Paula Hunter heads the NFC Forum, a global technology standards organisation whose 150 members include the likes of Apple, Google and Sony as well as mid-sized companies and startups. Since 2013, she has lead the forum’s work in setting standards that have helped change the way people use technology in transportation systems, household appliances, smartphones and more.
Information Age: Can you provide leadership advice for those looking to advance their careers?
Paula Hunter: Don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself. One of my first corporate managers was a very strong mentor. When I sought more challenges and opportunities for advancement, he always encouraged me to go for it. I realised then that I should never wait for someone to ask me to step up.
Who have you looked to for inspiration?
There are world leaders whose skills at communicating and creating excitement I try to emulate. In tech, there is no shortage of bravado, but I am particularly impressed with how people like Bill and Melinda Gates have emerged as very compassionate and caring leaders. Their work with the Gates Foundation seems to be a great melding of technology and altruism. Outside of the technology sector, for inspiration, it’s a toss-up for me between Wonder Woman and Frances McDormand!
What was the best piece of advice given to you?
Don’t lose your passion for the work you do. If you feel that you are not inspired, try to find a new project or even a new position that excites you. If you are enjoying your work, it shows and creates a positive impact on the people around you.
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Have you had to overcome any career challenges?
I have found it challenging at times to work in such a male-dominated industry. To this day, when I attend conferences and meetings, women make up on average less than 5% of the attendees and participants. This has a tendency to affect one’s work style, and at times you can feel inauthentic when trying not to make waves. You must stick to your convictions, but there are times when my style can take people aback if they expect a more demure approach.
Can you provide a prediction for the future regarding how the work of the NFC Forum will change a specific aspect of life or business?
In addition to some of the more commercial deployments of NFC technology, such as payment and retail, I see great opportunity in the healthcare sector to provide better access to information and increased safety in the distribution of medicine. NFC technology can be combined with wearables to provide individuals with a wide range of readings, stats, and data that can improve wellness.
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Did you seek a career in tech or is it something that you came to indirectly?
In high school, I loved math. I wasn’t interested in engineering, so I chose to major in accounting. When I transferred to Bentley University, I became more interested in their computer information systems offerings and changed my major. After graduating and a couple of years of coding, I moved into selling computers and ultimately into marketing roles in larger organisations. I found that I enjoyed the business and marketing side of technology.
What does your typical day look like?
Because the forum’s membership is widely distributed around the globe, we “follow the sun.” That means our mornings start with closing out discussions with folks in Asia, then Europe. By midday, I am more engaged with members in North America, and then late in my day, back to Asia. I spend a lot of time on conference calls with our leadership and staff. I also enjoy travelling to industry conferences where I have speaking engagements and face time with members and industry players. Several times a year, we host NFC Forum member meetings around the globe. These meetings’ agendas are jam-packed from breakfast through dinner, but they’re a great way to make progress on our initiatives. When I am in my home office, I usually try to take a couple of breaks each day to walk my dog. She is a good stress reliever.
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What is the process by which NFC Forum develops technology standards?
Our members work collaboratively to develop and maintain our standards. We have a very rigorous process to ensure our members have input early in the drafting of standards and throughout the editorial process. Our members lead this work and have the final say on whether a standard is adopted. The forum staff is on hand to help facilitate the work, but the domain expertise comes from the companies that will be developing products based on those standards.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Our members are located all over the world, and thus we depend heavily on technology to facilitate calls and webinars to advance our work. We must make it easy for members to participate regardless of time zone and ensure they join us at face-to-face sessions to keep relationships strong. It means some crazy call times and some very long flights, but our work depends on the contributions of member representatives. We want their work to be productive and to provide opportunities for some fun, too!
What path led you to your current role?
About 15 years ago, I was asked by my management at Compaq Computers (now HP) to serve as their board delegate to an industry advocacy group called the ASP Industry Consortium. Several years later, after working at several startups, I was asked to become general manager of UnitedLinux, a non-profit collaboration involving many of the leading Linux companies. The combination of my high-tech experience and my nonprofit management roles has put me on this path to supporting industry standards organisations worldwide.