How societal change will drive new technologies — with Kendra Bannister, Head of Hardware at Airtame.
Kendra is the Head of Hardware at Airtame, a Danish startup which has a product line for wireless presentations, digital signage and cloud management, with over 200.000 products sold globally.
Originally from Calgary, Canada, and educated as a Mechanical Engineer at UBC in Vancouver, Kendra moved to Denmark in 2012 to pursue a career in international product development. She has since worked as an engineer and project/product manager within technical product management in IoT products and hardware combining mechanical and electrical design, whilst having a close connection with production, supply chain and quality management. This resulted in her having a deep understanding of a variety of manufacturing technologies and processes. Kendra will begin on an Executive MBA from Quantic (https://quantic.edu/) in the fall.
When Kendra began working at Airtame, she was fascinated by working for an exciting scale-up company which was going through a transition from a first to second generation product; the product and vision had huge potential and Kendra was hooked.
Today she manages a physical product portfolio, working closely with founders and upper management on strategic portfolio planning, and working with her own team and other departments to build and deploy the hardware, translating requirements into physical products and ensuring it can be produced with suppliers. She regularly visits production facilities to align product requirements with production capabilities and enjoys how design, production and engineering come together in this space.
Kendra highlights that one of the most exciting parts of working at Airtame is that they are still at a size where they can be agile in adopting new technologies into their product roadmap and that the company culture is amazing, people are willing to learn and improve and everyone is interested in the success of the company.
7 Questions with Kendra:
- What are you curious about in technology right now?
It’s very interesting to follow the adoption of 5G globally and to try to understand how that rollout is actually happening, not just from a technical standpoint, but from an infrastructural and political one as well. It’s hard to know exactly how 5G will impact cities, and how the co-existence with other wireless communications technologies such as the WiFi 6 wireless standard will play-out.
It will also be interesting to see how different countries regulate it, because it goes into channels which are already being used by other wireless technologies, so how do we deal with compatibility issues? That’s a huge challenge when designing wireless products.
2. Why or how did you choose this path?
I originally chose to study mechanical engineering because I wanted to work in a field which was both creative and which allowed me to use my analytical, fact based, math skills. I appreciate the applied science aspect of engineering: the problem solving. I think the tech industry provides huge opportunities for learning and creativity and to work with diverse teams. It’s fast paced and there’s so many different aspects to technology. I’m a generalist and I like that with this educational background, I can apply my skill set across a huge variety of problems to add value to customers and society.
3. What has been your biggest failure in the past year, and what did you learn from that?
I had a period of time last year where I failed to remain present as a manager for my team. I was travelling for work and when I was back in the office, my calendar was full of meetings. I received feedback from my team, who are super honest, that’s one of the strengths of our team, they are good at reflecting and giving feedback, and it helped me to realize that I needed to change how I was managing them.
I needed to understand their different communication styles and change my rhythm so they could feel I was there to help unblock them and help them to prioritize tasks. We needed to align on what me being available looked like to them. As a team, we can have these types of conversations because we have a base of trust, which has emerged from working together, relying on each other and speaking openly about our strengths and weaknesses.
4. What is your biggest daily challenge working with technology in this field?
Setting aside the time to deeply understand the different types of technologies — wireless, web, protocols, regulations, etc. It takes time to get to the depth where you understand the full story of something including politics and how it will become adopted by certain companies and industries. It’s easy to nerd out in one area but when trying to build up a product portfolio and look to the future, you need this broad knowledge of the industry and it’s difficult to have the time to build that up.
5. How do you see concretely, the next 5 years and this new decade in tech?
We’re speaking in the middle of an economic and a health crisis and I think we will see some behavioural and societal change as a result of the crisis, it will impact adoption of new technologies. This time has forced many organizations and individuals to deal with the onboarding of new technologies and platforms which has pushed adoption forward in a lot of ways. It’s therefore a super interesting time for the tech world because it will quickly weed-out the products and solutions that don’t provide value for users. Furthermore, it affects the way companies look at risk and lean just-in-time, local production. It will change the way supply chains work and how companies allocate money for risk.
In the next decade we’ll focus on the nuanced parts of technology, considering the range of ethical, legal, and social impacts. One example of this is self driving vehicles.
The technology for self driving cars is here and has been applied already by all car manufacturers — it’s in their R&D pipeline. The process we’re in right now is navigating the changes in the fundamental systems considering how these industries work and influence each other, not least in how we compensate for it in areas such as insurance, infrastructure, legal, ethical, etc.
6. What has been your favourite project to date and why?
Airtame 2, the second generation of our wireless screen sharing and digital signage hardware. The “2” has a new form factor and improved wireless capabilities. We faced a fast onboarding and strict need-to-launch date, which meant that everyone had to stay in sync and focused, and we had to become a tight knit team moving towards a common goal and staying on track. We had a great team dynamic, and support from the organization. It was super exciting because it was international, we had to coordinate with partners around the world, travelling and learning a lot. It was very rewarding in the end: Airtame embraced the product we made, and seeing the entire company adopt it, and watching it become THE product Airtame sells.
A second runner up is the modified VR headset for demon rollercoaster at Tivoli — this was at a previous job, but it was a fun project to work on!
7. What do you think is something we should be paying attention to?
Bias in machine learning. It’s something that’s easily forgotten and it’s really important whenever you use a computer tool, garbage in equals garbage out (GIGO). If you feed the data set with any level of statistical bias, then the learned results will also reflect bias. The type of bias that is reflected is usually sociological: race, bias, class. There was an example with Amazon (Boing Boing article) or Amazon (The Verge article) where CVs (resumes) were fed sexist data and suddenly, any mention of a woman would cause the AI to reject that CV.
Bias is not a deliberate effort, it’s just math but it’s in relation to the data we’ve put into it. We need to be careful when selecting learning data, and we need checks in place to evaluate them for bias and follow their deployment.
Learn more about Kendra and Airtame here:
Greater Spaces is written by Majken Overgaard and Vanessa Julia Carpenter where we work to expand the narrative of what technology is and who creates it. We speak with Danish and international female role models within technology and between these interviews we share what is most interesting to us, with a focus on diversity.