For this month’s TCI feature interview, we spoke with Women in Technology Forum member Maria Hernandez about her unique experiences as a woman in the business and technology space, some of the skills and insights that she developed along her journey toward success, and how being a part of TCI’s Women in Technology Forum has been and can continue to be an excellent influencer.
Q: Could you share with us a little bit about your background?
MH: I started my career as a developer for IBM and progressed through my career in several different technical and management roles. For the latter half of my time there, I focused on the idea of innovation and being in the forefront of emerging technologies. I was very much an “intra-preneur” – an entrepreneur within a corporate culture. My experiences and success culminated in my role as Chief Innovation Officer for IBM Latin America.
I was very attuned to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in So. Florida and essentially extended my internal role as innovation officer to the outside to figure out how to look at innovation from the outside in and what other possibilities were out there for partnerships.
During this process, I met with a fast growing late stage startup company called Modernizing Medicine, who was very interested in artificial intelligence and in particular IBM Watson in the healthcare space. I ended up leading an important strategic partnership between IBM and Modernizing Medicine and shortly thereafter joined them as their SVP of Strategic Development. While at Modernizing Medicine, I also launched a women’s group (MMwit – Modernizing Women in Innovation and Technology) to support and develop the amazing women talent within the company.
I then transitioned and decided to become an entrepreneur (finally!) and founded a consulting company called InnoGuia around the theme of “culture of innovation,” advising companies on what it takes to transform individuals and teams to unleash new ideas and drive innovation in the process.
When I look back at my career trajectory, there’s been several transitions and they have all required me to re-invent myself — from corporate to startup to entrepreneur and, most recently, back to corporate. I now lead the Innovation and the Digital Business Initiative for DHL Express in the U.S. At each step along the way, I’ve had the unique opportunity to see different aspects of innovation and technology transformation all driving growth and disruption for businesses and industries at large.
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?
MH: I didn’t know exactly what role within the tech industry I would have, but I always liked the idea of being a problem solver. I was always curious about how things worked behind the scenes. Those were my two driving factors. And then figuring out how to apply technology to business problems.
Q: Who were your role models/mentors?
MH: I would say it starts with my mom, because when I first started my career, women in technology were a rare breed. In my mom’s generation, women mostly stayed home. So for my mom to be a working mom at that time, she was a trail blazer. I’ve always admired her tenacity and thought that if she can do it, so can I. I’ve also created a “board of advisors” of both men and women who have been advisors and sponsors throughout my career.
Q: To what do you accredit your success?
MH: Being a good listener, being one that inspires and motivates others to see the vision at hand. Because in innovation, there’s a lot of big thinking, but then you quickly have to turn that into execution. That combination of listening to people, whether it’s a client or what’s happening in industry, and then being able to find the vision and possibilities and motivate a team of people to figure out how to work on the project and get it off the ground.
Turning the idea into execution, that’s the secret sauce.
Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges as a businesswoman?
MH: I would say finding my voice and being heard. In my field, you have to be able to articulate the “art of the possible,” as innovation often carries uncertainty and risk in addition to carrying the upside of capturing the market early and being a leader.
Q: Can you think of a particular project or accomplishment that you could say was a turning point for you in your career?
MH: I would have to point to my deciding to leave corporate and join a late stage startup — that was unconventional. For someone who had a successful corporate career to be willing to give that up to go be outside of my comfort zone, that took quite a bit of courage. It was a defining moment because it took me down a different path and it opened other doors for me to explore in my career progression.
If I had to pick out a theme for my journey, it would be that your career journey will take you down different paths, and there’s no real loss. There are always learnings, something you can tie it back to that adds to your skillset and experience. So don’t be so focused on moving up that you miss opportunities to also move in other directions.
Q: How has being part of the Knight Funded Women in Technology Forum benefited you, and how could it benefit other women?
MH: To me, being part of the Women in Technology Forum couldn’t have come at a better time. Through my recent career transitions, having that sisterhood of other women in tech who understand the journey has been critical for me. To have that and to be able to be vulnerable, leave titles at the door, and just be a part of a group of women who are looking to help each other out and succeed has been an amazing experience.
Like the Apollo team, we’re on this mission together and are committed to making each other successful and making the forum successful. This is the first of its kind for women in tech, and it could have a huge impact on all other women in the industry who do feel isolated. We also want to reach out to younger women and encourage them to enter into this field — inspire as far back as we can go and have a waterfall effect of more and more women entering the technology space.
Q: What closing advice would you have for other women in technology?
MH: Technology and innovation is exciting. You get to think big, develop those big ideas into execution, and see the impact for customers, companies, and industries around the world. You might not know what’s going to happen in six months, but have the courage and willingness to step up to the plate and sign up for this thing that’s uncertain and uncomfortable and constantly changing.
I also want to mention that on a human level, I’m a mom of three and somehow managed to raise them while I was having an amazing career. I’m very much into mindfulness—I’m yoga certified—and I’m a big world traveler, having visited all seven continents. I think it’s important to remember that we’re all humans at the end of the day — we all have families to raise and lives to lead outside of our careers.