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International Women’s Day with the “first lady” of PaperCut

International Women’s Day with the “first lady” of PaperCut

What makes choosing to challenge the world such a brave act is… it doesn’t stop at one challenge. One obstacle invites another, and another, and another. 

Somebody who knows all about having to overcome multiple challenges at once is Priyanka Dave.

Once upon a time, PaperCut Software didn’t have 230 employees worldwide with three offices in Melbourne, Portland, and London. 

We were just our two co-founders humbly operating in a rickety workspace.

The second PaperCutter to join this garage-band tech company was Priyanka. Not only did she join us fresh out of university to become PaperCut’s second employee, she was the first woman at PaperCut.

Years later after working her way from development to support, she became PaperCut’s first remote employee. Today she is our longest serving remote PaperCutter.

Priyanka has been choosing to challenge since before she joined PaperCut, and, as we all know from enduring COVID-19, life’s daily hurdles don’t stop turning up on the racetrack just because you’re out of wind.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021 and the theme #choosetochallenge, we had a chat with Priyanka about her journey from fresh graduate to the “first lady” of PaperCut.

I heard a rumor that you didn’t drink coffee when you joined PaperCut, is that true?

“For months I said NO. It wasn’t my cuppa tea, haha. After about 6 months or so I decided to give it a try and I never went back to not drinking it. My husband is a big coffee drinker, so he was ecstatic that PaperCut converted me.”

You were the second person to join PaperCut, how have we changed over time?

“We were very different from what we are today, to say the least: just 4 people under one roof above a barbershop! We all did support, development work, website changes, orders were handled by the CEO’s dad!

“Now we are so much bigger than when I started. We are 230 people strong – all our office spaces are fancier than what they used to be back in Mount Waverley – water leaked from the roof!

“The way we communicate has also changed. The decisions that were made in one room now have to be discussed with teams globally. Biggest of all, there are so many more women in the company as compared to the first few years of my journey at PaperCut.” 

How did you find PaperCut?

“In the careers section on Melbourne University’s website. I had studied software engineering at Melbourne Uni and applied at multiple places for jobs after graduating.

“PaperCut was just one of the places I applied but I accepted the offer because of the interview with Chris Dance and Matt Doran. They seemed very excited about what they were working on. I wanted to join not only based on their passion, but also just the way they interviewed me, the questions they asked, and how open and honest they were. The way they spoke to me made me feel like I’d be cared for here.

“Even though it was a smaller firm the role and learning opportunities they were offering was what I was looking for – mainly the opportunity to work on projects end-to-end. I felt like I’d always be learning at PaperCut, more than if I had joined a larger company with specialized teams in specialized areas.

“It was such a unique opportunity for a fresh graduate – I was delivering product, writing code, supporting customers, writing documentation, writing marketing materials, writing release notes. Every day was a new day.”

Priyanka’s last team photo with the Melbourne team before leaving for North America

As well as being PaperCut’s first lady, you’re also the first and longest-serving remote employee, how did that come about?

“I first moved back in 2015, but it all started a couple of years previously in 2013 when I traveled to the US for PaperCut. Our Portland office had just opened up, so I spent some time there, attended some conferences, and met with ASCs. It was a real eye-opener for me.

“I went to New York to meet with Samsung and Canon. I was a developer at the time, I’d never done anything like meeting manufacturers before. I enjoyed the states so much, shortly after, my husband and I traveled there together for 5 months and really enjoyed the US culture and lifestyle.

“My husband had wanted to change his job in Australia, so he started looking and was offered an exciting opportunity with PWC in New York, which he couldn’t say no to. I was excited but was unsure what it meant for me: will PaperCut offer me a job or will I move countries unemployed?

“I asked Chris and Matt if they could offer me a role in New York and they were very excited and supportive. They actually didn’t have any support engineers on the East Coast so it ended up being a win-win.”

Co-Founder & CEO Chris Dance visiting with Priyanka and her family at the Brooklyn Bridge, New York

What was it like adjusting to remote working?

I never understood what it meant to work remotely, and I had really underestimated the challenges I would be facing, it took me off guard for a few months. I felt like I didn’t have anyone to share those challenges with.

“Whereas now, everyone is working remotely, we have all these channels discussing tips: ‘How can I be more efficient? How do I set up my day?’ One thing I’ve found is it’s important to take time off and actually go for a walk. Otherwise, you’re working from 8 am to 8 pm.

