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Kickstart your career in product: Maria Planes, Senior Design Manager, at the LEGO Group

Woman playing in a ball pond.

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Maria is a design strategist with a passion for creating innovative ecosystems for a better future.

Her background includes a bachelor’s in Industrial design engineering, with a specialisation in trend forecasting. Currently, she is a Senior Design Manager at the LEGO Group, building digital experiences for kids from a point of ethics. Keen on the importance of representation, her podcast, ‘How I met my Mentor’, brings forward women in leadership roles, for valuable advice and mentorship.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED?

Maria Planes, Senior Design Manager, at LEGO Group

 I was living in the Netherlands at the time and needed a change of scenery. Copenhagen has always been close to my heart since it is a city that lives and breathes design. When I saw that LEGO was hiring in Copenhagen I couldn’t believe it.

At times, LEGO felt like a dream workplace, so I didn’t think of it as a possibility. I applied and the next day I already had a request for an interview, I couldn’t believe it but, here I am!

WHICH QUALIFICATIONS HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE THE MOST BENEFICIAL FOR SECURING JOBS IN PRODUCT?

I must admit that something I found surprising in the digital design field, is how different the backgrounds of the designers in my department are. I come from engineering, but I have colleagues whose backgrounds are in graphic design, others have studies rooted in user interaction, even anthropology when it comes to user research.

There is not a clear formula or steps to follow to get into product development, backgrounds are diverse and rich in different knowledge, which makes it a great industry to be part of.

HOW DO YOU THINK DIVERSITY CAN IMPACT PRODUCT DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT? 

Today tech companies are struggling to have a diverse workplace not because they are not hiring women, it’s because there are not enough women in tech. The problem starts earlier, starts at an educational level when we begin to feel we don’t belong in that world.

Technology will shape our future, and we want that future to be diverse, and for that to happen, the people and teams creating it needs to be diverse too

WHAT MAKES A ROLE IN PRODUCT GREAT FOR SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE PURE CODING SKILLS? 

Product teams require people with all kinds of skills that suit the development of the product in question, and that’s not always coding. Coding skills for a job in tech are not always a must, there are plenty of roles, from design to project management, that does not require coding knowledge.

The products that I worked on before LEGO were a hybrid between physical and digital and, between you and me, I thought it made me a less attractive candidate for this job since I didn’t have a vast experience with pure digital products – and I didn’t even know much about coding! But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Actually, my background made me a great candidate for the job, since LEGO products are very rooted in physical products.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN PRODUCT?

Did you know that women only apply to jobs when they feel we fulfill 110% (yes, you read that right) of the skills required for a job vacancy, while men apply when they have only a 60% of the skills?

It was a friend who pushed me to apply for this job…I didn’t think I would get it! Later I found out from the hiring manager that they had clear from the very first interview that I was the one. So, if I can give women a piece of advice today, is going to be a cheesy one – believe in yourself. There will be steps in your career or dream jobs that feel unreachable, but you can’t know that till your try, so, go! Apply for that job you saved on LinkedIn weeks ago; you might be closer to that next step than you think.

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