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WOMEN IN HIGH-TECH

Interview With

Lulit Tesfaye

25.10.2022

As part of our Women in High Tech series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of inspiring women who work in the tech industry. In this story, we connect you with one of the most successful female leaders in the semantic world.

Lulit Tesfaye is a Partner and Division Director for Enterprise Knowledge, a proud Semantic Web Company partner and has over a decade of experience leading diverse global, public, and commercial client initiatives in Knowledge, Information, and Data Management strategy, design, and implementation.

In this interview, Lulit shares how she navigates her way through a male-dominated industry, the importance of having a sense of humor , mentoring others in work and life, and embracing her Ethiopian roots. This is Lulits’s journey as a leading woman.

I want to facilitate a space for not only women but diversity as a whole. Everyone has the opportunity to be a leader, to be seen, and to be heard. I am always asking myself this question: What is the opportunity that I didn’t have that I should be creating?

Lulit Tesfaye

Lulit Tesfaye

Partner and Division Director at Enterprise Knowledge

Lulit is a Partner and Division Director for Data and Information Management strategy, design, and implementation. Lulit is driven by innovation in efficiency, user-centered design, and empowering organizations to smartly leverage their data and information assets along with the best today’s technologies have to offer.

Interview Questions & Answers

Can you tell me a little bit about your job ?

I am a partner at Enterprise Knowledge. I also directly oversee our data and information management division, where I am fortunate enough to work with a great team of data engineers, information architects, taxonomists, ontologists and experts.

What is the mission of Enterprise Knowledge ?

Enterprise Knowledge is a knowledge and data management consultancy. We are based just outside of Washington DC and our focus is really on providing solutions and advisory services for knowledge, data, and information challenges.

What does a typical day look like for you ?

A day in my life usually never looks the same (laughs). The day in life goes from design, modeling, and setting up workshops to working with clients to help them and partners solve their data and information problems and challenges. Another rewarding focus point of my day lies in growing my team and continuous learning  We are always looking for and experimenting with new trends and technologies.

What did you wanna be when growing up ?

Definitely not a knowledge management expert. (laughs) Obviously, I wanted to be a lawyer (laughs), so I went to law school, and I practiced law for about a year and a half after graduating.

About 15 years ago, I started to shift towards technology because I was working in a space where I was driving the development of websites and solutions that would translate laws and regulations into enforceable web applications. Most of these challenges I worked on were data and knowledge management related, so in many ways, this shift happened naturally and in its own time. 

What is technology to you ?

An enabler. It is really something that is an enabler to a problem or a challenge that you have or don’t have. Sometimes we are not even aware of the challenges and possibilities that surround us. We didn’t think about having music on our phones until Steve Jobs and his team showed us it was possible. Technology helps us to optimize our lives. So to me, technology is either an enabler to solve an existing problem or helping us to see the world in a different way and augment our capacity to do all the things that we are good at as humans.

What are the trends you see emerging in technology ?

Personalization and connectivity of information, which is shifting the focus to effective knowledge and data management. Drastic technology capabilities such as cloud and AI solutions are driving digital transformation, and this can be felt on a global scale. Many companies had to change their overall strategy because of the pandemic and are working on transferring knowledge to a hybrid workspace to support this need. 

Another question that I have been pondering is how we organize our institutional knowledge. Also, the role of our customers has changed along these lines, and personalization has become more important than ever before. Nowadays, our customers call with specific questions looking to understand and connect the information and knowledge they have to answer the mail on our century’s challenge and we are dealing with a very educated customer base.

How has the global pandemic altered the landscape of technology ?

I think that’s an interesting question because I see it from two perspectives. One is what we know now and the changes we are visibly seeing and experiencing. For example, new hybrid work models. A lot of people have gone remote, a lot of companies have closed their offices, and we are adapting processes, cultures, and technologies to accommodate that. So that’s for sure the most obvious impact we can see post-pandemic.

But the second aspect is, how do we know 10 years from now how it has impacted us? I think the innovative technology that continues to evolve on how we used technology during the pandemic in the social or business aspect is yet to be seen. I think it has sped up innovation by years, is definitely fostering agility, and creating this open mind of how effective we can become with technology. Which is actually one of the most positive things that came out of COVID.

What is your favourite part of your job ?