So was remotely working the same or different during COVID-19?

“I had my daughter at home so it was a whole different kind of environment for me. All the parents really struggled to work with our kids at home. My husband and I were juggling getting work done and taking care of our daughter. Those first few months, from March till June, were challenging, but we got through it. I wouldn’t have gotten through those challenging times without PaperCut, the entire team was understanding and flexible with my schedule.”

Speaking of challenges, what did you find most difficult when you got started in tech: being a grad, being a female in tech, or dealing with customers?

“Being a grad, I would say… I had minimal experience in building products and working with customers, so I had to work harder to gain that confidence.

“PaperCut always encouraged a different perspective and a different opinion. My opinions and perspectives were different from others in my team which actually helped me grow at PaperCut.”

Priyanka and the Portland support team in 2018

Did you feel discouraged to enter the male-dominated tech industry?

“I never thought about it that way, surprisingly. That question never came to me, ‘Oh, it’s a male-dominated industry.’ Even when I was at university, there weren’t many females in my class, so that helped me build the confidence that it’s not necessary for me to work in a female-dominated genre of work, I can work in other areas. 

“I did see that there weren’t many females in Australia’s tech industry. Whereas back in India, it is not like that, there are a lot of women in engineering and who take up software engineering.

“The small number of women in Australia’s tech space didn’t surprise me, but over the years I did wish more women would join the company, even if I just had one more woman to talk to on topics I couldn’t talk to the men in the office about.” 

All the PaperCut ladies of 2014

How has PaperCut supported you during your career?

“PaperCut exposed me to different areas of the business and gave me opportunities to learn!  I have worked as part of the development, support, testing, channel management, product management, and release management teams. It has helped me turn into this T-shaped person that I had never imagined I would be able to become.”

How do you choose to challenge gender bias and inequality?

“Whilst I haven’t had a lot of female role models in my professional life, I have been fortunate to have been raised by my biggest motivator – my mother. She not only excelled in her demanding career as a leading OB-GYN in New Delhi, but she was also a great homemaker and mother. 

“Now, as a mom and a full-time working professional myself, I try to teach my daughter all those essential attributes that mine instilled in me. I believe in setting a relatable example of an independent woman for my daughter at home, I also aim to lead by example at work.

“I believe that challenging gender biases at work starts with a company’s recruitment process. This is the first place where we as a company get to showcase, and also get to actually demonstrate that we foster diversity in the workforce.

“I am proud to say that not only am I the first female employee to be hired at PaperCut, but I am also one of the first female employees to have led the way in remote working, years before the necessity imposed by COVID.

“I have in the last 13 years here, navigated various roles – from a developer, release coordinator, senior tech support engineer, etc – and I am now a support team lead. In this leadership tech role, I hope to be there to encourage and support other women as they progress in their career paths. I aim to make my voice heard and ensure there is more female representation in various leadership roles.” 

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

“This year’s IWD theme #choosetochallenge personally resonates with me. I feel I have challenged myself ever since I joined PaperCut. I really feel that I have enjoyed the years at PaperCut when I have felt challenged. It’s been one of the biggest factors of my growth at PaperCut.

“I want to encourage women to be fearless, to speak up and challenge themselves wherever they are in their career. Challenge brings change and change brings growth.

“In addition, I want to use this opportunity to let other women know that we are here to  support and help each other in our careers.

“I want to challenge myself to lead by example at work and in my personal life.”

#ChooseToChallenge

“I choose to challenge. I want to see gender equality in all walks of life, in particular in the industry that’s dear to my heart which is technology. I want every girl, including my young daughter, to have the opportunity to follow their dreams.” – Chris Dance, Co-Founder & CEO

PaperCut has come a long way since its humble beginnings. From that leaky office above a barbershop with a handful of employees to a couple of hundred employees strong around the globe.

Thanks to Priyanka’s legacy of choosing to challenge gender bias and inequality, we’re no longer a company with one female-identifying employee. Courtesy of initiatives like Women Better Together we continue to build, not just our own company, but the tech industry with more balanced gender representation and equity.

So to all our PaperCutter women, past, present, and future, we’d all like to say Happy International Women’s Day and we pledge to continue choosing to challenge gender bias and inequality.

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