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Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP: Janet Peterson

October 1, 2015 by Susan Galer

Janet Peterson, Vice President of Platform Engineering at SAP, took a slightly unusual route to a high technology career, combining an aptitude for programming with an interest in how the human brain works to earn her degree in Computer Science from Wellesley College.

Las Vegas Janet ClimbingThroughout her career, Peterson has shifted easily between positions in engineering and customer-facing roles, including support, training and professional services, giving her a unique perspective on developing software solutions that make a difference in people’s lives.

Having honed her entrepreneurial spirit at four different startups, Peterson now manages a multi-national team of software engineers stretching around the world from the United States and Europe, to Bangalore and Shanghai. Leading these teams of platform developers for SuccessFactors, SAP’s cloud-based human capital management software, Peterson is essentially delivering the build blocks the rest of that organization uses to design solutions. In this exclusive interview with SAP News, Peterson talks about why software design doesn’t begin with technology, male and female brain chemistry, and how the tech industry can attract more women.

I bring a broader perspective to high tech design because…

 I’ve spent half of my 22-year career in software directly helping the people who actually use our products. This included significant amount of time working with sales, marketing and finance, allowing me to bridge the gap between the business and IT development.

I was attracted to a career in high technology…

During college where I first majored in cognitive science, which required a combination of courses in computer science, philosophy, psychology and linguistics.  While working on a difficult coding problem, my professor assumed I was a computer science major given my aptitude for the subject. This encouragement played a big role in my decision to major in Computer Science.

The most important qualities that have brought me to this point in my career are…

My abilities to understand and voice what’s needed to get the job done, and my experience working directly with customers. Like most engineers, I’m introverted. But I took debating classes in high school where I learned how to bring an argument to the table, and explain it to a large group of people. And, my customer experience taught me how to get to the heart of problem and its solution quickly and strategically.

Designing brilliant technology requires…

Focusing first and foremost on the experience we want to deliver to the customer, then figuring out how to make the product preformatted, scalable and supportable for business growth and evolution.

My advice for young women considering a career in high tech is…

To find people who support you, and have the courage to speak up. Research shows women tend to under-represent what they can do while men over-state their abilities.

Businesses can attract more women to the technology industry by…

Being aware of non-intentional discrimination. Organizations need to train hiring managers to get past their natural bias towards the familiar, and recognize the valuable contribution someone who is different brings to the table.

The one app I can’t live without every day is…

My calendar because it allows me to carve out a schedule accommodating my global team at work plus personal time like dinner with my husband and working out with my trainer.  Women are notorious for neglecting their own needs to accommodate others. We need to encourage and support women to take time for themselves.

Being a woman in the predominantly male tech world has meant…

That although it takes me longer to prove my capabilities, people are curious to hear what I have to say because I’m viewed as somewhat unique. This was especially the case at the beginning of my career.

I’m helping women at SAP by…

Encouraging our engineers to use their voices and make sure they’re visible. There are differences in the brain chemistry and cultural upbringing of women and men that impact how we approach situations.  Organizations with strong representation from both sexes have been show to be more successful, as they take advantage of a wider variety of ideas and strategies.  I’m also exploring ways to tailor the women’s networking programs at SAP specifically towards women engineers who shy away from the larger existing groups.

When I’m not working, I relax by…

Rock-climbing indoors and outside – it’s impossible to think about work when you’re hanging by your fingertips, trying to get over the next crux a hundred feet off the ground. One of my favorite climbing spots is Lover’s Leap in Tahoe, California.

A woman I significantly admire and respect is…

Malala Yousafzai. Having come through an incredibly harrowing experience, she has used her experience to a direct a megaphone at the world leaders to focus on education for girls.

Follow me @smgaler

Read more from the series: Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP.

Top image via Shutterstock

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