Interview: Diana Stepner, Head of Future Technologies, Pearson

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Interview: Diana Stepner, Head of Future Technologies, Pearson
Interview: Diana Stepner, Head of Future Technologies, Pearson

The Women of the Future awards are an annual programme that seeks and rewards the female leaders of tomorrow.

But one woman whose job title is essentially woman of the future already is Diana Stepner, head of future tech at Pearson.

Diana runs the company's open API Project – Plug and Play – which was launched in 2011. Stepner has been in the tech industry for what she terms "forever", and sees being a woman in tech as an advantage.

Stepner's goal is to essentially kill off talk of "technology" on its own. "For me, and it sounds funny, is for people to stop talking about 'technology'. I want technology to adapt to the design and adapt to the experience, and we're seeing that more with responsive design and HTML 5. People are building apps that don't have to be adapted to a single device. That's where we're headed, and that's where I'd like us to get to."

At Mobile World Congress this year she announced a fourth data set in the Plug and Play programme called Kitchen Manager.

The project draws in 3,000 recipes from best-selling Pearson titles and includes features you'd expect, like a multi-layer recipe search, plus extras like nutrition analysis and shopping list builder.

Day-to-day work sees Diana and her team of people look at start-ups, trends and activities happening around the world that could affect Pearson.

The insights gathered by her team lead to the development of prototypes that are sent around the company to influence the consumer technology they develop.

Stepner and her team are currently working on Google TV to develop apps, an augmented reality Barcelona guide and collaborative tools for classrooms.

The team is also looking at immersion experiences to gamify classroom learning, and ways to integrate Microsoft Kinect into parent/child story time.

The technology she uses day to day now was not even a pipe dream when she started out.

"I've been in the industry a very long time, if I can say that," she says. "I'm from Silicon Valley, I grew up in Cupertino. I've had an Apple computer for as long as I can remember. When I finished school, I wanted to integrate education and technology. That just fascinated me. One of the first jobs I had out of school was in a company that used web technology in marketing communications."

Stepner did an early form of digital marketing for a number of years, then joined a start-up before finally coming to London as one of the first members of Pearson's London office.

"There were lots of technical people here who couldn't explain what the computers did and the code meant to everyday people. So one of my first roles was as a translator, talking to customers so they could understand how to use the product," she said.

Stepner moved into product management when customers would come to her to ask for improvements or alterations to products. She then ran the Monster job board across Western Europe, having first moved to London to run start-up E.piphany.

Since she knew what she wanted to do straight away, her qualifications are focused on her future tech role. Stepner has an MBA from Boston University and a Masters degree in information management from Berkley.

Stepner says there are great advantages to being a woman in tech.

"I think we can see things from multiple viewpoints and that often helps. In all the roles that I've done, I've represented the customer and the technology. So for me it has been easier for me to see all the viewpoints and how they work together. Where other folks I've worked with can see their viewpoint, and that's pretty much it, so they have a hard time translating what other people are saying into something that's actionable," she says.

Pearson has a big stake in classroom learning, where Stepner says iPads are becoming the norm, and social connection. "The era we considered Facebook a thing that kids mess around on passed around a year or two ago. A lot of teachers now use it to catch up with their students. Other start-ups are now building social networking for classrooms."

Check out this future techist's current tech favourites below:

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