Skip to main content

ACS-Women- Industry Insiders: Kate Muir

Wednesday, 19 Nov 2014

Knowledge Manager Extraordinaire
                       

One of the industry's true veterans, Kate Muir has specialised in government ICT. We sat down with her to discuss how ICT had changed over the past 30 years, and where it is heading next.

Tell us a little bit about your career to date, how did you get into IT?

Long, long ago, when I was still a teenager, I saw an ad in the Saturday paper in Victoria and they were advertising for computer operators. I had never heard of computers, much less operators, but I applied anyway. I was told I had to come down from Ballarat on the train to Melbourne for a morning of testing at the University of Melbourne.

The hall was packed with people so I thought, ‘oh well, its good experience’. A couple of months later the Australian Bureau of Census and Statistics, as it was then, contacted me, put me on a plane to Canberra, booked me into a hostel and started teaching me computing.

In the beginning it was all a bit all over the place, but about 30 years ago, I got a bit of handle on the IT thing and started to get serious about a career. I also realised about the same time that, even though I was a girl, I could do this.

I stayed in computer operations for many years, ending up managing the National Library data centre and then the Australian Customs Computer Operations area.I had hit the top of where I could go then, so I started looking for a change of scenery, after a couple of different roles in general IT, I ended up going to Department of Social Security to manage their first data warehousing project.

This signalled a real change for me, as from there I became interested in information and knowledge management, ending up setting up the first large information management function in government.

This is the area of ICT that I have stayed in for the last 20 years. I have been at the forefront of data warehousing, business intelligence, content and records and documents management, metadata management, information governance and data integrity, as well as data and text mining.

Tell ua bit about where you work.

I sort of retired last year, because my health had been poor. I did a bit of touring art galleries in Australia, and then nine weeks in Europe. When I came back I started getting a garden started. But I was always interested in supporting women in computing, and had always been part of both formal and informal mentoring programs and networks. I decided I could do more, so I stood for the president’s role.

I have also been involved at the University of Canberra as a part time lecturer, so got back into that as well. However, now that the town knows I am back I am starting to get offers of some consultancy work which I am doing when I can fit it in.

What do you love most about your job?

It is important that what I do makes a difference to the people who use the system or their customers. So when I am delivering systems, they must make it easier for people to do their job. When I am consulting, it is important that what I do for the customer, helps them get the hard things done, helps them get the money for projects, or sets up processes and systems that make a difference to their working life. I really enjoy working with younger people coming through, encouraging them, mentoring and teaching them.

What do you think are the best things about working in IT?

When you get it right it really makes a significant difference. It is interesting and challenging, and the new technologies are really changing the way we live and work. Working in IT brings you close to some really smart and funny people, as well as the converse of course, but the smart ones make up for the others. IT is not just applica- tions programming or putting PCs on desks, there are a range of really interesting and challenging roles, so you can take opportunities to try something new.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

There have been a few, one is being a leading thinker in information management in government, and the setting up of actKM. This community is nearly 20 years old now and is recognised as one of the foremost KM communities in the world with world renowned members.

I was always really pleased when people working for me did well and were promoted, so becoming president of WiC is allowing me to channel back my knowledge and skills into making a difference for women in ICT in Canberra. Personally, I have to say, I was pretty chuffed at achieving my Masters, as I left school before finishing year 12. It finished something for me, even though it took me almost all my working career.

What top tips or advice would you tell young people about choosing a career in IT?

It’s a good career with a huge range of options. You can be a technical expert, team leader, sales, consulting, business analysis and now with information management, there are roles around managing text material, like archiving, cataloguing and writing.

You’re also using some of the most advanced technologies in use in the world. You are limited only by your knowledge of what is available. My top tip would be don’t do applications coding or PC replacement, as they will eventually be outsourced and must be dead boring really.

What do you know about people's perception of IT and why do you think that's the case? 

I see the perceptions of IT in Canberra as being large applications programming and desktop management and refresh. I see this because this is what the local CIO’s see and do. They seem to see no more than that. They see the next best thing being the silver bullet, once it warehousing and reporting, then it was outsourcing and now it’s Cloud. There are no silver bullets.

Any system, including the human part, is hard work and needs real mental effort to get right. I do not see any concerted effort to build systems that connect information to knowledge workers. The problem is that they waste time looking for it, and then when not finding the information, recreating it - not always correctly.

Do you see IT as a profession that can change people's lives and make a difference in the community?

Absolutely I do. Imagine this, a ‘children at risk’ reg- ister that works. The social worker interviews someone in danger, then details are collected at every touch. Now imagine the same thing happens at hospitals, ambulances, police interventions and schools. All of this data could be fed through a text miner to pattern match.The system then contacts a social worker and is actioned.

The same pattern matching service, can also highlight the risk. Imagine the police in Victoria at Tyabb having that sort of information to hand when they picked up a speeding car. This does away with vast amounts of paper work, and puts the specialist, be they social worker, ambulance worker, police officer, doing what they do best.

What would you say to a school aged girl who is considering a career in IT?

