Article: Tips from 5 tech leaders on how you can build your own successful career

By Olivia Baillie

Women in technology have made significant contributions to the field, but they continue to be underrepresented compared to their male counterparts. According to the Australian Computer Society's 2022 Digital Pulse report, women make up just 31% of workers in the technology workforce compared to 48% of the Australian workforce as a whole and 46% in professional services.

In the lead-up to the Women in Tech Fest 2024, we asked tech leaders from SEEK, Coles, NAB, Sportsbet & APA Group to share insights that can benefit emerging leaders in the field. Read on to hear their inspiring stories and advice to help you pursue your career path in this male dominated industry.

Hear from:

  • Colleen Pender, Head of Technology, Technology Services, National Australia Bank
  • Georgia Patin, Head of Technology Strategy and Governance, Coles Group
  • Sandhya Iyer, General Manager, Data Science, Sportsbet
  • Hannah Russel, Head of Engineering, SEEK
  • Leeanne Chau, Head of Strategy, Transformation and Analytics, APA Group

Pursuing a career in technology: how to get started

For Sandhya Iyer (Sportsbet) and Georgia Patin (Coles Group), a love of technology started in school. Georgia explained, “I had always really enjoyed STEM subjects at school and was encouraged by my cousin (who was studying at Stanford at the time) to consider doing computer science.”

Sandhya Iyer described her fascination with tech evolving from the satisfaction of problem solving; “I was very fond of numbers as a child, Math was my favourite subject all through school. I enjoyed problem solving using data and found a sense of achievement when I could logically prove why a hypothesis would or wouldn’t work.”

Hannah Russel (SEEK) was excited by the capacity of tech to resolve problems. “I was captivated by technology's ability to tackle daily business challenges. Opting to pursue engineering studies allowed me to deepen my understanding, ultimately sparking my enthusiasm for crafting and developing solutions.”

Leeanne Chau (APA Group) started her career at Deloitte Consulting where she was placed in the technology group before being moved to strategy and operations. She said “I was able to work across different industries, in a variety of different roles and I was able to see how much of a difference great technology outcomes can make to an organisation. My passion for all things technology and data has never waned.”

Developing a strong foundation for professional growth and development

Colleen Pender (NAB) outlined the importance of networks and external connections for professional growth. Colleen Pender encourages people to “network, network, network – build relationships with others in [your] industry.” Sandhya Iyer agreed, advising graduates and those early in their career to maintain external connections “to learn from industry peers and build your brand.”

Colleen Pender also noted that studying and volunteering are important to build knowledge, confidence and experience. “I studied a lot because for me that was important to not just build my knowledge but to build my confidence.”

Collen Pender suggested emerging tech players should “volunteer with not-for-profit organisations to build experience working in a team and learn how to work with different personalities.”

Sandhya Iyer added that along with doing your job well and staying on top of your goals, it’s important to look for feedback from colleagues and use their advice to map out career goals. “I always had a career development plan that I discussed with my leader on a regular basis” and “proactively sought feedback from peers and managers as a regular practice.”

“Embracing patience in skill-building allowed me the freedom to explore, take risks, and build resilience”

Early in her professional journey, Hannah Russel aimed to get insights from experience and engagement. “I diligently identified areas for personal growth, choosing roles and opportunities that facilitated my development. Embracing patience in skill-building allowed me the freedom to explore, take risks, and build resilience.” 

Along the same lines, Georgia Patin talked about embracing the unknown and working specifically in areas that are not your strong suit. She suggested taking every opening to learn and acquire new skills. “I felt strongly that if I focused on gaining experience and skills, money and opportunity would come.”

Leeanne Chau talked about mindset as a strong foundation for growth “What makes someone else successful won’t necessarily translate to your own success.” She said it was valuable to figure out “what is important to you, and how you can achieve a balance in your life, and take steps to make it work for you.”

Successful strategies to develop skills and technical knowledge

Unsurprisingly, there was an emphasis on education to answer this question. Sandhya Iyer noted that education is ongoing. “I invest time into sharpening my technical skills. For instance, data science was not a thing when I graduated from university. I taught myself Python and R to combine with my statistical knowhow to build Machine Learning models…. When something catches my attention, I set aside time to research it. It is important to remember that you cannot be a master of all arts so you have to pick topics that align with your areas of interest and expertise and mindfully invest time into upskilling yourself.”

Similarly, Leeanne Chau said, “leveraging what goes on in other industries and applying it to your own work is a really effective way to inject new ways of thinking and innovation.”

Georgia Patin suggested using apps to improve your skills in specific areas. “Tech learning apps available today provide engaging content that makes it easy to access learning and apply it.”

“There's no substitute for practical, on-the-job learning”

Hannah Russel took a different perspective. She thinks “There's no substitute for practical, on-the-job learning.” Hannah also encouraged connecting with peers and associations. “Engaging with professional networks and tech communities exposes you to fresh ideas, broadening your perspective.”

Advice from inspiring leaders to juniors looking to build a fulfilling and successful career in the tech field

Colleen Pender (NAB):

  • Be passionate about what you do… it is very difficult to do the long hours if it is not something you love
  • Find a mentor – they can help you develop both your tech and soft skills
  • Put yourself out there and talk to people you admire to gain insight on techniques and tools they use to be successful

Sandhya Iyer (Sportsbet):

  • A career in tech and data is not unidirectional – it comes in flavours and colours. You could master the technical aspect as a developer or help translate business problems into tech problems as an analyst or take the leadership path
  • Reflect on your strengths and areas of interest and constantly check-in with yourself at every stage in your career
  • Double down on choices you make towards furthering your development path

Hannah Russel (SEEK):

  • Remaining active in the tech industry requires ongoing learning. Individuals with a natural curiosity and open-mindedness have access to numerous learning resources to enhance their foundational knowledge
  • Surround yourself with knowledgeable individuals who offer insights into the latest trends and advancements can be a catalyst for a strong start

Leeanne Chau (APA Group):

  • Keep your eyes open to those who inspire you, or you see as fulfilling a purpose that resonates with you. Reach out to them and make contact… you never know who could become a future contact or even mentor!
  • Recognise that technology never stands still – it’s always changing and adapting with new innovations. Applying this lens to your own growth and development is hugely valuable
  • Place yourself in the shoes of your customers, putting an experience lens over how you think will make your products so much more consumable

Georgia Patin (Coles Group):

  • Be curious and get exposure to as many different aspects of the sector as you can. It is such a broad and exciting field, from cybersecurity, engineering to user centred design
  • Don't be afraid to try different roles as it will help to identify those that play to your strengths and that you enjoy
A successful career in tech depends on your ability to grab opportunities as they arise, your flexibility in this dynamic field, and your willingness to invest in your own education. Reaching out and building networks, finding mentors and examining your own skills and weaknesses will go a long way to further your career and job satisfaction in this male dominated industry.

If you would like to learn more about building your career foundation, developing skills and technical knowledge to advance your career or hear some valuable advice, please join us at the Women in Tech Fest 2024 on 20 – 22 February where you will also be able to hear more Colleen Pender, Georgia Patin, Sandhya Iyer, Hannah Russel, and Leeanne Chau as well as over 30 other inspirational tech leaders. Learn more.

To access the detailed conference program, download the brochure here.