Maria Paavola makes autonomous driving safer, but also empowers women in tech. It makes for a packed and varied working day.
She’s a construction engineer who launched a network that quickly gained 25,000 members, but she also works a Safety Manager. Maria Paavola has been working at Scania for a short time, and she still hasn’t defined exactly what her working day looks like.
However, Paavola is absolutely certain of her safety responsibilities:
“In order to replace the driver, the autonomous features in Scania vehicles need to be safe. The software needs to act as expected. My focus is on how the truck behaves. In the future, we need to consider what will happen if we don’t have a driver, or when there’s a person behind the wheel but s/he is allowed to do something else than just focus on the driving.”
Tackling gender issues in the tech industry
This is Paavola’s second time at Scania. The first time around, she was working with global product introductions within trucks, but in autumn 2017, she decided that she wanted to start her own business as a consultant. That’s when the network Teknikkvinnor (Techwomen) came about, a Facebook group that gained 6,000 members in just its first week.
Paavola saw a positive force at work, and very quickly her only focus became the network, because it was something she wished had existed when she was studying. “Then I realised after a while that I was meant to be an engineer. I’ve totally put my heart into gender issues, but I can’t dedicate my whole working week to it.”
She says that it’s a well-known fact that women don’t have access to the same professional opportunities as men. And yet, she adds, “You can go on and on about that, but I’d rather be a force of empowerment. How can we change this?”
Innovation and tradition
Paavola is not alone in working with Teknikkvinnor, which besides being a network has nowadays turned into a limited company. Two partners continuously work with the development of the company, and Paavola acts as an adviser. However, her focus is her work at Scania, and a role that has a lot of variation.
Her job is a brand-new role, which allows her to focus on where she wants to go with it rather than what she has done in the past.
“It’s an enormous benefit to combine the traditions that come with a big industry with innovative thinking,” she says. The fact that her role was going to be brand new was a big reason for her wanting to come back to Scania. And Paavola admits that she also likes it when things aren’t crystal clear. She also realised that she needed to be a leader and an educator and ask the right questions to achieve what is needed, to be a part of Scania’s shift towards sustainable and effective transport. And despite her role being all about software, she doesn’t need to know a single row of software code.
Making safe even safer
The kind of work Maria Paavola does is something that has existed at passenger car manufacturers for several years, as part of their efforts to meet road safety regulations. The ISO26262, safety standard, is now applicable to heavy vehicles too, and meets the demands for an international, common standard for vehicles that focuses on systems critical for electricity. In short, it’s a way of making something safe even safer.
The more complex technology demands a higher level of documentation and traceability, such as when the driver is no longer in the cab; what happens when a light indicates that something is wrong? Today’s systems trust that there’s a person behind the wheel who will discover a yellow or red light and who is able to act. Finding the answer to the question: How can you make it safe without that person? is part of Paavola’s mission. “If the truck gets a flat tyre, how do we know?”, she says.
In Paavola’s view, this field has a lot of room for development, and will affect how people will see Scania in the future. “No matter how many cool things we develop here, Scania is always synonymous with trucks for most people, but we are really on an extremely exciting journey that takes us from products to services. Our future customers will want a system that fulfils their demands – not a truck.”
As if her work and the Teknikkvinnor consultancy were not enough, Paavola will soon obtain a truck driving licence. It’s a proactive approach that is typical of her, since she has rationalised that in-depth, practical knowledge about the product makes her professional life easier. It’s also partly down to her role as a Safety Manager, which sees her work with colleagues from many different functions.
But, as Paavola points out, “If you want to get ahead, then you need a great knowledge within technology. So, I learn.”