Information Age speaks to Karen Gee on her achievements throughout her IT career and what the President’s Award means to her.

Information Age: What was your first role in the tech and how did you come to be in the role?

Karen Gee: Back in 1993, I left university after completing a Bachelor of Business majoring in Information Technology at La Trobe Bendigo and came to Melbourne seeking employment.

Back then, IT was “new” and it was sprouted as having lots of opportunities in the industry.

However, I still remember today, straight out of university it was (and still is) really hard to get that first job – “you have no experience”, and you can’t get experience without getting a job!

I was patient, persevered and was persistent in breaking in to this industry I had long admired and studied so hard for.
Finally got an opportunity to take a role as the personal assistant to the managing director of Ipex Computers.

I wasn’t happy to start in an administration role – especially after all my parents had done to support me with university – but I took it on because it was a step in the door in the right place and gave me a chance to be engaged in IT right from the start.

I remember my girlfriends from university had long given up and changed career paths, swapping over to real estate, retail and community services, despite completing university with the same qualifications as me.

Trying to break in to the industry back then was really hard for all graduates – not just for females.

They went on to progress their own career paths, sadly none of them ended up joining the IT industry.

Meanwhile, I took the PA job, but it wasn’t for long.

Within 6 months I had an opportunity to work with the technicians and software services teams in Ipex and from there I have been progressing through different roles and experiences in the industry ever since.

IA: Can you describe the tech industry when you first began working in it?

Karen: When I first started in IT, we were working a lot with infrastructure, rolling out desktop computers and mostly working with physical hardware focused in the server rooms and data centres.

There was little and few software services and messaging was just starting.

We were working with customers who were migrating to ‘first time’ email systems and a few of us were collaborating with Lotus Notes (some say, it was the modern-day version of Microsoft Teams).

Back then, there were not many women in the IT / ICT industry.

I was the only one of 5 females amongst 100+ males in university that joined the industry after graduating.

It has lacked the presence of women in IT at all levels including engineering, technology specialists and especially leadership roles.

I don’t think a lot has changed over the last few decades, this has always been a male-dominated industry, and there are still not enough women in ICT!

However, I feel a lot has changed in the last couple of years with the discussions and focus on women in IT / ICT and the future of opportunities for females – at all levels to attract, develop and retain females in this industry.

I really think it’s time to move on from the discussions.

We know the proven benefits and value that diverse workforces bring.

We really need to move forward, not just discussing, but making more decisions and delivering outcomes that will have a real positive impact of enabling more opportunities for women to choose the diverse career pathways in IT / ICT industry.

I think there are so many things we can do to make a real difference – but that’s another story for another article!

IA: What are some tech changes you’ve seen in your time, in both the industry and the technology?

Karen: Well, there’s been so many which is one of the reasons why I love this industry! There have been plenty of changes that I’ve seen across the years, including (but not limited to):

· Focus on hardware, large footprints in data centres and desktop computers, which has since moved to phones and tablets with applications for everything now available instantaneously

· Messaging platforms, collaboration tools and then came the internet – a new revolution!

· Organisations moved to delivery models with shared services, outsourcing, off-shoring, right-shoring and in-house capabilities. Now it can be any, one or some combination of all these.

· Services becoming more prevalent with IAAS, PAAS, SAAS, just about everything AAS offering and new capabilities have evolved with IoT, AI, blockchain, quantam computing and the like

· Ways of working, standards and methodologies have varied - ITIL has always been around whilst others have changed from Waterfall to Agile, brought in Lean, Kanban, DevOps and HCD. Office environments have moved from traditional manager to staff desks in the office to open areas and collaborative working spaces, and working from home, flexible working.

· From a talent perspective, roles have gone from specialists to generalists and back again. The technology domains have seen more need for deep expertise, and project managers have gone from managing scope, schedule, budget, resources and communications to now working in teams with others in scheduler, resource manager and change/comms roles.

· IT used to be its own department with plenty money for investment particularly before Y2K (Year 2000 when all focus was on risk mitigation for the date change to 00, a unique experience!) Back then we were getting regular upgrades for our “tools of trade” and having many and regular opportunities to attend industry and overseas trips for technical training and vendor conferences. Since then, IT moved to more of an opex-focused department, learning opportunities are more “on the job” and learning is virtual and online. Now we find IT departments working more with the business to collaborate and deliver value to the customers.

When I started in tech, IT was an industry in itself, a department in an organisation within the IT industry. Since then I have seen IT and ICT industries integrated and now it is much broader, spanning all industries rather than one on its own and delivering value to organisation but also having a much greater reach, collaborating more across industries as well as broader, delivering value with a social impact in to our communities.

IA: Where did your love of tech come from?

