Diverse IT – a new look at skills needed for the tech sector

Published on the 21/01/2015 | Written by Jodi Mitchell


Diverse IT

Jodi Mitchell, CEO of SimplHealth, says softer skills are changing a once tech-heavy profession...

As a female CEO in the IT sector I stand out in an industry that’s traditionally seen as predominantly white and male. Thankfully, however, the world of IT is changing in some important ways. IT is now everywhere, is integral to people’s daily lives and people hold more power in one hand than they did in a desktop not so long ago. Dare I say it, IT now even has emotion.

In a world where software should be easy and intuitive to use by a diverse group of people, it makes sense for there to be a mixture of skills and people in any team responsible for its development. So, where technology was once an industry for male technical problem solvers, it is now beginning to need a different and wider set of skills.

Looking at my own organisation, SimplHealth, we are very lucky to have an array of different backgrounds. Our team is split between Auckland and Wellington. Around half were born overseas and of these 10 percent are South Asian, 20 percent South East Asian and a handful come from South Africa, Ireland, UK, Australia, Serbia and the Netherlands. Forty percent are women. One of us is even a ‘Westie’.

With our diverse backgrounds, nationalities, races and creeds, we have different perspectives about what it takes to be successful but one thing we all believe is that IT is more about people than technology.
As a company focused on delivering healthcare solutions to improve people’s lives we may be a good example of one requiring softer skills. But I also believe this is becoming increasingly important for all IT professionals.

Here are some criteria we look for when employing people, in addition to the equally important technical skills:

  • Passion and enthusiasm: having this and being technical may be an oxymoron but you don’t have to be loud and full of hoopla to be passionate
  • Methodical and detail oriented: highly important as small detail can have major impact on the bigger software picture
  • Problem solving, vision and big picture thinking: we want to make life easier so understanding the issue from a people perspective is vital
  • Perseverance and resilience: having the tenacity and drive to continue until achieving the best result
  • Communication and teamwork: an ability to express oneself and ones ideas, so others can contribute as a team
  • Leadership and empowerment: leadership comes in many forms and it takes a team to deliver a solution. Leadership can be taking responsibility for one aspect, just as much as the whole project
  • Always learning: I’ve learned constantly through my career so we ask people what they have learned recently

The largest sector of the population with many of these interpersonal skills is of course women, who remain under-represented in most IT organisations.

As a rule, I have never been keen on singling out women as it doesn’t reflect the real work environment. Yes, there are issues of equality, especially in regards to pay and senior management representation, and Emma Watson, UN women’s ambassador and actress who played Hermione Granger, is waving the female flag, but I don’t believe that focusing only on women will achieve the goals sought. I would not hire someone simply for being female, as capability and competency still needs to be the prime focus.

Looking at my own story, it has been a number of men who have provided me opportunities that have led me to where I am today. And it wasn’t simply being given opportunities but more importantly taking them up.
For instance, the manager who explained the basics of programming when I started out, the mentor who suggested I invest in Ministry of Software in my 20s or even the colleague who persuaded me to get over my fear of diving and took me to a scuba course. I think the difference is that I accepted their help and support, and it has paid off big time.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many women. Some need to be competitive with men to succeed, others like to show them up, power dress or be unemotional. They, in my opinion, act more like men than some men do! My message to them is get over it girls and work with the guys, not against them.

So finally, the one skill everyone needs is to appreciate differences, qualities and characteristics. We all have something to offer and put together any team can create amazing things – collaboration is the key. If you can provide opportunities, people will show you their capabilities. And it doesn’t make a difference where someone is from, whether male or female, young or old. If that person has what you need, hire her, or him.

Jodi MitchellABOUT JODI MITCHELL//

Jodi Mitchell is CEO of SimplHealth and Chair of the NZ Health IT Cluster, and has worked in the IT industry for over 20 years. SimplHealth is an expert in delivering technology solutions that share information, safely and securely, between healthcare professionals.

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