How did you start out?
I’m not sure if you’d believe that I don’t have a computing degree. I just wrote a really great CV and although I wasn’t at all qualified, I got a job at IBM working on the first touch ATMs. My manager told me although it was clear I had no idea about computers, they appreciated that I just went for it, plus I aced the aptitude (and maybe attitude) tests. So despite not knowing how to work these machines (early computers) I could just ask people to help me under the cover that ‘it’s not like that in New Zealand.’ This line meant when I was being interviewed, I could get the interviewer to answer their own questions! A worthy skill that has stood me in good stead throughout my life.
Have you ever been fired?
Once I managed to get a job as a Personal Assistant (PA) to a very senior person in a large organisation, but I got fired from that role because I didn’t really know what a PA was meant to do. I told my boss to go get his own dry cleaning and coffee. He said as entertaining as I was, he couldn’t really justify keeping me on. Strange huh!
But it obviously worked out?
Despite having nada tech capability initially, there I was doing technical support for ATMs – building them, testing code and demonstrating them at shows around the country. I had a hilarious time and wore some outrageous suits in pink, yellow and lime green, not the usual IBM blue.
Then how did you end up working in identity?
Once I got into technology, I’ve worked in many industries, ranging from financial services, trains to shipping. Always interested in the next big thing and the innovation space, I moved into internet security, integration architectures and information architectures. I could see that the new Cloud Computing paradigm coupled with mobile phones was going to need to understand who was on the end of the ‘line’, hence identity would be important. It seemed exciting and different.
Then Elinor (Hull) asked me to come to Post Office and work on a contract for DWP and digital identity. That was really the beginning of digital identity in the UK. Their requirements formed a good foundation, for example, the Relying Party made their own decision on what information they would accept from an Identity Provider. At the time number of groups were working on digital identity; government and private sector spent 3 years developing standards, NIST had just started and eIDAS was being talked about. It was the infancy of proper federated identity.
Then GDS started Verify, which took a couple of years to set up and then didn’t grow as quickly as possible or expand into the private sector. I wrote a paper outlining what needed to change – primarily that rather than a binary response of pass/fail, private sector Relying Parties and regulators needed greater information on the identity proving itself. This was absolutely an emerging market that was initially restricted by the Government. Today that’s starting to change.
Why is Women in Identity important?
The technology industry is starting to even out, but there have been numerous times when I’ve been treated differently because I was the only woman in the room. One man always used to call everyone by their first name, but then call me Ms Joyce, so I just called him Mr So-and-so… I think he was scared of talking to me! Ultimately you can use being the only woman in a room to your advantage, but you need to be confident. Now women are generally supported more in organisations, which I feel is important as they often bring less confrontation and ego. It’s recognised that women don’t put themselves out there as much – there’s that widely quoted study that shows men apply for jobs when they meet at least 60% of the requirements, whereas women feel they need 100%. This kills me, being a bit out of your depth ensures that you’re being challenged and don’t stop learning.
So what’s your life mantra?
Adventuring is everything. When I arrived in the UK in my 20s, I was a year late as I bought a one-way ticket to Kathmandu and travelled overland to London. A natural gypsy, I flew to Kenya intending to go over ground to South Africa but with my terrible sense of direction I ended up in the Sahara nearly a year later having travelled all over the place – through Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Zaire, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad! Highlights of this included spending two weeks at Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee sanctuary and a month with the mountain gorillas in Zaire. The huge silverbacks would get very close including hugging us, they were huge, incredibly lovely but super smelly. There was a slightly hairy moment when I was walking through Sudan, and we found a tribe walking their camels through south Sudan. They were quite excited by seeing 2 white people and insisted we travel with them, on their camels. This group of people obviously stood out and eventually, we were stopped by soldiers, one of whom put a gun to my stomach to get my Walkman off me. I refused, so they locked us up for 2 weeks. Because I was a woman I got put in the more pleasant cells, my boyfriend at the time was not so lucky. In the end, they took my Walkman and favourite cassette anyway (Dire Straits), but they didn’t have any batteries so I guess I had the last laugh.
I try to bring adventure and humour into the corporate environment to keep everyone energised. To help sustain this I have a policy of working 8 months on, 4 months off, as November to February is so grim in the UK. My adventuring has meant I’ve already retired 3 times, but the longest I’ve managed is only a year. Work always finds me again and I get drawn back in. Next, I’m heading for another few months in Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand and maybe the Solomon Islands, to catch up with my family and dive with some sharks
How did you start diving?
I was in Zanzibar, and there was an option to dive so I just did it. Then I continued in New Zealand and haven’t stopped since. Diving with sharks is my passion, they are such beautiful creatures and curious but not threatening. We don’t look like food underwater but best not to panic and look like a dying creature. I once had to push 2 16ft tiger sharks away by their noses cos they were just getting too up close and personal, the first time I pushed a tiger shark away by putting my hand on it’s nose, I closed my eyes and thought ‘ well here goes’.
What’s your most surreal trip?
I was a Samba dancer in the Rio carnival in Brazil. I wasn’t particularly good, but it was for a fabulous cause. Buying one costume bought 10 costumes for the Samba school, so my friend and I danced through Rio in the procession in the middle of 20 (very good) dancers. The crowds were amazing! I always say, if you stick with me, you’ll see the world!
What would you say to 20 year old you?
Know when to take a stand. I was confident, not necessarily well informed and quick to jump into a confrontation. Now I’ve learnt to listen, then say ‘yes and…’ offer my own opinion constructively. Theatre sports have been formative in evolving my communication from being so direct. Exploring how language can open up a conversation, rather than shut it down with a confrontation is key. When you hit roadblocks, you have to pause and think what are the reasons that we’re doing this? Making allies at work (and outside of work) is essential. I’ve found the exercises enabling teamwork really help everyone understand how to play to each other’s strengths. For example, the Insights colours that break down personalities really simplify how people like to be communicated to. You don’t mess with a red – just cut to the chase!
What’s your greatest achievement?
Running the London marathon was so much fun. My friend Gordon wore a 9ft fully feathered Big Bird costume, as it was the only way I could slow him to my speed. The crowds were fabulous singing Sesame Street at us, then we went out until 1 am afterwards! It’s totally about mind over matter. And then I ran it a second time, go figure!
If you were an animal, what would you be?
Easy – a unicorn.
Find Diane @kiwiIDgal