IWD 2021: Kablamo talks Australian tech & returning to the world as a mum
My journey in technology began more than twenty years ago, when I finished a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (1999) and was trying to decide whether to continue with my studies (law) or head down another path. That was when I learnt about the IBM Graduate Program, and so I applied.
I had spent my summer holidays during university working at the data center in Ballarat (then run by ISSC which later became IBM Global Services). I figured applying was worth a shot if only for the opportunity to go through the interview process. I was amazed when I was accepted. It turned out that IBM was actively looking for diverse graduates - diverse in both skills and gender. Within a week I was working as a “Problem Manager” for the Telstra Account.
This was such a great way to gain an understanding of IT. My role was to act aa the interface between the customer (Telstra) and the technical teams. All critical problems the customer faced - from a shovel going through a cable and breaking telephone communications in regional NSW to servers failing and causing credit card payments to go unprocessed - were managed by the team.
What a baptism of fire. Throw in the excitement of the year 2000 and the Sydney Olympics, all during the age of pagers, simple (un-smart) mobile phones and dial-up internet. I was hooked by tech.
The Graduate Program meant I got to know people from all over the IBM business. The mentors in the program actively supported us in moving to new roles to broaden our experience and knowledge. This taught me the importance of networking and keeping in contact with mentors.
Within 18 months I was working in a new division and, again, was learning new technologies and concepts every day. This time I narrowed my focus in the Network and Security area - I made sure I learnt the ‘ins and outs' of the technologies so that I could confidently speak to our technical teams and our customers. I worked with a number of capable men and women and saw the importance of strong leadership and considered management styles.
I identified a number of mentors who helped me develop my interest in the business side of IBM as well as my interest in moving into a management role. At this time, I realised I needed to learn more about how to run a business so I began my MBA, which IBM supported me in completing through study leave and financial help. Along the way, I found myself managing a team of 28 engineers.
Again, it was a baptism of fire. I had to quickly learn the nuances of HR management, team management, people management, customer management, all the while studying. I still look back at this time fondly: though tough with long hours, nights and days, the camaraderie we developed as a team meant we achieved some pretty amazing results and real customer satisfaction.
Everything was on track for a tech career to the next tier and beyond. After 12 years with IBM, I went on maternity leave and returned to work as a mother of twin boys. I moved into a BD role for the still nascent Cloud computing.
However, taking on new adventures as a family and the opportunity to live overseas, I resigned to head to San Diego, California, for three years as my husband, a Naval officer, was posted there.
The plan was always to return to Australia and contact IBM (or use the network) to find a role that would be interesting and challenging within the tech industry. However, things did not go to plan. My daughter, Kate, was born in the USA in 2015 with a condition that required two liver transplants (one in the USA and one in Australia). Suddenly my plan wasn't so clear. For someone who had always mapped out my career, I was lost.
By 2019, Kate was stable enough for me to feel comfortable about her attending child care. However, I needed to find an organisation that could offer me flexibility. Due to Kate's immunosuppression, I needed to be able to drop everything and rush Kate to hospital if she ever became sick.
Time out of the paid workforce had also made me realise that I wanted a role that allowed me to be at school pick up, and enjoy the school holidays as a family.
I had set the bar very high - but I also knew that I really missed working in tech. I had began volunteering with our local surf club and the skills I had forgotten about came back. That was incredibly validating. After years of not being in the traditional workforce, I finally reached out to my network again. And I was amazed that even after being out of the country and the industry for so long, my skills were still in demand.
When I met with Kablamo, I threw every reason in the book to the co-CEOs as to why it was not going to work. Their response was simple: "Let's just start with one day and see how we go. You can work from your home or the office - your choice."
Fast forward two years, and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I love every second I am working (which has increased from one to three days a week… based on my request!) and I love when I am not working, too. I love my children so very much, but for a few hours a day I am ‘Clare Burrows' and not just mum! I see my role as ever growing and ever changing. Technology is again fresh to me and the challenge of learning all over so welcome.
I don't have the same drive that I had 10 years ago to keep changing or moving up the line from a management perspective, and that's okay. My role ticks all my boxes for challenge, business, technology, leadership and mentoring. Who knows what the future holds for my career - but I know that it will always be in technology.
Here are some key points from this woman in tech:
- Build and maintain a network of great people who can help guide you and support you throughout your career
- Keep learning and pivoting in ways that keep you interested in your work (and make you interesting to potential employees)
- Work for organisations that support and encourage you to take on new opportunities and challenge yourself
- Check in with yourself regularly to realise what is important to you and where your priorities lie.