Women in Artificial Intelligence at SAP #2: Get to Know Haodan Yang
Recently, we kickstarted a new initiative to put the spotlight on women who are working in the technology industry and, more specifically, in artificial intelligence at SAP.
Through the insights Jana Wuerth shared with us in Women in Artificial Intelligence at SAP: Get to Know Jana Wuerth, we had the opportunity to learn how she handles go-to-market strategy and commercialization tasks in the AI space – a true inspiration and motivational injection for anyone who wants to discover how women embrace technology.
However, achieving actual change and progress can only happen if we are constantly open to new impulses and fresh ideas. Therefore, we will now continue with another perspective: the one from our colleague Haodan Yang, who will tell us what it is like to take over a bridge role that requires deep technical and business knowledge at the same time.
Let’s start right away with an exciting question: what specific skills have helped you the most to get where you are today?
Communication skills. As a product manager, I need to talk to anyone involved in the product development lifecycle, ranging from the product development team to go-to-market experts to sales colleagues and customers who give feedback on how to improve. It’s a wide range of people with diverse backgrounds, and I need to talk to them in the languages they can understand for effective communication and a successful product.
I think it is also critical that I clearly know what I enjoy doing and what I’m good at. I like to talk to people since I was a kid. I remember that I was always the one who got caught in class talking to my classmates. And along my career path, I had doors opening for me to do more research-oriented or technical jobs. Still, eventually, I followed my heart and chose to become a product manager, where talking to people is a day-to-day job. Find your passion and turn it into a career.
Did you expect to pursue a career in artificial intelligence, or did you have other plans? What initially sparked your interest in this topic?
I got to know Neural Networks and AI when I was doing my master’s program and liked it. But I have never planned a job in the AI domain to start with. When I took the course back then, AI was not a popular term as it is today. But what I knew about myself was that I always enjoyed the innovation-related topics, the LEAN Startup approach, and all the possibilities of cutting-edge technologies. I did three startup projects during my master’s program, and when I started job searching, SAP Research and Development center caught my eye. Not long after I joined the team, SAP started its AI journey in the team. Now that I look back, I feel it is all connected.
Was there an inspirational female person in your life that motivated you to focus? Or a particular event?
When I was doing the startup projects in school, I really admired Prof. Luda. She used to head the product development team at GE and headed the Enterprise Development Lab under the Faculty of Engineering at the university back then. I was a big fan of her class, where she could elaborate the business concepts easily to any audience and build the linkage to the high-tech products. Since then, I think it has been my dream to perform a bridging function. She’s a true role model.
Would there be best practices to follow in order to help women at any stage of their professional development – especially in the tech space?
First of all, I don’t think there is some best practice that fits everyone or any stage of their career. What’s essential in the tech space is to keep an eye on what’s happening and what’s the next to come. Technologies and things change so fast, what works today might be outdated tomorrow. So, I feel it’s important to keep up refreshed and synchronized with the world.
Aside from that, I feel women did have some unique advantages in the tech domain. While men are generally more hands-on in their own world, I think women have better capability to sympathize and coordinate things. What I feel works is to identify your strengths and relate them back to the specific domain, work on them and allow yourself to shine.
I think it’s more about finding out what you’re good at and what you enjoy most and deepening and expanding that part of yourself in that area and in your professional activities. This will significantly increase your chance to shine and to be happy.
As a senior woman now working in artificial intelligence, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to be more courageous, take the initiative and responsibility, and actively ask for feedback in order to improve. I would also recommend myself to make it a good habit to learn something new on a regular basis. Learning is a never-ending journey, and it will refresh our minds and keep us more active.
Handling the wide range of technical and business tasks sounds like a tough challenge – which is the best way for you to manage it?
The best way for me to do that is to set priorities and let go of the perfectionist in me. It’s natural for all of us to want to get the best out of things, and that’s where I find myself slowing down and dragging myself back. For instance, when I started a technical task, I wanted to understand every single detail of what was behind it, which was impossible and impractical. To be able to handle different types of tasks, quick success is very important. I prefer to spend 20% of the effort to get 80% of the work done and then give myself time to think about the draft and improve it.
There is a growing number of events where Women in Tech are in the spotlight. We’ve learned that you’ll be appearing at one soon, too. Tell us more about it!
The Woman in Data Science (WiDS) initiative is from Stanford University in the US and aims to encourage women to get involved in the field of data science. Some high school students in Beijing, China, hosted it on June 5, 2022, and I participated in a panel discussion there to discuss professional development-related topics. You can watch the recording and visit their homepage for more details.
Thank you for the inspiring insights, Haodan! It was a great pleasure to get to know a new viewpoint, and we are sure that we were once again able to contribute to empowering women in technology. We’re looking forward to the next part, where there will be another exciting perspective switch – stay tuned! 😉
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