Kate Russell is a journalist, reporter and author who has been writing about gaming, technology and the Internet since 1995. Best known for weekly appearances on BBC technology programme Click, she is a frequent face on TV, radio and in magazines as a technology expert, with regular columns in National Geographic Traveller and BBC Focus magazines. She is author of two books; Working the Cloud, a business book about the internet and Elite: Mostly Harmless, her debut science fiction novel based in the gaming world of Elite, which achieved over 400% of its funding goal on Kickstarter. In addition, Kate speaks regularly at technology events and conferences and in schools and universities, inspiring the next generation of technologists. She is also very involved in UK and global policy meetings to help shape the way the internet is governed. For more information visit http://katerussell.co.uk
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Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
When I meet people socially and they ask me what I do, I generally describe myself as a writer, as that is core to every aspect of my work and it’s the writing part that really makes me happy. If you asked someone who knows me through my work what I do they would most likely describe me as a TV presenter, as this is by far the most visible part of my career. Like so many freelancers these days though, I have a portfolio career that consists of many things, including TV reporting, magazine column writing, blogging, speaking at conferences and on panels, hosting awards ceremonies, lecturing at schools and universities and I give commentary on radio shows and other random media outlets. I have also now published two books, a business book about the internet and a science fiction novel based on the computer game that first sparked my passion for technology. We travelled a lot when I was growing up – around the UK but also spending time abroad in Kenya and Central America. This was because of my father’s work as an engineer. As far as education goes, I didn’t get on well with the rigid structure of academia back in the 70s and 80s when I was in school, so left at aged 17 and have made my own way through life sucking up as much knowledge as possible about the things that interest me and taking every strange career opportunity that fell in my path which sounded like it could be fun and enough of a challenge to hold my interest.
When I was 15 I told the careers officer in school I wanted to be a dolphin trainer.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I was 15 I told the careers officer in school I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. They sent me to a dog kennels for work experience and I spent the entire week mincing and bagging up green tripe to sell in the shop. That was the closest I ever got to actually planning a career. Because I had no qualifications after leaving school I didn’t think there were any real ‘career paths’ open to me. I would change jobs every 6 months to a year because I would get bored of the routine and lack of challenge in the kinds of roles I was going for – estate agency, payroll clerk, waitress, barmaid, cleaner, etc. So my only real career plan was to keep scouring the newspapers for a job that sounded more exciting that the one I was currently doing.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Life is full of challenges – I’m pretty sure that’s not just the case for me. I love challenges, they make me feel alive and keep me alert and striving to improve, so I deal with them by embracing them. Since going freelance 20 years ago the main challenges have been around managing my finances so that I can ride the quiet periods without getting too stressed, and maintaining my motivation to deliver great content to deadline in spite of the distractions around me at home.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
There is no such thing as a typical work day! Seriously! But if I am spending the day in my office it starts about 7.30am with coffee and ploughing through emails & social media… by about 9 or 10am I have generally cleared the decks and can get on with whatever contract I am working on that day – it could be research, writing, building a presentation, planning a lecture, developing a talk, writing scripts, recording screenshots, writing blog content, working on my next book, marketing my current books, broadcast streaming… anything really. I am generally working on at least 3 contracts at any one time, so I will do a bit on each depending on my schedule – which is blocked out by the hour in my diary. The day ends when I have crossed the last thing off my list. Then I quickly check my communications channels to make sure everything can wait until the next day before heading to the kitchen to cook dinner!
Tell us a little bit about your role on BBC Click, how did that come about?
I have worked on BBC Click for 10 years now, creating 4 minutes of broadcast content reporting on developments on the web and now in mobile apps. I was brought into that team by Chris Long, who was my producer when I presented a technology show on Sky. Previous to that my first break into TV and journalism came in 1995 when I was selling CD manufacturing to games companies and one of my clients dared me to apply for a job presenting a weekly show on Nickelodeon and ITV about computer games. There is more about that journey in a blog post I wrote a few months ago here.
I get most frustrated with people who do not understand technology and are therefore afraid of it, blaming it for all the bad things that happen in the world.
What frustrates you from a technology perspective?
I get most frustrated with people who do not understand technology and are therefore afraid of it, blaming it for all the bad things that happen in the world. There are too many of these types of people in so-called ‘advisory roles’ with government and in the education sector and they try to stifle progress and innovation because they falsely believe that limiting technology’s influence on society will magically make everything better.
Girls have equal access to technology and now there are products, games and entertainment platforms that are fully gender neutral
There is an apparent shortage of women in technology roles, what do you think could be done to encourage more women to pursue technology careers?
That is a huge question and one I have spent a lot of time pondering. In many ways I wish we could stop thinking and talking about gender in relation to technology, but the cancer of discrimination and bias has been allowed to grow deep roots over the past 3 or 4 decades so that’s not an option. Having said that I think the work being done now in schools and universities will really start to pay off over the next few decades. Girls have equal access to technology and now there are products, games and entertainment platforms that are fully gender neutral that will mean more girls evolve with an interest in technology. I watch my young nieces play with tablets and consoles and they all have smartphones. It’s not considered strange that they are into these pieces of tech like it was when I was a teenager getting into computers in the 80s. It’s up to we adults to make sure girls continue to get equal access to technology, and perhaps most importantly that boys have great role models so that they do not grow up with the same biased impressions of the tech world that our generation did. If we all do this job properly it should never even cross our children’s minds to use gender as a measuring stick for whether or not a person might be able to perform well in a tech environment.
I have grown to be fiercely independent and very self-motivated
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
I haven’t, no. Not in any formal capacity anyway. I think because of my upbringing I have grown to be fiercely independent and very self-motivated. I am also a perfectionist and find it hard to trust others and let go of control. Having said that though, I have a lot of clients who say lovely things about me and I consider every single person who has contracted me to create content and trusted me to develop creative ideas for them has been a massive help to my career. At the end of the day a freelancer with no clients is simply unemployed! Most recently I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my publisher, Dan Grubb, at Fantastic Books Publishing, who has given me the confidence to really believe in myself as a fiction author. I remember at first he had to keep telling me ‘you ARE a real author,’ and he backed up that supportive attitude with an open mind and incredibly fair treatment. I completely trust him, and at 46 years old this is a fairly new concept for me!
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
The thing I would change is that gender is ever even considered when assessing a person’s ability or worth to a business.
If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?
I am now a bona fide fiction author, earning an actual living that can pay the bills out of telling stories. I have had great success with my first published novel, and I have my fans and readers to thank for that. I cannot believe how lucky I am that people want to pay their hard-earned cash to peek inside my imagination. I am also incredibly fortunate that my public profile allows me to raise money for charity just by doing the things I love. This Christmas I raised over £7,000 for a charity called Special Effect, that helps physically disabled people play video games. The charity has recently honoured me with a Vice Presidency, which alongside publishing my books is definitely one of my proudest achievements.
Tell us about your plans for the future?
My next novel is already signed for publishing and due out as soon as I can get it finished – hopefully in a few months. I actually wrote it 10 years ago and am now doing a rewrite applying the knowledge I have learned since then. I don’t have a plan for the future as such, but my dream for myself is that people continue to be interested in what I have to say and the stories that I tell, and that it brings joy and laughter to them and me; and that it continues to pay the mortgage and put food on my table.
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