Sharing the diversity of women in STEM
“I’ve had the trip of a lifetime working in startups. Now it’s time to refocus, invest in myself, and learn some new skills”
GITSG grabs a coffee with Katie Dumergue
Katie has worked at some of the most prominent consumer tech startup companies in Singapore including RedMart, Grab and Uber. She is married to a fellow kiwi and has a ten-month-old baby boy. She has recently decided to take a break from work to spend time with her baby, invest in learning some new skills and volunteer for Girls in Tech Singapore.
Did you always know you wanted to work in a technology startup?
Not at all! I actually studied a Bachelor of Property and my first job was as a Construction Project Manager in New Zealand. I was one of only two women in the entire office, it was the definition of a male dominated environment. I was frequently the only woman in the meeting room, but I quickly learnt to find my voice, and that I needed to take a seat at the table both literally and figuratively.
“Do you want to have your managers job? If not, it is time to look further.”
What made you decide to move from construction into tech industry?
One day, I simply asked myself what I was working towards. Did I really want my managers job? When I realised the answer was no, it became clear it was time for something new. To help decide on my next career move, I focused on what my passions are. It’s honestly no secret to my family and friends that I really enjoy online retail, I’m always on Pinterest and Amazon, checking out the great sales in the US, and even sourcing the best deals for my friends online. In 2015, online shopping was only really just becoming popular in Singapore, so being able to buy groceries with an app and have them delivered to your door was honestly a game-changer. Redmart’s mission to help its customers ‘save time and money for the important things in life’ really resonated with me, so it was the perfect company to transition to.
“The end of your story has not been written… it is up to you to decide”
Without a tech background was it difficult to move into the tech industry?
Yes and no. I joined Redmart in a part-time data input role, so it was a strange feeling having to start again back at the bottom of the ladder. However it honestly didn’t bother me, and I relished the opportunity to experience an exciting, fast-paced company. I even surprised myself by constantly coming up with new ideas to improve the app, and within a few weeks I was offered a full-time role as an Operations Lead, working directly with the product teams. For the first time in my life I truly loved going to work every day. Up until that point, I didn’t realise how many non-tech roles are available in tech companies, and I wish I had made the transition sooner.
When I later joined Uber, I joined the Regional Community Operations team, and later switched to Regional Operations. Both roles were super focused on improving the customer experience; we used data to develop insights into the complex issues affecting our customers, and then worked with the relevant local or global teams to address them through operational or product improvements.
I held a similar role at Grab; I just really enjoy acting as the voice of the customer to improve the product experience, and find it truly rewarding to be able to improve the app experience for thousands of users at a time.
“Almost 75% of roles at Uber are non-technology roles.”
About the working environment at tech startups…
“Everyone should read the book ‘GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ and especially if you are working in a startup”
I don’t think there is one culture across the tech startup scene, as each company I worked for (Redmart, Uber, Grab) was quite different. What was common across all, was that no day was the same, and that you’re often working on tricky problems that haven’t been tackled before. You have to be flexible, and most of all, you must have grit. For sure, especially when I first started, there were many times that I wanted to quit, as the breadth of responsibilities and the sheer scale of the workload can be intense. There were many times when I couldn’t leave the house even on weekends without my laptop, and of course we would work past midnight on New Years Eve, one of the busiest days of the year. Taking things one day at a time, and just showing up to the game, week after week got me through. I’m definitely a stronger person as a result.
About the role of women in tech startup companies…
“Women within organisations supporting other women is so powerful”
At Uber I had the most amazing female manager. She was an outstanding communicator, and ensured that everyone in her team was reaching their full potential, setting strong goals and then helping us achieve them. She was so much more aligned and tuned into my experience than my previous managers, and showed me how powerful women supporting women in the workplace can be.
We were also both core members of the regional ‘Women of Uber’ employee resource group, where we used a data-driven approach to identify challenges being faced by women within the organisation. More importantly, we then worked with leadership directly to implement strategies and plans to create awareness for and overcome issues that women face in the workplace. One example was improved goal-setting and performance tracking, which then increased transparency and equality in career progression. Other examples include manager training on ‘unconscious bias‘, and access to mentors within the company. It’s so important to be able to access that data though, and I think that more companies should practice radical transparency in order to push for positive change.
Katie’s recommendations for women moving into the tech startup industry…
- Embrace your skills. Don’t be scared off by the fact that you don’t have a tech background. For instance, at Uber about 75% of roles are non-tech. Instead of being intimidated, simply break down the role into its individual components, and reflect how your skills, background and experience align. If you have knowledge gaps, upskilling is always recommended; I’m a firm believer in #AlwaysBeImproving!
- Try different things. Unlike previous generations, now you don’t have to choose one job for the rest of your life. The world is changing at such a fast pace, with new opportunities being created every day, and there’s really never been a better time to explore working in a tech company. It is more than ok to try different things, in fact I would encourage it, especially early on in your career.
- Invest in yourself. Having worked non-stop for the last 12 years, I think it’s time for a break! Half that time I want to use to spend quality time with my family and especially my baby. The other half, I want to invest in developing myself. I’m looking forward to taking a photography course, heading to Bali for some yoga, and becoming certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). In the longer term, the one company I would honestly love to work at would be Google. Being surrounded by so many talented minds, all working to improve people’s lives on such a huge scale, and with so many different products would be a dream come true.
- Believe in yourself. Quite often, we are our own worst critic. Instead, we need to learn how to set ourselves up for success. Create a support network that believes in you, and learn what it means to have grit. When things get tough, don’t give up too soon, anything worthwhile is going to be hard. But when you eventually achieve those hard goals, the feeling of success is so rewarding.
“Your career is a jungle gym not a ladder. Sometimes you need to take a step to the side or slide down to get where you need to go”
Do you have any questions or are you looking for advice? Reach out!
Do you have any questions for Katie, or the Girls in Tech team, about working in technology, startups, your career or otherwise? Feel free to post your question in the comment below or send them to [email protected].