AiAllies – Sarah Rojewski, Telefónica
Gaining a position as the leader of a department for one of the largest telecommunication businesses in the world might seem like an achievement reserved for only the most experienced of professionals. But for Sarah Rojewski, the pathway into the role of Manager of AI and Automation for Telefonica Germany has arrived, not through 30+ years of work, but through curiosity, determination and an openness to adopting innovative technology.
As part of Artificial Solutions‘ AiAllies initiative, Sarah shares her story and provides advice for other women who may be looking for a pathway into the industry or who want to follow in her footsteps into a senior position for an industry-leading organization.
“I studied Media and Culture at university, so nothing to do with IT or technology,” Sarah laughed.
“But, I was heavily focused on the intercultural exchange on how voluntary social programs work and what their challenges were, especially when it came to digitizing their processes., so I think that gave me the right mindset around the benefits of technology and how to modernize organizations.”
“I even wrote my thesis on the subject and worked for a start-up while studying. My interest was really in the social side of the issue. Why did people take on voluntary projects? Was it about feeling better about themselves? Or trying to make the world a better place? And how can technology help to connect people who want to volunteer with the people who need help the most.”
Following the completion of her thesis and after gaining a valuable experience working for a start-up that specialized in connecting volunteers with social programs, Sarah’s path was clear.
“After seeing the impact that technology could have on helping people, I knew that I wanted to learn more about the potential it could have and to work in the industry. I applied for a student role at Telefonica and secured a six-month contract with the online department where we worked on making the company’s social media channels a customer service tool.”
With a ´foot in the door, Sarah spent her time working on new media opportunities and finding out how to connect new channels to support customers. She gained invaluable insights for improving customer experience and was exposed to high-level strategy.
“After six months, I knew it was my passion,” she said.
Over the course of the next 7 years, Sarah was provided with a range of new and exciting opportunities to explore new technologies and to drive transformation across Telefonica Germany.
“I never thought I would be so obsessed with KPIs when I was only 24 and just getting started! But after being put in charge of a large project to relaunch and rebrand one of the major digital spaces for existing customers, I was really happy and enjoyed being able to focus on achieving big goals.”
“I also realized that you don´t have to have a clear plan when you´re starting out in your career. Sometimes, you need to just take a risk and try something to figure out that you love it. I was very lucky that I was given so many opportunities, like when a collogue went on maternity leave and I was given the management of a large project, but you need to be in a position to make the most of something like that when it comes up.”
After working on a range of projects and consistently showing a curiosity for new ways of supporting digital users and customers, Sarah was given the chance to move into customer services and to implement new digital contact channels.
“I said I would take it if I could choose my own projects!”
Immediately, Sarah highlights how Conversational AI was at the top of her list as a technology to help her achieve her goals and improve customer experiences across Telefonica Germany, which you can learn more about in Sarah’s presentation on the subject during a digital conference, here:
Making a Mark as A Woman in Tech
Despite a metronomic rise through the ranks of Telefonica Germany, Sarah maintains that she has had to remain humble and has had to accept where her knowledge required improvement.
“When I first started, I had no idea what an API was and I had to Google it, along with a lot of other things. I´m not embarrassed to say that because I tell a lot of people the same thing. I had to spend a lot of my free time educating myself by watching videos on YouTube and attending webinars. I think that is really important if you want to success in the tech industry.”
“I remember being really overwhelmed but I knew that I had to stay driven and that I would not give up. I also knew that I didn’t have the experience but I had the willingness to learn and get it, which is the only reason I had success.”
As a young woman forging her way through the tech industry, there have been times when Sarah has faced challenges and key moments that required confidence and an assured stance.
“Going to conferences where I was the only women was an eye-opening experience. As a newly graduated 24-year-old with blonde hair, I was covering all of the stereotypes! Which was too much for some male colleagues. I learned that I had to work even harder to have my voice heard and to get respect.”
“It took a lot of energy and I had to think about how I could be impressive, how do I dress, what is my body language saying? It sounds really basic, but I think women have to consider this a lot more than men.”
As a young professional, Sarah also recognizes the differences that women had to face in the 90´s and early 2000´s compared to now.
“The women who are in senior positions now really had to elbow their way into the tech industry and almost act like men in order to be taken seriously. They didn’t have any real networking opportunities either, so it would have been incredibly difficult. But, I don’t think women need to take the same approach these days and I don’t think women need to act like men to get further.”
“I want to be authentic and not have to put a mask on for 8 hours and lose myself. It would be exhausting.”
“I think you need to create an environment that you´re comfortable within if it doesn’t exist already. I have worked in a heavily male dominated industry for six years, but I have worked hard to build a space where I can thrive and where I am comfortable.”
For women looking for actionable advice on furthering their careers, Sarah highlights the impact of a leadership course had on her progress.
“I went on a six week female leadership course that helped me to create a process around self-reflection. I was able to better understand my own requirements and needs within a professional environment as well as what it means to be a leader. It’s not just about having lots of skills, it’s about being able to create a space for other people to thrive and helping them to succeed. I also learned that you need to take care of yourself, because how can you look after others without self-care?”
The importance of finding mentors is also a strong theme for Sarah, who is making efforts to network at every opportunity.
“I’m in the process of connecting with mentors and finding role models that I can learn from. It’s about finding someone who has gone through the same thing and knows how to navigate progression. I think everybody should try to do the same. Being on LinkedIn keeps you connected, and it is a great platform for finding great professionals to learn from.”
If you would like to connect with Sarah, you can find her on LinkedIn, here.