Described as the “secret weapon” of the business world, intrapreneurs are quickly becoming a top commodity of workplace success. Intrapreneur You Need to Know is a series of conversations that takes us behind the desks of successful young women making big moves in their career and the steps that led them there.
We’ve known Ash since late 2018, after stumbling across her advocacy for women in STEM. It’s only fitting that now in 2020 she would be succeeding at the eCommerce giant, Shopify. Shopify roles down under in New Zealand aren’t handed out in abundance. Ash owns her Shopify Plus Specialist role with tenacity, passion and expertise and we couldn’t be more sure that this woman is going in one direction: up.
Q1. When we first met you, you were heading up CodeCamp as Operations Manager (and second in charge), a mountain of a role for anyone, let alone someone in her early 20s! You were leading a team of up to 30 staff members around Wellington, Christchurch and Manawatu in completing workshops for young people to learn about coding, STEM and Tech. What was a role of that scale like?
Honestly, incredible! I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to lead a team of intelligent, dedicated and kind people. I gained so much knowledge through listening to the ideas and needs of others then adapting where required. There were lots of long hours and the need to adapt quickly was huge, but all in all, it was so rewarding.
Q2. Prior to your role at CodeCamp, you were a facilitator at SavY, a NFP that teaches young people financial literacy (yass). Admirably, you worked your way up over the years and became the Wellington Director! There’s such a strong theme to the work you achieve, from financial literacy to technological innovation. Where does your drive for helping women succeed in STEM originate from?
I grew up in a home where curiosity was encouraged. My sister and I had books with different science experiments that we’d try during the holidays. Curiosity led both my sister and I to becoming obsessed with innovation and what better way to innovate than with technology. My sister’s now studying to be a Chemical Engineer. I chose another route.
When attending university, I quickly noticed the lack of diversity. Over time, this is improving but we still have a way to go. In 2019, roughly 26% of all jobs in technology were held by women. I saw an opportunity to change this by working with young women (ages 6 through to 18) and showing them that life in tech wasn’t just for boys. It’s about creativity, curiosity and problem solving.
Q3. You haven’t had the textbook “perfect background”. What was it like for you, dropping out of high school and going to uni half way through to study physics and math, and then parking those ambitions to move back home to look after your sister and her schooling whilst your mother moved overseas for work?
I genuinely believe I’m lucky to have the obstacle course that is my life. It may not be what we think is the normal path to having a successful career, but it taught me so many life lessons. I guess I had always believed that I needed a degree to get anywhere. I love being able to say that’s not true at all. Dropping out of school and then university were both hard decisions to make, but they were right for me. It taught me to make hard decisions fast.
Q4. How do you feel like your upbringing shaped your work ethic and drive?
My work ethic and drive comes down to two things: learnt behaviours and passion. During high school, I was far more interested in my extracurricular hobbies than my school work. I did gymnastics competitively, dance classes, was on the debating team, soccer team, hockey team and volleyball team. I did every stage challenge I could and even joined the Philosophy Club. Before and after school everyday I had something on, but I knew I had to keep up with school. I think I forced myself into learning time management and owning my work. I learnt that there was nobody else to blame other than myself for handing in an essay late. The same mindset applies now, if it has my name on it or anything to do with me, I need to make sure it’s completed to the best of my ability. This was a steep learning curve though and there definitely were a few late essays along the way.
I also think it can be difficult to continue working at such high output if you aren’t passionate. At 17 years old, I’m not really sure how we’re supposed to decide what to do with our lives without life experience. I threw myself in the deep end to find out. I never expected to end up in tech but here I am. I genuinely want to wake up every single day and do my job. Not everybody finds their passion for a particular area instantly but if you don’t give new things a go, how will you ever know?
Q5. You recently visited Shopify HQ in Canada. What was that like? How do you acclimatise to meeting a company filled with new people? What advice would you give to someone starting a new role and stepping into the office for the first time?
Absolutely insane! I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to attend Shopify’s Global Summit and visit 4 different offices. The energy and passion in every room I entered told me I was in the right place. Every single person welcomed me with open arms, told me all about the part they play in the company and showed me that they truly believe in Shopify’s mission; make commerce better for everyone.
I’ve stepped into so many different offices with many different roles for the first time, and of course it’s going to be intimidating. Be you. Bring your genuine self to work everyday. I remember reading somewhere, “the less you claim to know, the more you’ll learn”. My spin on this is “own your knowledge, show your value but be open to others ideas.”
Q6. Ash, congratulations on your recent promotion at Shopify! That’s some significant acceleration, only 8 months after landing your Shopify Guru role. What were some of the key things you did to make that a reality?
Thank you! I’m definitely still finding my feet in my new role but I own that. I use every day as a learning opportunity. As a Guru, I felt it was my job to always advocate for each merchant/entrepreneur. To understand their wants, their needs and their goals. I did this and continue to do this in my new role because I wholeheartedly believe in what Shopify is doing. I believe that ensuring the company values align with your own and and showing that in your work is so important. Listening to feedback and implementing it shows you can adapt quickly. That change is expected. Do your best, show your worth and good things will come your way.
Q7. You’ve run Tech Week Events, spoken at a DataCom lunch session that was internationally broadcasted, run all-girls coding camps and led people twice your age. Do you ever get hit with Imposter Syndrome or self doubt? And if so how do you move through that?
Heck yes. I still deal with this now and honestly, the best way to move through it is to back yourself. I often journal to myself as if I’m another person. What would I tell me if I wasn’t me? Along with this, never being afraid to ask for help. I remember some of the all girls classes questions I didn’t know the answer to instantly, let me tell you, kids can be scary. I never responded “I don’t know”. It was always, “let’s find out”.
Q8. How could someone stand out in the interview room when pursuing a role at a tech giant like Shopify?
Growth Mindset is everything. You willingness to fail, fail fast and use that as a learning opportunity. I recall literally teaching one of my classes to FAIL. This stood for the First Attempt In Learning. Your first attempt might be terrible, but your second and third time will be better. You will keep improving if you choose to continue learning.