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Jamila Gordon: The CIO who escaped the Somali Civil War

Byron Connolly | March 3, 2017
“There’s literally nothing that can happen in business that can even compare to the challenges I faced early in my life."

Despite facing incredible odds and separated from her birth family, Gordon admits her “life was probably saved again” this time by an Australian backpacker who got her out of Kenya and to Australia where they married.

“When I got here the first thing I wanted to do was learn English. I had some exposure to the language in Kenya. In Australia I would talk to people and they would walk away because they couldn’t understand what I said. My English was very limited,” she says.

Counting on a new life

Upon arriving in Australia, Gordon began a nine-month course in English at a TAFE college in St George, Sydney before moving to the Gymea campus to complete a diploma in accounting. She dreamed of attaining a university degree after meeting a girl who got a job at the Australian Taxation Office.

“I came from a culture where women didn’t work so to watch this young woman finish university and get a job at the ATO was inspirational. I wanted to be exactly like her.”

Gordon studied a Bachelor of Accounting at La Trobe University in Melbourne and this is where she found her passion for programming and IT.

“I had one programming elective and I fell in love with it. A lecturer at the university said ‘you’re obviously good at programming, just follow your passion'.”

Gordon’s obvious ability to cut code landed her a role as a software developer at QSP Software in 1995. To score her first role, she was required to sit a logic and algorithm test. She scored 100 per cent.

An opportunity to travel the world in this role was music to Gordon’s ears.

“All my life I wanted to travel. When I was at university, I watched my friends go on holidays and I never had the means to do it,” she says.

QSP sent Gordon to its research and development base at Gateshead near Newcastle in England, and shortly after, Reading in London where she customised and configured the company’s software for British Gas. She also spent time in Dubai doing similar work at Emirates Airlines.

Gordon then returned to Australia after being headhunted by QSP Software customer, insurance company GIO. She was employed as an applications lead inside the company’s asset management division before moving to Deloitte between 1998 and 1999 to lead a team that was implementing SAP and PeopleSoft ERP suites for its customers.

Gordon was headhunted again, this time by IBM Global Services where she hired as a senior project manager between 1999 and 2001. She spent the next six years at Big Blue in senior program delivery roles working on behalf of Solectron Manufacturing in Nice France; AXA Insurance in Paris; and ABN Amro Bank in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.


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