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  • Writer's pictureLaura Caicedo

Evolution and the Human Touch: A Conversation with Lorena de la Flor

Meet Lorena, a technology leader with a wealth of experience, shares her unique journey in the industry. With a background in computer science and a successful career spanning several decades, she has navigated the ever-evolving landscape of technology and managed to stay at the forefront.


From her early days coding in BASIC to her recent role as Head of Solution Architects at AWS in Spain, Lorena has always been driven by a passion for innovation and a desire to help customers improve their businesses through technology.


As Lorena embarks on a new chapter in her life, pursuing a degree in psychology, she reflects on the importance of soft skills in the tech industry and the need for diversity and inclusion. She also provides valuable advice for women considering a career in technology, sharing her experiences as a working mother and offering a candid perspective on the challenges



Women sitting with a white dress, smiling to the camara


Lorena, Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?


I studied Computer Science many years ago and I have been working in technical roles during my whole career. Mainly, in roles where I used technology to help customers improve their businesses. My last role was Head of Solution Architects for Spain and Portugal in AWS, where I led very talented engineers from different cultures so we all could advise customers in their digitalization journey.

But if you ask me now, my current role is actually student, as I took a sabbatical year and started studying Psychology at the university, exactly 30 years after I started Computer Science.


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

 

If you want the passionate story of a little girl that always wanted to code, sorry to disappoint you, because that’s not me.

My father worked as a telecommunications engineer and there was always the latest technology at home, including Spectrums, Amstrads, and the first PC. I remember coding small stupid programs in BASIC copied from magazines. But when the time came to choose what to study at university, I had no clue on what to pick.

I had always had an issue in deciding things meant to be “forever”. And choosing the field I was going to study and work for the rest of my life, seemed overwhelming.

So, I had the following requirements: I wanted to study something without unemployment: it was not about what I liked but a way to have a job and earn money to live happily in the future. And second, as I didn’t know which area I liked, I didn’t want to close any doors: I wanted something that could be useful in any field. And that’s how I chose Computer Science.


I started coding, and I liked it very much, as I found it very creative. But then, new paths appear according to the things you do best (that are usually also the ones you like more) and, in 2 years, I was speaking to customers and working as project manager. It happened naturally, not a decision that I had to make.

I have been managing teams, projects, and products since then, and I feel that it is something that matches my skills with something needed: I care about people so I am always thinking how to help them grow, I believe that technology is a tool, not a goal, and I love investigating on customer’s challenges to create solutions for them.

So, “what led me to my current role” is an interesting question. Some people know what they want to do in 5 years. I don’t. And I have never known.

So my strategy is not defining the path that will lead me to my goal but saying yes to almost everything I can (that makes sense). I usually get excited by new plans and I am always willing to try and learn new things.

I get bored easily so once I identify that I, more or less, am able to do something, I want to try and learn something new. And it has happened to me that getting involved into many different things, I discovered really interesting skills about many different fields and more about myself. I consider myself a generalist. So many times, I don’t remember the journey. I was just there when the right time came because I took naturally 6-7 different paths before that led me there.


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


Challenges in my career have always been associated with soft skills that nobody teaches you.

First time you have to say to a customer that there is not enough budget for the new requirements they are asking for, speaking in front of an auditorium, managing political issues in your company that stop the advance of innovation instead of helping it. Any technical challenge could be solved with time, dedication, and expert help. But were the other topics the ones that stop me from sleeping at night.


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


When I was a girl nobody told me I was not supposed to work in the tech career. So I didn’t question it at all. I had the reference of my father working in that industry, so it was something close. There were less women than men in the university studying Computer Science, but for me it was just the way it was. I never had any kind of discrimination because of my gender (I guess it was difficult to tell me I didn’t belong there when I had better grades than my male friends). Working in different companies I had never felt any different treatment because I was a woman. Until I started working with high management. But the difference was because of the role, not because of being in the tech industry.


In the last few years, I have seen a hype in the diversity and inclusion topics that didn't exist at all before. On one hand, I think it’s great that we show more role models to girls to encourage them to see tech careers as an option because the future and the bigger salaries will be there.

But at the same time, I am a little bit worried that by saying “you can do this” we make them think “why do they insist so much? Is it because it is more difficult for me and I need to be strongly encouraged?”.

What we are seeing the last few years is the number of girls choosing tech studies is decreasing, so I feel we are doing something wrong.


Tech roles are equally difficult for men and women, some people feel passionate about tech since they were children and some not (like me).

Even if you think that your skills are not good for the technical industry, you are wrong: learn the foundations as everything will be tech in the future and apply your different skills to be unique and provide value.


