DIG­I­TAL SAGE

Smart, savvy and in­spir­ing, four suc­cess­ful women im­mersed in tech­nol­ogy share their ca­reer sto­ries, pas­sion for the in­dus­try and hopes for the fu­ture.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

Four women im­mersed in tech­nol­ogy share their ca­reer sto­ries, pas­sion for the in­dus­try and hopes for the fu­ture.

The fash­ion tech­nol­o­gist: Am­ber Venz Box

As the co-founder and pres­i­dent of Re­wardStyle, one of the world’s largest link af­fil­i­ate net­works, Am­ber Venz Box has brought tech­nol­ogy and fash­ion to­gether to ser­vice mil­lions of peo­ple around the world. The most in­ge­nious and sim­ple busi­ness ideas are those that solve your own prob­lems. As a young girl in Dal­las, Am­ber Venz Box yearned for a ca­reer in fash­ion in New York. “Dal­las is hours away from New York and not a pub­lish­ing city, and I didn’t know any­one in New York and had no means of get­ting there,” she says in her charm­ing Texan ac­cent over the phone from the Re­wardStyle head­quar­ters, lo­cated in her home town. “I was among the thou­sands of girls who never got that op­por­tu­nity [to in­tern in New York’s fash­ion in­dus­try].”

At high school, Venz Box be­gan cre­at­ing and sell­ing her own jewellery, then worked in fash­ion in Los Angeles and New York. Re­turn­ing to Dal­las, she par­layed her ex­pe­ri­ence and nat­u­ral taste as a re­tail buyer and per­sonal shop­per into start­ing a blog. “The blog was meant to be a mar­ket­ing tool to get more peo­ple to use my off­line ser­vice [as a per­sonal shop­per], but when­ever I started doc­u­ment­ing it, I quickly lost my key cus­tomers. I cut my­self out of my own busi­ness be­cause they could get all the in­for­ma­tion there,” says Venz Box, now 28. Her boyfriend at the time, Bax­ter, who is now her hus­band and co-founded Re­wardStyle, was at grad­u­ate school back then, and be­tween them they de­vised a link af­fil­i­ate sys­tem that would al­low con­tent cre­ators such as Venz Box to re­ceive com­mis­sion from prod­ucts they sug­gested.

“Some­one asked me re­cently whether it was scary to start Re­wardStyle and I said: ‘Hon­estly, no, be­cause I had lit­er­ally no money and I was liv­ing at my dad’s house and eat­ing ce­real, so there wasn’t much lower to go.’”

Now, five years on from its launch, Re­wardStyle has more than 200 em­ploy­ees around the world in five of­fices and has driven more than US$1 bil­lion in re­tail sales in­ter­na­tion­ally. It has also moved into the beauty and home space and started Like To Know, which al­lows In­sta­gram users to re­ceive com­mis­sion from prod­ucts they fea­ture on their posts.

This Septem­ber sees the start of a part­ner­ship with Google to in­dex so­cial me­dia con­tent. In lay­man’s terms, that means when us­ing Google, it will bring up con­tent cre­ated on so­cial me­dia be­cause the cre­ator of the image, the prod­ucts within it, the con­text and how well it per­formed are all doc­u­mented, search­able and track­able, thanks to Re­wardStyle’s tech­nol­ogy.

Venz Box be­lieves that it’s only in re­cent months that Re­wardStyle has been recog­nised as the pow­er­ful tool that it is. “I feel that it’s only this year that Re­wardStyle has gained mass re­spect. I’m not mad about this at all; I com­pletely un­der­stand that you have to earn your pres­ence,” she says, mod­estly ac­knowl­edg­ing that users and re­tail­ers needed time to be­come ed­u­cated about their prod­uct and their needs.

