Guest Blog - Women in Technology: Bianca Wirth, KPMG
Bianca has recently joined KPMG as a Director of Cyber Security.
Bianca is a security and technology executive with a track record of driving change and innovation and developing and implementing business-oriented technology and security strategies. Well-known for being highly proactive, time-savvy and having effective decision-making skills.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
I was lucky enough to be exposed to computers from around Year 4 onwards at school (the old square Macs with 3.5” floppy disk) and they just interested me straight away. I convinced my mum to buy a computer in 1993 when I was at school.
It came with Windows 3.1 I believe and I remember installing Windows 95 later – I think it came on about 30 floppy disks! Clearly no-one taught me about computers because at some point I decided I didn’t like all the ‘messy’ files on the computer so I deleted some of them – and broke the operating system of course. I grew up on a farm and it was an hour’s drive to any town, so I spent 2 hours on the phone with a computer technician in Dubbo who helped me reinstall it.
And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the start of my computing career. Later on when I left school I ended up in Sydney and took some temp jobs as a receptionist until I could work in my ‘dream job’ (being a tour guide). I completed a short course in Advanced Excel and the trainer said four words that really started my career in IT – “Hey, you pick this up pretty quickly. Have you ever considered a career in IT?” – and my response “What’s IT?” Twelve months, 300 letters and a TAFE course later, I had my first IT job as a ‘PC Support Analyst’ at one of the companies where I temped as a receptionist.
What are the key things that allowed you to get where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
Adapting to the ever-changing market. Identifying trends. Always learning. Branding yourself subtly but consistently.
It really pained me to see people who I worked with years ago stick with the same technologies they always knew, refusing to adapt to the market for their own benefit, only to find a few years later that they were unemployable or not being offered great roles because they lacked the latest skillset.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I am actually still learning that one every day because although I can be seen as having an outgoing personality, I am actually an introvert and would prefer to be behind a computer or a book a lot of the time. The exception to this is training and presenting. I used to dread presenting until I realised it was just like training people (and I took some classes and got coaching from NIDA, which I highly recommend to everyone in the technology space).
As you transitioned to more senior and leadership roles what was the shift you needed to make?
Most challenging for me was (and still is) becoming a leader without losing my personality – what makes me, me. Also figuring out what being a leader means and practicing that – taking full ownership no matter what the outcome, letting go of the little stuff and delegating more, driving innovation at pace but with a mind for risk, being someone who is both honest with their team but also has the company’s interests at heart.
What was the most challenging situation you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Running my own business and being personally responsible for paying my employees to ensure they never missed paying their own bills or feeding their kids. I worried a lot about this potential scenario but I always knew that if a customer didn’t pay in time, I’d still pay my employees with my own cash until it ran out. I am fortunate it never got to this situation but it was a constant worry in running my own business. As a result I have great respect for any business owner, or CEO, and all the hats they wear and money concerns they may go through.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in technology?
Adapt to the ever-changing market. Identify trends. Always learn. Brand yourself subtly but consistently. Also deliver quickly but accurately, pay attention to the details but also try to see and understand the end to end business not just the technology side, learn about marketing, put your hand up for anything that sounds like it will be a learning opportunity (but don’t get taken advantage of), don’t always chase the money especially at the beginning – chase the opportunity to learn something new. And do something you love to do as much as possible every day. In the end, nothing else will really matter to you except how happy your life and the people around you were.
The impact of COVID-19 and ongoing quarantine measures have been felt globally adversely affecting most individuals and organisations. From your perspective what have been the impacts of COVID-19 within the tech industry?
It is a very interesting dichotomy. On one hand some technology organisations are seeing customers close up shop, or close to it. If we look back a bit in time, in the early 2000s technology hardware had quite a large profit margin, and over time, as with many technologies, it becomes a commodity and the price comes down, which also reduces profit.
But with COVID-19, some technology companies that supply personal and business technology hardware like phones, laptops, monitors etc have seen a boost to their profits and are as busy as ever. It’s like the second age of hardware! In saying that, many businesses have been hit hard, and I really feel for people who have been made redundant or had their family impacted in some way. I read the other day that one of Australia’s top economists said Australia will bounce back well, but I am concerned the time to do so will greatly impact people’s mental health, welfare and employment and this will ripple out over time, much as a major war does but in a different context.