Karen: I remember when I was much younger, still in secondary school, and I was looking at opportunities for my own career path. I recall laying on the couch at home on the farm in rural NSW/VIC region one weekend when the weather was not a day to be outdoors. I read through the whole university manual for all the opportunities for studying at university, and the one that piqued my interest most was IT and I chose to do Business with IT as my major to keep my options open across broader opportunities.

I really liked how IT was so diverse – the future was (and still isn’t) defined, there were various opportunities, it guaranteed consistent change and could be innovative with creating new solutions and offerings to deliver real value – I reflect back now and see the similarities to having the life on the farm and in rural community.

I love the intrigue, the possibilities and the potential whilst having to have the resilience for the roller coaster ride. It still drives and motivates me today!

I am a passionate advocate for working with great people and leveraging technology to improve outcomes and thrive on opportunities to create value with new potential possibilities.

Just ask me about new technology for consumers travelling in space – super cool and exciting where this industry can go in the future with tech – out of this world!

Across all the years I’ve been in this industry, I love the tech (but as I say – I’m not technical), but I really value the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with.

I’ve had the privilege to have some incredible experiences – personally and professionally – both here in Australia and across the world whilst working on the job in IT – from learning to ski in USA, climbing a mountain to be with the monks in Japan, to having some funny experiences in UK, whilst more recently working with schools in STEM activities and supporting our security and defence services personnel with transitional careers and educational pathways.

I’ve met and had the pleasure to work with some of the best and incredibly amazing talent and had the privilege to make some life time friends from across the world and here at home across Australia and in my home town, Melbourne.

To me, the love of technology, innovation and possibilities, has driven and motivated me for decades.

Whilst it’s been a roller coaster ride, the benefits and the value I’ve had from this industry have been well and truly worth it! And the majority of the time, it’s brought a great sense of pride and fun from all the diverse experiences.

I’m finding now is the most exciting time, with technology, innovation and opportunities, I’m more excited now about what’s happening with technology – now and for our future – than ever before.

IA: Did anybody encourage or discourage you from a job in the tech field?

Karen: Throughout the years I’ve experienced those who have not supported me in my chosen career path, even just recently I had a guy suggest to me I’ve got no technology skills or experience so he advised I should consider an alternative career path.

There’s been many a situation when others haven’t understood what I do for my job in IT and on many occasions, some think I will know how to fix their computer or printer too (even though I have no idea!)

However, I have also been fortunate enough to have some amazing advocates, sponsors, mentors and coaches as well as team members who have encouraged and supported me, inspired and motivated me through the good times and roller coaster rides too.

I’ve learnt over time, there will be those who do encourage and support you, and those who don’t.

When I’m asked for advice from those I mentor, coach, or questions from the younger generation, I now recommend to them – “You surround yourself with those that do support you in your career and will help you achieve your dreams and career path. Listen to those who don’t, but remember, you don’t have to take on their advice. It’s up to you to drive your own career, but you are not alone, be with those who will help you to really thrive and achieve your career and life aspirations.”

IA: What does it mean to you be recognised with the President’s Award?

Karen: It was tremendous surprise and honour to be awarded the President’s Award for my contribution to ACS, the membership community and the ICT industry.

There are so many of my fellow colleagues doing really great things at ACS, so it’s a real privilege to be recognised amongst so many other incredible people.

I have had the pleasure to work with Yohan Ramasundara and the ACS team to help support the governance transformation as we move towards a new structure member-based organisation for our current and future tech industry.

Part of the award has been a cash prize, although rather than accept it, I decided I want to reinvest it back into ACS.

I have been working with the ACS team on a couple of ideas I wanted to pursue to Pay It Forward and give back to the ACS community. With Adam Clarke at ACS Victoria enthusiastically supporting the idea and generously partnering with equal investment, we have been working on defining a program that can give back to the ‘Future Talent in Technology’ – something I am deeply passionate about.

I am very excited to say we are nearly ready to launch this new initiative that will help support a small cohort of new graduate students in starting their own journey and finding their own way in to employment in the ICT industry with a year’s membership with ACS, access to the Young Professionals year program a group and individual mentoring with me.

It’s such a privilege to be able to give back and #PayItForward to next the generation of talent for our future in the technology industry. Being awarded this President’s Award has enabled me the opportunity to instil a legacy on those to come and hopefully make a positive impact.

Networking and mentoring in the technology industry is critical for success, for everyone. For Women in Technology and for our ‘Future Talent in Technology’ this is even more important. I have the privilege to be actively engaged in these experiences.

This is just one of many various examples that I benefit from by being a member and actively engaged in ACS. For those who are active members, they’ll understand what I mean. For those not active or not yet members, I’d encourage you to join us, there’s such a diverse range of activities and benefits to be had, and if you’re not there – you’re missing out. I hope to see more of these activities being prevalent in our tech industry.