Go for it but don’t just look at what is being done now, look for the new interesting jobs, and put your hand up for them.

Kate Muir

One of the industry's true veterans, Kate Muir has specialised in government ICT. We sat down with her to discuss how ICT had changed over the past 30 years, and where it is heading next.

Tell us a little bit about your career to date, how did you get into IT?

Long, long ago, when I was still a teenager, I saw an ad in the Saturday paper in Victoria and they were advertising for computer operators. I had never heard of computers, much less operators, but I applied anyway. I was told I had to come down from Ballarat on the train to Melbourne for a morning of testing at the University of Melbourne.

The hall was packed with people so I thought, ‘oh well, its good experience’. A couple of months later the Australian Bureau of Census and Statistics, as it was then, contacted me, put me on a plane to Canberra, booked me into a hostel and started teaching me computing.

In the beginning it was all a bit all over the place, but about 30 years ago, I got a bit of handle on the IT thing and started to get serious about a career. I also realised about the same time that, even though I was a girl, I could do this.

I stayed in computer operations for many years, ending up managing the National Library data centre and then the Australian Customs Computer Operations area.I had hit the top of where I could go then, so I started looking for a change of scenery, after a couple of different roles in general IT, I ended up going to Department of Social Security to manage their first data warehousing project.

This signalled a real change for me, as from there I became interested in information and knowledge management, ending up setting up the first large information management function in government.

This is the area of ICT that I have stayed in for the last 20 years. I have been at the forefront of data warehousing, business intelligence, content and records and documents management, metadata management, information governance and data integrity, as well as data and text mining.

Tell ua bit about where you work.

I sort of retired last year, because my health had been poor. I did a bit of touring art galleries in Australia, and then nine weeks in Europe. When I came back I started getting a garden started. But I was always interested in supporting women in computing, and had always been part of both formal and informal mentoring programs and networks. I decided I could do more, so I stood for the president’s role.

I have also been involved at the University of Canberra as a part time lecturer, so got back into that as well. However, now that the town knows I am back I am starting to get offers of some consultancy work which I am doing when I can fit it in.

What do you love most about your job?

It is important that what I do makes a difference to the people who use the system or their customers. So when I am delivering systems, they must make it easier for people to do their job. When I am consulting, it is important that what I do for the customer, helps them get the hard things done, helps them get the money for projects, or sets up processes and systems that make a difference to their working life. I really enjoy working with younger people coming through, encouraging them, mentoring and teaching them.

What do you think are the best things about working in IT?

When you get it right it really makes a significant difference. It is interesting and challenging, and the new technologies are really changing the way we live and work. Working in IT brings you close to some really smart and funny people, as well as the converse of course, but the smart ones make up for the others. IT is not just applica- tions programming or putting PCs on desks, there are a range of really interesting and challenging roles, so you can take opportunities to try something new.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

There have been a few, one is being a leading thinker in information management in government, and the setting up of actKM. This community is nearly 20 years old now and is recognised as one of the foremost KM communities in the world with world renowned members.

I was always really pleased when people working for me did well and were promoted, so becoming president of WiC is allowing me to channel back my knowledge and skills into making a difference for women in ICT in Canberra. Personally, I have to say, I was pretty chuffed at achieving my Masters, as I left school before finishing year 12. It finished something for me, even though it took me almost all my working career.

What top tips or advice would you tell young people about choosing a career in IT?

It’s a good career with a huge range of options. You can be a technical expert, team leader, sales, consulting, business analysis and now with information management, there are roles around managing text material, like archiving, cataloguing and writing.

You’re also using some of the most advanced technologies in use in the world. You are limited only by your knowledge of what is available. My top tip would be don’t do applications coding or PC replacement, as they will eventually be outsourced and must be dead boring really.

What do you know about people's perception of IT and why do you think that's the case? 

I see the perceptions of IT in Canberra as being large applications programming and desktop management and refresh. I see this because this is what the local CIO’s see and do. They seem to see no more than that. They see the next best thing being the silver bullet, once it warehousing and reporting, then it was outsourcing and now it’s Cloud. There are no silver bullets.

Any system, including the human part, is hard work and needs real mental effort to get right. I do not see any concerted effort to build systems that connect information to knowledge workers. The problem is that they waste time looking for it, and then when not finding the information, recreating it - not always correctly.

Do you see IT as a profession that can change people's lives and make a difference in the community?

Absolutely I do. Imagine this, a ‘children at risk’ reg- ister that works. The social worker interviews someone in danger, then details are collected at every touch. Now imagine the same thing happens at hospitals, ambulances, police interventions and schools. All of this data could be fed through a text miner to pattern match.The system then contacts a social worker and is actioned.

The same pattern matching service, can also highlight the risk. Imagine the police in Victoria at Tyabb having that sort of information to hand when they picked up a speeding car. This does away with vast amounts of paper work, and puts the specialist, be they social worker, ambulance worker, police officer, doing what they do best.

What would you say to a school aged girl who is considering a career in IT?

Go for it but don’t just look at what is being done now, look for the new interesting jobs, and put your hand up for them.