by Rebecca Merrett

Young IT gals are going to shake up businesses: Twitter Australia MD

Aug 13, 20146 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Businesses better get ready to be shaken up and change for the better as a new generation of young IT women enter the workforce, says the managing director of Twitter Australia, Karen Stocks.

Addressing an audience of mostly teenage girls at the Go Girl Go for IT event in Melbourne on Tuesday, Stocks said if more young women were to enter the IT industry, it would see more businesses transform through technology, which creates more opportunities for businesses to grow.

“Businesses are changing pace so rapidly. And everybody in this room, you young girls, understand it better than anyone else because you are actually living new technology. You have lived through the mobile revolution, you have lived through the IT revolution, and it is part of what you do every day,” she said.

“There are a lot of businesses existing today that need to fundamentally think through how they are transformed, and this is where ladies like yourself have an amazing opportunity.

“When you come out of university and go into jobs, what you are going to find is that a lot of the people are actually looking backwards to the way businesses used to be run. But they need to figure how they run their business in a world where all this stuff is connected.”

Stocks said young women not only bring a different perspective to the workplace or approach problems differently, they are also part of the generation who were born into technology and are not afraid to experiment with it, break it, use it inversely and create something new out of it.

“I speak to businesses today and they don’t even allow their staff to be on social media during work hours. Can you imagine a world where you can’t be on social media during business hours? And it’s not that they don’t want to, they definitely want to. They just need to figure out how they should do it.”

Stocks reflected on her journey working in IT, having spent about five years at Google and was an early employee of Vodafone before taking the MD job at Twitter Australia in September 2013. Having started out in accountancy, she said her career in IT was “accidental”.

“The reason I did accountancy was because when I was in high school I loved math. But what do you do with maths? No one could really explain to me what you could do with [it]. So I thought I should do accountancy, it will be nice and practical.

“I did an accountancy degree, left university and I was very fortunate to get a job at Vodafone when it just started up in Australia. I did accountancy for 12 months and thought it is not for me, that’s not what I want to be.

“When I started working at Vodafone, email didn’t exist. I did computer studies on a Commodore 64 with basic programming, which I absolutely loved. It made my heart beat faster, so I knew I was interested in the industry. I just had no idea how to take advantage of that, and what were the opportunities.”

Like many women in the industry, Stocks discovered she was a technologist at heart through another discipline or field of work. Many women also merge their industry experience with a newfound passion for technology, and don’t necessarily start out as hard core programmers or developers, she added.

During her time at Vodafone, Stocks got involved in helping the finance department implement systems for billing and other functions. She then started to implement call centre technologies and think about how technology could help other departments. Through this, she realised the technology field was where she wanted to be.

In 2007, Stocks landed a job at Google to run the online sales and operations team, while having no in-depth knowledge about the company and what the job involved.

“This was a complete eye opener for me, a complete new industry, a new way of thinking, a new way of managing people, and a new way of interacting with customers as we don’t actually charge customers for anything. Some really fascinating business problems to solve,” she said.

During her time at Google, Stocks set up the YouTube business, monetising it in Australia. “Have you seen the ads on YouTube you get all the time? Yeah, you can blame me for that,” she joked.

She also led the commercialisation of Google on mobile and Google Plus when it first came out.

Going into the unknown is something Stocks embraces head on. Going for the job at Google, not fully knowing what is was about or what it would entail, is an example of this.

“I always take jobs where I don’t know how I’m going to do, or if I’m qualified to do them, because they’re the ones I like the most and grow the most. And when I look back on my career, the three companies I worked for – Vodafone, Google and Twitter – did not exist when I started university.

“Don’t be scared if you don’t understand [at first]. Just have an open mind, be curious and have a willingness to learn. And please don’t worry about having a life plan. Please do things that make your heart beat faster, follow your passions and dreams and trust in that way you will end up in the right place.”

Flexibility is one of the main benefits to working in IT, which is often easier to do in IT than in other industries, Stocks said. As there are usually busy peaks and quite periods in many businesses, it may not be practical to have staff always work 9 to 5.

“I could work say 14 hours a day, making phone calls [to overseas] at 2am in the morning. But other days, say it’s a Friday, I clock off at lunch time. Most people are judged on what they achieve rather than when they clock in and clock off.”

Travel opportunities are another benefit, she said. “I was in the US two weeks ago, I’m in the US next week, I’m in Malaysia beginning of September, Singapore in September, Hong Kong in October, Brazil in November. And that’s not really my day job, plus I have my day job on that.

“Because we are a global company, and a lot of IT[-based] companies are global, you do get that opportunity.”

Her advice for women entering the industry and working their way up is to not get too set in their own knowledge and be ready to constantly change and think differently.

“Working in this industry, I need to be comfortable in the knowledge that I will never know everything that I need to know. So I need to pick and choose, try and filter what the most important things are.”

Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett

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