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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Driving Change: A Tech Joyride with Kim Öberg

Strap in for a tech joyride with Kim Öberg, a Staff Engineer at Volvo Cars in Stockholm, who's been everywhere from robotics to FinTech and is now turbocharging the automotive industry. Kim's journey is a masterclass in curiosity, resilience, and the art of problem-solving.

From her early days of tinkering with computers at home to leading significant projects at Klarna and now redefining the car ownership experience at Volvo, Kim's tech journey is as diverse as it is impressive. And if you're wondering how she does it all, her secret sauce is a blend of curiosity, grit, and a knack for problem-solving that would make Sherlock Holmes envious.

In this interview, Kim shares her tech journey, her views on the industry, and her advice for those looking to make their mark. So buckle up and get ready to ride through the tech landscape with Kim at the wheel, driving change. Trust us, it's a journey you don't want to miss.

GameBoy Advance deconstrcuted in layers.
All rights belong to Richard Parry. Kim has 3 drawings of videogame controllers and consoles. It relates to her background in Mechanical Engineering (CAD and 3 modelling) and her love for videogames.

Q) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?

Kim Örberg picture
Kim's portrait taken by Katarina Dalunde Eriksson.

Originally I'm a robotics engineer, so I spent the bulk of my masters building robots, learning about feedback control and stepping motors and how to solder a circuit board properly. At this point in time I primarily coded in low-level languages like C, so after my master's, I went into telecom.

In my first year, I spent time in the embedded and regular SW departments. I got the opportunity to play around with containers and cloud infrastructure (at this point everything was still on-prem and rpm packages). But it turned out that telecom wasn't ready for a shift to the cloud, so I decided to leave and got a job at Klarna instead (the Swedish FinTech unicorn).

At Klarna I then spent 6+ years building various backend services to manage our payment method integrations in all markets (cards, direct debit, wire transfers etc). At this point, I had taught myself Scala/PureScript/Haskell at work (that's what we built our backend services in). And my last 2 years I was the Payment Architect for our money movement teams (approx 50 people).

Then, after 6+ years in FinTech, I needed a change of scenery, so I switched domains entirely, and right now I'm a Staff Engineer at Volvo Cars in Stockholm. Currently helping our teams build a great experience around owning and servicing a Volvo Car.

Q) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?

Once programming "clicks" it becomes this very very powerful (and fun!) tool to use when solving problems.

Fortunately, I had early adopter parents, so we got our own computers at home really early. My brother and I would install all kinds of crap on those Windows machines, and the deal was that as long as we fixed the computers after we broke them, we could keep our admin/root access.

So I got really good at messing around with and restoring our computers at home (which earned me the forever title "IT support" in my family). But more than anything I've always been curious about technology.

I'm the kind of person that explores all the menu options on a new gadget because I want to learn all about what it does and how I can tweak it. But later in high school I took a break from tech and studied social science and languages instead (and loved it!).

I only came back to tech many years later, after having spent 4 years off and on abroad and on "pause" from school.

After that break, I was excited to get back into math/chemistry/physics so I crammed 3 years' worth of high school science classes into 1 year, and then I applied to the Mechanical Engineering program at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

Those were 5 of my best and most challenging years. But I'm so thankful I got back to tech. And ever since then, it's the problem-solving that keeps me motivated and enthused. Once programming "clicks" it becomes this very powerful (and fun!) tool for solving problems.

Q) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Find your allies fast, lean on them when you need to, and pick your fights.

I wish this weren't my answer, but most of the tough challenges I've faced have not been of a technical nature.

Being a woman in a world dominated by men is hard, not gonna lie. And while some will cheer you on and be your best allies, some will try their best to tear you down.

Sadly, my only advice is to find your allies (fast!), lean on them when you need to, and pick your fights. Some are definitely worth having (and winning), but some aren't. It's up to you to learn and decide which is which.

Q) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?

The "human side" of tech, what informal leadership meant, how to exert influence without steamrolling and how to create buy-in.

Thankfully I've had many allies, but some stand out more than others. When I first started at Klarna, I was new to everything that wasn't feature development, so CI/CD, build systems, testing strategy, infrastructure as code, monitoring, and observability were complete gibberish to me.

In my team at the time was a very senior developer, Alexander, and he took me under his wing from day 1. He showed me how to do everything with patience, empathy, and enthusiasm. I can't thank him enough, and ever since I have tried to pay it forward.

Later in my career, I was fortunate enough to have a great manager, Jeff, who taught me much about myself and how I want to lead. We spent many hours discussing the "human side" of tech, what informal leadership meant, how to exert influence without steamrolling (we have deffo been accused of that), and how to create buy-in and ownership for solutions/products/services.

Q) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?

The commitment to actually changing the status quo remains fairly low

I feel like it's a lot of "one step forward, two steps back" to be honest. Some aspects are getting better. I would say the average awareness of the problem is higher, but the commitment to actually changing the status quo remains pretty low.

Some companies are definitely better than others, but all companies have asshats. There's no getting away from them, which emphasizes the need for allies and again, picking your fights carefully.

Q) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?

It's more than enough to go to work 40 hours a week.

Initially, I didn't. I had so much to learn, and there weren't enough hours in the day. But after the initial panic mode wore off, and thanks to some great conversations with more senior engineers, I realized that it was more than enough to work 40 hours a week.

I don't need to work extra to "keep up to date". That's a myth designed to gatekeep, and I despise it. So these days I work my hours, deliver quality stuff and spend my free time doing other stuff, like hanging out with my dog, cooking/baking, or playing video games.

Q) What skills do you believe are most important in today's tech world?

I'd say curiosity and grit.

Not sure curiosity can be considered a skill. But I'd say curiosity and grit. The tech world is ever-changing and if you want to continue having fun and evolving, being curious and having grit enough to stay consistent with your learning is super important. But you also need to be curious about people.

In tech, you work very closely with people, other devs, product owners, business analysts, designers, etc. That collaboration is far from friction-free, so staying curious about other people's perspectives and motivations will help tremendously when negotiating a compromise. And! You'll learn things!

Q) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?

I initiated and drove the re-design of our backend payment service architecture at Klarna.

I'd have to say how I initiated and drove the re-design of our backend payment service architecture at Klarna. It had been growing organically for many years, which had led to many inconsistencies across payment type behavior and state.

This made it hard for downstream services to understand when something was actually "paid" vs. when the attempt to pay it was "successful". So I went back to the drawing board and modeled/categorized all the different payment types we had, and then designed an event schema for the different categories so that all services would have a cohesive way to report on payment status for downstream services.

I learned a ton during this project, and was very happy with the result. Not only did it make the payment state much more understandable, but it also built a foundation that allowed us to extract some frequently repeated functionality from the different services and build a better joint version on top of the event stream.

Q) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?

Similar to what everyone else is saying right now, AI and LLM will change a lot of things.

Goals are challenging and they keep changing, but I'll say something about where the tech industry is heading. And it's similar to what everyone else is saying right now, AI and LLM will change many things.

I'm not feeling very doomsday about it, just convinced that in X amount of years, it will matter whether you took the time to learn and leverage AI/LLM for your benefit or not.

Q) What advice would you give to other women considering a career in tech?

Stay curious, build that grit, find your allies (fast!) and pick your battles. But also, I want you to know that it will be so much fun and totally worth it!

Q) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?

There are two women, in particular, I'd like to pay it forward to, Erika Saadi, a brilliant Staff Engineer in the Identity & Access Management space.

And Anna Persson, my long-term idol from Klarna (back when I started), is now Volvo on Demand's CTO.

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