Can you tell us a bit about your background and how it led to a career in digital?
My interest in IT was sparked by my mother. She started her career as a secretary and ambitiously groomed herself into a JAD (Joint Application Development) facilitator. We were the first in our circle of friends and family to own a personal computer in the mid-late 80’s. My father, being the visionary that he was, advised me to pursue a career in IT as he believed it was the future. How right he was. I decided to study Computer Science/Ecommerce. In my final year my mother asked me to assist her in custom developing a project management system for her department; which I did part-time and for free. On completion of both my studies and the system, I was offered a role as a junior software engineer at Absa and so my digital adventure began. I quickly realised that my passion lay not so much in the development (coding), but in the conceptualisation of digital business strategies. At this point there was no digital department in Absa and there was no blueprint for what a digital outfit should look like, as it was so new. Absa Digital Channels was created by a handful of like-minded individuals from different backgrounds who shared a common vision. Over the next 9 years we would grow that business into what was recognised as the leading Digital team within financial services.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in digital?
I’d like to say I made a smart choice, but it was partially attributed to being in the right place at the right time. Digital was the ugly cousin in Marketing in early 2000’s, playing second fiddle to traditional marketing such as print, TV and radio. Being in a bank, I was exposed to a more practical use for digital and was fascinated by the concept of online banking and the opportunities I believed Absa’s online presence had to offer.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in a male-dominated environment?
I have honestly not experienced challenges in working in a male dominated environment. Perhaps it was luck or the result of being brought up by a father who challenged me to take on any challenge and himself never differentiated between ‘male activities’ and ‘female activities’ in my upbringing.
What has been the biggest surprise in your career?
I think the biggest surprise has been how my career has gone full circle. I started off in a very technical role as a software engineer, moved into a more digital marketing focused role, then into a business role – product management, channel management only to find that a truly successful digital practitioner needs to be all of the above.
What can women in the workplace do today to help build the foundation for successful careers?
Be authentic. Do not try and mimic masculine behaviour thinking that that’s the path to respect and success. Today’s workforce needs a different kind of leader. A leader that is very well suited to the nurturing nature of a woman demonstrating characteristics of empathy, listening and stewardship.
Digital transformation is something companies have been talking about for decades now. How to be part of the digital age? With the world growing and evolving as quickly as it does today, and new technology being made available daily, how does a business keep up with the ‘transformation’?
The art is in joining the dots. It is important to stay abreast of the latest technology trends (read, read, read and join networks and communities) and to have a good understanding of the capabilities that each technology provides. Don’t make the mistake of trying to build a business case in order to introduce a trending technology. “What is our AI/blockchain/big data strategy” The technology is there to enable your business objectives not the other way around. Look across industries do not only reflect on what is happening within your immediate industry. In doing so you will find interesting use cases where technology has been used to solve business problems that may make sense within your business too.
What are three key pieces of advice that you would give to women in digital struggling with digital transformation?
- Don’t take an ineffective non-digital process and simply make it digital and expect great results. Digital transformation requires one to reimagine the solution from ground roots. The end result may look nothing like what you started with
- Digital transformation does not live within a department. Digital transformation is a journey that the entire business embarks on and commits to. Get your leaders on board and bought in
- Be sincerely customer led. Take time to understand your customers/users – their needs, their expectations and their behaviour. Digital is predominantly a self-service channel. If users don’t know how to use it or why they should use it, they won’t. If it doesn’t do what they expect it to, they will abandon and quickly find something that does. Don’t be purely focussed on building capability and features that satisfy the ego of your business… be guided by what your customers/users want
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a similar career path to yours?
I believe that a breadth of experience across the many realms that exist within a digital business makes a great digital professional. It does not matter where your journey began, connect with the developers and understand their world even if you’re a designer or vice versa. Collaborate. If you are fortunate enough to work in an organisation that follows an agile methodology, listen, connect and learn.
Fun fact about you?
I was the first white woman minibus taxi owner in Gauteng. I ran the taxi for 2 years. My route was between Rabie Ridge and Jhb central. It was a very enlightening experience and a challenging business to run
What can the delegates at She’s a Boss – Women in Tech expect from you?
I offer real experience. I have been in the trenches and have a solid track record of delivery. I am not a theory junkie that takes to stages philosophising about things I’ve never actually put into practice… or production. I carry both battle scars and victory flags from my journey through this digital adventure I’ve been on throughout my career
Book your seat at She’s a Boss – Women in Tech here.