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IWD: “If you don’t have diversity amongst the people building the tech, then the products you get as a result won’t match the needs of a diverse user group“ – in conversation with Katie Nykanen

6th März 2019
Balance

Katie Nykanen, Chief Technology Officer of Adstream, is the recent winner of the CTO of the Year award at 2019’s Women in IT Awards. It’s a surprise to hear that an award-winning CTO is someone who almost didn’t pursue a career in Technology.

“I had no idea about IT and Tech and there was no talk about working in IT during my school careers discussion,” she recounts. Katie started out in a work placement in a large retail company’s IT department doing project admin tasks on IT projects, but became interested in the technical side of things – “I started asking questions and learning more in my free time and by the end of my placement, I had been made a permanent job offer in the team,” she says.

Starting out doing project administration, hardware rollout support and training end users in new systems, Katie started to really enjoy technology. Thanks to support from a senior manager who encouraged her into a new role, Katie’s career in tech really took off. “She saw potential in me and thought I should take on a Business Analysis role and work towards project management roles. This led to a fast track management programme and understanding effective leadership and influencing skills. It was the right decision to make, and I’m glad she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone,” Katie says.

Having originally never considered a career in technology, but now being an advocate for one, why does she think women are less likely to go into Tech roles? “Perhaps it’s that for a long time, especially in the UK, technology jobs had a poor image – geeky guys in bad jumpers and glasses staring at screens all day having no social life – what a cliché! We’re now seeing an image shift where tech is cool. Plus it’s so accessible to everyone and we all use tech all day every day – the appeal is much broader now and people want to be part of it!”. Katie feels that the key is getting this message into schools and encouraging girls from a young age to look at careers in tech companies.

Katie strongly believes that as an industry we need to keep helping to change the perception of technology in order to attract more diverse candidates to roles. “If you don’t have diversity amongst the people building the tech, then the products you get as a result won’t match the needs of a diverse user group. And it’s not just gender, it is important to have all sorts of diversities represented,” she says.

Katie CTO Of The YearKatie points out that the UK really has a particular issue, falling well behind many other countries in terms of gender balance in tech companies. For example in India there is an almost even gender split in tech jobs. She asks where it went wrong for other countries, especially the UK? During WWII, women operated some of the first computational machines used for code breaking and by 1960, one in four computer programmers were in fact women. Now less than 10% of University Computer Science classes in the UK contain female students and many schools report no female participants in any tech courses. She muses that the age-old challenge that faces some women of having to juggle careers and having a family may put them off, but in reality careers in tech are better suited than many others for women for exactly that reason.

As a mum herself, to four young children, Katie is aware that for some women the likelihood of being out of the industry for any length of time (for example to have children) can be a concern.  Women may worry about how much they will miss and how they will catch up when they return to work. In reality, tech roles are some of the best suited to people wanting a more flexible working arrangement, as most people these days have access to everything they need to work remotely or in any time zone.

Often asked how she balances a demanding role in the office with being a hands on Mum at home; “Using tech to stay really organised,” she says. “I use apps on my phone to plan our schedule, organise the kid’s activities, do the shopping, and I often do this on my commute to work. Plus I keep on top of work via Skype, email and other apps from my mobile any time of the day.” Personally adopting and supporting others to adopt a flexible working arrangement is also key; “ I have a great team around me who I trust to get on and do the work without me being there all the time. It’s also a matter of prioritising and setting good boundaries with yourself to ensure you don’t miss out on the things that matter both at work and at home.” she says.

When asked who inspires her, Katie says that she admires successful tech Leaders such a Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) and Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO) who have achieved very senior roles in global tech companies while maintaining hands-on involvement in their children’s lives. “Whatever their role is doesn’t matter – I admire the balance they have created and that they have pushed themselves through thick glass ceilings to take on influential roles in a still majority male dominated industry.”

Technology itself enables people to work wherever and whenever, and with some of the biggest companies these days being technology companies, the number of women joining them is bound to increase. People are also realising that working in tech companies is not just for people writing code; Katie wants to encourage women to not be intimidated in these businesses that offer roles for people with all skills, not just the classic coding jobs we associate with tech businesses. “I’ve certainly never written any code myself!” she laughs.

Through her nomination (and win) of the Women in IT Awards CTO of the Year, Katie had the opportunity to speak to school girls about her role and answer their questions about working in technology. She is now part of a mentoring programme and is looking forward to getting more involved with students and encouraging them to pursue careers in technology.

“Technology is now a huge part of everything we do in daily life; working in tech really gives you the chance to make it easier for people to do what they need to do – it’s surely the most fascinating and exciting business to be in!”

#BalanceforBetter is the theme of International Women’s Day 2019. You can read more about the theme here

For further questions or comments, please contact Emma Stevens at marketing.EMEA@adstream.com

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