Natasha Prasad On The “Dark Art” Of Tech
“The biggest misconception women have about the tech space is that it is boring, overly technical and dry. That is the complete opposite of what it really is, which is dynamic, constantly evolving, flexible and high paying. But to many women, especially in Australia, tech is often seen as a dark art. So they steer clear of considering it as a career.”
Natasha Prasad is not making a sweeping statement. The Regional General Manager of ClassPass in Australia has keenly felt the gender gap in the tech industry and recent data underscores her opinion.
Last month, recruitment consulting firm, Davidson Technology, released findings from its study of Australian profiles on LinkedIn in Australia. It found that only 31 percent of the 435,000 IT professionals listed on the social network are women.
Natasha pins this reality on upbringing and education. She was raised in a “tech-savvy household” where she dabbled in computer programming alongside her older brother and later learnt to code as part of her school’s curriculum.
“Such impressions are formed at a subconscious level very early on,” Natasha said. “Unfortunately the stereotype of girls liking fashion and non-technical subjects still prevails and is further entrenched in the media and sometimes, even unknowingly at home. Young girls then form careers based on these impressions.”
“It is really important to demonstrate to young girls that there are women who have pursued a career in tech and what that looks like. A twenty-something would have already decided that tech is not a field for her but the mind of a ten-year-old is still open and curious.”
Natasha began her tech career in New York City but moved to Sydney three years ago to join Australian software start-up star, Atlassian. Two months shy of her second year there, Natasha decided to scratch a longstanding entrepreneurial itch and co-founded FitSessions, a subscription-based fitness start-up similar to ClassPass in the U.S.
When ClassPass expanded to Australia last year, it acquired FitSessions and Natasha was handed the reins of Regional Manager. The technopreneur talks to woman with drive about finding her tech niche, transitioning from New York to Sydney and her favourite cities for outdoor fitness.
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When did you know you had found your career niche in start-ups?
While at Goldman Sachs in New York, I worked on and launched a start-up that was part of the broader company. That convinced me that I wanted to pursue a start-up career. When I went to Harvard Business School to pursue an MBA, I focused on making that transition. I have always wanted to do something entrepreneurial and the tech space is obviously very well suited for innovation.
I started consulting for various consumer tech companies in New York and many of them were solving old offline problems in creative and efficient ways online. A lot of these companies were also started and led by women. That entire experience made me more passionate about striking out on my own.
When did you most feel the lack of women in tech?
My most immersive experience in tech was during my MBA internship in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, that was where I felt a dire lack of women in the space. The culture is extremely male-dominated and that actually turned me off Silicon Valley. Female-led tech start-ups were emerging in New York around that time so I chose to focus on a career there rather than in the tech mecca that is the Valley.
What was it like transitioning from New York to Sydney?
The biggest difference is that in New York it is cool to talk about how hard you work, how little you sleep and how many hours you worked on the weekend. In Australia, that is the opposite of cool. So even if you are working 18-hour days – and a lot of people I interact with work very hard – you shrug it off and talk instead about the marathon you are training for or the ocean swim you did just before breakfast. I also think Australia has a culture of efficiency which I really like.
What have you noticed about the tech scene in both cities?
The tech scene in Sydney is smaller and closer knit. It is a much younger ecosystem. Australia has been dominated by mining and real estate, and so the culture of start-ups and technology is not as mainstream here. It is still more of a fringe culture but that is definitely changing and I have seen that change in the three years that I have been here.
Was it a tough decision to sell FitSessions to ClassPass?
It is always a tough decision to let go of something you have created but I was very lucky that the corporate values of ClassPass resonated with me personally. The transition turned out to be an easy, natural one and my role here is not dramatically different to what I was doing as a founder. The biggest difference is that I now work with an amazing team in Sydney and learn from another amazing one in the U.S.
What have you discovered about the fitness industry that has surprised you?
I have been blown away by how collaborative and entrepreneurial it is! Much of the space is driven by mission and passion. People really want to help their clients and each other. Almost everyone in the industry has a side project and is very goal-oriented. I love that. It has been very inspiring and I feel grateful every single day for the wonderful people I meet.
What are your favourite cities for outdoor fitness?
I really love Sydney. I think it wins in the outdoor fitness space with all its water-based activities. The outdoor rocks and ocean pools are just phenomenal here. I also really enjoy London, which is a little counter-intuitive because the weather is so bad! But London has so many beautiful parks and a culture of being outdoors even when it is raining. I like running in Hyde Park and going for long walks in Hampstead Heath.
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