Women In Tech: Career Advice From Niamh Bushnell

We spoke to NIAMH BUSHNELL, founder and CEO of TECHIRELAND, about her GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS to date, the changing rules of business and her advice to others looking to get into tech …


Niamh Bushnell is the Founder and CEO of TechIreland and is one of the speakers at this year’s Cork Tech Summit 2018 to be held at the City Hall Cork on May 3.

TechIreland is a not for profit established in Dublin in January 2017, that maps and tracks all product innovation in Ireland and is on a mission to tell the story of Irish innovation to the world.

Who or what has had a formative influence on your career?

For me it has to be travel. Most recently, I lived in the States for 16 years, but the learning that travel brings started even before that – I travelled as a student and I travelled a lot in the early part of my career while working in Dublin to meet international clients.

No matter where it took me tavel reminded me that every time you lift yourself out of what you know, when the world around you varies from your current norms and expectations, then you learn something new and those learnings can be much more formative in your personal and professional life than you can imagine at the time.

For me travel is key to developing tolerance, ambition and get up and go smarts and it can be a real accelerator in your career.

What are some of the achievements of which you are most proud?

I’m proud of everything I have put my heart and soul into. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all these things were successful. By committing yourself to doing something, by putting in as much as you could and, importantly, by being open minded to switching gear and learning as you go, that can and should make anyone proud – even if the results aren’t as impactful as you might have hoped or originally envisaged. 

For me, being agile in the work environment can be the difference between success and failure. Even if you’re wedded to an idea – the ability to recognise that you’ve made a mistake, or that a project will not play out as it should, is a skill. At the time it can be really hard to let go – especially if you’ve worked hard or publicly aligned yourself with a project. But while it might be difficult to step away in the moment, afterwards you do get that sense of comfort and reassurance from the fact that you made the right decision – it was the right thing to do – and you learned from the experience. 

But you should always be proud if you’ve worked hard – that is enough. 

What do you most enjoy about your current role? 

For me, it’s always about the people, and the creativity you can get out of people and that you can inspire in yourself by learning from, negotiating with, and managing people around you.

That’s the kick – nothing is as it seems. People are very complicated and the dynamics of working with clients, selling products and services to them as individuals or groups is complex and very fluid. Every day brings something new which forces creativity from you. For me business is an extremely creative art and that ability to be creative in business gives me the energy and drive to do what I do.

What have you learned about the (changing) rules of business over the last few decades?

I recently presented to a Skillsnet course for women returning to the workforce, some of whom had been out of it for 10+ years. These women were very concerned about, if not consumed by, how the rules of business had changed and whether their skills would still be relevant today.

I was surprised by their expressions of deep concern and in many ways it lit a fire in me to help remind them of their worth. Of course, there are new skill sets and new ideas around business processes, flexible approaches to working and leveraging new technologies. But those are things that you can absolutely learn – and if you focus, you can learn quickly and relatively easily. But the rules that have never and will never change in business are all about communication, people, creativity and understanding. Understanding the customer, internal and external to you.

Those fundamentals have not changed, and I felt that I needed to remind the women in the room of them.

To anyone concerned about their worth in the workplace I would say that if you are a good communicator, open to new ideas, can see and measure end results and are open to learning hard and fast, then you are a valuable asset to any business.

But of course, the first step is to be given a chance at interview stage… and that’s a whole other topic… 

Describe a typical working day.

It starts around 9.30am and finishes at 7ish.

I spend a lot of time in meetings around the city and moving between them on the phone to members of the team. There’s a lot of variety in my day – a lot of eating on-the-go, dictating into my phone between meetings and trying to catch a spare moment to rewrite those terribly dictated notes!

As an organisation we are still only in our infancy – we are just 12 months old – and still learning who we are and who we can be to our different audiences. So, a typical day for me is about learning how what TechIreland does is translated into value and it’s about building new offerings to address client’s needs.

What are the key staples of your working wardrobe?

Easy – all black everything! Jeans and a shirt or sweater. And ankle boots! I walk a lot – we have walking meetings with the team and I walk to and from work. So, I need to be able to move. Unless there’s a reason to “dress up” then that’s what you’ll find me in. I write a lot so the last thing I need is to be shifting around at my desk trying to get comfortable.

No pencil skirts and heels here!

What would your advice be to others hoping to have a career in tech?

If you’re curious about tech and business and you like things that move quickly and can deal with feeling like things are always ahead of where you’re at, then tech is a great business for you.

Even if you don’t consider yourself technical or you don’t understand how it all works, even if you’re not very strong at STEM – then tech might still be the place for you.

I’m not a “techie”, but I am a logical thinker and strategic application is my thing. If you want to disrupt the status quo and inefficiencies are uncomfortable for you, then you will enjoy working with others with a similar mindset.

The tech industry has only really taken off in the last couple of decades, it’s still really in its infancy. If you are excited by that then you should be involved in its future.

Do you notice a lack of women in the tech industry? If so, why do you think that’s the case?  

Because of my role and work I spend a lot of time with women in tech and I see a lot of great women running tech companies who are smart, dynamic and ambitious. So personally, I am very exposed to women in tech. But I know the numbers (and TechIreland’s numbers in particular) show that there’s not enough representation of women. We have great role models, but we need more of them to encourage young women to get involved – either in tech side itself – or in the business of tech.

On International Women’s Day we launched a year-long campaign called the €100m campaign. Our goal is to see Irish female company founders grow the level of funding they raise from €79m in 2017 to more than €100m in 2018.

By tracking and promoting these women and their funding successes we hope to create more awareness around female funding which currently faces a variety of challenges. We want to help more women to secure a seat at the funding table and be comfortable in doing so.

Currently EI has really helped in the early stage funding rounds but we need deeper pockets to be available for women entrepreneurs in Ireland. We also need the culture to deepen in its acceptance of and openness to female business leaders. In the last 10 years we’ve definitely seen advancements in that regard but it’s not yet a cultural norm that women can and should lead large Irish companies with global ambition, and why not?

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