This is so hard (laughs). I love a lot of things about my job. I would say that I am at my most comfortable and happy when I am listening to our clients talking through a challenge, and then we get together with my team and start to brainstorm and whiteboard and think through how to solve this problem. My team is at 25 right now. It’s about a third of our organization and I love the people I work with. In our division, we work on about 10 to 15 very diverse projects and use cases at a given time. So, there is never a dull day.

What advice would you give a women considering a career in tech ?

I think the first question is to ask yourself what technology means to you since it’s a huge field. And also, tech is all around us. Even if you are not in tech, you are in tech!  Our day-to-day lives are so heavily influenced by it. The users are the innovators of tech solutions, which really is the beauty of it all. So the intimidating factor of being a woman in tech really goes away. Because technology has been created for us and we are in the constant process of creating it, it should be highly intuitive and not intimidating.

Now women in tech in the corporate space, that’s a different issue, and we have a long way to go. However, I do see a lot of changes because if you have the love for technology, and especially if you have a love for solving problems with technology, then the focus should always be on that. There are a lot of challenges around you, but if you focus on your end goal, then you should go for it with all your might.

Do you feel you’ve had to work harder than your male colleagues to advance your career?

Yes. and not always, but most of the time. There have been scenarios where people have been surprised that I was the leader of a group and not my male colleague who reports under me. This is why I think being assertive and pulling into a conversation can be a challenge for most of us women.  It is not a women’s problem only, our male colleagues need to equally play a part to address this. Our company leadership enables each other in that way and that’s very important, but the bias is still there.

You are also one of the founders of the YEP (Your Ethiopian Professionals). Can you share with me a bit about this exciting community ?

Back in 2010, a few years into my career in the DC area, there is a big Ethiopian community, and I was looking for an opportunity to network among peers. Surprisingly, at the time, such a platform did not exist. So we started a meet-up group and about 12 people showed up, and there was already talk about creating such an institution, so we decided to go for it and created the YEP Network. So the whole purpose of it is to create a platform for people to network and share resources and develop mentor/mentee relationships. YEP is now an organization with over 5000 members.

We have organized over 500 events at this point and have also taken it upon ourselves to create different career programs. We have initiated a series with guest speakers, where we invite people to create holistic workspaces and role models. Our diaspora program aims to help newcomers deal with culture shock and connect them to the right people and important resources. Unfortunately, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary during COVID, but we are now looking to have our gala a bit later and I am looking forward to celebrating with our journey members.

What is the best leadership advice you have ever received ?

Something I always go back to is: When you face a problem or a challenge that feels very overwhelming,  Start breaking it down into smaller components. And understand the issue piece by piece. I like to compare this to a hike in the mountains, which is one of my favorite activities.

When you are trying to get to the top of the mountain, it is discouraging if you are only looking up, but the moment you slowly start navigating the path and going through it from the bottom, that’s when you are not only exposing yourself to the beauty of nature, which can directly be translated into a valuable experience by itself, but you are also making progress towards your goal/vista. So the same goes for solving a problem that we encounter, especially in the leadership space. I think when you start to break down your problems into smaller pieces and start to understand what the problem is, you can start to lay out a step-by-step structure that helps you to stay on course while navigating to your target.

Who is your role model ?

So many people have gotten me to where I am now. My mom is a big one. We call her the diplomat in our family. She is the most well-rounded, diplomatic and strategic person I have ever met. Her generation was one of major breakthroughs and I draw a lot of inspiration from that. My mom is not in tech but she worked in the finance space and watching her navigate through numerous challenges has had a tremendous impact on me. I also consider the people that I work with to be role models because I learn so much from them every day.

Speaking of inspiration, how did your mom become one of your role models ?

I believe that women have an incredible ability to adapt to and endure adversity. In the situation of my mother, I would say that a few events drastically changed and shaped her life. She went through cancer treatment twice, and she was also very vocal about her life in Ethiopia. I was born and raised in Ethiopia, and my family and I fled, fearing persecution because my mother voted and spoke up against a dictatorial government. Fleeing from her native country was a huge life-changing event for her, and though she had to endure such hardships, she never complained a day in her life. Watching her start all over again so far away from home was incredibly inspiring, and she did lay the entire groundwork for our lives in the US.

Thank you so much for this interview, Lulit !

Thank you.

Want to read another inspiring interview with a female thought leader in high-tech? Check out my exclusive interview with Elsa Sklavounou from RWS.

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