From anthropology to information technology

From anthropology to information technology

Candace Kinser says her research work in Pacific cultures provided the best background for executive roles in hi-tech firms.

Candace Kinser says her double degree in anthropology and political sciences provided her the best foundation as she moved to high profile roles in New Zealand’s technology sector.

Kinser is an American who moved to New Zealand in 1998, and landed in jobs in technology focused companies. She has worked in a raft of technology companies from Biolab to vendor companies like Telecom (now Spark) and SolNet, to Biomatters, where she was CEO, nurturing it from a startup to a global company.

“I cannot think of a better degree, anthropology... combined with political science, to carry me through to where I am now in my career,” says Kinser, who is completing her thee-year term as CEO of NZTech, the body representing ICT organisations in New Zealand

“It gave me that foundation of understanding issues and why people are motivated to do the things they do, especially in technology.”

In technology, we are trying to get people to do something, or monitor behaviour or some sort of change, she says. “You are taking a process you have traditionally done manually, and trying to put that into an electronic method.

Anthropology gave me that foundation of understanding issues and why people are motivated to do the things they do, especially in technology.

Read more: This CEO role is equivalent to getting an MBA on the job: NZTech chair

She says companies, especially those in IT, are looking for that “soft skill, that soft science” the discipline provides.

“You are not a psychologist, you are not a sociologist; you are really interested in figuring out how people do things, why people do things, what are the values, what are the mores, the norms within their society or as an individual that compel them to do something.”

Kinser had started to major in organic chemistry but “accidentally” took a class in anthropology at the University of Hawaii.

“I thought it was fascinating that there was an entire area of study that looked at everything from human bones to culture to how people interact,” she says.

Read more: Movers and shakers: Tony Baird is new CTO at Vodafone NZ

Kinser's anthropology studies in the early '90s focused primarily on Pacific Island cultures, the migration around the Pacific, and languages. She says by that time, she had been exposed to different cultures, having lived in Texas, England (where her stepfather was assigned) and Hawaii.

“I said, 'Oh this is an awesome degree', and thought I could do something with this.”

She says her work schedule will not necessarily slow down when she leaves NZ Tech at the end of this month as she has just accepted a non-executive director role at Talent (formerly Talent International) and continues to be on the board of EROAD and McCashins Brewing.

She is also a Trustee on the Well Foundation - a not for profit organisation in Rodney district, Auckland - that helps raise funds for the Waitemata District Health Board, including Waitakere and North Shore hospitals. She is also a director of the Cloud Security Alliance and an advisory board member of the University of Waikato Cyber Security Lab and Massey University School of Business, where she completed a master's degree in business management.

Read more: Ex-NZ Tech CEO Candace Kinser becomes NZ lead of analytics company Palantir

A CTO for New Zealand?

Asked for her views on whether New Zealand will benefit from having a chief technology officer, Candace Kinser says it is an idea that can be considered.

The topic was among the issues raised at the NZTech forum held just before the September elections.

“It is not unheard of,” she says, referring to the CTO role in the United States now held by Megan J. Smith, former vice president of new business development at Google.

“How do we actually make sure as a strategy we have an adviser within government, who is absolutely neutral when it comes to companies and technologies? Who can give unbiased advice to government officials on where we as a country need to look at investing in terms of e-government, education and technology? As well as, how do we find out ways of really growing the sector?

"If the CTO is to be that sort of person, then absolutely, we need that," she says.

“It would be excellent to try to look at how we can put this into practice and I can’t see that it would hurt."

Information technology is the fastest growing industry in the country today...It is possible in the next few years it will be the biggest contributor to the economy.

She says the role would be a strategic role in terms of looking across all of government, as well as across business and education.

“I am sure you agree for it to work across government, it has to come out from the top,” she states. “We need the prime minister and senior executives in government to make some mandates, this is what is going to happen, this is why it is important because if we don’t embrace technology, we are going to really suffer in the next few years.”

For Kinser, it is all about lifting the sector. "Information technology is the fastest growing industry in the country today," she states. “It is, arguably, third in terms of contribution to the country, behind dairy and tourism.

“It is possible it will surpass it in the next few years and be the biggest contributor to the economy."

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Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Read more: Graeme Muller sets agenda for the NZ technology sector

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