We combine coding with creativity and empathy

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

As the Director of First8 and Conclusion BAM (Business Application Modelling), Daniëlle Graat heads two different technology companies that help businesses stay ahead in a changing market. She believes that diversity in gender, age and culture are critical to an organisation’s ability to serve its customers.

What is your role at Conclusion? What makes it a great place to work?

Conclusion isn’t just any corporate organisation or IT company. It’s a collection of 18 independent companies, each with its own team and specialisation. By remaining separate and dynamic instead of merging into one single company, we are able to flex and adapt according to our clients’ needs.

Within this ecosystem, I lead two companies in developing system applications that enable businesses to stay ahead in an ever-changing market. I am the Director of Conclusion BAM, where my teams build tailor-made solutions in Mendix and OutSystems. I am also the Director of First8, where our Java and open source experts assist companies with large custom projects, particularly ones that involve a degree of complexity, integration and security.

I am proud of the people on my teams. They are dedicated to their work, and they build amazing applications for and with our customers. Empathy is a very important competence on our team. We listen to each other and celebrate our projects, our successes and our birthdays. This positive working environment is one reason I enjoy coming into the office every day.

Even in 2017, it is uncommon to see women directing technology companies. How did you come to direct two?

When I started at Conclusion two years ago, none of the companies within our ecosystem were using the rapidly emerging Mendix or OutSystems technologies. From scratch, I built a company of 15 people to lead the charge. Once the team was up and running, I wanted to take on another challenge in parallel to this role and have more responsibility. I approached the Conclusion CEO, shared my ambitions and asked for an opportunity. When the First8 director resigned a few weeks later, I got what I asked for and was named the company’s new director.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that there are many chances, but you must take them yourself.  That’s why I enjoy working at Conclusion – if you take initiative, you are rewarded with opportunities. In taking on these director roles, I’ve developed a feeling of ownership for both Conclusion BAM and First8. I lead these companies as if they were my own, which means that I have great deal of trust and freedom to make decisions. This also means that I can and must make the right choices. I like this aspect very much.

How are developments within digital technology changing the competences needed in the modern workforce?

At Conclusion, I truly see the merging of business and technology, and in this new environment, IT works side-by-side with businesses to develop solutions that satisfy their needs. This means that while analytical skills remain necessary, they must be combined with communication skills, business sense, creativity and empathy. This change is opening up a host of new opportunities within digital technology.

Traditionally, women have been turned off by the technical aspects of coding. I see this gender imbalance in my two units, since one uses visual tools to build solutions while the other relies on traditional programming. In my experience, communication, creativity and empathy are areas where women tend to excel. I hope to see more women pursuing these technology roles.

How do you promote diversity on your teams?

In only a few years, the way we work on our teams and with our customers has changed dramatically, and the demand for competences has changed along with it. In our line of work, being successful means effectively combining creativity, design, technique, communication and empathy. In this respect, diversity in gender, age and culture is critical. If everyone on a team thinks the same way, a lot of creativity is missed. That’s why I look for individuals with varied skills and backgrounds when I build my teams. This ensures we can have the right discussions and create the best applications for our customers.

Through a partnership with the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Dutch government, we retrain neurobiology, psychology and history students, among others, as software developers. These are typically people who developed a passion for programming outside their formal study.

Through a year-long programme, these individuals attend five months of full-time training at UvA. Afterwards, they begin working at Conclusion four days per week while continuing their studies at UvA one day per week. In addition to training, we have an in-house mentor programme, through which we offer support and development opportunities to professionals who are new to the field and want to begin their careers with us.

I want young people, and young women in particular, to know that you don’t have to pursue a computer science study to succeed in technology. I sure didn’t. When I began my career in IT, I had a great deal to learn. The most important thing to do is give yourself the space to make mistakes, learn and grow. If you can do this, you will go far.