Venz Box’s en­ter­prises are among the few that have been suc­cess­ful in bridg­ing the gap be­tween fash­ion and tech­nol­ogy. She knows from her own ex­pe­ri­ence it’s a chal­leng­ing space. “I’ve seen tech peo­ple try to build things for fash­ion, but there’s too much nu­ance in fash­ion for it to work,” she ex­plains. “You have to cre­ate some­thing that peo­ple need to use in­stead of want to use [in fash­ion], and in or­der to do that you have to ac­tu­ally have worked in the in­dus­try.”

For the many peo­ple around the world who, like Venz Box, have craved a ca­reer in fash­ion, Re­wardStyle has been able to make it a pos­si­bil­ity – even with­out be­ing in New York. The Dal­las location, in fact, helped the com­pany stay in “stealth mode” for longer. “My fear was that if we were in New York where the fash­ion and tech scene is so huge, we would have had com­peti­tors come about ear­lier who may have given us a run for our money. We’ve been around for five years and there hasn’t been any­one else who has been able to catch up be­cause we’ve had the time to build an ecosys­tem.”

As for con­tent cre­ators, Venz Box wants Re­wardStyle to be their busi­ness tool. “Their core com­pe­tency is cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful and en­gag­ing con­tent and we pro­vide the busi­ness re­la­tion­ships and all the tech­nol­ogy and busi­ness con­sult­ing so that they can be suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing the con­tent.” She re­ports that a sin­gle style in­flu­encer made more than US$300,000 in a week from re­fer­ring read­ers to prod­ucts. “She’s a mum with three kids, so she can stay at home with them … their col­lege ed­u­ca­tion will be paid for. It’s life chang­ing for these peo­ple and, hon­estly, that to­tally gives me chills.” Zara Wong

The change agent: Anas­ta­sia Cam­maroto

In her lead­ing role at a top fi­nan­cial com­pany, Anas­ta­sia Cam­maroto is a strong ad­vo­cate for gen­der di­ver­sity in the tech­nol­ogy field. “I had al­ways been a tin­kerer,” says Anas­ta­sia Cam­maroto, BT Fi­nan­cial Group’s chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, telling Vogue a story about how when she was six years old her par­ents caught her open­ing up her bro­ken talk­ing doll to see how it worked.

Although she en­joyed lit­er­a­ture and writ­ing at school, Cam­maroto de­cided to pur­sue en­gi­neer­ing as a univer­sity stu­dent, drawn to the field for its “com­bi­na­tion of cre­ativ­ity, prob­lem-solv­ing and help­ing the com­mu­nity”. Since then her ex­per­tise has taken her from work­ing at an alu­minium smelter in Queens­land, to the con­trol room for the Sydney Har­bour Tun­nel and her cur­rent role at BT Fi­nan­cial Group.

Had she no­ticed a smaller pro­por­tion of women study­ing en­gi­neer­ing? “Oh, yes, from day one en­rol­ment,” she re­mem­bers. “One of the things I started to re­alise was that as we pro­gressed through the de­gree, more women started drop­ping out. They were trans­fer­ring into busi­ness or choos­ing dif­fer­ent ar­eas of study. There were maybe 20 of us that started and maybe 10 of us that fin­ished.” To­day, as chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, she over­sees 600 peo­ple in­ter­na­tion­ally who work to­gether to de­vise and strate­gise how tech­nol­ogy needs to be de­vel­oped and im­proved for both staff and cus­tomers. “We have ac­tu­ally un­der­stood the way peo­ple use tech­nol­ogy in terms of solv­ing their goals and what is im­por­tant to them.”

Thirty-one per cent of the 600 em­ploy­ees are women – a ra­tio higher than the na­tional IT in­dus­try av­er­age of 28 per cent but lower than what is de­sired and a per­cent­age that’s pre­dicted to plum­met as fewer women are grad­u­at­ing from IT-re­lated de­grees. In an in­dus­try that seeks so­lu­tions for ev­ery­day and big-pic­ture con­cerns, that’s an is­sue. “We think about it in av­er­ages, so in 600,000 IT pro­fes­sion­als, 28 per cent isn’t so bad, but when you think about it in man­age­ment teams – three women out of 10 – the 28 per cent statis­tic isn’t so good. It goes back to the ques­tion: ‘Why is gen­der di­ver­sity good?’ Be­cause it cre­ates teams where peo­ple think dif­fer­ently about prob­lems; they bring their own skills and ex­pe­ri­ences,” she ex­plains.

