Award-Winning, But Without the 'Fuss'
Category: Prizes & Awards
Yvonne Thomas, a Broadcasting Solutions product manager at Arvato Systems in Cologne, is the first non-American woman to win a "Technology Women to Watch Award" – a distinction given out by the U.S. trade magazine "TVNewsCheck" since 2013 to honor women whose work has significantly advanced the broadcast and media industry. We visited the young engineer at her workplace in Cologne.
When Arvato Systems product manager Yvonne Thomas, a young graduate engineer who has worked for Broadcasting Solutions at Arvato since 2015, opened the email from the U.S., she initially thought it was spam because of its long text and the fact that it only addressed her by her first name. But it gradually dawned on her that she was the first non-American woman to be awarded the Technology Women to Watch Award by the U.S. trade publication "TVNewsCheck."
Love for All Things Technical Is in Her Blood
"Sure, the award will go to your head," jokes one of Thomas's work colleagues during the photo shoot, causing her to grin broadly. In fact, the opposite is the case. Yvonne Thomas, who is responsible for the MediaPortal cross-media research system at Arvato, says she opted for a job behind the camera for good reason, because she does not like to be the center of attention, nor does she like a big "fuss." Many of her colleagues only learned about her award just before the award ceremony at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) in Las Vegas at the end of April.
Yet the young Arvato employee has absolutely no reason to be shy. Back in 2011, Thomas already won the ARD/ZDF Award for the Advancement of Women in Media, for her dissertation as a graduate in "TV Technology and Electronic Media" at the Rhein-Main University of Applied Sciences.
Her love for all things technical topics is in her blood, as it were. Many of her relations are engineers, technicians or computer scientists, and even as a child she accompanied her father to the workshop and helped renovate the half-timbered house where she grew up with her family. At first, she wanted to be a carpenter. "I like to do things with my hands, to create something tangible," she says. However, after discovering that her favorite subjects in school were mathematics and physics, she decided to combine her creative interest with technical content, and pursue media technology studies at the university of applied sciences. During her studies, she also worked as a technical operations assistant at ZDF in Mainz and went to the ZDF London bureau for a practical semester at their international studio. But she still likes to get her hands dirty to this day. Thomas always likes to keep herself busy, whether it is painting a wall, tending flowers or polishing furniture.
Her Future Boss Was Sitting in the Middle of the Audience
Her first job after college was not long in coming. At a symposium organized by the "Deutsche TV Plattform" industry forum, Thomas presented the results of her dissertation as a freshly-baked graduate – her first lecture before a specialist audience. "That was really awful. I felt so sick before the event," she recalls with a smile. But her style of presenting her work went down well. With the help of a balloon she explained why screen size must be taken into account for 3D movies before production. "The misalignment, i.e. the disparity of the two images required for the 3D effect, simply grows to a maximum when a television production is brought to the cinema screen," she explains. To illustrate this, she draws two triangles, slightly offset, on a half-inflated balloon. The distance between the triangles increases as the balloon is inflated – until it finally bursts.
In the audience, as yet unbeknownst to her, sat her future boss at the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva, a federation of public service broadcasters in places including Europe and North Africa. After her presentation, he invited her to an interview in Switzerland, and a few weeks later, she took up her first job as a project engineer, later becoming a project manager. It was a major challenge, she says, but one that helped her develop very rapidly. After five years, she joined the Arvato Systems Digital Media Management Department to gain new experience in the industrial sector. She says she likes being involved in the creation of a new product, such as the MediaPortal research system, from the outset, and establishing it in the market. "MediaPortal pools information from different data sources on a single platform to facilitate research for news editors," says Thomas, who is responsible for communicating with customers, discussing product requirements with them, and obtaining feedback. Speaking to a large audience is no longer a problem for her these days. She likes to attend fairs or conferences, where she gives lectures and makes new contacts.
Explaining Complex Technologies to a Lay Person
Her expertise and ability to explain difficult relationships in a simple and very vivid way not only helped her career get off to a quick start, it was also a decisive factor in the decision by "TVNewsCheck" to name her as a "Technology Woman to Watch" this year. "She is a young engineer known in technology forums for her incisive contributions," says publisher Kathy Haley, co-founder of "TVNewsCheck." "In her work, she demonstrates that she is an expert with the ability to explain complex technology in terms that a lay person can understand." Thomas was nominated – without her knowledge – by colleagues from the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers) who know the young German engineer from her work at the EBU and Arvato.
The fact that she is often in a minority in her professional environment does not bother her. She enjoys working with men and likes the direct manner of her colleagues. "At least you know where you stand," she laughs, but adds that as a woman in a male-dominated industry, you do have to prove yourself more to win the trust of your colleagues. And yet Thomas opposes a statutory women's quota. "I want to work at a company because the company believes in me and believes me to be the best in the job, and not because I have the same qualifications as a male candidate, but am a woman." But she does realize that distinctions aimed specifically at women – like the Technology Women to Watch Award – are important to encourage women in technical professions and to create role models. "Having said that, I just want to do what I like doing, because I am who I am," she says, and proceeds to do exactly that. Level-headedly and calmly. And she will make a point of reading emails twice from now on, so that good news continues to reach her.