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Kat Kolich

Kat is Head of Enterprise Data Services at BNZ and promotes women in data and technology through being the NZ Ambassador for Stanford Women in Data Science.

Kat KolichWhat do you do on an average work day?

Each day is different, my team and I look after data platforms and I am a member of the BNZ (Bank of New Zealand) Technology Leadership team so I can be working on something very technical in one meeting through to a management meeting an hour later.  Mostly I work with people translating business requirements into technical solutions in collaboration with my team. 

Some of the highlights include working on technical architecture designs for projects, providing technical thought leadership and guidance and also just being there to listen to some of the great ideas and innovation that is generated within the teams. 

What did you study at school? And after high school?

At school I was really into both art and science. We did not have computer classes when I was at school - the closest we got was an electronic typewriter! I was in the debating and theatre-sports teams and was a school librarian right through school which meant I got to use the library computer for cataloguing books. 

After school I would build my own computers at home and along with completing a Bachelor of Arts studied computer programming and networking which is how I got my first IT (Information Technology) job as a programmer. 

After working in IT as a programmer I got involved in the field of data management and specialised in this area by completing a Masters degree in Information Management.  This led me to a new career path in the field of Information Architecture, Solution Architecture and Enterprise Architecture. These are roles that usually require a solid grounding experience in programming and design on large IT projects as well as some formal industry qualifications such as TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) Certified Architect - which is a qualification I completed a few years into my work as an Enterprise Architect.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Yes I think that all study and life experiences contribute to a person's ability in their role; my experience in the arts has been just as relevant as my technical training.

While the data and information domain study has been directly relevant in my role as a leader in data management, my arts background has enabled me to communicate technical concepts in way that is relatable to non-technical audiences. 

Kat with women at WiDS NZ

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

One of the key things that I always try to share with any women I meet is: even if you are specialised in only one domain, you can combine this with tech skills to create new career paths that may not even exist yet.

These days technology roles are more collaborative where there is a focus on leveraging the many diverse skills in cross-functional team environments, this means that even if you have a non-traditional background you can still get involved in the tech industry.

Also - don’t be afraid to share your technical expertise! It's so important to have women demonstrate their knowledge at tech-related events because it provides a relatable mind map for female audiences to aspire to work in the fields when they see other women being successful. When I delivered a keynote address at an AWS Financial Services Cloud Symposium in New York last year, there were only a handful of women in the audience, and a few thanked me for representing women at the event.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Some career highlights are the industry groups and activities I have been able to contribute to because of my career experience, which are often outside of work time.  One is the New Zealand Tech Association's TechWomen Executive, where we, as a group of industry representatives, aim to encourage more women into tech roles. We do this through programs such as ShadowTech Day, Return to IT and Mentoring Circles as well as our 100 Tech Women project. It's great to be part of a group of motivated people volunteering their time to make a difference in the New Zealand tech industry!

On a global scale I have been also active working with the Stanford University Institute for Computational Mathematical Engineering's Women in Data Science community as the New Zealand Ambassador for Women in Data Science (WiDS).  I have been able to experience being part of a worldwide network of women focussed on increasing the participation of women in data science and data engineering.

Recently we had the Global WiDS Events including the first New Zealand Women in Data Science Conference at The University of Auckland.  WiDS NZ was well attended and included a diverse representation of new-to-industry and established female leaders and data scientists. The conference was captured on video, which you can watch on YouTube. It has been wonderful to receive so much positive feedback from attendees since the event and I'm really looking forward to next year's conference.

Kat in New York

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

It is really important that we support innovation in New Zealand and support tech start-ups to become “stay-ups”, since the stats show that the tech industry is our country's third largest exporter.

Technology is an area where the remoteness of New Zealand is no longer a barrier to innovative Kiwis competing on the world stage. There are so many examples of innovation from New Zealand, and encouraging more people to participate in STEM will increase our ability to continue to accelerate in this growth area. 

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

No matter what field you are working in - be it customer service in the private sector or public service industry - it is important to have well balanced teams that are representative of society. 

Technology roles have evolved to become more about collaboration across diverse skillsets and backgrounds to deliver solutions that are relevant to multiple areas of society. But in New Zealand, as is the trend globally, there are less females studying towards careers in STEM. In 2015, out of 1600 people who earned IT degrees only 350 of these were awarded to women, according to stats from the Ministry of Women. This shows just how underrepresented women are in the field!

One of the key things about diversity is that it does not work without inclusion, so encouraging a more inclusive industry which recognises and celebrates diverse backgrounds and skills makes it more welcoming for women considering a career in STEM.

It is really important for us to continue to grow the pipeline of women in STEM through activities such as mentoring programs, networking and providing role models - and there are some wonderful people around the country dedicating their own time to encourage and support more females into STEM careers.

Kat drawn by Liz Donnelly, cartoonist at The New Yorker

Kat has worked in the technology industry for over twenty years (specialising in data and analytics architecture and platforms) she is the Head of Enterprise Data Services at Bank of New Zealand. Kat is active in promoting women in data and technology through her work as a member of the TechWomen Executive and as the New Zealand Ambassador for Stanford Women in Data Science.
[Caricature credit: Liza Donnelly, cartoonist at The New Yorker] 

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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