Stand out and succeed: Leadership tips for Technology - Katie Payten
As part of our ongoing commitment to our specialist communities, we interview accomplished leaders on a monthly basis to bring you insights on their career progression and advice that will help you progress your career further.
Katie Payten is the Head of Cyber Security and Technology Risk for Woolworths Digital. This role covers the $6B online businesses of the Woolworths Group, including WooliesX and BigWx, with over 2,000 engineers across Australia and New Zealand.
She is an experienced IT Executive with over 25 years’ experience in the private and public sectors including IBM, Lend Lease, MLC and ASIC.
Katie is active in promoting the advancement of women in technology and mentoring future leaders. She is on the Board of Tech Inclusion, a non-profit that promotes STEM skills for under-represented groups and runs the Girls’ Programming Network (GPN) across Australia.
Katie is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD), a member of the UTS Engineering and IT Faculty’s Industry Advisory Board, and a member of the Artificial Intelligence and Ethics Committee for the Australian Computer Society. She is also a Non-Executive Director of AniMark, providing corporate governance and technology risk oversight in the agricultural sector.
She holds a Master of Commerce (Finance and Organisational Behaviour) from the University of New South Wales, and a Bachelor of Information Technology (co-operative scholarship) from UTS.
In May 2022, Katie was presented the Honorary Fellow of the University award from the University of Technology Sydney, and she presented the Occasional Address at the Graduation Ceremony.
1. What factors do you think have been critical to the success you have achieved in your career?
Three factors that have underpinned my success are:
1. Work hard and nurture relationships: You may start your career in a role that feels a bit mundane. But I found that as I built skills and earned my stripes, doors opened. There are many different roles in the IT industry. Don’t be afraid to try new areas, to figure out what you are good at.
This approach worked for me, particularly when I worked part time and in senior Job Share roles at IBM, immediately after each of my three children were born.
- 2. Work will fill a large part of your life, so find what gives you meaning and satisfaction – ultimately, if you love what you do, you will do great work. Your work will also benefit from a healthy, balanced approach that allows time for family, friends, sports and hobbies.
3. Have a Continuous Learning mindset: This is particularly helpful in the Cyber Security domain, which is rapidly evolving. Keep your skills current, read widely, remain curious and continue to try new things.
I have continued formal and informal learning throughout my career. After completing the industry sponsored UTS Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) Co-Op Scholarship, I did a Master of Finance, several specialist IT certifications and the Company Directors qualification. Most recently I completed the cyber security CISM and CRISC exams, and CISSP accreditation is next on my list!
It is important to recognise that you will never know everything so informal ‘on the job’ learning from experts and support from mentors and team members has also been critical to my ongoing success. I thank those who help me and in turn, I reach out to help others.
2. The most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career?
Growing up on the Lachlan River on the outskirts of Cowra, my Dad always said, “you get out of life what you are willing to put in”. This is great advice and underpins the sentiment “it’s amazing that the harder you work, the luckier you become!”
I’ve taken opportunities as they have arisen, and in some ways made my own luck by seeing gaps and proposing ideas. Having the courage to take on new (sometimes scary) challenges when opportunities arise and being willing to ask for help have been key for me.
I have found that as you proceed in your career, the path may not be clear. It is often only in hindsight that you can see how the dots connect. Make the most of what life throws at you, enjoy what you do, and trust that somehow the dots will connect in your future. It is how you react to experiences, your attitude - as much as your aptitude and passion – that will forge your path.
3.The most challenging situation in your career and how you overcame it?
Keeping a sense of humour, asking for help and not taking yourself too seriously are important traits when things get tough.
Juggling three kids and a global role was a busy time, but I stayed the course with a supportive husband and help from extended family (sending the kids to the country in school holidays, so I could travel to build relationships with global teams!).
4. If you were starting your career now, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing in my career.
I was very fortunate to be offered the BIT Co-Op scholarship, which led me into Information Technology, when I had originally planned to become a veterinarian!
I’ve had the support of wonderful, inspiring leaders, mentors and colleagues throughout my career, and the privilege of working with dozens of intern students, in my roles at sponsoring organisations.
One thing I would do more, is increase partnerships between primary schools, high schools, universities and corporates, to nurture and develop talent and diversity in technology.
We are in a time of incredible technological change, with opportunities emerging at a pace and scale we’ve not seen before. Our ability to solve global problems with technological innovation reaches as far as our imaginations will take us, however with this comes great responsibility.
Innovation can come with unintended consequence and risk; as legal, ethical, data privacy, AI and cybersecurity issues surface, and algorithms turn the online world into an echo chamber.
The Australian economy needs innovative IT graduates from diverse backgrounds, with deep technical skills, an ability to think outside the box, and the ethical training to steer future decisions in the right direction.
We have a responsibility to nurture the next generation of students, to drive interdisciplinary cooperation and critical thinking, exercise judgement, and speak out against bias.
In summary, the three key messages from my experience are:
- 1. Nurture relationships and have maintain a level of courage throughout the journey;
- 2. Work hard and use your talents to make a difference (no matter how small); and
- 3. Remain curious, trusting that your dots will connect; using your talents to make a difference in the lives of others.