Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
When she was 14 years old, Kiah started with early MySpace HTML trial and error to add more glitter to her profile, and eventually evolved into a full blown career in tech.
After realising she wasn't fulfilling her dreams to have a greater impact on her own life and others, she began an educational journey to learn full stack web development. Excited to be living in a time where accessibility to technology is within reach for anyone, Kiah sees code as a language that evens out the playing field, breaks down existing barriers and delivers accessibility to business models where previously governed by privilege.
Kiah is extremely passionate about women in the tech industry, evangelical about widespread access to web development education and brings an end-to-end leadership and execution approach to her projects. Her mission is to lead the charge as a woman in tech, to not only disrupt an industry through bringing a product to life through code, but to disrupt underrepresentation and perceived barriers. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
Kiah, how did you get into this industry?
It was mid 2015 and I was fed up with my standard corporate job. I wanted to be challenged, have more of an impact in my community and be involved in an industry that encouraged creative thinking, continuous learning and thinking big. I quit my job, sold everything of value I owned and enrolled in Web Development Immersive at General Assembly to kick start my career in tech and web development. I’ve never looked back and it was by far one of the best decision I’ve made.
What does your current job role entail?
As an entrepreneur I find myself involved in a wide range of activities from consulting, mentoring and public speaking all the way to getting my hands dirty with developing code bases. I spend a lot of my time researching and learning about new technologies so that I am always thinking forward.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
My most recent project The Girl on Fire dress has been a labour of love over the past year so when I get some spare time I work on the dress. Outside of the wearables project I am researching and building out blockchain applications. I’m also interested in the combination of both blockchain and wearables so it will be interesting to see how these two technologies can play together. Maddy Maxey and her team at Loomia recently announced a new blockchain project which is exciting to see this combination in action. https://loomia.com/token
How has your career progressed since your degree? Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
Since graduating WDI, my career has progressed in a way that I had always imagined my life/ career as being. The whole scene in Sydney and coming through GA has been incredibly supportive and generous with their time when I need help with any of my software/ hardware roadblocks. I’ve had a few trips to Silicon Valley at the end of last year and the same supportive vibe carries through over there amongst their startup ecosystem. For me, the challenges have mainly been navigating what interests me the most and figuring out how I best apply my time to learning and translating it in a way to then give back and help others.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
It has been a two year journey. I have always been involved with Fashion Design (drawing, sewing and tailoring) since a young age but it wasn’t until I learnt how to code where the two spaces collided and I created my very first LED wearable dress. The first dress was an experimental prototype which I used to start the conversation amongst female high schoolers that learning to code isn’t just about building websites and apps, code is disrupting every industry including fashion. Then I started my second project, the girl on fire dress to challenge myself and develop my skills and knowledge further. Each project had its respective obstacles and challenges but the commonalities have been learning hardware and everything that comes along with that - sensors, power supply, micro controllers and doing it with off the shelf components, taking into consideration that it still needs to be compact enough to be considered a “wearable”.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
My biggest achievement to date I would say is having the courage to quit my comfortable corporate job in a very boring space and immersing myself into tech. Since then I have built a startup focussed on customer discovery as a service, created two LED wearable dresses primarily to inspire people to get involved in coding, taught & mentored over sixty female high school students how to code and created a startup community through a side project StartFizz.com. I was also recently selected in November to represent Australia on a two week youth mission to Silicon Valley with Startup Catalyst. Applicants are “selected for their potential to be Australia’s next batch of globally successful tech entrepreneurs.” So that was an amazing and super enriching experience.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you?
The #WomenInTech movement means to me that all of our brilliant women in STEM are getting the necessary exposure for their contributions to tech. It’s also about giving our young women and men out there visibility on these women as role models and letting them know that there is a place for you here, you belong here, you’re valued and supported. It’s also about being connected to a network of people that have the same values and goals.
What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech?
I don’t particularly think the challenges are exclusive to being a women. For me the challenges have been learning about hardware without any formal education in electrical engineering. The trials, errors and lessons that have resulted have been all the more rewarding. I suppose that’s what being a developer is about though. Solving problems and fixing bugs. :)
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I would love to see the trends heading away from smart “wrist” anything... wearable technology is so much more than that - in saying that, the real power for those are the variety of sensors you can pack into a small bit of real estate.
What I would love to see is the development and commercialisation of smart textiles and more user friendly plug and play components for wearable tech so that anyone from any background and skill level can get involved and start creating.
Ben Moir and Billie Whitehouse of WearableX developed a clever and small snap on/ off component that has all the hardware and battery inside it for their Nadi X yoga pants. When I saw it I instantly thought what a great bit of tech it was and how something like that could be used with a lot of wearable products that utilise haptic sensors, LEDS and other sensors in general.
But most of all I would love to see products being developed that are solving real problems for us within our communities. Products that provide true intrinsic value to our livelihoods. I believe the term wearable tech will shift toward how we start integrating the tech INTO our bodies and not just ONTO them.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
There are so many but my top three would have to be:
Francesca Rosella - Cute Circuit http://cutecircuit.com/about-cutecircuit/
Kitty Yeung - Art By Physicist Kitty Yeung - https://www.instagram.com/artbyphysicistkittyyeung/ / https://twitter.com/KittyArtPhysics
Twitter: Kiah Hickson
Instagram: Kiah Hickson
LinkedIn: Kiah Hickson
Medium: Kiah Hickson
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.