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Reality Check: PledgeMe's Anna Guenther

As part of Idealog's Technology Month, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's PledgeMe founder Anna Guenther.

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

I can’t live without the Kindle app on my iPhone. My secret pleasure is reading young adult dystopian fiction while on the go…. It makes me feel better about the stresses of business, at least I’m not in the Hunger Games!

Underrated or old technology?

The printing press. That shit started the reformation, but with everything going digital these days we forget how simple things can change the world.

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

I’m really impressed by all the tech social enterprises that are popping up, like Thought-Wired or Ogo. They’re both focused on included people in society that have previously been excluded or othered. Thought-Wired have created a software that helps people that are locked in communicate with brain sensing hardware. Ogo have created a whole new wheelchair.

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Cindy Gallop. I love her sex tech company, Make Love Not Porn.

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

PledgeMe, though I would argue it’s more about shifting culture and using tech to amplify rather than a pure technology play. But, if the humble printing press brought about the reformation of the Church 500 years ago, what could we do with technology like crowdfunding? Change the face of the financial markets for the better, I hope.

Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

I am envious of the way Sacha Judd reframes the lack of diversity issue in the tech industry. Her talk, How To Move The Tech Industry In One Direction, is inspiring and inspired. She explains there’s not a lack of technical women, we just don’t celebrate the things that girls like and therefore they don’t feel like they can do tech (even, if they’re doing it around their passions / hobbies). I wish I could be that eloquent :)
 

What first drew you to this industry?

It was accidental! I was working for the government, and realised I needed to either study more or work for a private company to progress in my career. So, I went back to part-time study to complete a Masters of Entrepreneurship, and co-founded PledgeMe as part of that. I also never really thought I was smart enough to be in tech, despite having a programmer for a father, and learning basic coding when I worked at MIT in my early 20’s. Yep, I learned some bad ass HTML table making from some of the folk that invented the internet…

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

Being able to support people all around New Zealand (and the world). Meeting inspiring and diverse people that care about making the world a better place for everyone.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

Inspiring, and generally quite connected/supportive, but the men still seem to be dominating the conversation.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

Twitter. I’ve been told I’m addicted, but I love getting my news and inspiration in 140 character sound bites.

Reality check

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

The comments section of mainstream media shows how disconnected people have become from the stories they are responding to. The mean streak and tendency to troll anonymously is super saddening.

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

I think you could argue that I am addicted.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

A blessing. You can connect to so many people you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

I think technology needs more codes of conduct around it. How do you get people to treat it like any other form of interaction? Treat people kindly etc.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

Ha. Wow. A lot of things.

  1. Focus on company culture - not trying to make it homogenous, but teaching people how to be kind and considered.

  2. Celebrate diversity - across all areas.

  3. Check your own privelege and biases - take the Unconscious Bias tests from Harvard

  4. Be creative - your best hires might not have the traditional training or come from the areas you’d expect. As I’ve already said, Sacha Judd’s talk on How To Move The Tech Industry in One Direction explains this idea so well.

What worries you the most about technology?

How it supports anonymity.

What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

No. But climate change and inaction will.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?

Hopefully, a country that led the way on climate change and equality.