Introducing – Emily Melhuish

Tell us about yourself, and your journey into Tech/STEM.

It really started when I was 15 or 16 – I really loved the game ‘The Sims’. My sisters and I were pretty obsessed with it. We would play it everyday – many fights were had! We figured out all the hacks one could use to get more money and open up more game possibilities. Then we got into Sim modelling competitions, where you would take photos of your Sims, use photoshop and submit them to online competitions. Through this I learnt more about computers.

I really enjoyed that, but I never really knew what a career in tech actually meant. I was pretty narrow pathed; in high school it was, “Are you good at science and math? You should be a doctor” or “are you good at english? You should be a lawyer.” So because I was good at science and math, and I loved animals (especially horses), I figured I would become an equine vet! Then I realised I didn’t really like biology. One there was a dissection in class and I actually felt faint. I thought to myself; ‘how am I supposed to be a vet if I can’t do this?’. So I thought, well I like playing the Sims and I’d heard about programmers and all that sort of stuff, and I was like, ‘ok, I could do computers, make games or something?’. I didn’t really know what was involved. I hadn’t really done any coding other than some basic  HTML and game hacks. 

I ended up applying for a Bachelor of Information Technology, which was a combination of physics, maths, business and computer science. So I thought, ‘I like physics and math, maybe I want to have my own business one day, and I like computers!’ That was pretty much the decision making process there – probably not the most well thought out. I did a semester of that, then I kind of realised that computer science wasn’t bigger picture stuff which is kind of what I was hoping for. I wanted to make games, but we were just doing algorithms. At the time my friend’s brother was studying mechatronics engineering, which is basically a combination of electrical and mechanical engineering with a bit of software as well. He said that Ironman did mechatronics engineering. I wanted to be Ironman! I thought it sounded awesome; I loved cars and planes as well as software and electronics, so I thought, ‘that sounds great, I’ll do that!’ It just so happened that the papers that I did in first semester allowed me to apply for second semester engineering. I just thought I’ll apply, and if I get in I’ll do it, if not, I won’t. I got in, and I figured that was the universe telling me that maybe I should do engineering. 

So I started in mechatronics. Unfortunately, it also didn’t gel with me. I found the mechanical engineering papers very challenging. It didn’t help that I missed first year engineering, so I had none of the foundations that everyone else had. I wasn’t doing very well so decided to move to electrical engineering, which is where I finally ended up and really loved it. I kind of specialised in power electronics and machine learning, because I still loved software. 

Since then I have slowly made my way outside of hardware, into purely software. In my first year I was at TradeMe, where I was a software developer which was really awesome. Then I worked in various hardware companies and start-ups  (Flexware, Rocket Lab and Halter) , and now I’ve gone the full software pathway at my current company – Multitudes. 

My time at Trade Me got me super passionate about data science, because it was quite an emerging field at the time. Back then, it wasn’t even called data science! It’s sort of where I directed my career.I love engineering and building things, so I kind of fell into a field called data engineering, which is a cross between software engineering and data science. I’m the person who bridges that gap to make sure all the infrastructure and systems are in place so that people can then do the data science and analysis that they need to. I was happy to find my niche in that. Again, I was very lucky in that it was an emerging industry in quite high demand. I went on a whim on a lot of things, and it worked out pretty well. I also wasn’t afraid of change, thinking things like ‘you know what, this isn’t really working, so I think I’m going to change my mind and do something else.’

Why did you choose to go into tech and/or STEM?

To add to what I said earlier, I liked computers and logic, and I guess I also realised it was the way to have a big impact in the world. Tech is definitely a great way to make a big impact!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in along the way?

If computer science is bad for women then hardware engineering is ten times worse. I was often the only girl in my electronics classes and one of few women in pretty much every company I worked at. Which, initially, you do engineering and you’re kind of one of the boys. You don’t really think much about it until suddenly things do start affecting you. People treating you differently and the implicit bias that comes in. While I never had anything bad happen, there was always that slow chipping away of the shoulder. Things like small remarks people would make or just how much harder you would have to work to get the same respect. I definitely found that challenging, as well as imposter syndrome part of it. Coming out of uni, I landed a job at Rocket Lab which was the dream job. Working with literal rocket scientists, I kept thinking ‘why did you hire me? What am I doing here? I like rockets but I don’t really know anything about them!’ And they were like, ‘cool, can you just build this entire engine data system for us?’ So I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll just pretend I know what I’m doing when I have no idea!’ So yeah, definitely imposter syndrome is a big challenge.

I’ve also mostly worked in start-ups which is quite a different time to any other big company, because with start-ups you often are doing things which have not been done before. You have to work in ambiguity and solve problems that you can’t necessarily Google. That’s certainly a challenge!

Tell us about a highlight from your career and why it is significant to you...

The first highlight that springs to mind definitely has to be when I was at Rocket Lab – I was there before they had successfully launched, up until they had launched 4 or 5 rockets to orbit. The highlight 100% was watching the first successful Electron launch. The team was really small and mission control was right next door. We were watching the livestream of the launch on a big projector in the very same factory that that rocket was built. I remember listening to my team members on mission control talking to each other and being surprised when the engines started and the rocket started going up!  We were thinking ‘how is this happening!?. We knew everything that could go wrong with it, so we could see it going and think, ‘something’s going to happen.’ We hit each of the stages, like engine cut off and batteries, perfectly. Everyone was screaming and yelling, it was just surreal. Knowing that I had helped make that happen was very special.

What are you working on now?

So now I’m at Multitudes, we are a company that is trying to make equity the default at work. Having experienced some of the stuff I have experienced being a woman in industry, I know it can be even harder for others. I’m a white woman, which is a minority in tech but I’m still quite privileged. We’re helping software development teams collaborate better and ensure that everyone in the team is empowered to do their best work . At the moment, we use GitHub data to crunch some numbers and give insights as to how the team can improve. If we can help one person at work feel better in their team, that’s a huge success for us .We’re hoping to do that for thousands of people and try to make diversity, equity and inclusion the default. I love my job, it’s very flexible, I’m just working from home at the moment which is great, and then we have a co-working space down at GridAKL.

Why do you think we need more women in tech and/or STEM?

The biggest thing I’ve seen is just diversity of perspective. Half of the world are women which probably means half of your software’s users are women. Having women and indeed anyone from differing backgrounds on your team is super beneficial because you get wider viewpoints. I still remember Apple releasing the first Apple Watch health app and it didn’t even have menstrual tracking – one of the key health indicators for women.  As well as that, everyone should have a chance to work in tech. It shouldn’t just be this gatekept industry for bro-grammers who have been programming since they were twelve. I feel everyone should have an opportunity to at least see what it’s like. I know for me, I didn’t really have any idea about what a career in tech was or anything like that until university. I lucked out by meeting some people who had a formative path for me. That’s why I’m really passionate about things like She# and OMGTech that are helping teenagers and young people realise that there are really awesome careers here. 

On the flip side of that, as part of Multitudes, we are trying to also make the industry better for people who traditionally have not been in tech. Because it’s all well and great to get the pipeline going and funnelling all these amazing women into these companies, but then if they leave in two to three years, we’re not really solving the problem. So also doing the other side of improving the industry for women, and having more women in industry to show ‘yeah, we can do this job too’ is super beneficial.

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