In this interview as part of our Women in Tech series, we speak with Linda Shields, Chief Operating Officer and Founder of Harvest Technology Group, a company dedicated to using technology to remove the hardships, hazards and hindrances that come with working offshore.
She shares with us the inspiring story of how she and her CEO Paul Guilfoyle decided to start Harvest in 2018, and how their acquisition of another West Australian start-up in 2019 helped fast-track Harvest’s innovation and growth.
As a woman in a leadership role in the tech industry, Linda has faced unique challenges and opportunities. She shares with us her thoughts on the importance of work ethic, collaboration, and diverse perspectives in tech. Linda also discusses the initiatives and programs that have been effective in encouraging and supporting women in tech, and how we can continue to build a more inclusive industry.
Hi Linda, thanks for joining us today. What inspired you to start Harvest, and how did your previous experience in leadership roles influence your decision to become a founder of a start-up?
A constellation of events led to Harvest becoming what it is today, but it began with Harvest’s now CEO Paul Guilfoyle and I wanting to use technology to remove the hardships, hazards and hindrances that come when working offshore. We’d been co-workers in a previous life and had first-hand experience working offshore in the oil and gas sector.
We decided to go all-in with Harvest in 2018. Then, in 2019 with the help of investor capital, we acquired another West Australian start-up called Advanced Offshore Streaming (AOS), which serendipitously had already developed the technology we needed to enable remote real-time communications. This acquisition and the clever people who came with it have fast-tracked Harvest’s innovation and growth.
As the Chief Operating Officer and Founder of Harvest, what are your day-to-day responsibilities, and how do you manage the diverse functions of your role?
As COO and one of the company’s founders, I’m extremely invested in the success of the business. My role is a global one spanning several functions, so I’m always adapting to changing priorities and no two days are the same. We’re still in that agile start-up stage where we substitute working long hours in place of the luxury of a large team. The good news is we’re making headway fast.
Can you share a particular highlight or achievement that you are proud of since you’ve been working with Harvest, and how did it impact your journey as a founder?
Moving to Technology Park in Perth was an important milestone and I enjoyed overseeing the design, build and fit-out of our office and workshop facility. We now have plenty of space to innovate, collaborate and concentrate.
It’s also great to be positioned nearby Curtin University within the leafy tech hub of Technology Park. We’ve set up a STEM program with Innovation Central Perth to engage PhD students on various projects and we’re currently exploring an internship program for 2023.
As a woman in a leadership role in the tech industry, have you encountered any unique challenges or opportunities, and how have they shaped your career journey?
The sign of a good leader is taking life’s challenges and turning them into learnings. Like any person in a leadership position, I bring wisdom gleaned from past experiences to my role. In my case, working for 10 years in different FIFO roles within the resources and marine sectors helped shape a sense of resilience and determination as well as a keen understanding of remote operations. I think my superpower is my work ethic, which has been key to overcoming challenges.
What skills or experiences do you think have been particularly valuable in your career in tech, and do you have any advice for young women interested in pursuing a career in the industry?
I think there’s a misconception that you need to be a hardcore scientist, mathematician or developer to excel in technology. The reality is we need every discipline to bring tech to life – marketing, communications, commercial, HR, finance, as well as developers, coders and engineers working at the pointy end of R&D.
There’s an abundance of exciting career options that unlock a bunch of local and global opportunities. My advice is to go for it. Don’t let preconceived ideas be a barrier to entry – the industry benefits from diverse perspectives.
How can women in the tech industry support and uplift each other, particularly those just starting out in their careers?
Firstly, we need to make ourselves more visible. People can’t be what they can’t see, so I’d encourage more women to step out from behind the scenes to be seen. Role-modeling is vital. You can have an impact on a young woman you don’t even know if they hear you speak at an event, read about you in the paper or see you on TV or social media.
Secondly, if you are in a position of leadership or currently working in technology, be the colleague you’d like to have. A rising tide lifts all ships – there is plenty of room for everyone to succeed, so always choose collaboration over competition.
What initiatives or programs have you seen be particularly effective in encouraging and supporting women in tech, and how can we continue to build on these efforts?
To continue building a more inclusive industry, it’s important to support initiatives that encourage women to pursue careers in tech and provide opportunities for them to gain the necessary skills and experience. This includes programs such as mentorship and sponsorship programs, coding boot camps, and scholarships for women in STEM fields. And there are plenty out there to explore.
I’m a big advocate of introducing technology at a young age. Schools can introduce girls to technology by incorporating coding and computer science classes into the curriculum and challenge gender stereotypes. By creating a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusivity, girls will feel more encouraged to pursue technology careers. For employers, closing the gender gap and establishing pay parity is paramount for the future of technology.
What do you think the future of tech looks like for women, and how can we work together to create a more diverse and inclusive industry?
As an eternal optimist, I think the future for tech is extremely bright with plenty of room for exploration and innovation. Throughout history, technology has been a catalyst for progress and has played a crucial role in breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will provide women with a platform to showcase their skills and talents on a level playing field. Additionally, technology has the power to provide access to education and training opportunities, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic background, allowing more women to pursue careers in tech.
As a result, we can expect to see more women rising to leadership positions within the industry. By removing the need for people to travel to remote and hazardous locations, Harvest’s tech also contributes to a more diverse and inclusive industry.
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