March 8, 2024Blog

In the spotlight: Hanna Viktarava, Product Owner, Arene

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⚑ Tokyo, Japan

From Belarus to Tokyo, Hanna’s journey from J-Rock enthusiast in Belarus to product pioneer in Tokyo is defined by purpose-driven curiosity. She sits down with us to share insights into her role building vital tools for the engineers shaping tomorrow’s mobility, how society can redefine 'value’ to foster more inclusivity, as well as how she finds solace in family moments and the narratives of Dan Simmons novels.

Q: Before we dive into what you do, what was it that brought you to Japan in the first place? 

Funnily enough it started with J-Rock. While I was in university, I was into Japanese Rock music and wanted to know what they were singing about. I also thought Japanese/Chinese characters were so different and interesting to German and English that I’d studied before, so I started learning, got into Japanese culture, developed a circle of friends and a network with shared interests, and then got introduced to a job opportunity at Rakuten. And I thought, why not take a leap of faith and try it out. So I came to Japan, and 8 years later, I’m still here!

Q: Where did the interest to work in the world of mobility software come from?

To be honest it wasn’t something I set out to do from the beginning. But while I was at Rakuten, I got to work on emerging services like drone delivery and that’s where I started to see how technology could have such a direct benefit to people’s lives. Then, after connecting with a friend who was an Agile Coach at a company focused on developing autonomous driving technology, that perspective I had was expanded even further. His company was building from scratch, technology that could actually contribute to saving the lives of people. And I thought that was a really inspiring thing to work on. And that company was Toyota Research Institute - Advanced Development (which would later turn into Woven by Toyota). The combination of building products from zero and keeping people safer is what brought me here!

Q: What exactly do “products” for Arene’s “in-vehicle software” team look like?

Tools, libraries and documentation that helps us and Toyota build software for future concept vehicles faster and safer. Right now, we’re supporting two vehicle domain teams which are made up of a mixture of Woven engineers, Toyota engineers, Toyota Group engineers and Tier 1, abstract common functions and processes so that they can be aligned and move faster together, without sacrificing the quality or safety of the software and vehicle being developed. It’s that really important middleware layer and it can include anything from communications to APIs that help the implementation of functions like vehicle control and application management across different domains.

Middleware like this is important because it works to connect different software applications, systems and components, and different teams. You might not think about this layer of tech but without it, you definitely wouldn’t be able to put reliable software into cars at the scale that a car maker like Toyota needs. 

Q: What makes someone successful in this role?

Don't strive for perfection in each and every task, right from the start. If you start digging into every detail and for example, spend a long time creating this perfect document or perfect tool from your perspective, I can tell you that it will be wasted effort and more stress! It can’t be perfect because everybody has a different definition of perfection. Perfection is an output of collaboration and iteration.

Q: How do you disconnect from your busy day to day?

Sadly I moved on from J-rock concerts - it’s more jazz now thanks to my husband. But outside of music, I think my three sources of happiness are my family, hiking and reading. Science fiction books if I’m specific - like Hyperion by Dan Simmons. The escape you get from science fiction books… the otherworldliness and the exploration of completely different and new ways to live and love and communicate and travel… I think it’s so immersive and easy to get lost in. 

Q: In your journey to Product Owner, where do you see opportunities for improving the career experiences of women and mothers?

It’s getting better but I think as a society, we still value ‘time in’ over ‘impact out’. And people might not realize it but this has an impact on a woman’s potential for success at work. Showing dedication by pushing as hard as you can and staying and taking meetings late into the evening… If this is prioritized over the actual value of work created inside normal working hours, for women who have kids, it’s going to negatively impact how their colleagues see them and negatively impact their opportunities for promotion and growth because when you have kids, it is still the mother that takes on a lot of the childcare responsibilities and so can’t always be staying late.

So we need to keep reframing that “dedication” and “value” does not equal “time spent”, but “valuable output produced”. What positive influences have been made? What kind of value was created for the customer or the user? That’s what we should be measuring. I’m lucky that my direct manager, and the manager of my manager, are all very supportive and understanding of this. I think we’re definitely helping to challenge this norm at Woven. 

Q: What’s a small but meaningful action that you think every person can take to help mitigate this?

Verbalize that it's okay to be human during virtual meetings. I think understanding and acknowledging that interruptions, like your child walking into frame or needing to be on your lap while they’re sick (which you know is constant when they’re young!)... these things can’t be helped but they’re also part of having a family that people shouldn’t feel anxious about. 

And so doing something as simple as starting a virtual meeting by saying “Hey, I know you have a sick son or daughter at home, don’t worry if you have to switch off for a minute.” awareness and empathy to the challenges of balancing childcare, I think can create a supportive environment where everyone, but women in particular, feel understood and supported.

Q: What's next for you Hanna? 

At Woven, I’m excited to see how we will continue to evolve as a company. We are still optimizing our product line with Toyota and so that means there are still lots of opportunities to define new features and ways of working. That discovery and creation process is something that I’m looking forward to continuing to be a part of, all the way through to when our products are out in the world being used by millions and millions of people all over the world. 

And from my personal life, I will continue to be present in the moment and create great memories with my new family. Actually, my parents are coming to Japan from Belarus this year and for my dad, it will be his first time. So I'm looking forward to introducing him to his granddaughter, and showing him everything I have come to love about Japan.