Day of STEM recently interviewed Cara Walsh, Digital Experience Expert, with RACQ to learn more about her career and background. Cara is featured on the Day of STEM platform as an industry mentor as part of the Australia 2020 program which is available to students now. Read the Q&A interview below to learn more and check out Cara’s profile on the Day of STEM platform.
How did you get your “big break”?
Cara: During the height of the “dot.com” boom there was an acute skills shortage in Silicon Valley, driving huge demand for labour and talent. I had a friend working at the software security company McAfee and he referred me for a marketing manager role. The fast-paced start up culture at the time was an incredible experience. I was fortunate enough to be given a senior role with a high level of responsibility relatively early in my career.
What’s the lesson for others here? Look for industries that are having a skills shortage and see where you can slot your technology and engineering skills in. It may open up great opportunities for you and advance you to a management level. I had to relocate for this opportunity – so I would say to people starting out in their career that you should be open to any and all options. Don’t be constrained by geography.
Can you tell us about the transition from a marketing role into STEM?
Cara: I would say that my marketing role was already a STEM position – although I didn’t realise it at the time. I was tasked with creating marketing material for our sales team on how third party brands could be promoted on our digital properties (at the time this was just a website). This included banner ads, cross/sell and upsell opportunities on our relationship with Microsoft and Hotmail, and custom web integrations with strategic partners. I had to quickly learn had ad serving platforms worked (Double Click’s DART) and work with our tech product managers on understanding how and where we could integrate partnership opportunities.
In order to excel in marketing and product development, you need to understand the possibilities and constraints of technology. I quickly realised that and jumped head first into understanding platforms and tech processes. One day I went to work and my boss said I was being given the added responsibility of managing our internal technology team. It was only then that I realised that I’d truly made a transition from marketing to something that is more of a traditional STEM role. Today, my digital team resides within RACQ’s technology portfolio. Which means we work closely with developers, platform managers and solution architects. As well as liaising with our business partners in marketing and product.
Was there anyone that helped provide guidance or direction for your career?
Cara: My dad was a great mentor and sounding board for me throughout my career. He was straightforward with me when I told him about my job prospects in Silicon Valley. He basically said it was a no-brainer and that opportunities are few and far between. He encouraged me to take that first leap which seemed risky at the time. He said “what’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out you can move back. This is the start of who new industry and you can be at the forefront of it. Got for it.” There is always a “new” industry. For me it was the dotcom boom. Today, this is happening with Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Design Thinking – all areas in their infancy with great opportunities for up and comers to break through. Today, I have an informal mentor relationship with a senior executive at RACQ. This provides me with a great opportunity to bounce ideas off someone in a safe space and gain guidance on mapping out my career. Yes! I still use mentors!
Can you talk about challenges you’ve faced over the course of your career?
Cara: In the beginning of my career I was always anxious to get to the next level, or felt like I needed to be in a new role to influence and make change. What I realised in my 30s was that your Career is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I have learned more from bad bosses and failed projects that I have from successful ones. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and improve. Some of the biggest challenges I have faced was in not having confidence in myself to bring that great idea forward, or put my hand up for that next opportunity. No matter what your role, you have a chance to influence and make change.
At RACQ, our challenge is to predict future trends and ensure that our role and products remain relevant to our Members. The team and I attack this by understanding our members’ needs, mapping that against our product portfolio and then building innovative and new solutions that solve problems in unique ways.
Outside of Day of STEM, where else have you been a mentor?
Cara: I’m a member of several professional associations including AIMIA (The Digital Industry Association of Australia). I recently put my hand up to get involved in their formal mentoring programming where I met with a mentee once a month and worked on tackling a list of professional goals he had. It’s important when you work with a mentor to come to the relationship with a clear set of goals and objectives – let them know what you want out of the relationship and make the most of your time together. I am also involved with Women in Technology. We also have structured and informal networking opportunities at RACQ that I’m involved with.
Do you have any advice for students that are looking for a mentor?
Cara: If you’re interested in finding a mentor you’ll need to take the initiative and seek them out. Look for someone that is a senior level/decision maker with experience in the area that you’re seeking guidance in. Come up with an actionable plan and be very direct and specific about what you’re looking to get out of the relationship. Think about your friend’s parents. Your cousin’s partners, Do research on LinkedIn. I’d also recommend linking with a professional association that can set you up through a formal program. (AIMIA, Women in Technology, STEM, etc.)
What advice would you give students who are following your mentor journey?
Cara: There are a few things I’d suggest. Know what you want and be decisive. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up….but I know what I want 3-5 years out. Set goals for yourself and review and adjust them often – it’s ok to start small. Identify what you enjoy and go after it. You can always change course or direction if the career no longer fits. People change careers an average of 4 times throughout their career. Try and get as much experience as possible through internships, job shadowing, networking and meeting as many people as possible. Be creative! Write your own job description for the role of your dreams and then sell it!
The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland Limited (RACQ) is a motoring club and mutual organisation, providing roadside assistance, insurance, travel, finance and other services to its Queensland members. It is a member of the Australian Automobile Association.
Cara Walsh is a digital executive with over 20 years of experience, specializing in product marketing and sales operations. Cara helped launch the digital advertising division at AT&T, including developing the go to market product strategy, collateral development, sales training, and defining operational processes. She excels at driving advertiser and sales needs into the product development funnel. She loves to find new ways to solve old problems. In her spare time she Chair’s the Business Advisory Group at Queensland University of Technology’s Business School and guest lectures on Programmatic Advertising and Audience-based ad targeting.
At RACQ, Cara is responsible for the development of innovative and effective digital strategies for business units across the company, including: motoring, travel, finance and Insurance. Cara provides thought-leadership on all things digital. She is responsible for liaising with key internal stakeholders to ensure alignment of digital activities with desired business objectives. Cara leads the corporate digital strategy development for RACQ with the objective to provide world class digital solutions to customers and members.