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Vivian Chandra

Vivian is a part-time CTO (chief technology officer), moving through the business world and taking her skills in databases and tech wherever she is needed.

Vivian Chandra at work

What do you do on an average work day?

Well as a contract worker, this is the best part! I don’t have an “average” work day.

I start each day planning out what I need to get done and then I go out there and do it.

If there are pre-arranged meetings, then everything else I do is planned around that.

I have also been known to curl up against my car door (with my handy work-from-car-cushion) pretending that I’m in an office somewhere.

From time to time, you’ll also find me in front of teenaged girls, teaching them self-defense.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

I assume you mean in seventh form? (Year 13 for you young’uns). I was encouraged to do the “super five” which, at the time, was Maths with Calculus, Maths with Statistics, Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

However when I looked through the curriculum I felt that there was too much cross-over in the two maths, so I dropped Statistics to take English. Best decision ever! I found a love for writing and prose that I didn’t really appreciate until 7th form.

After high school, I drifted through all the things I thought I should do. My parents were highly skeptical of anything that wasn’t law, or medicine, so I compromised and enrolled in a science degree. I started off in Computer Science, discovered that I wasn’t really the developer/coding type, and ended up a few years later with a Physics degree.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I was really never quite satisfied at how dismally I did! So a few years later, I re-enrolled and now I have a Masters in Sociology

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Not at all! My initial degree in Physics was in electronics, which could be associated with IT hardware, at a stretch… What I did learn was how to work in teams, how to coordinate projects, how to learn in many different systems and many different ways.

My latest degree in Sociology is much more related to what I do now. I studied the language associated with everyday sexism, and how it could relate to what is colloquially called a ‘rape culture’. 

One of my main passions is to encourage women and girls to not be held back by societal perceptions. Whether it is women in IT, or teaching little girls that robots and coding is awesome… it’s all linked.

Vivian tramping

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about career choices right now?

Oh so many things! But also nothing. I don’t want to be yet another person telling them what to do. We live in a world that is filled to the brim with “how-to” guides and random people on the internet thinking they know better than you. And for some reason, young girls (or those socialised to be girls) seem to get hit with this the most.

I think the latest research out says that an “average” person will have ten different jobs in their lifetime, and that number is projected to grow. If our careers are transient, the more important thing is to think about what kind of skills do you want to learn, or what will really make you happy.

If the thing you are doing makes you happy, then that is a life worth living.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Almost all the things I’ve been seriously proud of have been small things. Things that might seem insignificant when compared with a Grand Plan.

I’m more interested in how people work with technology than what technology can do. So that moment when I get through to a self-confessed technophobe and I’ve made their lives a bit better, then that is what I would call a highlight - and it totally makes my day.

Vivian in costume

In my longest stint so far, I worked at Amnesty International.

Every single highlight for me was when we could make a difference in someone’s life; like when so many Kiwis cared about a Troy Davis, a man on death row, that we crashed the Parole Board’s servers.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

Actually, I believe engaging in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths is vitally important to New Zealand. 

We cannot forget our creative industries and by thinking of it as a STEAM industry, we will work together to truly make Aotearoa world-class. We already see that with the awesomeness that is Weta Workshops, and our booming games industry.

As a society that prides itself on a clean, green image, we cannot keep relying on primary industries. As a country that is so far away, technology is an equaliser and distance no longer matters when the product is online.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

This question has been answered so many times by so many people in so many places! We know that diversity is good but we also know that you cannot “guarantee” diversity by choosing different physical characteristics.

For now, though, if we assume that people socialised into a different gender, or a different race experience different social circumstances, then we can assume a certain amount of diverse thought will come through. We know that we desperately need that diverse thought in our workplaces.

So, we don’t merely need more women working in STEAM, we need more of everything. We need more people of colour, we need more women and we need people who come from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Vivian with children

Vivian Chandra works as a consultant CTO, working with startups and charities to align their business strategy with their tech strategy. Passionate about tech being used for the good of humanity, she prefers to work with organisations that is dedicated to making Aotearoa and the world a better place.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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