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Remarkable Insights: Steve King

Transcript

[00:00] Viv

Hi I’m Viv Mullan, host of this podcast about disability driving innovation. Our guest went from a small town in Western Australia to Foundation Director at one of the biggest and richest companies, Atlassian. Steve King is always on a mission to drive the representation of disabled entrepreneurs and here’s why. Steve, firstly can we please start with a visual description of yourself.

[00:59] Steve

Ah, I don’t even really know how to describe myself. It’s always a bit hard, but I’m just a white guy with blondie/brown hair and dark rim glasses, wearing some big headphones, which are quite uncomfortable. But yeah, that’s me.

[01:18] Viv

That’s great, For everyone listening, Steve has got the world’s best smile, so we’ll give you that as well thank you. Thank you again for coming on and agreeing to share your story and the work you’re involved with. And for those who don’t have the total privilege of knowing exactly who you are, would you mind just starting off with giving a bit of an intro about who you are, Steve, and how you got to where you are today?

[01:41] Steve

Hi, I’m Steve King. I’m the director of Atlassian Foundation for Business Impact. I look after our pledge 1% initiative, which is really just taking the model that we built Atlassian Foundation with and bringing it out to businesses in the community. We honestly believe that we can really bring more philanthropy and social impact through startups that want to have volunteer time or opportunities to be able to donate or give their products away to organizations that are having an impact. And yeah, we’re just trying to find a really good way to do that. Previously I’d come through the Remarkable program. I’ve been a founder of a startup. I’ve been a really, an accidental founder, co-founder of a startup. I’ve been an accidental a lot of things but yeah, most recently accidental director of Atlassian Foundation.

[02:31] Viv

I think that it may feel like an accident to you, but I’m sure you’re exactly where you’re meant to be every step of the way.

[02:38] Steve

Sure hope so.

[02:40] Viv

And I know that even in your previous role, you were with Canva for a bit and you were heading accessibility and I’d love to unpack where this passion for accessibility in the disability space comes from.

[02:51] Steve

It’s a combination of places. I think my journey in technology really started from a place of not having access to the same avenues of technology or the same opportunities in technology.

Growing up in an area that didn’t really have a lot of technology in it, I was really quite lucky to have access to the things that I did. And yeah, I really made that work even though it was really not clearly in my destiny at that time. Yeah, growing up and not being able to access the universities and not having a lot of the things that I think a lot of other people would’ve had. I didn’t finish high school. I didn’t finish university. I think for me, it really ended up putting a lot of emphasis on being able to access that stuff was really important to so many people, not just people that have the opportunity to access it.

And I started by doing a lot of work in getting kids into coding and getting kids into technology so that they had access to that, all the things that I didn’t when I was young. And I think it just went from there.

I was really privileged to have a lot of people with lived experience of disability in my life as well. I was able to navigate things with them and understand more about what was actually needed.

And as I developed as a product manager and as a software engineer over the years, inversed to that but as I went on that journey, I was able to see how the decisions that we make in building software and building products actually impact so many people. Not just the users that we target, but also the users that we’re not actively targeting and how much of an impact that can have.

So that really led me to being more aware of not just digital accessibility, but more from my childhood around inclusion in general and getting people access to the things that they can access to then go and build amazing things, whether it’s software, cars, or whatever it is. And then also being able to have access to the same opportunities. Whether they take those opportunities or not. Who’s to say? Not being able, to be able to use university tools because you can’t see in the same way that other people do or not being able to access technology because you can’t hear, you can’t see, you can’t walk. These are all really crappy reasons not to be able to go and build amazing stuff still.

That led me to really understanding more about the customer experience around people with accommodation needs that led to building out accessibility with Atlassian and then eventually over at Canva as well.

[05:26] Viv

You say you were teaching yourself that coding. How old were you when you were teaching yourself?

[05:30] Steve

Oh I was teaching myself from when I was about I think about 10. Just thinking back. Any piece of old technology that I could get my hands on or that was like donated to my family or that I happened to be able to find or scrounge around, I would try and find a way to use it and pull it apart, put it back together. I just loved it and I couldn’t get enough of it

[05:54] Viv

And did you feel that the schooling system almost didn’t fit the way your brain was working at such a young age?

[06:02] Steve

A hundred percent. I found out that I was neurodivergent much later in life than I probably should have. I feel like it was obvious to a hell of a lot more people than me before I got my diagnosis.

But yeah the school system was really tough. I remember. Not just struggling with classic behavioral issues or being told I couldn’t focus or I couldn’t apply myself. And like I had a huge amount of potential. That was always a real struggle for me because to spend your whole life being told that you had potential but that you weren’t doing enough was just a real, it was a real downer because you never really know whether or not that’s true and you’re just not reaching that potential or if you are just not smart enough and like they think you’re smart, that’s great, but maybe you’re not smart enough because people keep telling you you should be doing amazing things, but you just can’t seem to get that together. So I spent a lot of time thinking that I was pretty dumb.

I loved maths, I loved physics, I loved computer engineering and software engineering. I wrote some good code, some bad code, and I just love puzzle solving and I think through school that was really where I should have clued in at that point that all these really analytical things I loved and the things where you had to try and express creative freedom I was struggling at.

But yeah, it wasn’t really well built for someone who was trying to navigate that at the same time, is navigate life itself as a teenager.

[07:36] Viv

It’s so cool. I’m chuffed to know that we can have this conversation and bounce shared experiences off each other. And it’s that thing of feeling quite alone in a journey until you realize there’s a bunch of really cool people that are in your corner and in their own corners. We’re all a quirky bunch doing our own thing. And yet you still feel this imposter.

I’ve heard you talk about this imposter syndrome. Can you speak to the process of that sort of doubt and how that transitioned into feeling more confident in what you’re capable of?