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


Again, I think it has nothing to do if it’s the tech industry or any other industry. Working many hours, being always connected, and dedicating time for learning is challenging in tech and in almost any other “office” job. In my case, I am the one defining what I need to do (managers telling you what you need to do daily only last during your internships, and only if you are lucky).

So the amount of tasks is infinite, and if you are perfectionist as I am, even longer. So you don’t finish working when the work is finished (there are always more things you could be doing), but when it’s being long enough. You need to learn to prioritise the important and the urgent, manage expectations of your stakeholders, and be more efficient with the experience.

I tend to automate things so, when I do something that could be needed in the future, I create templates and document well so I can be faster next time.

You learn with experience and you get more “templates” to re-use.



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


I believe that a professional with a solid technical background that can explain tech with simple ideas, that can speak with non technical customers and that can relate different topics and think outside the box is what is needed now and in the future.

Generative AI will be able to code perfectly in a few years and will be able to answer any technical topic in the documentation. To differentiate we need to be closer to the human part, understand the political issues of the companies we are working with, and propose things that haven’t been done before.

And precisely, being empathetic is something that many women are great at. It is not about being the person that knows all about the technical specifications of a product. It is about knowing how these specifications can solve real-life needs.


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


I have been studying/working in tech for 30 years and I have seen the advance of many things like Cloud or the generative AI. Specifically, genAI is advancing at an incredible pace, and very soon will be able to do better than humans in many cognitive tasks. At the same time, something called the Flynn effect, by which the IQ of humans improves on average 3 points per decade, seems to be reversing. So, as artificial intelligences are evolving very fast, the natural ones are doing the opposite. This could imply that in a few years many intellectually difficult tasks will be done better by machines, and humans will only be able to do manual boring stuff. Just the opposite of what all the digitization was supposed to achieve. 


I want to change that, not stopping tech evolution but improving human development. And that’s why I want to use all the technical background that I have to learn how human intelligence works. That’s why I am studying Psychology at the university.

The tech industry is advancing exponentially so each day it will be more difficult for professionals to know everything they need. So abstraction will be needed: understand the foundations and relations between parts, know very well the use cases, and apply technology to real life problems. Again, the difference in the professionals will be not in the deepest specialisation but in the capacity to relate concepts and their skills to communicate to other humans.



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

Do it. Stop thinking if you can or not, if it will be very difficult or not. You are perfectly capable.

And you can apply any other skill you are good at also in technology. Do you like medical science? Maybe you can end up working on analysing data and creating machine learning algorithms to find the cure to cancer. Do you like art? Maybe you can end up developing an intuitive tool that categorises pieces of art, allow collectors to find geniuses, or creates good pieces of art (without stealing from human artists). Tech is everywhere and has the magic to solve problems at scale.

So, if you want to change the world (and make some money in the journey), choose tech.


women looking through a window, smiling with a white dress.


Could you share your experience of motherhood and work?


I have two children and I think that the key is to have a partner that really shares all the new responsibilities that appear during parenthood. I worked 7 hours per day during two years instead of 8 to take care of my children, and I have to say it is the worst business you can accept: you have the same workload compressed in less hours, more stress, and you are paid less. I don’t think my career stopped because I had kids, but I have to say that I worked a lot and it was a difficult time. Probably, I should have relaxed a little more. I also have to say that staying at home when each of my children were born was hard, especially with the first one: I was used to being independent, to study, to work, to move, to do whatever I wanted. Being “forced” to stay at home taking care of a baby who didn’t stop crying, no matter what I did and not knowing how to manage, wasn’t easy. I remember wanting to come back to work because nobody shouted at me there. Motherhood brings you many new experiences, love and adventure, but women many times are supposed to have children.

If you are thinking of having children, be sure it is because you really want to, not because society expects you to do so.

Your life, the relationship with your partner, and your career will change and everything will be more difficult.


Why do we have so few women senior leaders in tech?


There are few women in senior positions in any industry. It is about patriarchy: gender roles have applied during the whole evolution.

Women stayed at home taking care of the house and the family while men went out to hunt or earn money. Women started to work outside their homes during the two World Wars in the XX century and, when men came back from war, they didn’t want to stop.

Feminist movements have advanced in providing equal rights between men and women but there are still many situations that need to change, and power is one of the hardest things to lose.

I believe it is a question of time. In the tech industry, with less women working in it, the percentage of women is even less, but only if we talk about top management. Medium management has more women every day as leading with empathy is one of the strengths many women have.


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


I'd love to learn more about Beatriz Alcántara, an incredible solutions architect in AWS that has worked in different countries and important companies and will surely offer new points of view.



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