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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Mine Heck's trail of resilience and innovation

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Meet Mine Heck, a dynamic force in the tech world with a journey as diverse as her experiences. Born in a small town in Northern Turkey, Mine's early aspirations were rooted in political science and international relations. However, life had different plans. The allure of the digital age, combined with the promise of a globalized world, led her to the bustling tech hubs of Kuala Lumpur and eventually to the Netherlands.

Mine Heck smiling on a greenfield with mountains out focus in the back.
"Why this picture? Right now, my color is Red, thus a photo of me in one of my favorite environments (mountains) with my current favorite color!"

In her Lovelace Series interview, Mine delves deep into her transformative journey from a young girl in Turkey that learned how to navigate the intricate world of tech. A co-founder, CEO, Sales at AWS and Red Hat, and whatever she decides to do next.

Her story is one of resilience, adaptability, and the power of community. From setting up her first digital business to working with major utility companies, Mine's career is a testament to the idea that anything is possible with passion and the right people around you.

Mine's experiences highlight the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in tech, especially one without a traditional technical background. She emphasizes the importance of mentorship, community, and the ability to adapt in an ever-evolving industry. Her insights into the future of tech, from the potential of edge computing to the role of generative AI, are both thought-provoking and forward-looking.

For those considering a tech career, Mine's advice is clear: Dive in, but always be prepared, lean on your network, and never stop learning. Enjoy the full interview to uncover more about Mine's remarkable journey and her vision for the future.

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

My background emerges from a well-known story. Small town girl from the North of Turkey, growing up with white-collar middle-class parents, seeing both men and women around me work at their 8 am to 5 pm jobs. I started school in the early 1990s. Computers appeared in locked up, semi-secret, but always shiny "computer labs" at schools. Cartoons had girls as their main characters, and we even had a female prime minister for a while.

My goal was clear... I planned to study a subject that would let me travel the world. After going through many ideas and iterations in true Mine fashion, I settled on studying Political Science and International Relations in Istanbul. Things didn't go as planned, and it turned out that I needed political connections to get a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was lost and mostly broke.

The 2000s were not so much fun as the 1990s, but a new world opened up to us in other ways... It was possible to have computers at home with 24/7 internet connection, to make new friends from all over the world in chat rooms, and to be able to reach someone via email instantly to apply for options to live abroad without a job.

I took my time in my late 20s to live in China, Istanbul, Malaysia and finally settled in the Netherlands. During one of those years, I met my (ex)partner who was by then traveling the world with a backpack and making just enough money to live independently.

One of my life's most confusing but enlightening moments came when he said, "You can set up your own digital business and live wherever you want."

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

I set up my first business within a week, with the help of a friend to design a logo, with the help of a random Google search to find a name, and with the support of a few newly written books in the area.

I failed at running a social media management agency (this was in 2012), but I learned that the best way to start a new career was to dive straight into the first opportunity. While realizing social media management was not really my passion, I got into some exciting circles in Kuala Lumpur.

This was the year its founders were hiring their first employees for Grab at the meetups I was a part of, engineers were running around looking for founders for their ideas, and digital nomads were filling the mamak stalls in the evening. I just wanted to be a part of it. The possibilities of working remotely, involving in a larger tech community through meet-ups and conferences, and managing my schedule shone like a summer sun in my mind and pulled me to it.

When you surround yourself with people of ideas, intelligence, and excitement, opportunities arise.

That's how I got my first job in tech. I started managing everything business related for Olindata in August 2012. From there on, we became a small-scale consulting company with an office in The Hague and entities in Singapore and Bangalore.

I got the CEO (chief of everything) title during the journey, which led us to the sale of the company in August 2019. In those 7 years, I met amazing people: my colleagues, conference friends, event co-organizers, mentors, and, more importantly, my community. I started working with a regular income at an age when my classmates from school were already 10 years into their careers and retirement funds.

I took my time to experiment, travel, take risks, and more importantly: fail. I read somewhere that risk means more things can happen than will happen. And guess what? It happens to be true.

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

Oh, the challenges! Those vital moments in our lives lead to make or break. First I will tell you a secret, there is no secret sauce for overcoming them. However, I learned along the way that a healthy dose of humility helps. Taking a step back, trying to understand the other party's perspective (always others are involved).

I am a woman working in tech who doesn't have a technical background. I broke through an area of work in which I had no connections. Twelve years ago, there were even fewer women than there are today in tech. I was nobody who lacked the skills to get an entry-level job in IT. Or that's what I thought by then. You see, the obstacle in our journey is mostly our mind.

