When Women in Tech Uplift Each Other

We are delighted to bring you this interview in collaboration with one of our partners, Contino. Simone Occulate, a data evangelist and principal consultant, believes in empowering through actions and good examples. She shares with us her experience in tech, including lessons learned from mentoring others.

What first got you interested in tech? 

When I was little, I was determined to be a ballerina and to have my own gym! Unfortunately, due to an injury, that was not possible, so I decided to work with computers as I was really good at mathematics and physics. It seemed to be a logical path to follow, as well as something challenging with a promising future.

I started my career as a software developer while still studying at a technical high school. I got my computer science bachelor’s degree followed by post-graduate studies in object-oriented analysis as well as in corporate finance, to gain a non-tech perspective. In between these studies, I switched to become an Oracle DBA, before becoming a data architect. I was also a data modelling trainer for a while before starting a job as an enterprise data architect, when an opportunity came up to be a reviewer of DAMA DMBoK on Data Governance and Data Quality chapters. My career has always been focused on data, working across different industries, overseas and in Australia.

I believe that regardless of your position, or the company you work for, you always have to keep an eye out on what’s happening and what’s trending so you can have different perspectives. I’ve always maintained this approach but it’s been especially important in recent years.

I can say the aspects that got me interested in tech are still valid nowadays: It’s dynamic, challenging, forward-thinking, innovative and breaks down barriers.

What are you most proud about in your role as a data evangelist and principal consultant with Contino? 

My job is as dynamic as it can be so there are no boring days! The beauty of it is that you know you are contributing, evolving and helping your colleagues and customers to also evolve. We help bring out the best in each other, which is reflected in our results and in the long term relationships we build along the way.

Not long ago, we changed from what I like to call ‘starving for data’ to ‘drowning in data but with scarcity of knowledge’. Each person and each company is on a different stage of their data journey but the pain points or root cause tend to be similar.

Despite the fact that data is always important, most recently, people  have become aware of such importance. Who would have thought that a former US president would mention ‘metadata’ in one of his speeches? That showed that people outside IT or non-data-related jobs were now interested and much more aware of the recent changes, and the importance of data being an actual theme rather than just a distant idea.

Looking through human history, IT is very recent. If you compare it to civil engineering for example, I believe we still have a long way to go to figure out better ways of working, tools to be developed, frameworks to be developed. So, it makes even prouder to be working with data..

How do you make personal time and retain a sense of identity while pursuing career success? 

One of the things I like most about this industry is the speed of movement and the quick advances in technology. Keeping up-to-date is of course a challenge on its own, but I like to think of it as a part of life! It’s part of who I am – feeling comfortable being outside my comfort zone.

I’ve found the best way to make time for your personal life whilst pursuing your professional goals is by planning. From planning your day to planning your year. Obviously you get better at this over time. Goal setting is one part of it, as long as you put it into action of course. It can’t be just a list of bullet points forgotten somewhere in your computer! This allows you to have an introspective view of who you are and who you want to be, and plan accordingly. It should take into account all areas of your life, like a wheel of life: health, finance, professional, relationships, hobbies, etc.

You can adjust this plan along the way as circumstances may change and as you get a better sense of what has worked versus what hasn’t. At the end of the day, all those areas need to be in balance for you to be well and happy, and therefore to be a better professional achieving those goals.

Drawing from your experience as a mentor, what are some common challenges that women in tech face?

From my experience, especially after founding a voluntary group to help newcomers in IT in Melbourne in 2010, I’ve come across so many different situations, scenarios, restrictions, and of course outcomes.

Sometimes it’s not your answer that is important, it’s the questions you ask them, forcing them to think from a different perspective that they may not have previously considered.

It’s been an amazing experience, being true to my beliefs and using my own learning and experiences to help other women discover different options in their career. It always comes down to a personal choice but I like to think that the final decision is data-driven. It’s based on the facts, rather than on emotion or ignorance of other options.

In this fast paced world, some people are lost when choosing what to study and invest time in a career. I don’t have the answers unfortunately! There are so many things being created that it is impossible for any of us to be across all the topics and subjects. The only way I can help them is by sharing the methods I use, so showing them how to fish rather than fishing for them.

Having said all that, I’d like to highlight these common challenges for women in tech:

  • Not having a voice and feeling you are not heard
    • Depending on the professional environment, mostly in the male-dominated ones, women feel they are not heard
  • For some, it’s to ‘think outside the box’.
    • We need to develop the capability of thinking from different perspectives  especially after moving to a new country with different languages and a different culture. Just the language being different means a different way of thinking and perceiving things.
  • Difficulty to go back to work after maternity leave
    • Even though many organisations have changed their policies on it, the majority haven’t, so women may change to a different career because of that.

However. I believe as a society, these challenges and many others should be talked about and solved with all parts of the equation, both women and men participating. Otherwise, the probability of not solving them, but creating other problems, is high.

What can we do to inspire and empower more women to flourish in tech? 

I believe it must be through actions and good examples, as words alone are not enough.

As I like to say ‘Knowledge is NOT power, Knowledge in ACTION is POWER’.

We can use meetups, training, workshops, and share experiences of what worked well and what didn’t. More organisations could open this conversation up and launch initiatives to put these changes into place and share their experiences.

As an example, Contino hosts a great meetup, FiiT (Female Influencers in Tech), which helps empower the tech community with inspiring speakers and topics.

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Editor: Alexandra Khoo