New Databases, Extended Reality and Digital Twins: Q&A with China L. Martens

China L. Martens has had a ringside seat to major developments in enterprise technology for nearly three decades as a journalist, analyst and content marketer. She joined Mission North in December 2020 as a Director of Content Strategy, involved in content ideation, collaboration, creation and delivery for multiple clients. China works primarily in our Future Stack practice, which focuses on startups and established vendors who push the boundaries of infrastructure and software to solve the greatest challenges in business.

As a seasoned writer, China is keenly aware of how every technology story is ultimately a human story featuring the creators and the consumers of any new development.

I chatted with China about her career, what drew her to Mission North and her thoughts on the past, present and future of the technology industry. What follows is an edited version of that discussion:

You’ve been an enterprise technology reporter, an industry analyst, a content marketer and now a PR professional. What’s the common thread, and how did you get here?

Continuous change links those experiences — and a lifelong love of research and storytelling.

I’ve always been interested in literature, languages and science. It was my love of ‘La Peste’ by Albert Camus that led me to study medicine for several years. Then, I followed my long-time passion for East Asia to gain a degree in Modern Chinese Studies, which included nine months in Shanghai. My first job was teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren in Osaka.

I came to technology journalism by accident after a brief period teaching (and learning!) Lotus 1-2-3, MS DOS, and WordPerfect. I worked in London, New York, Hong Kong and San Francisco, before settling just outside of Boston, MA, where I moved from IDG News Service to analyst companies including 451 and Forrester.

At every stage of my career, I had to get up to speed quickly on different areas of technology — from PCs to RDBMS to ERP, CRM and HCM — I live for acronyms. As you gain knowledge in different segments of the IT canvas, you start to fill in the gaps and make connections so that the broader technology picture emerges.

What brought you to Mission North?

Thanks to the many hats I’ve worn, I have a good sense of how to develop a narrative that will resonate with a technology journalist, an analyst and an end-user or customer. As a content director at a PR agency, I get to weave all those threads together.

I also love the process of storytelling — distilling complex technologies and explaining them with analogies and examples that bring them to life. It’s fun to be involved in the entire lifecycle of a piece of content — from developing the idea through creation, refinement and seeing it come to life across a variety of channels.

In the world of technology, you’re constantly learning, and that’s another reason to join Mission North — to build on my previous experience and knowledge and gain brand-new skills.

I think the most important trait in a leader is humility — not believing you know all the answers and being willing to see other perspectives. Empathy is also important, because it allows you to understand your customers’ pain points and those of your employees. 

Which areas of technology fascinate you right now, and why?

I’m interested in how extended reality is starting to come into its own — with augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality starting to be used beyond obvious use cases on the factory floor and moving into areas like sales and marketing. 

Databases are evolving in creative ways, like the real-time streaming technology developed by our client Materialize. It’s exciting to see how AI and ML are changing decision-making for companies of all sizes, for example, as companies like ThoughtSpot open up access to vast amounts of data-driven intelligence.

I’m also intrigued by the concept of “digital twins,” where physical objects are replicated in data as a way to manage and improve performance and product design over time. Ansys and others are putting digital twins to work in manufacturing, engineering and other disciplines.

You’ve talked to a lot of technology leaders over the years, what qualities are shared by the most successful?

It depends how you define ‘success’ — does that mean a company that’s growing rapidly and generating a lot of revenue or one that customers speak warmly about and remain loyal to? Ideally a company is both, but that’s not always the case.

I think the most important trait in a leader is humility — not believing you know all the answers and being willing to see other perspectives. Empathy is also important, because it allows you to understand your customers’ pain points and those of your employees. 

Some technology leaders I’ve met and found to be effective and engaging include Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and co-CEO of Workday, Tien Tzuo, co-founder and CEO of Zuora, Marten Mickos when he was CEO of MySQL, and Satya Nadella when he led Microsoft’s Dynamics business.

Having seen the rise of mobile and cloud, when does a technology escape its hype?

Often a breakthrough technology has to debut and then be reintroduced several times before it catches hold. A stand-alone new technology will typically wither without the ‘water’ of integrations and other sustenance provided by the partner ecosystem that grows up around it.

Often a breakthrough technology has to debut and then be reintroduced several times before it catches hold. A stand-alone new technology will typically wither without the ‘water’ of integrations and other sustenance provided by the partner ecosystem that grows up around it.

The technology world can feel like fashion — a brand-new, edgy look appears on the catwalk, but designers may have to re-tailor that garment over several seasons before everyone’s wearing it.

Look at user interfaces: they have yet to be fully reinvented. We’re still learning how to operate software and hardware according to how vendors have designed them for us. Ultimately, I’d hope everyone could choose how they interface with any application or device as part of a process of individual personalization.

The technology world can feel like fashion — a brand-new, edgy look appears on the catwalk, but designers may have to re-tailor that garment over several seasons before everyone’s wearing it.

What has the pandemic taught you, and what resources have you turned to during COVID-19?

I’ve learned to be more resilient. I miss traveling to the UK to see my family and friends, and I miss live music. Canceling flights and concerts has been tough, particularly when rescheduling remains uncertain.

That said, the online world has been wonderful, in providing connections to those far away and to reframing physical events. I’ve attended a number of amazing virtual book festivals and brilliant online concerts. My mainstay for music is Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, where one or more musicians tweet their memories and inspirations to a virtual audience as we all revisit and listen to one of their albums. I’m also learning a brand-new language, Welsh, via DuoLingo.

Are you interested in joining the Mission North team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions here.