Women in Tech – Mikaela Illanes

We kick off our “Women in Tech” series by talking with our very own Inicio co-founder Mikaela Illanes. We explore why she created Inicio, where she draws her inspiration from, and her advice to girls looking to pursue a similar career path.

What area of technology did you study?
I studied Information and communication technology at bachelor level, and Human Computer Interaction and Design with entrepreneurship at masters level at KTH.

What drew you to your study area?
To be truthful there is not really a good reason why I picked to study ICT at KTH. Just before I started applying to  university I choosing between so many different fields like sports, media and engineering. But when it was time to send in my application I was reading Dan Browns book “Digital Fortress” and I became interested in “big smart computers!” So any program that had a connection between computers and media went high on my application… and I ended up in the ICT engineering program. My feelings about this has changed so many times during my studies. But when I found Human Computer Interaction I knew that I had picked right.

What role do you have now, and what was it about this role that made you choose this organisation?
My role in Inicio is CEO and co-founder. The reason I wanted to start something like Inicio was to help and guide teenagers through their educational choices and give them more support during those difficult times. To choose what you are going study and work with, or even what you are going to do after your summer break put so much pressure and stress on youth that I wanted to relive it by giving them a network of mentors that can give them more information and inspirational stories that can support their choices. And in my experience one mentor is never enough, you need as many as you can get.

Who is a person close to you that inspired you the most in life?
It is hard to pin point just one person. The support that I have gotten through my studies, after school activities like swimming and family and friends all have been the inspiration for who I am today. Without any of them, the work I am doing now would probably not exist.

Which famous people have inspired you? If you had to invite three-five people to dinner who the who would they be?
There are so many famous people that do good that I would like to meet in person and get to know that it is hard to say who I would sit down on the table –  they would probably not fit and the dinner would either be a week-long in duration, or last for only 10 seconds because I wouldn’t know where to start the conversation. But some of the people that I really admire for their work of “slowly changing the world into a better place” is: Ellen DeGeneres for the way that she always put others first and support peoples work everywhere, Ashton Kutcher for the work he is doing in the tech world, Michelle and Barack Obama for how the way they speak and inspire worldwide.

What do you wish you had known before entering the tech field?
It is hard to say, I was ready to fight my way through my studies and work in a field where few women work. That part was never a problem, I saw it as a way to grow and learn how to stand for my beliefs and my work. I don’t think I have had many surprises so far, I knew tech existed in every field I just had to find where I would fit in the tech world.

What are some of the challenges, and what are some of the opportunities for women in the field of technology?

Right now it is a fight mostly to be a woman in the tech world, but we are more and more women battling for being heard and accepted that with time hopefully this question won’t be asked in interviews any more. But my biggest advice is to follow what you want independent on the challenges, and go for the opportunities you want to have. If tech is what you want to do, don’t let the challenges stop you.

Where do you think the future of technology is heading?
My hope for the future of technology is that it doesn’t take over the human life the way it’s doing now. I wished that the use and development of tech was there to support and enhance a person’s life and work. Schools and teachers shouldn’t have to ban technology (mobile phones) from their classrooms, they should learn how to enhance their classes with it or even better let the students enhance their work with the help of technology. People around the world shouldn’t have to go through data cleansing (closing down all social media) they should learn how to handle their use. I think that the development of technology is going so fast and our behaviour of wanting the latest version of everything is making us “technology sick”. So my hope for the future is that we as humans learn how to live with it without destroying our health or the rest of the environment.

What excites you the most about the future of technology?
When it comes to tech, what excites me the most is how people are working together between fields more and doing it more openly. I think tech have helped us see more connections between different fields in a way that will actually change how we work in the future. I would think that social media has had a big part in this change, since we are more open to share about what we do and how we work to attract new employees or share what you do with colleagues, friends and family. Sharing knowledge and ideas is the way the tech world will grow.

Any inspirational quotes that you live by?
To tell you just one quote is hard this changes every day but the one that I’m going for right now is this one:
“Tell me and I forget,
Show me and I remember,
Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

If you had to give yourself a pep talk everyday what would you say to inspire yourself?
“Ain’t no mountain high enough!”

Favorite tech events?
My favorite workshop/event is Girls in ICT, not just because we are doing our part of lowering the gap between males and females in the tech world but because we bring in so many actors together and there is so many people that actually wants to support this cause in different ways. When it comes to the participants they get to learn the basics of the tech world and work on ideas of tech in the future while they are getting support from mentors and industry. It’s the perfect way of showing how we can work together on solving problems.

(Photo Credit: Patrik Lundmark).

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