She started out pursuing a career in Human Resources, but soon learned it wasn’t the right fit. While pursuing her MBA, Anna-Magdalena Kohl took a chance on a work-study position at an IT security company, even though she had no formal technical training. It was a move that would define her career path. The company, in turn, took a chance on her, investing in her technical education. In this edition of our podcast, Anna-Magdalena explains that even without a technical background, many companies are very supportive and willing to provide on-the-job training opportunities – which can make all the difference in retaining women in the industry.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Well, to be honest, I never thought about working in the payments industry when I was studying. Especially during my bachelor’s degree, I really planned to go into human resources and even human development, or that's at least how you say it in German. I did some internships during my studies and pretty quickly found that I prefer working with external customers rather than internal customers. And so, I thought, well, maybe a different direction would be more fitting for me.
I then did my master’s degree, my MBA, and started working as a working student for usd AG. It was more like a working student job I did next to my studies, I started out in customer support, and they were searching for someone who could support them with the sales in the PCI field. So I saw my chance there and was very excited to take that chance and started working in the PCI field as a sales consultant.
After I finished my studies, of course, I had to look at which direction I wanted to continue to go. I just really found that the payment and IT and tech industry, it's such an exciting industry. You can have so many different jobs within the industry, and it changes constantly, so you have the chance to learn continuously really on the job. In addition, I really find that it's an industry that is valuable. It's not something where I think, well, no one can really make use of it or anything, but it's a very important industry. So that led me to choose this career path and to stay in the payment industry, and I'm very happy that I did that. I think what was a big part of why I decided to stay in this career path was also that I did not have any technical training because I studied business administration, and usd AG just gave me the chance very quickly to get an education in all the technical and payment fields. So, for example, I became a PCI Professional, I did ITIL Foundation, and stuff like that. So, they supported me greatly and it was great for me to learn a lot at the beginning of my career, and that led to my choice to stay on this path.
So now we will get into some questions about women in technology in general. Do you notice a lack of women in technology? And, if so, why do you think that is the case?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Yes, of course. I think if you go to conferences, if you are in business meetings, if you look at tech companies, you will always find very few women still. So, there's definitely a lack of women working in technology. I think the reason for this is partly because many women maybe don't understand the variety of interesting jobs in the industry. I think there's still sometimes this picture in their head that you're just writing code, sitting on your laptop, on your own the whole day. But it's just completely not true. There are so many different job opportunities in the tech industry where you can also be creative, communicative and everything. I think that's one part. Of course, sometimes women are also maybe intimidated by the fact that they will be one of the few women, still, in the industry. Sometimes, they maybe even think that they have less career opportunities in the industry because there's so many men they are competing with. I imagine those are some of the reasons.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with confidence challenges that you have to overcome, for instance, doubting your own ability? And if so, how do you overcome it?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: To be honest, for me, personally, being a woman in my profession does not really come with confidence challenges. I think it's part of my upbringing maybe. It's also a big part of the personality, probably. But it's also definitely part of the work environment I'm in. In my work environment, no one ever gave me the feeling that I should have confidence challenges because I'm a woman. Everyone is very, very supportive, no matter if you're a man or a woman. So I think that's a big part.
In terms of doubting my own ability, it's not about being a woman, but it's more about that I don't have a tech background. Especially in the beginning, the main challenge for me was that I had absolutely no technical IT or payment background when I started my job. And suddenly, I was surrounded by a large number of highly trained IT specialists in my own company, as well as when speaking with customers. So, that was the biggest challenge for me. And I think how I overcame it, what I said in the beginning, I had great technical training from the very beginning that usd provided me with. Of course, I also had to show the willingness to learn these things, so I had to really be ambitious about learning and be interested in this topic. I think in this context, one of my biggest learning points up to this day is that it's absolutely no problem to tell anyone, "well, I'm sorry, I cannot answer your question right now. Let me discuss this with my colleagues and I'll come back to you tomorrow, or the day after." I never experienced that anyone doubted my ability just because I was saying something like this.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? And, if so, how did you handle it?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Well, actually, a lot of times, I'm really the only woman in the room, I talk, sometimes, with CEOs and people who are much older than I am, and still, I have to say, I really thought hard, and I cannot tell you a situation where it has affected me really negatively. I never felt disrespected, for example. There was never a situation where someone made a comment that I didn't feel comfortable with.
Sometimes, I even think it's more of an advantage. For example, doing this podcast. When I discussed with my husband that I was able to do this podcast, he was like, "well, if you were a man, I don't think you would have the chance to have a podcast like this right now." So, sometimes, it can even be an advantage, but yeah, I think there are other industries, of course, that are much more behind. For example, in Germany, the military, where women really have to fight still for being acknowledged. But in Germany, in the payment and tech industry, luckily, I have to say, that I did not have any negative experiences yet. So, I think it's just very important that, especially as a woman, you show self-confidence and trust in your skills and your knowledge because there's no reason why we shouldn't have the same skills and knowledge as the men in the room when you're the only woman in the room.
What I sometimes experience when I look at other women is that some think that they have to act more like men just because they're in a male-dominated industry. And I think we really shouldn't have to do that. Female character traits are great, and I think the teams where we work in, they can really benefit from working with women that really have female character traits.
What do you see or hope to see as the future for women in technology roles or in the payments industry?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Well, I would love for more women to view the payments and technology industry as an exciting industry to work in and to trust themselves to do a great job in this field. I think over the last years we have been clearly seeing that there are more women joining in the tech industry, and I'm very excited to see this. Because, the more women join the industry, the less it will be possible to perceive or treat women in the industry any differently from men. I think that would be great. I would also really love to see that we as women just cheer for each other and celebrate successes together and are as supportive as possible. As a small anecdote, a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with a potential client. Of course, due to COVID, it was just a remote meeting. I was there with my male colleague, and he was the only male in the virtual meeting room. So, there were four women and one man. That was a first, actually, and I thought it was great. So, let's hope we see more meetings like this in the future.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Actually, I don't have a famous quote but it's more a personal mantra. My dad is really a big role model for me and he has always taught me to always give my best, and that giving your best is just the most important thing you can do and much more important than any positions or titles or anything. Luckily, if you give your best, a career, usually follows naturally, not always, but usually, so this advice influences my work really everyday, trying to give my best and not being satisfied when I'm not giving my best.
One other thing, which is equally important I think, is that your family always comes first. So, giving your best is very, very important, but your family needs you. So, that's the thing that comes first. And maybe one last thing he taught me is: your job can always be exciting until you retire, if you stay open and try new things. So, I think for the tech industry and the payment industry, this is especially true because the industry's changing so much.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payments industry or in a technology-based field in general? Is there anything that you wish you had known?
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: My advice to other women is: don't be afraid of an area you don't know. Be open and willing to learn and trust yourself, your ability and your knowledge. Don't be afraid to try and even sometimes risk things. That would be the main advice. And I think the other advice is that you don't have to be perfect, and no one is perfect. In Germany, we have a saying that translates to “they also only cook with water”, which is equivalent I think to the English saying, “they also put on their pants one leg at a time”. For me, this mindset has helped me immensely throughout my career. And I wish that I had approached things with this mindset from the beginning on, from the start of my career, because it makes things easier to always have this in mind when talking to people, especially maybe people that are highly respected.
Well, thank you for joining us on our podcast.
Anna-Magdalena Kohl: Thank you once again for making this blog series. I think it's great and it's great that we, as women, can maybe have a stronger voice during this blog series and during this podcast. I'm very excited about this and thank you for having me.