Kylie (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu) is the Technical Lead for the Data Science team at the Social Investment Agency in Wellington.
What do you do on an average work day?
My days are extremely varied: from speaking to Ministers and other decision-makers about how to use data and evidence to make better decisions, to programming and working directly with data to answer questions.
I also do a lot of presenting and talking about the work I do. The data and technology we have available to us now has changed rapidly over the last five years. This means the way we are working is changing, and the types of questions we can now answer are new.
When you’re working in such a new area, it's important to share what you are learning so others can learn from and advance what you’re doing. There are more questions to answer than there are people who know how, so the more people helping the better.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
At school my favourite subjects were the sciences. I’ve always loved thinking about how things work and solving problems.
Leaving high school I knew I wanted a career in science and undertook a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Marine Biology at Victoria University.
As part of my BSc in Marine Biology, statistics was compulsory. Having done no mathematics or statistics past the age of 15, this wasn’t something I was overly excited about! However, I soon realised that you can’t do research without statistics and, luckily for me, I enjoyed it.
I majored in Marine Biology and Applied Statistics, then continued on at Victoria University to do my Master of Science (MSc) in Applied Statistics.
I made the decision to carry on with statistics because they can take you to any field of science you want and the opportunities are so varied.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes it was. I have my text books on my desk and refer to them often.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
The most important thing is that you choose to do something you enjoy. When you enjoy your work, you will be good at it.
I feel lucky to have followed after so many great women and men who have created a society where I have the freedom to choose to do what I want. I am using that freedom and hope I can push it further for the next generation of young women.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
When I showed my research to the Minister of Finance, now the Prime Minister, and his comment was that it would change the world. I hope he was right.
I've also recently been invited to give a TED Talk - now I need to think of an idea worth spreading!
And lastly, I’ve been working hard to make the work we do with data in Government open. There has been a huge amount of progress: the Prime Minister and Government Statistician have both openly encouraged active sharing of code and research, and many government departments now have GitHub pages where they share code. You can see my team’s work on GitHub here.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
Because better decisions will be made when they are informed by science.
I also love that polio is never a concern for me, I can push a few buttons on my phone and food arrives at my door, and when I need to concentrate in an open plan office my noise cancelling headphones make everything silent. Thanks STEM!
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
I teach Code Club at a local primary school. The class is ten Year 7 & 8 students, and has a 50/50 gender split. At the end of last term we did a 'show and tell' with parents, where each student had to show what they had done for the term, talk about the code they had used, and talk about their favourite part of learning code.
What struck me was the diversity of ideas. Among ten students they had learnt four different programming languages; they had built games, animations, webpages, and blogs; and some had followed the instructions while others took a more free-style approach (both are equally valid).
I’m not willing to lose half of those ideas.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.View all profiles