Adding a female touch to the world of product validation

Product Validation Manager

Degree: industrial engineer in telecommunications
Working at Barco since November 2004

Job description: plan and control all validation processes to ensure that all Barco products meet the most stringent requirements before release

Motto: "Communication is key."

Did you know that Barco's avionics displays can withstand forces of up to 20G? Or that our RLM projectors generate only 37db? How we know? Well, Barco has a dedicated team that performs a broad range of rigorous tests on its different products. Dora heads the 16-strong team - a challenging job in which she has to juggle technical expertise with managerial and networking skills. Her career at Barco has been a steep ascent. "Funny in fact, as I never really planned to work my way up. But I'm enjoying every single aspect of my job," she says.

'Product Validation Manager' it says on her business card. Dora is in charge of 16 engineers who thoroughly test every new Barco product on four different criteria: safety, reliability, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and environmental performance (i.e. behavior in extremely wet, dry, hot or cold environments). "When a prototype is ready, the people from R&D and I determine what tests are needed and then I plan these with my team," Dora explains.

Impressed by high-end technical equipment

"My recipe for a successful team? Communication! I don't believe in the idea of the manager in the ivory tower."

The number of product tests executed has risen sharply over the past few years, as Barco incorporated intensive testing into its product development process. The testing team grew accordingly and Dora developed in line with the changes. "As an industrial engineer in telecoms, I got bitten by the testing bug in the late nineties. Barco headhunted me in 2004 while I was doing a Master in EMC at the University of York. I was so impressed by the professional testing equipment at the labs that I was won over," she recalls. After two years as an EMC testing engineer, Dora became head of the EMC lab.

Combining strengths

At the time, Barco had two different validation teams, each responsible for four testing disciplines. By 2009, all teams had merged, with Dora at the helm of what's now the validation department. Dora: "All of a sudden I was in charge of 13 experts, each with their specific technical know-how and devices. It was quite a challenge to attune our activities. But it worked. The merge has brought about many synergy opportunities."

Women do network

For Dora herself, the new role meant she had to abandon the 'scientific' work to assume a managerial role. "It dawned on me that I couldn't possibly know all the testing devices, terminology and procedures. So I had to start delegating and rely on my people," she admits. "It was hard in the beginning but now I'm happy in my new role, which is much broader than the lab work. I enjoy the close cooperation with my team, with colleagues from other departments and with peers at external testing labs or at competitors' validation centers." To ensure Barco stays at the forefront of validation, Dora is an active member of various expert work groups on the topic.

Talk, talk, talk

"Barco spurs continuous professional development and offers wide internal career opportunities. That gives a sense of flexibility and job security at the same time."

Can she put her stamp on Barco's validation processes? "This is a man's world headed up by a woman and I must say: we're coping quite well," Dora laughs. "My recipe for success? Communication! I divide my day between the lab at the Kennedypark and that in Kuurne and I insist on sitting between my team. I don't believe in the idea of the manager in the ivory tower. I try to be available at all times and promote openness, dialogue and empowerment." That openness includes building bridges with other departments. Quite recently, Dora set up training sessions to introduce R&D colleagues to the validation processes. "I'm confident these insights can help them during their product development efforts," Dora explains. "Cross-departmental initiatives like these illustrate how our team can add value for every department and, consequently, help Barco stay on top of the game. That's the path I want to map out for the Validation department: that of a Center of Competence. We're making big leaps in that direction."

Continuous professional development

When asked, finally, how Barco contributes to her career path, Dora praises Barco's initiatives to motivate its employees by spurring continuous development and offering wide internal career opportunities: "The concept of the Barco University, which offers all kinds of training courses - from very technical to motivational sessions to foster personal development - is great. The courses are available as e-learning so you can study at your convenience. Another advantage of working at Barco is that it allows people to move within the organization. That gives a sense of flexibility and job security at the same time. Not that I need it now as I love my job, but you never know what the future may bring."