Women Driving Tech.
Interview With Intelligent, Classy, Ambitious and Inspirational Technologists

Interview with Consultant Sanne

We start a new blog series highlighting female forward-thinking technologists leading the way to innovations. The ladies of CoreValue are a part of European Women in Tech, and they regularly meet exceptional women at technology conferences and summits who shape the industry landscape and inspire others.

Motivated by talking to the leading women in the industry from companies like Microsoft, Capgemini etc., we decided to showcase their professional experience and commitment to changing the world. Diversity, as a part of company culture helps identify a high potential women offer to create long term business aspirations.

Women of the 21st century don’t wait for the future any more. They create it themselves. Women tech leaders have to tell their stories as raw models driving the change.

Part 1. Talking Blockchain

Sanne Visser, Blockchain Consultant, Capgemini  

“It’s a complex technology to understand but it should be made accessible to anyone”

Today, we welcome Sanne Visser, a Chairperson for the Meetup “Blockchain Testing Community” in the Netherlands, winner of the EuroSTAR Rising STAR Award 2018 and blockchain consultant at Capgemini. A mother of two and an experienced professional, she is working on building a community where software testers can learn and experiment with blockchain and innovative technologies.

Q: How did it happen that you found yourself in blockchain? Was there something that drove you towards blockchain?

Well, like most people in this industry, it started out with crypto trading or at least being very interested in bitcoin and that kind of technology. For me, it was definitely and mostly an investor’s interest and in 2012 I had some PCs with really good hardware and I set them up in a mining pool to mine coins. And that was sort of the first venture into cryptocurrencies. Then, it died down a bit, especially as we got busy just doing normal stuff like getting married, having kids.

It’s always been a mutual hobby between my husband and me. It’s very interesting. We sit together about once a month, even now, and we re-balance our portfolio, discuss what to buy and what to sell. It remains a thing we do together and it’s really kept us together as a couple.

Q: What are the preconditions to using blockchain technology in the organization? Is it a trusted approach fitting into the modern world?

Cryptocurrencies have their place and they will continue to have their place. I mean, it’s digital currency and it serves a large part of the world population. It doesn’t have that good of fit in Europe where we have a lot of very trusted, well-working banking solutions. I’m thinking, the cryptocurrencies have their place in the unbanked, in the Third World, and in any kind of government state where inflation is a major issue. I mean, you can see that as well: places where the best blockchain solutions tend to pop up, are those countries that have had those very rocky banking histories. So,  those will stay.

When it comes to companies thinking about this technology in a really practical sense, I think you need to be looking at companies that cross borders, companies that have long supply chains, companies that work together in groups that need to rely on each other for verifiable information. So, anytime you’re thinking about building anything on a blockchain as a business, the first thing I want you to consider is who your partners are, what problem you are trying to solve together. Because with any problem you are trying to solve as a business on your own, the likelihood is that traditional tech is going to help you a lot further than blockchain will. Because it is distributed, it is supposed to be decentralized. That’s what you want to look at: where my partners are and how I can find a use case with them. So, you’re innovating in the entire ecosystem where you operate as a business. If you are not thinking that big right from the beginning, you are probably not going to find a use case that works. That is a real practical tip I would give any company starting to look into this. You have to cross your company’s borders and go into the entire ecosystem.

Q: It still demands deep thinking and analytics first of all, before implementing into any kind of business or industry, right?

Right. At the moment you can see that a lot of blockchain solutions that are out there, in production, are facing not so much scaling issues as partnering issues. So, you’ll find that a container shipping company will have found a partner in terms of a customs agency, but it needs to be much bigger. Like, any typical container will cross about 28 different borders. That’s an ecosystem right there of about 28 partners. And you really have to be thinking about how you onboard them, right at the beginning of developing the tech. But, of course, at the same time, you need a demo-ready product, so, it’s kind of “ticking an egg” issue, where you need to show what it can do before you can do it and at the same time you shouldn’t be doing this implementation alone. How small enough you can start to still get the ecosystem into the solution – it’s something the majority of the companies are now dealing with.