Cam­maroto pin­points con­ver­sa­tions par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors need to have with their chil­dren. “We pi­geon­hole kids way too early, and I can see a world where that gap is go­ing to be so much smaller, but I think as par­ents and teach­ers we’ve cre­ated a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy that says girls are bet­ter at hu­man­i­ties. I’m fas­ci­nated to see what the next gen­er­a­tion of girls is go­ing to be be­cause we’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions now that say: ‘You can be any­thing.’” ZW

The phi­lan­thropist: Alice Brennan

Bring­ing her com­mit­ment to hu­man­i­tar­ian work into the dig­i­tal space, Alice Brennan demon­strates the power of tech­nol­ogy to help im­prove lives. Alice Brennan had never fan­cied her­self much of a coder. “I had no idea I wanted to do this. I went where the op­por­tu­ni­ties took me,” says the 28-year-old CEO of soft­ware com­pany Set­tleIn. After grad­u­at­ing from Ox­ford Univer­sity with a de­gree in an­thro­pol­ogy and ar­chae­ol­ogy, Brennan re­lo­cated from her na­tive Bri­tain to Ja­pan to help with disas­ter re­lief fol­low­ing the 2011 tsunami, a seem­ingly un­likely cat­a­lyst for a ca­reer in cod­ing. “We were clean­ing out peo­ple’s houses and get­ting them back on their feet, but after a while it was about the men­tal health of peo­ple who had been af­fected by the tsunami. So then I got in­ter­ested in psy­cho-so­cial in­ter­ven­tion; how do you sup­port a group of peo­ple who have been trau­ma­tised in that way?” she ex­plains. “An­thro­pol­ogy is all about hu­man be­hav­iour, so in the dig­i­tal world it makes a lot of sense to have an an­thro­pol­ogy de­gree be­cause you’re deal­ing with hu­man be­hav­iour and pop­u­la­tion on a scale that we’ve never seen be­fore.”

It was an un­likely in­ter­sec­tion be­tween so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and tech­nol­ogy that saw Brennan free­lance at dig­i­tal and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid or­gan­i­sa­tions in Australia be­fore recog­nis­ing the lack of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion within this realm. “What I re­alised is that you have these in­cred­i­bly skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who weren’t us­ing tech­nol­ogy in the most use­ful way and it’s just a big wasted op­por­tu­nity. It could have been more ef­fi­cient.”

And so, in late Novem­ber last year, Brennan signed up for Techfugees: a two-day hackathon aimed at solv­ing some of the prob­lems refugees face on en­try into Australia with a tech­so­lu­tion. Com­pet­ing against other teams, Brennan along with her team­mates, sub­se­quently won with their in­no­va­tive soft­ware. “The idea my team came up with was goal-set­ting, be­cause the refugee com­mu­nity is so di­verse that you can’t re­ally come up with one so­lu­tion that will meet ev­ery­one’s

“IT’S LIFE CHANG­ING FOR THESE PEO­PLE AND, HON­ESTLY, THAT TO­TALLY GIVES ME CHILLS”

needs but the one thing that ev­ery­one had in com­mon was that they had to achieve things but didn’t re­ally know how to go about it,” says Brennan of the app that al­lows refugees to in­put goals – to learn English, join a univer­sity, find hous­ing, in­te­grate into their com­mu­nity – and achieve them with the help of a refugee ser­vice or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Ten months on and Set­tleIn has suc­cess­fully tran­si­tioned from bright idea to fully-fledged start-up: Brennan now works full-time on the busi­ness with the plan to roll out the soft­ware to refugee or­gan­i­sa­tions in the com­ing months. For her, it’s a shift to­wards di­ver­si­fy­ing peo­ple, opin­ions and in­volve­ment in tech start-ups. “The tech in­dus­try gets a lot of flack for be­ing very white, male-dom­i­nated and very datadriven and not very di­verse. But I think in places where you di­ver­sify that, the po­ten­tial for tech­nol­ogy is enor­mous and the more you get tech into the hands of peo­ple who are not your tra­di­tional techies, the more ex­cit­ing things you see,” says Brennan, whose hackathon team­mates in­cluded those who have en­dured the process of en­ter­ing Australia as a refugee.

