Ramona Manda (Digital Consultant, Bucharest)

Ramona’s skill set is out-of-this-world and that’s not just a figure of speech. She’s worked on NASA projects and knows way more about satellites than most of us do. Alongside these interstellar activities, Ramona helps others by doing charity work.

What’s your story so far?

Let’s go back to the start of my career, because everything is connected in my life. I’m here because when windows of opportunity opened up, I took a chance. Having started out as a programmer, I’ve been privileged to work alongside the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. 

At ESA, I helped to make Sentinel satellite images understandable for people with no knowledge of image processing. Those images are amazing. For example, they give farmers a contextual view of the growth stage of their crops. I managed a team that was developing image processors, so was asking end users what kind of processors they need. I also participated in some boot camps in Rome, where I liaised between end users and ESA specialists. People would say what they want from the tech, and I directed that information to the right people.

You seem to know a lot about satellites, that’s pretty unusual

I suppose so. The work at ESA was interesting, helping to develop a satellite imagery processor. There’s a lot of complicated maths behind that, so I had to learn fast. Luckily, my degree had a maths component, which helped. I was young too. People were taken aback to see such a young woman working alongside those ESA specialists. Thankfully, it was a success.

I was also doing a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence at the time. In hindsight, it was an overwhelming workload, but an amazing, productive part of my life. Generally, if I’m not busy, I find ways to be busy. That brings me new challenges to handle, but also offers my best accomplishments.

Sounds as if you like a challenge, can you elaborate?

Actually, the search for a new challenge was what led me to FintechOS. The company is young, so I can make my mark there. A friend of a friend told me about the place, and I saw it as a chance to develop my skills. During my time at ESA, I worked on the topic of digital transformations (of course, satellite imagery-related), so there was already a connection there.

I like challenges outside of work too. After my time at ESA, I got involved with organizing a yearly NASA challenge. It’s an event where teams collaborate to create a usable app. This was interesting, as I was missing the connection to satellites in my job. It was quite a big deal, we handled over 200 people and associations – just three of us!

Around this time, I also started to branch out as a consultant in my job. Having graduated from a developer to a manager, I was offered a consultant role pretty quickly. That was something new for me, a bit nerve-racking. However, I ended up talking to clients and end users again, just like when I was a manager. My experience of presenting at the NASA event also helped with giving presentations. It turned out I had done some of this stuff before, even though it all seemed new at the start. It just shows – you never know until you try.

Anything else you are involved in?

I feel like I’ve been lucky in life and try to help others where I can. I’m currently involved with an NGO called ‘Joy for Life’. It helps children who are ill to get medications and other supports, which are difficult to access where they live. It’s a great organization. Volunteers like me play with the kids and help with a Summer camp. On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I told someone about the NGO and they even made a donation. I wasn’t out to find funding, but it came along. That was a nice bonus.

I’ve always been a little crafty too. I make hand-made decorations and have recently started painting. I’ve also been busy providing craft workshops for kids. They are so enjoyable. This year, I’m bringing them online. 

Flower arranging is another of my activities. That started out with making bouquets for friends’ weddings and moved into designing decorations for events. I like to use natural materials for that, things from the forest, like moss. It’s nice to work with something that has life, with real roots, even mud. Some people need convincing on these materials, but they always love the end result.

I try to balance all my activities as best as possible. That can be tough to manage, because I love them all, there’s not one I want to give up. 

If you were to do something completely different, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to live in a tiny house in the mountains. I may have to construct it myself, but that’s ok. I could potentially manage without electricity too, as long as I have enough batteries. I think this lifestyle could fit my personality as I like to be completely connected to nature. Actually, I did already move a tiny bit towards natural living last year with my own vegetable garden. I managed to buy a plot of land in the city, where I’ve grown fruit trees, berries and vegetables. It’s a success, I’ve even eaten vegetables from my own city garden. 

Do you have a favorite type of music?

I like lots of different music and I really love the vibe at music festivals. It’s similar to the feeling of camaraderie between people at the NASA events. I love artists too; I admire them so much and try to bring them into my life when I get the chance. Artistic events are another thing that I enjoy a lot.

What’s your life philosophy?

I’d say, “never leave an opportunity untested”, in any aspect of your life. It could bring you anywhere. For me, trying something new is not so scary. If I don’t like the direction I’ve chosen, I can stop. There’s often fear of losing what you have in the moment by changing direction, but I know something else will come along that’s just as good, if not better. In our modern world there are so many possibilities. There’s always another chance. It comes down to your perspective on things. An outcome might look bad, but if you see it another way, it’s not so bad after all. Life isn’t always easy, but there’s so much power in a positive outlook.

What are your expectations for the future?

That’s a tricky one. I’ve visited many places in the world, but would still like to go to Africa, so that’s one thing. Looking back at the last 15 years, so many interesting things have happened, many of them unexpected. A window would open, followed by a sequence of events that brought me to where I am. Time has shown me that you can end up doing things you never dreamed of. I can’t comment on the future, but I trust it will be as great as the past.