working in a male dominated culture might cause women to believe that this isn’t the right industry for them.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

There are certain challenges that women working in tech are more likely to face, by virtue of there having historically been higher barriers to entry for women into the industry. It’s worth highlighting that not all women will face the same challenges however, and indeed, many have positive experiences of working in the industry too. By and large, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience from my time working in tech to date.

Having said that, the following challenges are worth highlighting, as some of the more common challenges faced by women entering or working in the tech industry.

Firstly, one challenge can be a lack of access to mentors in the industry; the people who will actively sponsor and create opportunities for you. Where there are fewer senior women in tech compared to men, there are fewer role models to lead the way and inspire women to reach more senior roles.

Members of any marginalised group may find their sense of psychological safety at risk. Having awareness of this at work is a key factor in building successful teams. Encouraging greater diversity supports alternative perspectives, helps introduce new ideas and improves people’s sense of stability in an environment.

Additionally, if you are the only woman in a team, representing an alternative viewpoint may be difficult, especially if a group is not actively trying to accommodate your voice. Without supportive leadership, allies and a culture that invites feedback and challenges, it can be difficult to stand up and challenge bias when you see it.

Finally, women don’t tend to apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified; so they can miss out on stretch opportunities that would advance their careers.

As more businesses wake up to their need to build internal technical capabilities more job opportunities are created across a greater variety of roles and industries.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

I’m excited to see discussions around extending STEM to STEAM; which bringing the arts in alongside science, technology, engineering and maths. There’s a growing recognition of the importance of critical thinking, ethics, and empathy in creating technology. My own background is in the arts and humanities and I feel as a result that during my career I’ve been able to bring a valuable alternative perspective into predominantly technical spaces.

Technology is the engine that is increasingly powering most industries; it is the fabric of our future. Without women and greater representation included in technology, we will only build around a narrow set of experiences and interests. Greater representation means solving broader problem sets for a wider variety of people to ensure a more equitable future.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

We should start seeing results right now. Recent discussions have put diversity more firmly on the agenda, but this isn’t a new topic – it needs to be followed with real action and leadership accountability to start making a tangible difference today.

If organisations are putting words into actions and aren’t starting to see results, then they need to reflect on the actions and assess what changes to make to have a greater impact because a lot of organisations are making great strides in creating greater diversity. This needs to be an ongoing process of reflection and behaviour change over time.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

To women interested in a technology career I’d say it’s a great time to join the industry. As more businesses wake up to their need to build internal technical capabilities more job opportunities are created across a greater variety of roles and industries.

I’ve talked a bit about the challenges women can face in technology but don’t let these hold you back – know that there are amazing cultures and places to work; find a place where you can gain experience and thrive.

And with a greater focus on D&I, many organisations are actively looking for opportunities to bring in more women into tech. For those who want become software engineers, there are routes in like ​​Makers Academy. There’s also a place for you across a wide variety of roles –even if you don’t have a technology background, there are still vital roles you can play in tech.

My advice would be don’t wait for someone to give you permission to get into technology. Do your research, understand the skills you need and get creative with ways to develop those skills while you’re applying for jobs. For example, you can see if there are meetups you can join, classes you can attend or online tutorials that can point you in the right direction. All of this will arm you with experience for when you’re applying for jobs or breaking into your first role.

Make sure you learn how to learn … and keep learning. Build a support network and find your tribe. There are some great online communities for women in tech and communities within organisations that can help you build your personal network.

Finally, ask for help. Investigate which companies have opportunities for entry-level positions and learn what they are looking for. If you can, find introductions to people who work in those companies and ask for advice on what they’re looking for. Most people are only too happy to help and give advice.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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