[08:07] Steve

Oh, I don’t feel confident at all. Sorry, everyone. No, look before I was diagnosed, I think what I struggled with the most was legitimacy, right? And that was actually separate from feeling neurodivergent.

I’d already grown up feeling like I wasn’t living up to my potential and feeling like I accidentally landed in things because of happenstance. And a lot of that was opportunity, being able to network and being able to bring that quirky insight to things, meant that people kept me around because if they didn’t know something they asked me and I tended to know. And so I think from that perspective, I was really fortunate that I’d cultivated such a good group of people around me to lead me into this kind of like software engineering path.

Having said that, like I still really struggled to, once I found my place in those jobs, to really feel like I was valued in the same way that other people did. And I’ve worked for Google, Yahoo, I’ve done a lot of big software projects for big name companies and every time I was like, ‘not the smartest person in the room, there’s everyone else is just better, deserves to be here, you’ve lucked into this situation, so don’t rock the boat’. And that was really tough.

And I think landing in Atlassian was probably the first time where I felt like, to be clear, like I didn’t feel like I belonged because I deserved to be there, but I belonged because people were really direct, they were clear with you about where you stood with things. All of the things around you know the interpersonal things that I’d struggled with, were suddenly not there. And that’s not to say that’s how the whole company operated, but it was much easier. I felt finally, like I’d actually landed somewhere that I belong, but I still really struggled with that feeling of imposter syndrome.

I ended up giving a talk on it and discussing it from the perspective of, ‘yeah this is how I deal with it’ and it’s meditation, it’s validation, it’s all the things that you still struggle with but I’d kind of worked through.

And eventually what I realised was that as much as I see these people really excelling and doing these really amazing things, and they deserve all the credit that they get for those things, what I was doing was probably self sabotaging in a lot of ways and as much as I was doing a lot of things, sometimes also exhausting myself because I was constantly chasing being ‘good enough’ that I’d end up not doing enough to be good at anything. And that’s that whole if you’re mediocre at everything and you’re not great at anything. That’s my life, man. But that’s how I, that’s how I’ve existed. That’s how I’m here. So how do you rationalize that and how do you bring that together?

And I think you know what, it ended up being a superpower of basically being able to dissect how people started to share what they wanted. When you’ve got a group of people around you who are clear about what they need and what they want and how they expect things to be, not you to be, but like the things that you’re working on. ‘This is what I need’ and they’re clear and they’re honest and there’s like a honesty system there, all of a sudden working’s easy because you’re not trying to anticipate what they’re trying to tell you, you’re just doing what they’ve asked you to do and that’s all they want from you, and that’s brilliant.

So I think eventually finding really good people to work with, in a really good culture ended up being the thing that like accelerated my experience.

[11:43] Viv

In your experience with Canva and Atlassian and seeing the way those sort of companies that very much started as startups evolve, they very much take under their wing the innovations and technologies that are built around them and it’s sort of part of your mission to knowing that the disability community is a real sort of hub and pool of potential and ideas and creativity by encouraging more disabled entrepreneurs, people like Atlassian and Canva are really going to benefit from the creations made from this community.

[12:13] Steve

Yeah, absolutely. It takes you five minutes to be a neurodivergent person on TikTok for TikTok to be like, ‘I got you. I understand. I know how your brain works’. And it shows you videos that are all captioned and even all the memes are like, ‘oh, can you turn captions on? I can’t hear what’s going on?’ Because there’s like a buzzing noise in the background. Like these are two real problems. And so I think by understanding my experience, I’m way better at describing the things that I need to not overcome it, to not combat it, to not get rid of it or cancel it out, but to say ‘ you know what, yeah, I can watch videos with captions and also do five other things at the same time, and no, I won’t remember what I’m doing in five minutes, but I’m still enjoying that experience and I’m still getting a lot of value out of it. So how do I get that same experience or that same lived experience and lived expertise from people who are going through those things and putting those into products’.

And if you have someone who’s building a product to solve a problem for the very thing that they’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis, no one will be better at solving that problem than them. And we owe it to them as a startup community to make sure that they’re connected to all the same opportunities that everyone else did.

Just because someone doesn’t come from a software engineering background, doesn’t mean that they can’t learn the skills to engage with software engineers. And just because they don’t come from a product background doesn’t mean they can’t learn the skills to translate their idea and their concept into a working product model or a prototype or whatever it is, right? If people are willing to learn and work hard to do those things or connect to the right people and engage and get those things done, then they are going to be incredible pieces of software, physical products, consulting, like whatever it is. That’s gonna be the best you can get to solve that problem that person lives with every day.

So we should be doing that. Not just spending six months pontificating about what the experience might be like. Let’s just get them to solve it.

[14:22] Viv

To wrap these conversations up, I do like to ask people to leave listeners and people enjoying the show with a remarkable insight, which is open to interpretation, but what is something you would like to leave people with as a bit of a thought provoking final piece?

[14:37] Steve

If I could do it all again, I would. If I could tell myself anything or if I could tell anyone anything that’s thinking about this kind of thing is there’s always a path there.

I for sure think that if you have the tenacity to understand the things that you need to get to get into creating a startup, creating an opportunity like we did with the fellowship, some weird combination of both like that is much easier and much more within your grasp than I think a lot of folks give it credit for, and it’s that ability to be able to leverage the community around you for support the startup community, which are very giving community in terms of like attention, understanding and knowledge.

Leveraging the right communities and building on that to achieve what you want to is just so very achievable and much more achievable than you think.

[12:00] Viv
Thank you to our guest, and hopefully you found your own Remarkable Moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram @remarkable_tech for unheard moments from this episode. 

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