From cutting code to managing projects

Linda Zeelie, one of the world’s ’25 influential project managers’, on her career

How do you keep your job, side projects and life in check?

I like to be involved in industry associations, [such as] the computer society, management institute, organisation for quality -- a whole list, because I like to give back. I like to be part of my community, and I believe that we've been given a lot of opportunities and its our responsibility to give back to the community.

This year I've done some project management training in Vanuatu for some of the local church leaders there because they run large projects without any formal education let alone training, and I found that very rewarding, because to me, if you just worked and gave nothing back, that's not living.

Everyone gets the same 24 hours, so the challenge is what you do with the 24 hours. There's a lot you can fit in if you choose to do it. Unfortunately there's a lot of things that I've had to sacrifice as a result of that. It doesn't all fit into the 24 hours and that's the downside. So you've just got to understand what it is you're choosing not to do.

Have you got any professional role models?

Professionally, no. It's very hard to say that, but no. I've got a lot of role models in the male environment that I really respect, but I can't model my life on them because they have different challenges than I've got - I'm trying to juggle children and husband and life.

Certainly in Australia, where our major capital cities are fairly isolated, in Adelaide, to have a woman role model would be hard to find.

I do [think that it is important to have a role model]. In my personal life, I model my life on a number of people, and it's important, I think, to think 'Hang on, that's the kind of life I'd like to live, that's the kind of values I'd like to emulate'. So without role models it's more hit and miss.

There are a couple of ladies groups in IT that have a number of mentorship programs running, and I take my hat off to these ladies for putting the amount of time they do into trying to line up mentors for women coming into the IT industry. I think they do a great job. But as you get more senior, it's funny, I've got to a level where now I don't think I have one [a role model]. It's very sad.

Does EDS have any programs in place that are particularly targeted at supporting female employees?

We're faced with the same problems that other companies are faced with. When we go out to hire people, the girls aren't coming in from high school into the graduate programs, they're not coming out as [IT] graduates, therefore they're not available to be hired, which just makes the problem worse.

There are a number of benefits that the organisation has, and being a large organisation has benefits as well. It varies from things like daycare in some of our offices, through to being able to work from home, through to other benefits that most organisations would give women.

How do you think companies or education providers could make IT more palatable to women?

I've actually talked to a lot of them [education providers], and they are trying their best to encourage women into IT; I've been involved in a number of programs to try and raise women's awareness of the industry as a whole.

To be honest, education providers possibly could be looking at putting programs in place that are less technically oriented, perhaps focussing on some of the non-technical IT roles that are out there.

But in reality, they are really just responding to what businesses are asking for, so to me, the real change has to come from the organisations. I don't think the IT industry perceives its low percentage of women as a problem, and until they do, and actually actively address it as an industry, I don't believe that education providers or schools or industry associations are going to have a huge impact on changing the perception of IT with women.

First of all, the IT industry and management, which at the moment is predominantly male, need to recognise that it's a problem. They're losing out on a fair percentage on talent and skills out there in not having women apply for work in their industry. I believe women bring different skills and balance to a workplace, and so if there's less of us, we bring less of those skills and balance.

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