In conversation with: Catherine Thompson, Digital Transformation Agency

TechByte-blog-Catherine-Thompson.pngWe are delighted to welcome Catherine Thompson, Head of the Digital Marketplace (DM), Digital Transformation Agency,  to CeBIT Australia 2017. In her role, she works closely with start-ups and government to unlock opportunities for both sectors. (If you would like to know how, you can find the article here). In this week’s TechByte, she elaborates on why Free Roam Virtual Reality will transform the world, charts her serendipitous journey to the DM and tells us why if you rob a bank, you should rob a big one (though best not to quote that if you actually work in a bank)...

How did you get to your current role?

Catherine: My journey is a serendipitous one! I always find people who sit in front of you and tell you about their five year goals vaguely frightening, since all the things I’ve done have been at the whim of the universe. Although connective thread in the work I’ve been committed to is my love for fixing and building things and working with teams at velocity in pursuit of a shared purpose.

I moved to Melbourne some years ago for a short consulting assignment in banking and ended up remediating their $4B procurement operation for a much longer period. Location led to a next role in tech, as Head of Delivery for free-roam VR pioneers Zero Latency who were ready to commercialise their product. Then I was asked to head up the Digital Marketplace, uniting tech and procurement.

I’ve also worked in research (Thompson contributed to a text called Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Creating New Value) and journalism. Both are wonderful for my insatiable curiosity.

What do you love most about working in technology?

Catherine: Working collaboratively and creating elegant and useful solutions! Also, appreciating the skillsets of my team - skills that I don’t have and that delight me  - and seeing how quickly insights can become outcomes when an agile team comes together.

What is the most challenging part of working in the government sector?

Catherine: Being new to government, it was learning the language and the protocols. The Digital Marketplace is an agile product in beta development and we - and the broader Digital Transformation Agency of which we form part - work in a way that will be comfortable for digital natives. It’s important that appreciate that the public service operates differently to the private sector - for example, public transparency and accountability underpin many protocols to a greater degree.

You didn’t ask me about the best part! It’s the common and unifying sense that we’re all here to contribute to the greater good

Name a book, podcast or presentation that has had an impact on your worldview. How has it changed your perspective?

Catherine: Alan Garner’s Red Shift, which is incredibly poignant and would be my desert island book. More generally, I am a voracious reader of science-fiction, because it’s the literature of ideas. My Mum - an original Trekkie - brought me up from a young age on a diet of SF classics - Wyndham, Bradbury, Aldiss, Delany, Sturgeon

What is the technology that will transform the world in the next 10 years?

Catherine: Free roam Virtual Reality! Zero Latency and the work that they do in untethered VR certainly had an impact on my world view.  One minute you’re in a warehouse in Melbourne, the next you’re on a starship, or on a platform floating in the sky, or in a zombie-filled car park. It’s not just that you can walk around, but you interact your world. It’s incredible. In VR, I’ve walked off the edge of the world. Walking up the edge of a curve, being upside down, a very strange feeling … And the possibilities of this medium for applications other than gaming are in very early stage exploration (Key SF text for VR is Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”).

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve been given?

Catherine: “If you’re going to rob a bank, rob a big one”  (When I worked in a bank, my mentor nervously asked me to stop saying that!)

Lastly, do you use an iPhone, Android or… other?

Catherine: Mac all the way. I still have a first generation Macbook Air. It’s a perfectly designed object.

If you would love to hear more about Catherine, the DTA or how government is contributing to the next wave of technological innovation, you should register for CeBIT Australia’s 2017 eGovernment conference. Sign up here.