Gemma Gerondis, general manager of Datacom's digital engineering team, and her team recently received an email from the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood. It outlined what a huge difference the implementation of a new algorithm — and all the development and testing work leading up to it — was making in the lives of potential kidney transplant recipients, by improving their chances of finding a donor match.

“This is a major milestone for OrganMatch and for Australian transplant history. It is just over a week since implementation and already the changes are making a significant impact on so many lives. The new algorithm will bring the opportunity for many Australians, [who] have been on the transplant waiting list for years, to receive a kidney transplant.”

It was a massively rewarding moment for Gemma.

“Reading that email was incredible, because how amazing is that? You are changing people’s lives in a very real way.”

Helping people was always part of Gemma’s career plan. But she didn’t always see tech as the way to do it.

As a high school student in New Zealand, where she grew up, she considered leaving school to work as a youth aid officer.

When it came time to choose what to study at Victoria University in Wellington, Gemma found it hard to decide and initially enrolled for science as part of a double degree before settling on information systems and management.

“My main driver was wanting to keep my options open. I really liked the idea of studying something that would let me work in lots of different industries, and work with lots of different people, so I wouldn’t be stuck doing one thing.”

Photo of Gemma Gerondis

The hunt for a dream job

After graduating, Gemma spent a year working at the university helping students navigate their first year and figure out their course and career options.

This job confirmed for Gemma that she wanted a role where she was helping people find answers and solve problems, but she wasn’t sure what that was.

Then she spotted a dream job she’d never heard of: a business analyst.

She applied for the business analyst role with Datacom, but at her interview was told the only job available was a software developer role and she should go for that instead. That same day she got locked in the stairwell after a trip to the bathroom without an access card.

It was an inauspicious start, but she took the software development role with Datacom and six weeks later the company found her an analyst role and she was taken under the wing of one of the senior business analysts in the team.

“That really started my career off with a bang. For the next five years in Wellington, I moved my way up into a lead role, and then I got the opportunity to jump the ditch and come over to Sydney and help start the software business here in Australia.”

Gemma moved into a business manager role looking after all the developers, testers, and project managers in the New South Wales business. She's now been with Datacom for more than 10 years and is in her sixth role — general manager for the digital transformation and software engineering side of the business.

Rising to the challenge

Despite being with the company for a decade, Gemma says there is no chance of getting bored because of all the new challenges she has taken on at each stage of her career with Datacom.

“I’ve been given some great mentors, some very senior people at Datacom, who were amazing and got me through really difficult times. For me, it was all about being really open and honest about where I was, I was never a ‘fake it till you make it’ person,” says Gemma.

“I’ve been upfront and said: ‘I’ve never done this before, I will try, tell me what I need to do,' and [Datacom] has responded with the support and mentoring I’ve needed.”

Now Gemma is in a leadership role at Datacom and is mentoring other people coming up through the business.

“One thing I didn’t foresee early in my career is how much of an influence you can have on other people as a leader. You really can make their lives easier and more positive at work and beyond by giving them confidence to grow and develop.”

Gemma, who makes beautifully crafted silver jewellery in her spare time, says the business analyst role was the ideal start to her career because the skills are so transferable.

“Analysts get all the commercial and financial skills alongside the ability to work with customers. My role now is all about talking to customers about where they want to go, and then figuring out how our digital engineering teams can get them there.”

Gemma says, for many companies, COVID-19 has served as an accelerator for their digital transformation plans and ambitions, and the challenge now is to turn those ideas into a reality.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about ‘working in tech’ is that you have to be a technical person to be successful. You don’t. What you need is to be a really good listener so you can listen, respond, and adapt to what customers need, and bring together awesome teams.”

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