In this op-ed Sara Brown (pictured), Australian business manager at customer data platform firm n3 Hub, explains why a lack of formal ICT training won’t hold women back if they focus on the most important people in the equation – end users.
How does someone who studied law and health sciences at university end up holding her own in a series of technical roles that have nothing to do with either of these disparate disciplines?
It’s an interesting question and one whose answer may offer some serious food for thought, for other women who’d like to find a place for themselves in the ultra-dynamic world of IT.
Gaining an entry to the world of work
My journey began at the pioneering New Zealand mobile marketing agency Hyperfactory in 2008, in a part-time role I secured by virtue of the fact that my flatmate worked there.
SMS marketing was then in its infancy and the now ubiquitous iPhone had yet to arrive in New Zealand. Once it did, we embarked on an intense scramble – to develop apps, optimise websites for mobile and generally come to grips with the way in which this powerful pocket-sized device would impact the marketing landscape.
It was an exciting time to enter the industry. My role with Hyperfactory was a junior one, working in testing and support, but the experience I gained enabled me to segue into a more senior position at Localist, four years later.
An offshoot of New Zealand Post, Localist was a community-focused directory service that straddled print, online and mobile. I gained my first taste of product management work, overseeing the growth of the mobile market and tracking trends in this space. We were striving to achieve critical mass in two ways: convincing business owners (who, in many cases, had no other online or digital presence) to list their enterprises on the platform; and encouraging customers to interact with these businesses and leave reviews.
Achieving these interrelated ends meant immersing myself in the worlds of both of these target markets; learning what motivated and challenged them and putting those insights to work to optimise our offering.
Sitting in the middle
One way or another, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since, in a series of progressively senior roles, most latterly with n3 Hub, whose Customer Data Platform allows businesses to create personalised, cross-channel, data-driven marketing campaigns at scale.
We don’t just provide the software that enables businesses to develop optimal customer journeys. Our consultancy arm is an end user too; utilising the n3 Hub platform to deliver services to customers that are looking for an inclusive marketing solution.
Ours is a sophisticated technical product and I wouldn’t consider myself technical in the traditional sense of the word, – certainly not someone who counts coding among their core skills. Nevertheless, I now occupy a technical role; one in which I’m often called on to act as an interface between our software development and engineering team and the organisations and marketing professionals that buy and use our product.
That’s where my extensive experience working with end users stands me in excellent stead. I’ve learnt to see things intuitively through a customer lens; to think about their challenges and pain points, the business objectives that drive their operations, and the investments they’ll be willing to make, to achieve optimal outcomes.
Far from being a drawback, not having formal technical training can be a decided advantage. You’re not conditioned to do things a certain way, because that’s how they’ve always been done.
Rather, you’re able to bring a fresh perspective to issues, look at things differently and push for products and solutions that genuinely meet the needs of the only people in the room whose opinion really counts – the customers and prospects whose purchasing decisions determine the prosperity or otherwise of the business.
Opening yourself up to opportunities
In today’s times, there are ample opportunities for women to follow similar pathways to my own.
Whether your background and skills are in marketing, finance or fine arts, there’s a technology angle to just about every industry out there. The specialist knowledge and end-user perspective you can bring to bear – the insights into how your industry works at a granular level and the burning issues decision-makers are seeking to solve – have genuine value. They can help you position yourself as a capable operator who can bridge the gap between the high-tech specialists who design and build B2B solutions and the customers who’ll – hopefully! – buy and use them.
If you’re interested in forging a rewarding career in the lucrative and ultra-dynamic tech sector, there’s never been a better time to dive on in.
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