What's your name and job title?
Natalie Ganderton – Emerging technologies lead in Qantas Technology.
What did you study? When did you graduate?
I studied engineering science at Auckland University, majoring in operations research. I graduated in 2001.
Where did you grow up? Have you had any experience abroad?
I grew up in Auckland, NZ, and didn’t leave until I was 30. I was working for a software company that had customers all around the world and travelled regularly to the United States to visit customers. I got an opportunity to move to the UK to manage implementations for our European customers for six months and ended up staying for nearly two years. I then moved to Abu Dhabi to work for Etihad Airways and from there to Qantas in Sydney. I feel like I jumped to the opposite side of the world and have been hopping my way back home ever since.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I was notified of the opportunity at Qantas by someone I worked with at Etihad. I joined Qantas as a senior analytics consultant and I’ve been in my current role for just over a year.
How did you choose your specialisation?
I’ve always been interested in practical applications of maths and science, and I feel that technology is a key manifestation of that. Nowhere is that more apparent than the aviation industry, where maths, science and technology come together to defy nature every time an aircraft takes off and lands – I still find it nothing short of miraculous. I actually initially wanted to be a pilot, but then when I learned of the technology opportunities in aviation, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
The interview process was over the phone in the first instance, because I was outside of the country. Then I came in on my way through Sydney on a visit home, and it was horrible because I’d caught the flu on the plane, so I felt like my head was full of cotton wool. I’m good at practical questions but find the procedural ones (‘Tell us about a time when you…’) really hard on the spot, so find I need to do a lot of preparation to present my experience properly.
What does your employer do?
I work at Qantas, an Australian airline.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My job involves getting my hands on the latest advances in tech like artificial intelligence, augmented/mixed reality, lidar, and many more and considering how they could be applied here at Qantas to improve outcomes for our customers and our people. I really love the aspect of staring into the future and imagining what travel for our customers and workplaces for our people will look like as technology evolves to support us.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
For me, no two days are the same. I could be knee-deep in data or code (either my own or my team’s) building a machine learning model one day, or educating colleagues on the ethical application of AI, running a hackathon or unpacking the opportunities that emerging tech could offer to help any of our business units achieve their strategic goals, the next.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
Technology has moved from being something that sat alongside traditional business units like marketing, finance and customer experience to being the key enabler of these functions that it is today. Technology skills are transferable across not just different business functions but industries as well.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
I would like to write musicals! Just for something completely different...
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
Although I love the technical aspect of my job, what really drives me is the opportunity to help people achieve real outcomes through new and novel applications of technology. Getting to meet so many people from across a variety of Qantas businesses and understand their challenges gives me such a great appreciation for the magnitude of what is achieved by our people across our network every single day.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
I have previously had jobs that were much higher stress and with more out of hours working requirements, so I feel lucky to have less direct stress and more space to work and think in my current role. I feel the responsibility for giving a full and well-considered assessment of new technologies and making sure that my recommendations are as accurate as they can be. In terms of limitations, larger companies necessarily move slower than smaller ones, which is absolutely the right thing to do but means that we don’t make as much progress as we would like in any given timeframe, but it’s a good thing to always have more that we want to get done.
What advice would you give to a current university student?
I would say commit to being a life-long learner, because the job that you have in ten years may not even exist yet; try to get experience working for both large and small organisations because there are useful things to learn from both about the most effective ways of doing things; and finally, never stop being curious about the world around you!