Q: So, what would you predict for blockchain from the point of where you are standing right now?

I think it’s going to be embedded into IT solutions that require it. I think customers will not see it, it won’t be visible as it is now. It will just be a part of the solution that will be offering this immutable ledger technology. So, that’s where its value proves itself.

I think, in the coming years you are going to see it involve into very stable protocols that you can rely on as just a part of the solution. The same way we use Cloud services, the same way we use a lot of database technologies. It will just be there as an option and people will pick it up when it fits. So, there will be a marketplace with different types of blockchains which will be suited for different types of IT problems.

So it will be a part of a new IT, it won’t be the new IT by itself. It’s just not that kind of tech, it’s very infrastructural. That’s where it is going.

Q: Is it difficult to work and contribute in the men’s world, when they perceive you being a lady? Or you just don’t pay attention to that?

It is sometimes difficult, especially to be courageous and speak up. I’ll give an example. In a meeting the other day we were talking about the new cube satellites, which are very cheap to launch, and how possibly blockchain could help enhance that technology, sort of brainstorm session. About ten minutes into how to get data into transactions and onto a blockchain, I was really feeling like we were missing the point. I gathered the courage to ask, “Well, I understand we are talking about how to do it, but I really still don’t get why. Why do you want to add blockchain technology to your cube satellites?” And then, sort of silence fell. And it’s like, well, that’s actually a really good question: why would we want to do this? You feel a bit stupid, because it seems like such a basic question but, in the end, it turned out, it was really valuable.

That happens a lot. And you do every time gather that courage and go like, oh, I’m going to say this because I do think it’s valuable. And you know, you do not always get this wonderful result, like, the question is a valid one. You do occasionally end up asking a stupid question. But it’s better to stand up and be heard.

And, you know, the classics are all there. You get talked over, or perceived just as a pretty face of this particular information evening. Or they assume you are probably not working in IT, you are probably the PR person. That happens all the time.

It’s sad. It’s a major thing in a blockchain world. There was a quote by Laurie Penny, in the article I read some time ago, “Being a woman in a blockchain is like riding a bicycle…”. On the one hand, it’s easy, you know what to do. “…Except the bike is on fire and everything is on fire”. You know what to do but you are so underrepresented. So, yes, it’s an issue. It’s definitely something you still need to get over every single time.

Q: Right now are you still planning to somehow connect or co-develop your public speaking and your professional skills within blockchain as well? Are you planning on visiting some major events visiting or probably be presented somewhere?

This would be a good moment to talk about the prize I won past November. It’s the EuroSTAR Rising Star award. I really want to build an international community right around how we deal with this technology as software testers. And EuroSTAR Sponsors are going to help me launch this idea. So, the next year, I think there are 32 people that will sponsor me. They each are going to give me 4 hours of their time and there was a bit of money involved as well. Also, I want to chair the community as well, so that’s part of my personal ambitions.

I am a chairperson within the Netherlands right now. I have a small group, about 15 people that I lead at the moment, but it has to go bigger. I really want to get it on, at least European level, but preferably international level, get everyone onboard, get everyone thinking and building on each other’s ideas. Because I really do think no good ideas exist in a vacuum. Everything builds on top of everything else. So you need to get as many people, and especially thought leaders, together, and working together.

Q: So you do have some support, in terms of proficient support?

Yes, I do. I have my own little group. We call ourselves ‘the blockchain testing community’. That’s so much fun! And we meet together every six weeks and really look into how to get that going within the Netherlands. And then, the same kind of concept I want to open up to an international community.

In the meantime, I’m busy looking at the 2019 schedule of conferences and thinking about which conferences I will be attending and I’m open to speaking at conferences I don’t know about yet. Because I enjoy public speaking.

Read the whole interview here

Special appreciation to Lily Smirnova, a mastermind behind the idea for this blog series.

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