The Iconic Edition
Insider
|17 Sep|5 mins

THE ICONIC's Chief Tech Officer, Zoe Ghani

UNHCR ambassador, tech guru and so much more.
Kate Tregoning
17 Sep
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I was given the nickname "time warp" in my year 10 yearbook. Once I asked around to learn what it meant, I found out that some of the clothes I was choosing were from the ‘70s and considered a little strange. I had also made some MC Hammer pants at one stage from silver fabric. I used to feel embarrassed thinking about how out of touch I was with my peers but in the last few years I have realised I am too old to worry about these things.

For workwear I depend on jeans and pants with an interesting bit of detail that might play with length, silhouette, cut or embellishment. Right now I have my eye on these Canopy Pants.

Insider
|17 Sep|5 mins

THE ICONIC's Chief Tech Officer, Zoe Ghani

UNHCR ambassador, tech guru and so much more.
Kate Tregoning
17 Sep
Share:

I was given the nickname "time warp" in my year 10 yearbook. Once I asked around to learn what it meant, I found out that some of the clothes I was choosing were from the ‘70s and considered a little strange. I had also made some MC Hammer pants at one stage from silver fabric. I used to feel embarrassed thinking about how out of touch I was with my peers but in the last few years I have realised I am too old to worry about these things.

For workwear I depend on jeans and pants with an interesting bit of detail that might play with length, silhouette, cut or embellishment. Right now I have my eye on these Canopy Pants.

It's been a strange and varied path to where I am today. When I was a journalist, we used to stay back until midnight to send the newspaper to the printer. Once it was gone, there was no turning back. Next morning it was published and stayed that way forever.

I met the internet when the newspaper decided they wanted to publish our stories on their new website. I was blown away by the fact that I could tinker with a page, create new content, create new buttons, change as much as I liked and keep improving it instantly.

I put my hand up to be their first webmaster (a steep learning curve for someone who couldn't move a mouse around the screen properly). I thought I wanted to be a programmer so I tried to learn Java, CSS, Java Script and realised I wasn't very good (and developed immense respect for developers), then I went into project management but I was facilitating the process rather than being involved in making things and so eventually, by accident, I landed on Product Management. I loved it because I got to define features that people love and work with really smart people who can code and design.

I came to my current role as CTO I guess like every position so far - for me it’s about following my heart until it takes me to the right time and place. When the opportunity came, I knew it was a big role and I had the usual questions we all have about what it will take, but because it was based on my love of tech and I knew the team is amazing, I knew I would figure out the details later. I am still learning every day, I am a human who is a work in progress and learning is part of the role which makes it an amazing journey.

I saw more challenging situations as a woman in say, radio than I have done in tech. Through the hiring process, I have noticed that women and men interview so differently. Women come with a mindset of "what can I do for the company" and men come with a mindset of "what can the company do for me". Women have a lot to offer tech, be it in engineering or product or design or data. We have some amazing examples of these women in our own tech team today.

I get a kick out of observing people's evolutions, driven by them. Imagine seeing someone come in as an expert in one thing and turn into an expert of something else while they are with us. Imagine seeing someone coming in as a shy quiet person and taking the world by storm with their new ideas in their own quiet, shy way.

As part of my role with the board of Australia for UNHCR I contribute to topics of strategy and donor centricity (similar to customer centricity) alongside my digital experience. The board is made up of some amazing individuals who all hold deep empathy for the refugee cause and everyone brings their own unique personal and professional experience to make an impact on what we are trying to do.

The biggest lesson that moving country taught me has been about gratitude, mainly driven by the circumstances which caused us to leave. Imagine living your life as you are, your friends and family, your job, your home, your education, your weekend routine coffee with friends, all of these and others things defining your sense of self and home. Then imagine that you realise that all of this has to be left behind, in a hurry, because now you have to worry about the basics of safety and security.

You have to run to safety. With no real choice - you must go wherever will accept you. I watched this happen to my parents and to others in their generation and today it is still happening. One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds.

Displacement had a profound impact on me growing up and it took many many years for me to come to terms with what it means to settle into my life in Sydney. To start to see this life as something that is permanent and to invest in more permanent choices. Slowly, I learnt to turn the fear that at any moment it will all be taken away into gratitude, for what is now my life.

Reading is my ultimate escape and every book changes, at the very least, a little part of me. Looking back to a time when I needed most to connect to something, a book that really affected me was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. This primary-school read helped me understand a little about what was going on in my life at the time.

So that I can write creatively I listen to old Hindi songs or classical Afghan songs. To do the ironing I listen to Mozart or other classical music (it helps me to keep serenity when the iron makes more creases than it takes out). I love old school hip-hop, latin, jazz and 70s Afghan pop music. I have been told that I can see beauty in unexpected places and music is one of those - a short snippet of a lyric or a tune can hold immense beauty.

I am really structured with my time mainly thanks to my introversion which means I need space to reflect, be still and switch off. I have learnt the hard way that this is how I can do my best work. So, after work, I put my devices on silent and take time to be alone where I listen to music, light a candle, I do some yoga or meditation or write notes in my journal. Once I have recharged I eat dinner with my husband and we watch an hour of TV together.

In life, I believe it's learn or be bored to death. There is so much opportunity to learn that it’s harder to be a non-learning person. I coined this year my ‘year of learning’ and have loved it and met some amazing people in the process.

I must finish this novel I am writing before I die. Even if nobody reads it and it doesn't get published, I must finish it. On my deathbed I will count the things I did, this will be one of those things I need to tick off.

The other is more travel, much more travel.

Kate Tregoning
Lifestyle Editor
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