As part of our new ‘A Coffee with…’ series, we’ll be chatting with our favourite partners about what’s keeping them up at night. This month, we spoke to Susan Brown, director of strategy and innovation at Deloitte Digital and managing director of Girls in Tech Melbourne, to discuss empathy, open source and getting more girls into the tech industry.
Susan, you’ve had a hugely exciting career already — tell us how you got here.
I’ve always been in technology and started coding at a very young age. My father was a CIO and taught me how to code, so I chose that path. Both of my degrees were tech focussed, and I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been involved in digital projects and transformation projects, even in my early career. We were building mobile payment platforms in the nineties, which was almost unheard of at the time! It was hugely exciting and led me to become more interested in identifying what we should build, rather than the actual building.
Coming to Australia twelve years ago, I was very lucky to be involved in some large digital transformations and learned how to pull large programs of work together and get multiple teams working towards the same endpoint.
I was very lucky to have met Adriana Gascoyne, CEO and founder of Girls in Tech. Throughout my career, I’ve become accustomed to being one of the only females in the room and it’s been wonderful to have met so many amazing, accomplished women and, with Adriana, to form a team of our own and try to develop other women in this space. We founded Girls in Tech Australia three years ago and are one of sixty chapters around the world.
You’ve mentioned that getting into tech felt natural, since your father was already in that industry. What difference do you think that has made?
I always say to people my father never told me I was a girl. I still hear stories about girls being turned away from tech while they’re registering at universities, because they’re told a thing like “this is a male-dominated space, you probably won’t feel comfortable.” I think there’s a lack of support but also a myth that technology is dull. People tend to think of technology specifically as coding and they don’t realise how many roles there are in digital — coding being one of them. Tech is an exciting world that also involves design and delivery, which can be suited to anyone.
You were recently on stage at Acquia Engage alongside other members of Girls in Tech, discussing empathy in digital transformation. Why do you feel that empathy is such an important topic?
It’s intrinsic to success. When we look at a digital transformation, it involves people, processes and systems. We see it every day in ones that are successful. The “people” component is often underestimated, but it’s people that drive the processes and the systems. People need to 1) understand the vision 2) have the capability and willingness to see it through and 3) want to do something amazing and different.
Empathy is vital — empathy with both the team and the individuals, especially those who may have done a particular job in a particular way for many years and suddenly need to completely change that. Don’t underestimate how hard that is.
What are the most notable changes you’ve seen recently, in the relationship between people and technology?
Today, technology is part of everyday life. That trend is changing the way people see what technology is and what it does. It also means everybody has a point of view on what is a good experience, which is fair enough, but it also means they have an opinion about how something should be designed. One of the things that we do, at Deloitte Digital — and this is about considering empathy on the customer side — is that we go and speak directly to customers. Five years ago, getting customer feedback on web design was something that only the most forward-thinking companies would do; ten years ago, it was almost unheard of.
Open source is the future. True or false?
True. We’ve been saying it for a very long time. I think that Drupal and Acquia are probably one of the examples of how it has been applied well. Open source is a fantastic concept and I love the idea of sharing knowledge and giving back to the community, which gives everyone the chance to grow and learn. Coming from another country, the idea that we could level the playing field globally and establish an ecosystem that everybody could learn from is very exciting.
Did you notice much of a difference between South Africa and Australia’s tech industries?
In a way, we’re very lucky in Australia because the tech industry is quite advanced and very well developed; in Africa, there’s not as much support. Within the tech community, in South Africa, it forced us to drive more innovation and come up with more ideas because things weren’t as readily available. This fostered the drive to build something new, to be different and to create. Technologies like open source have developed over the last fifteen years and are now being adopted by emerging economies. We’re certainly seeing this in Asia, where the level of innovation is just mind-blowing!
You recently ran the second annual Catalyst Australia Girls in Tech event. How did it go? What were the highlights for you?
So many highlights! To have more than three hundred and fifty people attend and participate was really humbling. Our Girls in Tech team works really hard and we’re all volunteers, so to be able to pull something like this together, that many people — men and women – really want to attend, is fantastic.
We’ve always said we can’t change the conversation and shift the dial without the support of men. Our male speakers were fantastic, and it was important to us that this was an event for both men and women. Our male attendance increased from last year, so that was really exciting to see, too.
We had international speakers from San Francisco, New York and Singapore as well as local speakers. All of them had strong personal stories about how they stopped procrastinating and drove their careers. It’s incredibly inspiring. We had Code Like a Girl teaching dashboarding and coding, Cognizant using Lego to teach creative problem solving, York Butter Factory giving a 101 on venture capital and RMIT Online teaching product development. The letters of support we’ve received from attendees and sponsors, telling us what it meant to them and what they were able to take away was really, really heartening.