Talking women in tech with Kim Nilsson, Pivigo CEO

We spoke with Kim, the founder and CEO of Pivigo, about how Pivigo came about and her thoughts on the issues surrounding women in tech.

How did you get into tech yourself?

When I was 13, after struggling to sleep one night and wondering why the stars twinkle, I borrowed a book on astronomy from my local library and got completely stuck on it. So, from there it was a straight path for me until I got my PhD in astrophysics. So, I had that dream since I was a teenager to be an astronomer and I guess I didn’t feel there were any limitations at that point in what one could do. I grew up in Sweden, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world and I also grew up in a family of strong women, and actually now I am the fourth-generation female entrepreneur. After being an astronomer I, regrettably, realised I didn’t enjoy it very much. After concluding it wasn’t the right thing for me, I was left not knowing how to make the transition out of academia. I decided to come to the UK to do an MBA in business at Cranfield. This taught me many things, including the fact that in business risk can be managed and the risk can actually be worth it for a certain return. I became confident in my business skills and through a lot of personality tests conducted by Cranfield I realised I’m an independent person, who likes working for myself and driving projects forward.

How did you arrive at the Big Data/Data Science space?

Looking back, it’s quite natural that I ended up in this industry because of my background and the fact it was very heavily numerical. I understand the skills that go into this industry very well and I understand the people that work in this industry very well. In the early days many, many of the data scientists were from astrophysics backgrounds because it’s all about big data.

So, we were researching our business idea, which was whether someone was doing something around working in that space between academia and industry, and we just came across data science. I honestly hadn’t heard about it before my MBA which was 5/6 years previous, but I came across it then and I got really, really excited about the use of data science and how that can change the whole world we live in and how it will change it, and how it will change it for the better! I got really excited about that and saw the potential for all my friends who were still in academia and just thought I want to work something in that space.

What do you enjoy most now about your role?

Ah, I enjoy a lot of things about it! What’s the thing I like the most?… Honestly, I think I really enjoy the variety of my work and the fact that I can choose every day what I work on. I’ve got independence! One minute I’m doing sales and the next minute I’m talking to university students, then I’m back in the office creating marketing material for corporates and then of course talking to companies and then I’m at the BBC being interviewed! 

I find if you’re doing good work and if you’re doing something that’s interesting then a lot of people are very interested to hear about it and that’s great. It means I can also be a voice for all those academics who are trying to make the transition and are struggling with it. We really have amazing talent in our universities, I don’t know if you’ve worked a lot with academics in recruitment but they deserve a chance because they can really make a difference to the UK economy if we can all get them working. I also wouldn’t say you can just pluck a PhD out of academia and that from day one they’re going to be amazing in your business, there is a transition to be made, but once they’ve made that then they become incredibly valuable to the business, and realistically they have to get the transition somehow. So those companies that invest in that, I think, are the ones that reap the rewards of the loyalty they get from those individuals afterwards.

What is your long-term goal for Pivigo?

I think what we’re seeing is confidence in a lot of different trends, one being, of course, the rise of data science, and I think we are still in the very early infancies of this industry, it’s going to grow incredibly. The other big trend that we see is the gig economy and the fact that the way we’re working is changing. I think that in the future, we will all be doing a lot more portfolio career working, dipping in and out of work and changing careers along the way, we won’t have a career for life, it will change. I think that internet platforms are enabling individuals to have this kind of a lifestyle where you can choose what you work on and when and where it’s completely flexible. You can work from home and I think the gig economy can support diversity in the workforce because it can allow part-time working, it can allow individuals who have, for example, care responsibilities to work from home, etc. So ultimately, the vision at Pivigo is that we can be that go-to platform to connect really high-skilled individuals with companies who also want that flexible access to the best talent anywhere globally.

It is natural that early childcare issues still fall to women, not always but more often than not, so the flexibility of working from home can definitely help more women into the tech industry…

Well, as a bit of a case study on that… We also run a training program called S2DS and we run a virtual version so the students work from home. There was this one situation where we were in a group call, all of us together and one of the women was sitting a little bit awkward and I didn’t think about it specifically, until the point where her husband came up from behind and picked up the baby she had been nursing during our video call. We were having a professional video call and she was nursing her baby at the same time and why not, you know! It didn’t bother us and she was able to work perfectly normally like the rest of us. And that really blew my mind, that’s what we can enable and she would never have been able to do this job if she had not had the opportunity to do it from home.

What do you think the main reason is for the shortage of women in tech?

So, we’re still in a very nascent industry and so the ones who are on a more experienced level of this industry today, the data scientist who have been doing this for a number of years already they were the front runners and the ones who are the kind of ‘geeks’ who have seen all the trends, are reading all the tech press etc and always jump on the latest trends and they tend to be men unfortunately. So that’s one thing.

Secondly, I think, a lot of the people who have been in this industry a while are the ones who have retrained from another technical role and tech has always been a male dominated world. I have seen encouraging signs though, for example, the O’Reilly report they do once a year on the data science profession where I’ve seen in the last 2 years that the percentage of women in the industry is increasing.

How do you think we can get more women working in tech?

We do a lot of outreach work with universities to promote data science careers and what we’ve seen is that we have a lot of women in university, especially in life sciences, who can easily make that transition into data science. When we’re out there doing outreach work we see a lot of women who are interested and so one of the key solutions can be to really continue to support them in making that transition. As long as they can see the pipeline all the women at the younger stages will work towards a career in data science and will get more experience as the industry matures. Last year I went to a PhD career fair in Birmingham where I presented about data science careers and this woman came up to me afterwards, she was a Biology PhD, and said I’ve never heard of this before but it sounds really interesting. She applied and got on our programme last year and immediately after she got an offer to join a company as a data scientist and now she is in this career truly because she happened to be in that presentation. So, it’s important that we educate and not just at PhD level but with younger children as well.

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