OneShift and Skilld CTO Jessica Glenn dropped out of university after the first six months of her commerce degree and ended up working for a bank – not exactly the traditional path into technology. Glenn held various roles within the bank, ending up working within corporate and commercial innovation.
While she was there she was handling the roll out of an app across a number of countries. As part of that project the team got a quote from an agency to build what was essentially a simple marketing application that came to $300,000. At the time the quote came through, Glenn was preparing to board a plane, and decided to download the objective documentation and X Code while waiting in the airport lounge. About 17 hours later she had a very rough prototype of her own.
While in many workplaces that kind of initiative and thinking may be rewarded, it was not rewarded quite so much in that bank at that time. Six months later, sick of the bureaucracy, Glenn decided to leave.
She jumped head first into a virtual reality and augmented reality tech startup.
“This was my first foray into tech startups,” said Glenn. “It was a number of years ago now, so it was when VR was still new and exciting. What we did is we built augmented reality towers for off the plan property as well as automating virtual reality tours, which was pretty cool back then and is now pretty status quo. About twelve months into that, there were four founders, and one of the founders and I exited the business and took some cash, which was very, very nice. I didn’t know how rare that was at the time.”
Post that, Glenn decided to cofound her own venture.
“I came out of [the VR startup] with, one might call it a bit of hubris, and went, you know what, this tech startup thing, anyone can do this. I went and started another one and fell flat on my face,” said Glenn.
“We absolutely crashed and burned. We say test, fail, learn, especially here at OneShift, but I didn’t do that particularly well at that point in my life. We put $80,000 of my cash in and lost it all and then went, you know what, let’s throw in $40,000 more. So that was not a great experience but it taught me a lot of lessons and I came out of that quite bruised and battered, which was very good for me.”
That was the point where Glenn joined Reffind, where she stayed at up until they listed publicly last year.
“It was a phenomenal experience and I’m very very thankful for it,” she said. About a month after the listing, Glenn moved on from Reffind and began exploring other opportunities, including building another startup herself. It was at this point that Gen George from OneShift asked her for a coffee.
“Gen said, this is what we’re doing over at OneShift and Skilld, we think you’d be a perfect fit for the team,” said Glenn. “I said no, then I think I said no about another four or five times and eventually she was so persistent that I jumped on board as the CTO.”
While the number of women in CTO roles is increasing slowly – very slowly – in Australia, the fact that people like Glenn are part of a minority is something that needs to be addressed by Australian businesses.
We now have studies that show that companies with diverse upper management and diverse boards perform 67 percent better than companies that don’t. That is not just gender diversity, but includes diverse backgrounds, ages, and skillsets.
Glenn said that the key to making sure this type of hiring and thinking comes natural to the next generation starts with education.
“I think there are a couple of things that we need,” she said. “The fact that we don’t teach coding in school is abominable, especially in the 21st century, it’s just mind boggling to me. But the other thing that we need to do, and the government is doing this at the moment, is highlight startups and tech. Making it a talking point, outside of the billion dollars that they’ve put in, talking about how it will help the startup ecosystem and people in technology and innovation of both genders.”
She explained, “What it does is it shows that it is a valid career path. Just by talking about it, we start to help the conversation. The next thing, it’s great to see things like MYOB sponsoring this series; people are starting to see that the more we put women in tech out there, the more it becomes okay for people who are 13 to 15 and hitting that year 10 drop off where it was okay to do maths before hand and okay to do science before hand, but now it’s a boys’ subject”.
There is a significant drop off for young women at those ages across those subjects and it’s at the point where they need to be seeing that it is a valid career path.
Featured image: Jessica Glenn