Interview with Lulu Zhang from KONE: ”The many opportunities for women in tech go beyong just coding”
“There are so many opportunities in tech, and not everything is coding,” explains Lulu Zhang, head of Digital Enabling Platforms at KONE IT. During almost two decades in the IT sector, Lulu has taken the plunge into new waters many times. Along the way she’s witnessed the growing numbers of women in the tech field, and she finds fulfillment and joy in the simplicity of a serene lifestyle, disciplined routine, and the unique aspect of Finnish culture on the deep connection to nature.
Lulu’s journey in information technology started when she moved to Finland from China back in 2002 to pursue her Master’s Degree in Information Systems Science at the University of Jyväskylä. Choosing a career in information technology was both planned and unplanned – the common belief that computer science was always going to provide one with a good job and a strong wish to go abroad to Finland, were the main influencers of the choice. Already during her studies Lulu realized that she was really into information systems, which has to do more with management.
“The experience made me realize that my true wish was to work for companies promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Having started with what could be called a ‘popular’ job in IT, a SAP configuration job at Nokia for almost 10 years, Lulu moved to a smaller company. Language was a noticeable barrier back then; in Finland not everyone was willing to speak English in small companies at that time.
In her second international company in Finland, Outokumpu, Lulu also first worked in SAP configuration, but progressively shifted to a solution architect position. Then, having moved to KONE IT in three years, once again Lulu’s focus was on SAP but soon she realized the potential for growth.
“The diversity and opportunities here at KONE IT are huge. Just to give an example, KONE has more than 150 nationalities; I have colleagues from Africa, Asia, America, and everywhere. And of course, there are other jobs than SAP in IT”, shares Lulu.
“Getting out of comfort zone – I see it as stepping into cold water”
Around 2018-2019 came a definite pivotal moment for Lulu’s career as she started to do technical process management rather than purely technical configuration – this required all sorts of new skills: dealing with people and manage dependencies.
“I started to feel that my career was flourishing”, remembers Lulu.
In 2019 Lulu took on a new challenge: she was asked to manage IT integration team, which moved her up to the later-formed Digital Enabling Platforms as the lead. Since then her work scope has carried on expanding – nowadays Lulu is in charge of four teams: altogether this means 30 team members, working with multiple cutting-edge digital capabilities and technologies, which does consume a lot of time as a technical leader and also people manager.
“Growing as individual feels always lonely, bring people with you together makes the journey truly meaningful and sustainable.”Lulu Zhang, KONE IT
The ‘challenge’ in this career move was that all teams are different. Finding the common attributes between them – was a solution to gain clarity on how to manage this complexity.
“We are all trying to utilize the advanced digital technology to improve KONE’s productivity – whether it is about employee productivity, automatization, data integration and so on”.
Nowadays she is more confident, and Lulu admits that she has had to step out of her comfort zone. She sees it as stepping into cold water.
“The first time you feel all the coldness on your skin, but the next time it is a bit warmer, and after a while the next challenge feels almost like your body temperature”!
And then of course as you get more comfortable, the reward comes: to witness this scope of content she has to manage is the most fulfilling for Lulu: in terms of people, in terms of technology, in terms of deliverables expected from stakeholders.
“Growing as individual feels always lonely, bring people with you together makes the journey truly meaningful and sustainable”, says Lulu.
Witnessing change as an inspiration to future tech female professionals
Looking back to a decade ago, during her time at Nokia Lulu was the one of very few women in the team. More women started coming to the company two or three years down the road, and now the number of women in IT is dramatically growing.
“When we talk about technology management there are plenty of diverse things to do. Someone is working on the solution creation, on design, utilizing the technology, which is also IT and tech roles. Somebody works on technology license management, somebody on the process design around technologies, which is also tech role.”Lulu Zhang, KONE IT
Thinking about it, Lulu assumes that this is caused by a bit of a narrow perception of what working in the technology field is: people think that you’re either a mechanic, using literal tools, or you’re a coder. But the IT field is more complex and more open than that!
“At KONE IT we call ourselves a technology-driven organization, and that does not mean that everyone is doing coding, not at all! Someone is working on the solution creation, on design, utilizing the technology, which is also IT and tech roles. Somebody works on technology license management, somebody on the process design around technologies, which is also tech role. So, when we talk about technology management there are plenty of diverse things to do”, shares Lulu.
Embracing simplicity: “Career development in Finland is not about hustle and bustle but rather about honing skills steadily and pursuing the direction your heart leads to freely”
Lulu describes her experience in Finland as marked by a serene lifestyle, disciplined routine, and the unique aspect of Finnish culture on the deep connection to nature. For her, the pervasive nature-oriented mindset has influenced not only leisure activities but also work-life balance. Regular breaks to appreciate the natural surroundings contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment and life quality.
The Finnish commitment to a healthy lifestyle is evident in the diet, living choices and enthusiasm for sports. The focus on well-balanced, nutritious meals and the integration of sports into daily life reflect a holistic approach to well-being.
“The biggest change for me after I moved to Finland is: I care much more about what I eat, and I developed the habit of going to the gym. Before I moved to Finland, believe it or not, I hated running, I could not even run 800 meters. Now, I do 5 km run regularly”.
The commitment to a well-structured and organized system extends to professional life. Navigating her career, Lulu has found that the Finnish working culture encourages personal and professional growth. The emphasis on diversity, equality and inclusion fosters a strong foundation for career development through a free-will yet methodical approach.
“Career development here is not about hustle and bustle but rather about honing skills steadily and pursuing the direction your heart leads to freely”, says Lulu. She believes that the emphasis on quality work, attention to detail, and collaboration focus have propelled her career forward in a meaningful way.
“While some might perceive living in Finland as monotonous, I find beauty in its simplicity and purification. The absence of unnecessary complexities allows for a focus on what truly matters – personal growth, meaningful relationships and a fulfilling career”.
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