As part of the Microsoft #BuildFor2030 Initiative, in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we’re excited to highlight women-owned businesses, their solutions, and their journeys growing their business on the marketplace during Women’s History Month in March.
This month, the marketplace community blog will feature a series of interviews with women leaders in our ISV community. Today on International Women’s Day, we kick-off this series with Harmke Alkemade, AI Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft and Co-Founder at Friendly Flows.
Friendly Flows enables workflow solutions that power cross-functional, collaborative activity. The Friendly Flows team built SkillScape, now available on Microsoft AppSource, which employees can use within Teams to enrich their professional network, accelerate their career development journey, and get work done faster with the help of a strong employee community that goes beyond organizational silos.
[JR]: Tell us a little bit about your time at Friendly Flows. What inspired you to be a founder of Friendly Flows, and how did you come up with the idea for the business?
[HA]: Starting my career at a large and impactful organization like Microsoft has been transformational. As a newcomer, I absorbed information like a sponge and was learning how to be successful in this new context. Sharing my experiences with fellow young professionals at Microsoft helped me create some strong connections, including those who would later become my fellow co-founders of Friendly Flows.
We shared an interest in actively learning about all technologies that Microsoft offered and had a strong drive to create. These commonalities served as the basis for some exciting, collaborative hackathon projects that helped us share our vision with colleagues. We reached a wide audience internally by recording demos of our solutions and even some executives reached out because they were excited for our innovative way of solving certain challenges. I’m certain that our diverse set of skills and personalities played a critical role in our success, enabling us to tackle challenges from multiple angles and make the most of our collective strengths.
When the pandemic struck, my previously busy life came to a halt, causing a shift in perspective. The conversations we had as a team changed as well. Instead of discussing our day-to-day environment, new ideas popped up for solutions we could build with impact on an even larger scale. We discussed how we could design an application that would be useful for a wide variety of organizations and how to make our applications accessible to them. This is how Friendly Flows was born.
[JR]: Can you tell us a little bit about SkillScape? What is the app, and why did you build it?
[HA]: SkillScape is an app that addresses the challenge of fostering cross-silo connections among employees in larger organizations. By matching individuals based on their skills and interests with hands-on learning opportunities, we are helping them develop their careers and overcome the difficulty of finding the right learning opportunities within the organization.
As we observed the changing landscape of work in the post-pandemic world, we realized that traditional methods of driving learning, engagement, and inclusion in the workplace were no longer as effective. With not all people returning to the office, the need to create and maintain meaningful connections, foster collaboration, and promote career growth is more important than ever.
In this context, SkillScape has the potential to improve inclusivity within organizations by providing an accessible alternative for discovering the learning and growth opportunities that exist. Creating a more diverse workplace is not enough to achieve inclusivity; it also requires changing the people systems, which can take time. Our vision is that SkillScape can play an important role in facilitating this process by providing employees with the tools they need to discover and access opportunities that match their skills and interests.
[JR]: Can you talk about your experience in building an app for the commercial marketplace? How has Microsoft supported you along your journey?
[HA]: The commercial marketplace offers a great platform for companies to make their solutions accessible to a large, international customer base, allowing them to focus more on creating business value. I feel like we were offered a head start to transform our ideas into a commercial solution with a meaningful impact on organizations worldwide.
Since we started with the process of publishing our app on the marketplace and making it transactable, Microsoft has been proactive in reaching out with opportunities to make the journey easier for us. As a benefit of being in the ISV Success program, we received great feedback for improving our product and Microsoft even supported us in launching our first marketing campaign.
[JR]: Why is gender diversity and gender equality critical to innovation?
[HA]: In my opinion, designing and implementing software is a creative process. It's a way to show your ideas and build something that has the potential to improve people’s lives. However, when certain groups are excluded from this process, there is risk that the resulting solutions will not adequately address their needs, which can have terrible consequences. An interesting read on this topic is Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.
[JR]: What is the best piece of advice you would give to women who are trying to grow their careers in the technology industry?
[HA]: I’m fascinated by the concept of Squiggly Careers (described in the book The Squiggly Career), which proposes that moving frequently and fluidly between roles, industries, locations, and even careers, is becoming the new normal. We also noticed when exploring research on this topic for SkillScape, signs are showing that employees are becoming less interested in climbing the traditional career ladder.
Therefore, I think it’s becoming more important to look for activities that match your skills, interests, and values, rather than being focused on a particular role title. I would recommend to clearly articulate them with your internal and external network, so that others can help you identify interesting opportunities. Maybe a tool like SkillScape can help you with that
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