It’s been a weird and amazing year and this Monday I graduated from the 13 month long Management Trainee programme at IKEA. I spent yesterday reflecting on all of the people who made this year possible.
As IKEA is going through some major changes, my next step is still unclear. Luckily this also means that a lot needs to get done, and I’m in a temporary role as IT Project Lead looking into the area of DevOps. Hopefully, with some grit, skill and timing, my IKEA career has just begun!
Thinking back on the fun events I’ve participated in this year, for example Q Rendezvous together with Consid, one of Sweden’s fastest growing companies this year. I was invited to talk about how IKEA works with digitalization, changing customer needs and the opportunities and difficulties that the tech and ecommerce industry is facing.
On a similar topic, I was host for KTH’s event Giants. I shared some of my own story and got to spend the day with 300 sharp young women, getting their take on tech and problem solving. During the day they also got to try out a multitude of different engineering topics and tech gadgets, such as robotics, coding and virtual reality.
1 year ago I started working for IKEA as Management Trainee in global IT operations! While I’m in a new role now as IT Project Lead, I guess I still can’t use my “new at work” badge anymore..
Pro of being a trainee: you get away with asking about everything, get free trainings included in your daily schedule and get to follow interesting people and thus learn about and work with many different areas. Con: most people don’t think you’re actually a part of the company, or don’t see you as a full time employee with responsibilities. Some even doubt that you have a salary.
The reality? Management Trainees at IKEA are full time employees, with a normal salary and responsibilities, that get to meet many people, go to many trainings, and learn about and work with multiple areas in the business. What a terrific way to start a journey in a large company!
Now however I’m happy to dig deeper into my areas of interest in the business and, like any true millennial, make an impact.
11 years ago, after my first exam in high school, I decided that I wanted to become an engineer.
Today, in the blistering heat of this Swedish summer day, I walked up the stairs in Stockholm city hall to receive my diploma. A Master of Science in Engineering, Civilingenjör.
Many goosebumps, some sentimental tears. I know that I’ve worked for almost a year already. But these days filled with reflection, in combination with the reorg at IKEA and the end of my leadership programme, has me asking: What do I do now?
Digging into the magnificent world of DevOps. It’s fun to see how one interest leads to the next. From data analytics to artificial intelligence and machine learning. From straight up agile teams to DevOps organizations. It goes hand in hand with what I’m exposed to at work.
Also, I miss working with robotics and physical products so much!
I catch myself watching Boston Dynamics videos while drinking my morning coffee. Reminiscing about the days when I built robots with my friends, not knowing what agile is, but working agile. Not knowing what lead time or customer value is, but feeling a positive sense of urgency to get it done and caring for the end result.
If you haven’t read up on DevOps (basic software manufacturing and care principles), then I highly recommend the DevOps Handbook!
Do you prefer to act first and think later, or think first and then act?
I’m an intuitive doer, that loves to reflect in order to improve until the next time. It might seem like a bad thing to act first and think later. But over the years I’ve noticed that as long as I take my time to reflect, a lot, it’s been working out really well for me. Reflection is key to learn and understand why something happened, the reason for a certain outcome. And I love to reflect!
So it’s a pretty effective combination, like a high paced trial and error. This method does however guarantee that you will fail, often. It might not be big failures, and it might not even seem like a negative outcome. But it might be a failure as compared to how perfect it might have been the first time. Perfection doesn’t really interest me. I’m more driven by progress, development, change and impact. If that leads to perfection in the end it’s a great bonus!
Failing in the terms of not reaching the expected outcome is something I have to deal with. I never consider myself to have failed indefinitely though. I might have had to redo an exam or apologized for a bold comment. But as long as I reflect and adapt my strategy, I don’t consider that I’ve failed at something in the long run. Just understand why, and at it again until the desired result is achieved. And if you reflect often enough, and try again, you will succeed. I reflect daily at work for a short period of time, each night before I sleep and for an entire week (during our trainee weeks) each month.
I also think it’s important to understand that it’s okay to be afraid of failing, it’s not really that fun! It’s good to feel pressure to succeed. The trick is to be brave enough to try anyway, despite the fear. To give yourself some slack in order to have the space and opportunity to grab new challenges, and conquer the seemingly impossible. One high heeled step at a time.
Whenever I come home from trainee week I always have a list with about 60 to-do’s. Meet those people, read about all the new areas I got interested in, write and reflect on some concepts and dilemmas, great ideas to solve work problems etc. The trainee weeks are a great way to have time to actively reflect on work, my development and the business. And of course to learn about leadership and practice it over and over and over again.
My brain is always in such a creative state after our weeks! Some of the trainees are just crazy creative and playful, which I try to soak in and learn from them as much as I can. We also always have a guest from the management team, this week it was our former CIO – Chief Information Officer, who ran IKEA IT for 6 years.
And then it’s nice to get to go out into the woods of Småland. Take a swim in the lake. Dodge the wild boars. Be in nature and just think think think about everything. It’s like a mental chock each Friday when I’m back in society. And at the same time I crave a trip to Singapore, like, now.
Rebecca Ahlstrand is a Swedish leader driven by a curiosity for tech and how it can be used to improve quality of life for people! She enjoys holding a good key note speech, learning about space, physics, AI, and psychology. Rebecca finds her energy in empowering networks, mentorships, traveling, interior design, and discussing ideas and concepts.
Her degree is a M.Sc. in IT engineering and industrial management from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. After studying and working with startups in Singapore and China, she joined IKEA's executive leadership programme and as Scrum Master in IKEA IT. She's led roadmap activities to improve operational efficiency in over 600 IT solutions running 24/7 to ensure operations globally for IKEA. In her current role as IT Project Lead, she's implementing DevOps teams in the reorganization of IKEA.
Rebecca has lived in Beijing, Shanghai, Bournemouth, Shenzhen, Singapore and Stockholm, and is currently based in Helsingborg with 200 traveling days per year.
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