A Blockchain Expert’s Journey From Albania to Berlin

Albanian-born Artiona Bogo started her career as a software engineer, and when she joined the SAP Innovation Center Network two years ago, a new technology had entered the enterprise space: blockchain.

As a business developer for blockchain, Artiona drives strategic customer engagements and has become a spokesperson for decentralized technologies within the SAP ecosystem.

“I was expected to become a doctor like my father,” Artiona says. “In Albania, it’s not unusual for children to follow in their parents’ footsteps. However, it was obvious to me as a high school graduate that technology is the future, so I picked computer science.”

Artiona Bogo

After completing her first degree at the Polytechnic University of Tirana, a scholarship from the European Commission took Artiona to Germany and Italy as part of a joint Master’s degree program in software engineering.

“Coming from Albania, which has been struggling to develop into a democracy for the last 30 years, the experience was multi-dimensionally enriching to me. But I also discovered that, in fact, my home country had given me very good starting opportunities,” she says. “Our high school education system is excellent. Albanian students shine at universities abroad. But in our home country, opportunities for research and especially industry research are very limited.”

Although Artiona decided to emigrate due to this lack of opportunities in Albania, she points out that in Albania, women taking up tech professions is much more the norm than it is in Germany or other Western countries – for pragmatic reasons. “They feel the humanities offer them no future. There is a good number of ladies who go into tech, up to a level that it is impressive to outsiders. In my workshops, the ratio is usually 50:50 and that makes me very proud.”

Getting more women into tech matters a lot to her. “I’m fully supportive of all the activities currently aiming in that direction. We’re simply missing out if we don’t engage women in tech more and make that the new normal, the new status quo for the upcoming generations. It will pay off if we are mindful today about how we educate little girls, how we encourage them to be curious about tech.

“And my personal indicator that we’re getting somewhere,” she adds with a smile, “would be when we have an all-female tech panel without anybody feeling the need to point out that it’s all female.”

Creating Solutions for a Decentralized World

While working for Hewlett-Packard as a software engineer and later as a program manager handling customer success key performance indicators (KPIs), Artiona earned an additional degree in management. “I anticipated that I also needed to be skilled in business development,” she says. “The time was ripe for a career change, and the timing turned out to be just perfect.” A few weeks after she joined the SAP Innovation Center Network team, blockchain was made a strategic topic for the entire company. “It was decided that part of the team should be located in Potsdam where I was working at the time – and that I should be part of it.” It was a match.

Artiona Bogo moderating panel discussion
Bogo moderating a panel discussion at SAP’s “Outside the Block” event, November 2018.

“There are two flavors of blockchain,” Artiona says. “What is in it for you as an individual and what is in it for companies? In both cases, blockchain means a paradigm shift. For individuals, it means that power is being given back into our hands. If I’m being targeted by large Internet companies, I am a product for them. They get to use my data. Why shouldn’t I be rewarded for my activities on the Internet or the traces I leave? Blockchain can make that happen.”

Businesses, on the other hand, are especially interested in efficiency gains and process optimization, and in generating new operating and business models. “Customers expect us to inspire and lead them there on this journey,” Artiona explains. “They trust in SAP’s expertise to help them position themselves in new markets and solve pain points without having to throw away their existing system landscapes. Complimentary layers like blockchain-based services enable them to extend what they have in place so that they can interact with others in a more decentralized way. No one owns or controls the data.”

What Artiona enjoys the most about her job as a business developer for blockchain is the frequent interactions with customers, whether it’s at the World Economic Forum in Davos or in meetings in Berlin, her home city. “I could be talking to Deutsche Bank today, to BMW tomorrow, and the day after to Charité perhaps.”

Although she was a developer for many years, Artiona switched to a business role because she felt it offered her greater opportunities to shape things from a strategic perspective. “The deliverables coming from developers are, of course, the backbone of anything that business can accomplish. But as a business developer, you can see through the lenses of a company how you as an individual can make an impact for these big customers and can help them shape innovation for their respective industries. You really get to drive things forward, to make things happen and to prove the business value of technologies like blockchain for customers.”

There was a lot of blockchain hype throughout 2017 and 2018, so blockchain experts at SAP had to do a certain amount of expectation management. “Now, blockchain is down the Gartner hype cycle, and many customers have come to understand the valid blockchain use cases and the key value drivers,” says Artiona, whose fascination with the technology remains unbroken, especially now that thought leadership has started turning into solid use cases.

Mentoring the Blockchain Ecosystem

Through the SAP.iO Foundry Berlin, Powered by Techstars accelerator, Artiona became a mentor to several hand-picked startups that are being given the opportunity to sharpen their business models with the help of SAP experts. “Mentoring can open an entire new world for you. I am working with founders that are laser focused on what they are doing. Those mentoring moments they are sharing make for a very concentrated experience that you often just don’t have in your daily work. I think it is very healthy for my brain to be confronted with these new and fresh perspectives. It’s a lot of learning from one another and, I hope, a win-win situation for both sides.”

Living in Berlin also offers Artiona many other opportunities to engage with the ecosystem. “I like the spirit that characterizes Berlin,” she says. “The way people engage with one another. It’s different from other cities where I’ve lived — lots of like-minded individuals, and overall there is this spirit of openness and collaboration. I’m especially proud to be organizing the Hyperledger meet-up series here in Berlin on a regular basis.”

Being one of many highly qualified Albanian expats that emigrated due to a lack of opportunities, Artiona very well understands the toll this “brain drain” is taking on Albania: “I’m very keen on keeping a connection to my country. I made this agreement with myself: When I’m there for vacations, I want to give something back to the community and to spread knowledge about the benefits of technology by offering workshops. A lot can be done for social innovation in countries like Albania by leveraging technology — and blockchain is one of those technologies.”

Want to learn more about blockchain? Follow Artiona on Twitter at @art_iona.

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