Alteryx’s Libby Duane Adams has led a quite remarkable career. Co-founding Alteryx back in 1997, Duane Adams has helped to lead the data analytics firm through a series of remarkable challenges from the dot com boom to COVID.
“As important as we knew data was back then, people have been saying that data is the new oil. But, it’s only oil when you use it,” Duane Adams told WLT.
“You can’t say you’ve got data and it’s sitting in the data lake or the data warehouse. You actually have to use it.”
However, when Duane Adams started Alteryx, after graduating from Castleton University in Vermont and spending a number of years working in customer support for tech firms at the advent of PC software, data was something to be shied away from.
“Data was a four-letter word and it was reserved for just a few really smart people. They were in a dark office at the back of the fifth floor and nobody wanted to talk to them because the translation of data and the communication skills required were not mainstream,” she explained.
“Fast forward 30 years to where we are now, data is in the front office, in the C-suite, in the board room. People are asking questions and answering those questions with data.”
Despite being based in California, Duane Adams, now chief advocacy officer, has been in Australia as part of Alteryx’s roadshows, visiting clients and, unfortunately for her, talking to WLT hacks. Those clients include some of the biggest firms in Australia — Alteryx works with 48 per cent of the Global 2000. One client, in particular, stood out to Duane Adams as indicative of how the tech industry has changed for women over the long span of her career.
“I was just in a meeting yesterday at a very large nationally known entity in Australia, two of the data scientists on the call were women and, of the 12 people in total, half of us were women,” she recalled.
“That playing field has really started to level and that goes to leadership be willing to hire diverse talent, bring that diverse talent into their organisations and invest in them.”
As a publicly listed company, Alteryx has to report its gender diversity. At the end of last year, 34.7 per cent of the company’s staff were women but 35.5 per cent of people leaders were women. However, just 18.5 per cent of its tech roles were held by women.
But, for Duane Adams, looking at diversity in tech through a binary woman/man lens misses the point somewhat.
“Diversity is gender diversity, age diversity, education diversity, background diversity and psychographic diversity,” she said.
“People’s life experience, not just their job experience, plays a lot into how they think about solving problems, how they think about the work that they are doing and how they think about the impact that they’re making. In analytics, it’s a team sport with a creative problem-solving bent to it, when you have diversity in the team, it delivers better results and insights.”
As reported on WLT last week, the tech industry has struggled in the past to look beyond a university education as a pathway into the industry. By looking at alternatives such as vocational training, intensive career-swap bootcamps and earn-while-you-learn initiatives, the tech industry in Australia could find itself another 31,000 workers — boosting female industry reputation to a third.
“When we look at resumes, the name is redacted and any information that would bias me in some way about this individual,” explained Duane Adams.
“The schools they went to or attended may have been redacted. So do I only want to hire from the big eight here in Australia? If I do, that’s biasing the hiring process. Those are the kinds of tricks that, from a strategy perspective, we’re intentional about. When you measure, you set goals and you hold yourself accountable, that’s when you start to see the improvement in the numbers from a diversity perspective.”
Blind hiring, of course, is not a perfect solution. It cannot, for example, positively discriminate to boost the hiring of marginalised groups but, it’s better than nothing. But, Duane Adams is clear that the push to improve diversity goes beyond simple resume checking.
“This is a global initiative, it’s not just for the Macquarie Universities, the Harvards or the UNSWs. It has to be every level of education, where deep skills are no longer a nice to have or a need to have for a few. Data skills, the ability to work with data, understand data and think creatively with data are now the job skills required by everyone,” she explained.
To that end, Alteryx is putting its money where its mouth is with its global SparkED Analytics Education Program. Through this program, the firm provides free Alteryx software, a free learning curriculum and free access to its online community for educators around the world.
In fact, as recently as this week, Duane Adams was in conversation with the leader of a “very large financial institution” in Australia who said that she was finding it hard to get talented people with the requisite data skills to take the leap into the world of business. We’ll leave you to work out who that was.
“That’s what SparkED is designed to do. Bring industry together with higher education. Today, the SparkED program is in over 1,200 universities across 90 countries around the world. Our mission is to ensure that data analytics are now a job skill that every student is graduating with and having an impact on day one of their new career,” said Duane Adams.
The SparkED program won’t solve Australia’s talent crisis — the tech industry alone is short of some 180,000 people. But, initiatives like this and inspirational leaders like Duane Adams certainly won’t hurt.
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