With over 20 years of experience developing and managing software teams, Roisin Parkes was a natural choice for the position of Chief Technology Officer of Gumtree Australia. Roisin, who is Gumtree’s first female CTO, shares the story of her career in tech and gives advice to aspiring young techies in this Q&A. Read on to find out Roisin’s path to heading up one of Australia’s most popular online marketplaces, Gumtree.
What was your first experience with technology?
My Dad is a bit of a geek and he would often bring home interesting pieces of technology. He brought home one of the first PCs while I was still in primary school. He was so passionate about how things worked. He would talk me and my brothers through the mechanics of microprocessors and cathode ray tubes till the cows came home!
What was the first programming language you learnt?
When I was quite young my brother and I played around with a very simple programming language called ‘Logo’. It wasn’t very sophisticated, you could just make simple commands to move a cursor around the screen. But for me, the sense of achievement was huge! It was only when I went to University that I started to use ‘real-world’ programming languages like Cobol, C and FoxPro. When I graduated, I used C++ to build my first ‘commercial’ software program.
When did you first consider a career in the technology sector?
Not until I had already started studying Physiotherapy at university…which I realised I had no interest in! My brother and my friend both persuaded me to change to a Computer Systems degree, but I think the penny only dropped when I went on an 8-month work placement as part of my second year.
I went to a small company in Shannon, a small town in the West of Ireland with a huge technology park. As part of my project, I literally drove out to meet their users to gather requirements, then put the design together, coded the whole product, tested it and drove back out to install it. It gave me an amazing appreciation for the whole development lifecycle. It really opened my eyes to the power of technology and how it could make people’s lives easier.
What were some of the reactions you received from others when you enrolled in Computer Systems?
I don’t think that anyone was really surprised, only they had maybe expected maybe that I would have done it sooner! I loved Maths, Physics and other similar subjects at school (even though I never did very well at them!), so some sort of technology degree did seem like a good fit.
Which skills have proven to be the most valuable as your career progressed from software development to leadership roles?
The technology industry is incredibly fast paced, which is what I love about it, so being highly adaptable in a rapidly changing environment is a must. The goal posts are constantly moving and being able to adjust and stay motivated is key.
As a software engineer, the software either works or it doesn’t, so the feedback loop can be relatively short. As a leader, you often have to make decisions without having all of the information, and without necessarily knowing the outcome for some time. This means you have to remain focused, have a vision, and be able to articulate that to the team around you.
What have been some valuable pieces of advice you have received from mentors?
I haven’t had a formal mentor, but I have had lots of great leaders, supporters and advocates over the course of my career. One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received was to understand that I cannot be all things to all people. Some feedback is okay to ignore – that was a really difficult one for me! Understanding that sometimes you cannot make everyone happy was really valuable.
What do you think are some effective strategies for improving gender parity in tech and leadership positions?
If there was an easy fix, we would have done so already! I have no doubt that encouraging girls more from a young age to get involved in STEM activities and be ‘creators’, not just consumers of tech, will be really important. Girls and young women need to ‘see’ themselves in tech careers. We need to expose them to role models in tech and more broadly women in STEM so they see tech as a place they belong and can thrive.
Once in tech jobs though, we do see far more women than men leave. We need to ensure our workplaces are ‘inclusive’ and women are supported during their careers, especially moving into leadership roles. Having strong mentors can definitely help.
What advice would you give to girls looking to get into tech?
Find some element of tech that makes your heart soar! Whether it is a programming language you love working with, a real-world problem you want to solve, an industry you really want to be in, or a start-up you want to build, if you find something you’re really passionate about, you will be successful and the tech industry will be all the better for having you in it.
– Larissa Fedunik
Roisin’s path to becoming Gumtree CTO
>> Bachelor of Computer Systems, University of Limerick
>> Java Software Engineer, IONA Technologies
>> Senior Java Developer: EuroRSCG, Open Telecommunications
>> Team Leader: Salmat, Martin Dawes Systems, D&B Business Information Solutions
>> Chief Technology Officer, Gumtree Australia