How Technology Found Me by Luísa Gockel
Tell us about yourself?
I am a social innovation consultant, early stage impact investor and the director of the Lightbulb Trust, a family foundation that makes grants and impact investments in the education space.
What led you to a career in tech?
I have always been a non-tech person who works in tech and I know it sounds strange. I usually tell people that I didn’t find technology, but technology found me.
When I worked as a journalist, I wrote about social innovation. When I worked at a non-profit, I raised money to help fund technology programmes for underserved young people. When I worked in corporate, I supported social entrepreneurs to build tech solutions for some of the world’s toughest problems. Technology has always been a key part of my journey.
It took me 15 years or so to understand and acknowledge the fact that I have a career in tech even though I don't have a technical background. This is a fairly common misconception as when people think about a career in tech, they normally picture developers writing complex lines of code and forget about the marketer, social media specialist, content manager, salesperson, finance director, project manager and many other roles that, without them, any flashy piece of technology would be irrelevant.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m a recovering workaholic so I’m always careful to protect my family time and well-being. I know that people normally reply to this question saying that they first check emails and then they start meetings, have a break to do deep work and so on.
I do all those things, but only after my kids go to school, after I exercise, read the papers and have a proper meal without staring at my overflowing inbox. I think that having very clear priorities and committing to them is more important than planning activities for my day.
My daily priorities are clear:
1 - My mental health and well-being (as without them I can’t deliver on priorities #2 and #3)
2 - My family
3 - Save the planet (life is very short, so I don’t do any type of work that doesn’t have a positive impact on people and on the planet.
Advice to your younger self?
Luisa, you’re a generalist, get over it! :)
I’ve grappled with the idea that I had to be very good at something for many years and only a few years ago I learned that this was a very unhelpful way to plan my career. There are two types of people: generalists and specialists. They are both very different and require a different skillset. I wish I had known that much earlier!
There’s a great article from Aaron Dinin that describes the difference between these two types of professionals: Is It Better to Work for a Startup or a Big Company?
If you could invite anyone to join the Black Valley community, who and why?
I wish there were more investors, VCs and funders in the Black Valley community. Anyone who deploys capital (investment, loans, grants, etc.) should be required to spend part of their time supporting underrepresented founders.
Investors and funders are a big part of the problem as they have the responsibility to deploy capital more equitably and we know they don’t. I believe they would benefit a lot from experiencing how bright, creative, and talented Black and underrepresented founders can be when connected to the right mentors, networks and resources.
Always ask why you’re building a new product/service/startup. And then ask the same question again and again and again. If after a few rounds of “whys” you realise that your product is not solving a meaningful problem that positively impacts people or the planet, go do something else. The world needs more meaningful innovation.