Women in IT: Catherine Jaktman

Dr Catherine Jaktman has been working in IT for more than 15 years and wears many hats: Australian Computer Society (ACS) vice president (only the second female to hold the role in 15 years), ACS Canberra branch chairperson and casual lecturer and principal of Nordic Technology. Jaktman holds a BA in Mathematics, MS in Computer Science and a PhD in Computer Science Engineering and has worked on projects in the US, Sweden, Hong Kong and New Zealand. She hopes to be a role model for other women in IT, and believes it is a shame that females are still not encouraged to choose technology-based careers.

What and where was your first job in IT?

My first job was as a Fortran 77 programmer in the actuarial of a large insurance company in Boston. I stayed for about one year before I went to work as a programmer for a major bank, also in Boston. I was then recruited for an IT position in banking in Sydney, and I am still in Australia today.

Why were you interested in studying IT?

Looking back to when I entered IT at uni, I am not sure if I was interested in 'technology' or interested in the career prospects that it enabled and the opportunities that studying technology provided, such as being able to work in different industries and countries.

Do you recall being either encouraged or discouraged as a school student to take on a career in IT?

In high school I was good in maths and science, so I was encouraged to study nursing or become a teacher. I studied maths at Northeastern University in Boston. After my third year at Northeastern, they started a Computer Science program, which maths students were encouraged to join. So, I suppose I fell into IT as a natural progression from maths.

I don't think girls are encouraged enough to enter a career in IT today. Unfortunately, IT is still seen as a geekie profession. There needs to be more women working in IT to encourage girls to enter it.

What does your current role as principal of Nordic Technology consist of and what are you working on?

My job entails consulting with government departments in the areas of IT strategy, enterprise architecture and IT governance. I am currently working with a large government department in developing a governance and measurement approach for a major IT project. The most exciting part to the role is working with different people in business and technology to achieve an outcome.

What do you find most challenging about your work?

Often the most challenging part of a project is working with a client that is uncertain of what they want, but they know they need to change to move forward. I have always found IT to be a challenging career as you have to understand the business side to deliver a solution. Everything is changing; there are always new service delivery models for organizations and new technology solutions.

In addition to your role at Nordic Technology, you are also the ACS vice president and chairperson, and you lecture at the University of Canberra and the Australian Defence Force. How do you fit it all in?

Being very organized and drinking lots of coffee! But honestly, I feel very privileged to be part of the ACS, and thoroughly enjoy my work. The ACS has always provided me with great networking and professional development opportunities. In a national role with the ACS, I have the opportunity to get involved in national activities such as working on projects to encourage young Australians to study IT, and assisting with offering scholarships through the ACS Foundation to disadvantaged students who want to study IT. It is very rewarding work.

The lecturing work is also very exciting and allows me to continue to learn. I enjoy transferring my knowledge to students, whilst often demonstrating the funny side of working in IT.

What's an example of where you have been able to use humour in your work?

Enterprise architecture (EA) is all about understanding the organization and providing traceability from the business through to technology. When an executive says, "I want an EA in a big picture for my wall" I have to joke that if you really want to add value - you should get it laminated. One of my clients loved the laminated version, took it everywhere and could use it as a placemat.

What do you see as your greatest achievements in the IT industry?

I suppose staying in IT throughout my career and having different roles from (programming) to research through to consulting.

Do you feel there are particular challenges inherent in being a female in IT?

No. I tend to be an outspoken person, so I will speak out if I feel I am being treated unfairly (often using humour), and then move on to get the job done. I think you can ask any women in any industry if they have challenges with being a woman, and they would probably say "yes". But it is disappointing that you have to ask the question at all.

What do you find most rewarding about having a career in IT?

The opportunities of working with different technology and the travel. In addition to bringing me to Australia, through technology I have worked in Sweden, New Zealand, and Asia. I still continue to work in Asia and enjoy working with people from a variety of different backgrounds.

Does the IT industry and culture differ in Australia to other countries where you have worked?

Americans tend to be more outspoken, which is a good approach to bringing about change. I like to be upfront with people and communicate my thoughts. I've found that Australians tend to be very friendly people with a good sense of humour, so they're always enjoyable to work with. I also appreciate the courtesy and organization of Asians.

Do you have any specific professional role models?

I have worked with so many positive career role models along the way; it is hard to remember them all. The people I admire most are those that continue to contribute to both the IT industry and society.

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