Brennan is also keen to see more women en­ter the tech in­dus­try but re­veals that there was one sur­pris­ing ob­sta­cle she faced in her role: de­cid­ing what to wear to work each day since cloth­ing is a form of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “It was a re­ally hard thing to nav­i­gate be­cause I’m meet­ing refugees who are not used to the way women in Australia dress, then I’m head­ing off to a tech event where if you turn up in some­thing smart they think you’re not go­ing to be in­no­va­tive,” says Brennan who quickly no­ticed she was switch­ing be­tween jeans and sneak­ers and busi­ness at­tire to as­sim­i­late into her var­ied roles. “I had to think re­ally hard about what I was wear­ing in or­der to be re­spect­ful of the com­mu­ni­ties I’m work­ing with as well as be­ing taken se­ri­ously as a tech per­son, a CEO, and a young woman.” Remy Rip­pon

The men­tor: An­nie Parker

She has ded­i­cated her ca­reer to in­vest­ing in the fu­ture. Not only is she co-founder of start-up ac­cel­er­a­tor muru-D and founder of Code Club Australia, Parker has also or­gan­ised Techfugees. Here she de­scribes her pas­sion for men­tor­ing in the Aus­tralian start-up space. “I started Code Club Australia a lit­tle more than two years ago – an after-school kids’ club teach­ing nine- to 11-year-olds the ba­sics of how to build com­puter games, an­i­ma­tions, ba­si­cally the lan­guage of web­sites and apps. It be­gan as a very prac­ti­cal re­sponse to an is­sue I was hear­ing over and over again: that we don’t have enough engi­neers, coders and pro­gram­mers here in Australia to match the de­mand for their skills.

“After the first few code clubs got set up and I started to meet some of the kids par­tic­i­pat­ing, I re­alised some­thing ex­tra. Of course, cod­ing is an im­por­tant skill for them to learn for the fu­ture, but it also just hap­pens to be life chang­ing. I have end­less sto­ries: more and more girls who are em­brac­ing what they thought to be a boy’s sub­ject; kids who don’t run fast or catch balls start­ing to feel like they have other tal­ents and re­build­ing their con­fi­dence lev­els; kids with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties who pre­vi­ously never felt like they fit­ted in find­ing that learn­ing to code is like a su­per power; kids from ru­ral towns in Australia re­al­is­ing that they can cre­ate ex­tra­or­di­nary things from any­where; teach­ers re­al­is­ing that dig­i­tal skills aren’t as hard for them to pick up as they thought; par­ents re­al­is­ing that it’s not just im­por­tant for their kids to learn dig­i­tal skills, but that they’re also fun.”

“I guess that’s why I love the power of tech­nol­ogy so much – it’s in­clu­sive, em­pow­er­ing and the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. Imag­ine if we all took some in­spi­ra­tion from these amaz­ing chil­dren and re­alised that we can all do this too. What fu­tures would we cre­ate for our­selves? What amaz­ing ideas do we all have in our minds that we could bring to life? So go on, why not have a go? Maybe you’ll sur­prise your­self by what you might be able to do.” All the women pro­filed in this story will be speak­ing at the Vogue Codes sum­mit in Sydney on Oc­to­ber 14. For more in­for­ma­tion on the event, go to www.vogue.com.au/cul­ture/vogue+codes.

Am­ber Venz Box wears a Tibi jump­suit. Her own rings. Valentino shoes.

An­nie Parker wears a Gior­gio Armani shirt. Akira skirt. Her own T-shirt.

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