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How these women built successful careers in tech

How these women built successful careers in tech

When curiosity, passion, and having the best people surrounding you are more important than a qualification.

BY Business Chicks, 11 min READ
 

Thanks to our friends at Salesforce

If you missed out on our recent Tech Talks event, our friends at Salesforce have got you covered. We chatted to three amazing women who’ve built their careers in the tech industry, to discuss what they’ve learnt along the way, their career moves and challenges and their advice for other women about to embark on the same journey.

Zoe Ghani, former Chief Technology Officer at THE ICONIC

Zoe Ghani has over a decade of experience working in technology, and sits on the board of Australia for UNHCR. As the former Chief Technology Officer at THE ICONIC, she looked after the shopping experience and technology strategy for one of Australia’s most successful ecommerce retailers.

It was a psychometric test before commencing a role in journalism that revealed Zoe’s strengths in technology. Despite not knowing how to use a computer mouse, working as a journalist at a B2B newspaper was when her love of tech was ignited. “When the newspaper moved online, I realised that if I had a better idea online, I could change it. If it was in print, it was stuck. I found that quality about the internet seductive. That was my pivotal realisation that this technology thing was worth understanding better.” After completing short courses in programming, she fell into product management after exposure in her role at Yahoo. She built growth in products and leadership and soon moved her way up to Chief Technology Officer at THE ICONIC. Zoe’s career has been driven by her passions, and believes the secret to a rewarding career is to seek out the change you wish to make. “Technology permeates so many industries and hierarchies of work today. If someone’s passion is to create change, there will be an opportunity to do that in a tech capacity. It’s important to understand passion first, and then understand how technology can fit in, as opposed to looking at it as a homogenous space.”

The people solving the problems behind the tech have always been Zoe’s priority. “I always used to say that I have technology in my title but it’s all about people. My thinking is that you should start with people, hire and retain the best, create the best environment where they are doing their best work and feeling psychologically safe.”

“We are all in technology to create experiences and serve others, so we need to start with the people who want to do that well, and offer them the space to be creative.”

Zoe shared her experience overcoming cultural differences in the workplace, and named this as the biggest challenge she’s faced in her career. “I was born in Afghanistan and migrated to Australia with my family. My cultural upbringing was about respecting your elders and not questioning them. When I entered the workforce, I found this quite challenging. I had to navigate how to balance my cultural priorities at home with the needs of work. I learned that disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean disrespect. There are ways to disagree on an outcome bigger than the two people in a conversation. Focusing on purpose has helped me overcome that cultural baggage.”

Dayle Stevens, Chief Data Officer at AGL Energy

Dayle’s career spans roles across the globe with NAB, IBM & PWC, and she has been named as one of Australia’s top CIOs and an AFR 100 Women of Influence. “I fell in love with technology on my first day of my career. I had moved from Ballarat to Sydney, and my first week of work was in a factory building and selling PCs and experimenting with voice recognition software. I fell in love with the idea that technology had the ability to change the world.”

After trying out a career in accounting (to justify her university degree), Dayle continuously found herself drawn to finding tech solutions, whether it was fixing the office printer or trying to solve a business problem. She soon accepted tech was her passion, and has spent her career working on tech solutions to improve customer experience in Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. “The biggest secret is that technology is really cool”. As a passionate advocate for the profession, she now works on getting women and people of diverse backgrounds into tech. “There is a barrier and misconception that tech is a male dominated industry, but there are some amazing women working in tech. It’s what you make of it. Working in tech is not just sitting in a room and coding. It’s about getting out there and talking to people, having deep empathy, solving problems, being curious. That’s your pathway into technology. It’s about having an appetite to learn and appetite to adapt.

“I feel most inspired and motivated when I see someone I have been involved with have huge success or do something amazing. I’ve learnt a lot in 30 years of work, so how can I pay it forward and help others get there quicker.”

When hiring, Dayle looks for people with the skills to translate and liaise between the way a business operates, and the requirements of a specific role. “How do I find someone who understands how energy works, as well as how data science works, to see the opportunities in that space.” That, and passion.  “You’re going to be great at the things you are passionate about. And trial and error along the way is fine. Things aren’t always going to be easy, they’re going to be hard, so you need courage. Some of my best moments have been when I’m scared and taking a risk. Curiosity can help you find different pathways and help with problem solving.”

Jo Gaines, Area Vice President for Cloud Sales Business at Salesforce

Jo has spent over 20 years working for and with technology and media companies including Krux, CBS, Yahoo, Kidspot, Sensis and Salesforce. As Area Vice President for Cloud Sales Business at Salesforce, Jo leads the company’s business development and marketing efforts. Curiosity has forged the path for Jo’s career. “When I worked in sales at Yahoo I was curious about how we were delivering the audience demographics we were selling, and curious as to how we could improve the campaigns we were selling.” Her advice to women looking to enter the tech space is to stay curious. “It’s what makes us unique and valuable in organisations. Explain why you’re questioning – to learn – not to challenge or be difficult.”

“Data underpins everything we do, but data in isolation is dangerous. Humans are unpredictable. We all behave in different ways with different motivations. So we need data, but we also need curiosity and instincts. Use the data as a challenge to the instincts we have. Data is important in giving us real factual insights, but you still need that human touch, and knowledge of historical behaviour.”

 “When I have been in places where I wasn’t taken seriously, I have done a really sh*tty job. Ask your potential employer what their values are, and how they live these out. If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t. You can do something about it.”

Jo agreed with Zoe and Dayle that there is a misconception that you have to have studied technology to work in technology. “I want women to see what tech can do, and how it can change lives. You need an understanding and curiosity of how it works, but there’s so many free services that will provide this education. There’s free online learning from companies like Salesforce, where you can spend some of your own time to develop your learning.”

 

Tech Talks was possible thanks to our friends at Salesforce, who believe businesses are powerful platforms for change. They are committed to driving Equality in our workplaces, communities, and society at large. They strive to build a workplace that reflects the diverse communities we serve. Big thank you Salesforce.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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