The IT field is an ocean of career possibilities

“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 fulfilment in the broad scope of her current role – managing four diverse teams of over 30 people.

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The IT field is an ocean of career possibilities

Hi, I am Lulu and I work for KONE IT as Head of Digital Enabling Platforms. I have a long career behind me that started when I moved to Finland from China back in 2002. I came to pursue my Master’s Degree in Information Systems Science at the University of Jyväskylä, and perhaps that was already very telling of my future, since I am still here in IT two decades later.

Making my first steps into IT

Choosing a career in information technology was both planned and unplanned. At 17-18 years old, I did not have a clear career vision, yet at that age it was very common in China to believe that computer science was always going to provide you with a good job. I thought like that as well, so I jumped into it; that part was very much unplanned. Yet, the part of going abroad - to Finland – is something I have always wanted to do: I felt I needed to take a look at what’s happening outside, rather than only focusing on what’s happening within my 60-meter radius.

“There are so many opportunities in tech, and not everything is coding”

At the University of Jyväskylä I had the chance to try many optional courses, including programming ones, and I remember thinking, “Deal with a screen, provide command lines, push enter and hope something will happen is too odd for me”. While at the same time, I was really into information systems and interactions with people, which has to do more with IT and business management.

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From Nokia to KONE IT

I started with what could be called a ‘popular’ job in tech, a SAP configuration management job at Nokia. I did that for nine years, and after that I moved to a smaller company. Language was a noticeable barrier back then; in Finland not everyone was willing to speak English in small companies.

The experience made me realize that my true wish was to work for larger international companies, and so I started at Outokumpu, my second big company here in Finland. There I also did SAP but I progressively shifted to a solution architect job, from the tech point of view.

“The experience made me realize that my true wish was to work for larger international companies”

After four years in Outokumpu I changed to KONE IT, and once again my focus was on SAP but soon I 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 – so I started wondering, do I have the possibility to grow into new areas?

“Soon I realized the potential for growth: the diversity and opportunities here at KONE IT are huge”

Seizing new opportunities at KONE IT

Around 2018-2019 I started to proactively pursue positions outside of the SAP team, and got a role in the newly formed Salesforce Platform team, looking after global change and release. This was a definite pivotal moment and my opportunity for growth, because I started to do something completely different, a little bit of process management rather than purely technical configuration. This required all sorts of new skills: you need to deal with people and dependency management. So that is when I started to feel that my career was flourishing.

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In 2019 I took on a new challenge: I was asked to manage an integration team, which moved me up to the so-called Head of Digital Enabling Platforms. From then on my work has carried on expanding – nowadays I am in charge of four teams: Data Movement & Integration, which was my very first team, Enterprise Automation, Business Intelligence Visual Analytics and, the latest addition, the Microsoft 365 team. Altogether this means over 30 team members globally, working with multiple cutting-edge digital capabilities and technologies, which does consume a lot of time as a technical leader and also people manager!

The ‘challenge’ in this career move was that all teams are different. Managing one team is fairly straightforward but dealing with four presents a whole new series of things to take into account. I started contemplating, what if in the future I have to manage six, eight teams? How will I steer them? The answer for me has been that I must find the common attributes between them. Technology-wise they are indeed very different, but their operating models and what they all are trying to do - that is pretty much the same. This realization helped me gain clarity in how I see my teams: we are all trying to utilize the advanced digital technology to improve KONE’s productivity - and with this I mean all technology: whether it is about employee productivity, or internal information flow productivity, through automatization, data integration and so on. Once I found this common denominator, I actually felt that the scope of my work was very much manageable.

Indeed, nowadays I am more confident, but I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone. I see 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!

“To me, the most fulfilling part of my job is to witness the scope of the content I need to manage”

And then of course as you get more comfortable, the reward comes: to me, the most fulfilling part of my job is to witness the scope of the content I need to manage: in terms of people, in terms of technology, in terms of deliverables expected from stakeholders; it’s a wide scope, and to be able to manage it makes me quite satisfied.

Witnessing change as an inspiration to future tech female professionals

Looking back to a decade ago, during my time at Nokia I was the only woman in my 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.

Thinking about it, I feel that there might have been 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!

“I feel that there might have been 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, on top of the technology, which is also IT. Somebody works on license management, somebody on the process design, creation and deployment, which is also tech. Recently, GenAI has become a daily word, powered by technologies. So, when we talk about technology management there are plenty of diverse things to do.

As a final word, I would encourage young women to look holistically at the many career opportunities the Information Technology field provides and be open to trying out that wide ocean of possibilities.

Adopted from the Women in Tech blog, Role model blog: Lulu Zhang, KONE - Women in Tech Finland

If you are looking for your next growth opportunity, visit our KONE career page, we want to hear from you!

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