Earlier this year I was interviewed by Megan Hayward, of the University of Adelaide’s MBA Alumni Association.
Megan talked with me about my 30 years of experience as a technology specialist, the challenges of a rapidly changing market place, my path to business ownership with Wiser Technology Advice and what it takes to make it in the ever changing tech industry.
Here are our planned questions and answers. We didn’t follow the script precisely, but that’s all part of the fun of recording an interview!
1. How was Wiser Technology Advice born and what specifically do you offer your clients?
Firstly, I’ll give you a bit of background about myself.
I have always been a nerd, and I was the first person in my working class family to attend a university where I did an undergraduate science degree and majored in mathematical statistics and computer science.
My career started as shy software developer in the 1980s, when I was employed in a graduate programmer position at the State Bank of South Australia.
This was in the era before there were emails, internet, mobile phones or social media. When we needed to seek knowledge we had to approach the senior employees, the experts in the field, or read books.
Since then I’ve worked in many industries, including banking, agriculture, insurance, state government, small business.
Ten years ago I decided to pursue what I enjoy most, which is working with people in business to help them understand what they need from technology. This is when I launched myself as an independent consultant.
I’m lucky to be in the unique position of being completely independent. I’m not associated with a large consulting company, a software seller or an accountancy firm.
I’ve had positions on not-for-profit boards, so I understand what directors and business owners need to know for decision making.
I now specialise in procurement for small and medium businesses, and other good governance for example business case documents and strategic technology planning.
2. What have been the key challenges for you and what would you have done differently?
I’m very good at what I do, but being by nature a shy nerd I’m not so good at marketing my services.
At one point I tried employing Business Development Manager, with the intention of growing my business, but this didn’t have the outcome I expected.
I’ve also tried having an office in the city, but after less than a year discovered this was an overhead I didn’t need.
But I wouldn’t have done anything differently, as I believe you have to learn by being flexible and trying things as they come along.
3. You have had the opportunity to work across both government and private sectors and with large and small businesses, technical capabilities aside, what are the soft skills that have made you successful in business?
Even though I’m academically brilliant, I have had to work hard to understand people.
And of course if can’t sell what you do, and customers don’t want to work with you, won’t have a viable business.
The soft skill of empathy is very important. Having been on boards and owning my own business I’m able to put myself in the shoes of my customers.
I often describe myself as a glorified translator, as I’m able to talk about complex and overwhelming world of technology in lay terms.
I’m able to make customers feel comfortable, helping them understand what they need from technology.
4. What does Wiser Technology Advice do to stay on the cutting edge of innovation?
Part of my job is to be constantly researching, attempting to keep up to date with latest trends and buzz words in technology.
So I’m constantly reading, talking to peers, attending conferences, expos and talks.
In 2018 I attended events hosted by IBM, Hewlett Packard, Women in Innovation, the University of Adelaide and the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council and more.
These were held in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and covered topics including technology trends, IT in aged care, artificial intelligence, blockchain and cyber security.
5. What sort of innovation are your clients looking for and how has this driven your business to evolve?
My clients are mostly small and medium businesses and they are always seeking efficiencies.
New technology alone can’t solve business problems however. I always start with mapping out business processes, to look for low cost, non-technical improvements they can make.
Small and medium businesses are starting to understand value of information and the need to have good systems to manage their data, turning it into valuable information.
All of my work comes from referrals from clients I’ve worked with before and other people I know, such as advisors in the Federal Government Entrepreneurs Programme, which is part of AusIndustry.
6. Women in Tech are falling and it is well reported that there are very low numbers of women in Tech leadership roles. In Australia we have a focus on Women in STEM subjects and professions, so I am keen to get your insights on the following:
- What have been the Highs and Lows of Being a Woman in Tech for you?
It’s often incredibly frustrating, as a woman I’ve had many experiences of being ignored and not respected. It’s been tough, I’ve been overlooked for promotions and paid less than my peers. But I’ve put this experience to good use as a mentor, being able to help young women entering tech industry.
- What is your advice to women considering tech?
Believe in yourself, develop support network of peers and multiple mentors.
- What are the perks of being a woman in tech?
One fabulous advantage is that I am memorable and unique as a woman in technology. People have the perception that because I’m a woman I’ll have great people skills. I find that very amusing as this is not true, because at heart I’m a just a geek. You might be surprised to know that I’ve had to learn my people skills, mostly through watching others who are great at this and emulating what they do. Practice makes perfect, with age and experience I’ve become good at listening to and empathising with the people I work with.
- How are you supporting more women to take the Tech challenge?
I’m a member and past president of Women in Innovation, the not-for-profit South Australian organisation that holds the annual Winnovation awards, celebrating women’s achievements in technology. During my term as president we ran a successful mentoring program for young women in final years of their technical degree.
I’m currently member of HerTechPath, a group of women in technology who speak in high schools to young women considering careers in technology.
7. Sonya you graduated with a Master of Business Administration from The University of Adelaide in 2009, how has this impacted you and your business?
Studying in the MBA program changed my life. I know this sounds trite, but it’s 100% true.
I was put into the MBA program by manager at the time, she was grooming me for a management career.
I soon discovered a world beyond technology. The MBA studies opened my eyes to possibilities I’d never dreamt of while working within the technology industry.
It gave me the confidence to launch myself as an independent consultant and I’m very thankful to the University of Adelaide for their great MBA program.