Yvonne Parle started working in the technology industry in the 1970s where she was the only female in a data centre in London. Since then, she has played various roles in the banking, insurance, petrochemical, health, resources and education sectors.
She started out as a computer operator then moved into systems programming, then IT management and business analysis before she then landed a role in information management and project management at the World Health Organization. She is currently the manager of information management at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Western Australia.
Parle speaks with Computerworld about what it is like to be a woman in an IT world.
When did you start being interested in IT, and what triggered that interest?
I was working as a medical secretary for a pharmaceutical firm and had organized its medical library using a card index system. One of the lab technicians insisted that I could write a program to do the same and persuaded me that if I could understand a complex knitting pattern (which I used to do during lunch times) then programming would be easy. I ended up working with him to transfer the system to computer and I was hooked!
As a school student, did you feel encouraged or discouraged to follow a career in IT by teachers and career advisers?
Way back then IT didn't exist, but I was encouraged by my teachers to choose science subjects and physics was a favourite subject of mine.
What technology related courses or degrees have you studied?
I have completed many and varied courses over the years from IBM to Novell to Microsoft as technologies have come and gone. I've also completed tertiary studies in IT project management.
Have you found the approach to IT investment is vastly different in each organization that you have worked for?
The approach to ICT investment certainly has differed significantly in terms of decision-making.
For example, while working with non government organizations (NGOs) through the World Health Organization (WHO), I found there was a huge motivation and willingness to adopt Internet-based technologies and open source applications, because NGOs are often operating on an extremely tight budget.
Conversely in the booming resources sector in WA of late, ICT investment has been focused around increasing throughput and the speed at which mineral resources can be extracted and exported with budget taking less prominence compared with leaner times. Each sector has its own culture that brings its influence to bear on ICT culture in turn.
The WHO is bureaucratic in nature because all decisions taken have to be transparent to the donors, so there are multiple layers of authority required to take investment decisions and I would imagine this would be similar to public sector companies which are beholden to tax payers.
In comparison, I have found private sector companies, whilst they are extremely rigorous in their accounting practices as a whole and ultimately responsible to their shareholders, are sometimes better able to be flexible in their investment decision-making based on both short-term and long-term outlooks.
What has been your hardest professional role in IT and what made it hard?
Probably the hardest professional roles were the early years when gender discrimination was alive and well, this was in London in the 70s and I was the only female in the entire data centre! It was also difficult in that boyfriends didn't understand what I did or why it was my responsibility to make sure the overnight batch worked, because if it didn't, it meant the bank's core system didn't produce the balances for the day's trading!
Which role have you enjoyed most, and why?
Probably my favourite role was my first shot at managing a technical team. That was at the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. I found that I naturally enjoyed managing teams and I really loved getting the opportunity to manage projects from start to finish instead of being involved only in a phase or two of the work. I think I was hooked on project management from that point forward!