When Sarah Ellison goes to work conferences, she doesn't have to queue for the bathroom.
It's a perk of sorts, but she'd much rather there were more women in technology roles.
She was one of the Inspiring Women panellists who shared their career journeys in Palmerston North on Tuesday, part of Tech Week 22.
Ellison is head of IT operations at Author-it Software, which has an office in Palmerston North. From June 1, she will be the company's chief technology officer.
Ellison went to Ōtaki College and moved to Palmerston North in 1994 to go to Massey University. She was really good at maths and decided to major in calculus. In her first year, she also studied information systems (storing information, networks), and computer science (coding). From this exposure, she developed an interest in IT, and in her second year changed her major to information systems while still studying calculus.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Information Sciences (Honours) and went on to work at the NZ Transport Agency and Massey University. She later gained a master's degree in management, also from Massey.
When Ellison was growing up she was not interested in technology. It wasn't as big a part of people's lives as it is now, she told the Manawatū Guardian, with no mobile phones and the internet was not common in most households.
IT was and still is a male-dominated industry, but she has noticed an increased number of women, especially over the past 10 years.
Tech Week organisers say women make up only 25 per cent of the digital technology sector in New Zealand. Ellison says a reason for this is women are not always aware of the range of opportunities, and she wants to help make visible the career paths available to them.
The way technology is constantly evolving means there are lots of opportunities to learn new things. Constant changes can make it challenging, but also always incredibly interesting and an exciting industry to be part of. You can move sideways as well as vertically, such as system engineer to software engineer.
Being a woman in tech is not that scary. She doesn't feel she has ever been discriminated against. You don't have to be interested in taking a computer apart and putting it back together again. She isn't interested in that.
Ellison has been married to builder Graham Ellison since 2000, and they have two children aged 24 and 14. She says she has been blessed to have such a supportive husband; at times he has worked part time to be able to pick up the kids from school. He has also given her the space to grow and helped her achieve her success.
Ellison considers herself an "extreme extrovert". She believes in hugs and laughter in the workplace and knowing how many kids and pets her staff have. She is also a group fitness instructor and enjoys challenging people.
As CTO, Ellison will be a member of the executive team. Her focus will be on guiding technology investment and resources that deliver on the company's short and long-term goals - ensuring it is focused on the right things.
"It is a highly collaborative role working with the specialist team members to ensure we are providing our customers with high-quality, secure, reliable, and scalable products."
Author-it provides cloud-based structured component authoring solutions for life sciences, corporate e-learning, and technical documentation.
The features of its products include collaborative editing, suggestive reuse, variant management, review and approval, and multi-channel publishing.
The software allows companies to take complex documents and break them into discrete components that can be managed at the component level e.g. image, chart, paragraph. The components can be reused across multiple outputs without needing to be re-entered.
Author-it also has offices in Wellington, Seattle and the Netherlands. The Palmerston North office is bigger than Wellington's, and illustrates you don't have to leave Palmerston North to work in technology, Ellison says. Plus, you can work from home or anywhere and at any time. Last year, she moved to Christchurch for family reasons.