At some point, especially for women, our imposter syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that evolves into the greatest challenge of the "But I am not fit for this" curse.

For me, at first, it was the people around me with more experience who showed me that I could at least try. Mentors, people in my tech community, closest friends... Can I get a job at AWS without any corporate experience? Oh, wait, yes I can, I just did. Hey wait, I am not sure if this is for me. How should I look for another job, a place where I feel that I belong? I have my network, I can lean on them.

I am only 39, and there are many more years ahead of me to work in companies, maybe embark on another company-building journey, or start something completely new. I know now that I do not have to do this alone. There is a massive power in being open (requires vulnerability) about the most pressing questions in your career and share them with others while keeping your listen and learn hat on.

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

It all started with my then-boyfriend asking if I wanted to work with him. He was the digital nomad, making just enough money to sustain his backpacking life while keeping some extra to attend conferences worldwide and meet amazing people. He saw potential in partnering up with an emerging technology company to be their authorized partner for Southeast Asia to deliver consulting and training for that new technology.

I had no idea about how to do sales, finances, or marketing, but he convinced me to "jump right in." Try and fail, and get up to try some more. And so I have been doing it for a while now. During these last 12 years, I had two great female mentors. They are both tech executives who have worked in the industry for over 30 years. Whenever I talked to them, they helped me look at my challenges differently.

Mentorship is a mutual relationship of course. For every conversation we had, I also did my best to bring something to the table.

Picture of this week featured: Mine Heck.

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

We are indeed talking more about diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, the fact that big companies are hiring executives for newly created DE&I efforts or encouraging managers to hire more diverse talent does not mean that the issue is evolving in a less complicated direction. I am still mostly the only woman in my customer meetings.

Colleagues or friends made the joke about my previous and current roles that I was hired to fill a gender quota.

Gender inequality in tech is not the only issue though. In my last team, I was the oldest member at the age of 36.

Where are the employees in their mid-40s or 50s in those tech companies? We often overlook age-related diversity and inclusion issues which I find concerning as I will be 40 next year.

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

Boundaries! I have to admit that I have been working on setting healthy boundaries to prioritize my needs and letting go of the need for the approval of others. This is a practice that I need to apply both to my private and work relationships.

The upside is that being clear about my boundaries helps me better understand my colleagues. I respect my time, and I respect your time.

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

Good timing for this question. I feel like I can continue the boundaries and respect conversation. We are in a people-to-people business. We develop ideas together to help our customers.

It is all about comprehending the connection.

In my opinion, communication skills such as listening, empathy, and focusing on the problem, not the person when discussing an issue are some of the keys that could help open a new door to workplace relationships.

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

This sounds like one of those behavioral-based interview questions. Shall I use the STAR method to continue? Now back to thoughtfully answering the question.

I do like my current job. I work with the major utility companies in the Netherlands and with some of their most brilliant people to build solutions for software-defined grids together. I like impactful work. Something that touches people's lives.

There is no "most significant" yet, as I am still in this journey and there is something new and exciting every year.

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

For now, I am happy with my role. As I mentioned earlier, I like seeing my work's impact, and I enjoy thinking and building with my colleagues and customers. It might be a cliche, but it is necessary to remember, especially in tech, that change is the only constant.

Every five years, there is a shiny tech, a new language, a new train to jump on. I like to remind my customers when they make their purchasing choices to keep this in mind. Decisions made today will already be outdated in the next couple of years, which is fine.

Keep your curious mind open and focus on what matters the most. Rest will follow.

If I need to identify a goal here now, something wise for the reader, I can say that it is to push myself to get out of my comfort zone. So next, I would like to get out of areas where I am comfortable and learn how to break through to the next level.

As for the tech, I'm personally excited about what is happening on the edge and how that can help utility companies with their energy transition efforts.

Right now, one of the biggest challenges is the congestion of the grid, and without that problem being solved, we can not discuss a scalable green energy transition.

Generative AI is another area in which I would like to understand more. I like my sales career, but I cannot stop wondering how much longer my role will be relevant in the era of artificial intelligence. I know that I need to learn how to leverage the tech to stay on top of my game and still bring the value that AI can not get yet.

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

Go for it! But before you start, do your external as well internal due diligence. What are your motivations? Why do you want to work at XYZ? What will you do if you find out that it is not your place?

Talk to each other. Reach out to me, reach out to Thiago, reach out to someone you see at an event and ask them about their experience.

Lean on to your network and give back to that network when you have some years of experience to share yourself. This is our community and the relationships we build along the way help us to get to places.

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

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