In this May’s edition of the #InterviewSeries we talk to Holly Brockwell, Woman of the Year 2015 and owner of Gadgette. Holly is a technology journalist who has written for The Guardian, the BBC, Gizmodo and more! A fascinating and intelligent woman (& mama of some really cute animals - go follow her on twitter), it is nothing short of an honour to have her featured on CyberWomen.
Hello! Firstly I'm very excited to be talking to CyberWomen, what an amazing idea for a website. Proud to join the leagues of the CyberWomen!
I'm a freelance technology journalist, blogger, and general wordsmith. I run a site called Gadgette that reports on tech and geek culture in a more inclusive way, and launched the careers of some amazing female tech journalists. I won Woman of the Year for that in 2015, and since then I've been travelling the world going to tech conferences, trying out some bonkers new things and writing about them for outlets like the BBC, The Guardian, TechRadar, Gizmodo and the London Evening Standard. I still can't believe I get to do that for a job.
Tell us a little bit about your journey into your role.
It's been a long and convoluted road! One thing I've learnt is that you really can't plan the future all that much, you just have to prepare yourself well to adapt.
Originally, I wanted to be a software developer, but because of some silly nonsense rules at my school, I couldn't take the courses I needed to study that at university (it's all changed since then, of course! #Old). After quite a lot of panicking, I went to uni for English Language and Linguistic Science, with the vague aim of getting into writing eventually -- ideally as a journalist.
Since I spent my uni years working to pay my way rather than running the student paper, I was advised not to try journalism because I couldn't compete with people who had taken the latter route. I thought that was elitist, but accepted it -- I shouldn't have, because plenty of the journalists I know had nothing to do with the uni paper! Bad careers advice is depressingly omnipresent.
I ended up going into advertising, which hoovers up creative graduates and pays reasonably well (eventually). I did that for seven years, writing as brands rather than myself -- although some pretty cool ones, including the Harry Potter videogames -- before starting to review phones on the side for a tech site. That led to a full-time job, which led to becoming Editor, and THAT lined me up to start my own site with investor backing. And thus Gadgette was born. I don't do it as my main job anymore (because running a company is way less fun than messing with gadgets and writing about it), but I run the site in my spare time with help from some brilliant people, and I'm free to take on whichever freelance projects catch my eye. I'm very lucky, and only too aware I might be replaced by a robot next year. They're better at headlines.
How do you personally use technology in your day to day?
It's interesting to me how many people -- particularly older people and women -- say they're not into technology, yet spend almost all their time engaging with it. Your phone? Tech. Favourite social media app? Tech. Smart TV, laptop, streaming site, games console, email -- tech, tech, tech! I think people hear that word and instantly disengage, thinking we're talking microchips and programming languages, but the industry has come a long way. These days, tech is everywhere. It's everything. And most of us, even the "non-techies", use it all the time.
That was a very long-winded way of saying that like most people, I use it all the time without really thinking about it. I have Google Home smart speakers dotted around the flat, and I genuinely feel lost when I stay in a hotel and I can't ask Google stuff out loud. It's become second nature. I usually have two or three phones at any given time, for reviews (currently: Nokia 6 (2018), Huawei P20 and Samsung Galaxy S9+), so I'll be comparing those in terms of cameras, battery use, that kind of thing. Not gonna lie -- most of my review phones get tested using the extremely challenging circumstances of photographing a black cat and a fast-moving cockatiel. If they can handle that, they're in.
Most of my tech around the flat is on smart switches so I can turn it all on and off from my phone -- especially handy when the cat's used the Litter Robot (yes, that is a thing) and I need it to clean itself immediately before I die from the smell. Basically, if there's a way to make something techy (especially if it's something I hate doing, like cleaning litter trays) and it doesn't cost bajillions, I probably have it.
Someone visited my flat the other day and remarked that I have a lot of "help stuff," ie things to make my life easier. And that's what all my tech is. Well, that and being ridiculously cool, obvs.
With regards to technology, what do you think will be our biggest barrier to success in the future?
We're facing it already: the enormous challenge of getting and keeping people from all walks of life up to speed with tech, and the ways it can help or harm them. We're already seeing a situation where people with more money and education get a significant edge on other sections of society because they're naturally more comfortable with tech at work and at home.
It's easy for people like me to get wrapped up in the techy bubble we live in, to assume everyone has internet access and knows what to do with it. But the fact is scams are getting disturbingly sophisticated, and the more tech moves ahead, the more vulnerable people fall behind. Sadly, the nature of humanity is such that there will always be someone waiting to prey on them, and those people are cleaning up on people's life savings as it is.
Just the other day I heard from a young person who'd been conned into using their bank account to receive payments that turned out to be money laundering. They genuinely thought the launderer -- who recruited them through social media -- was their friend. They had no idea their bank account would be closed with no prospect of getting another one, that they'd be in trouble with the police, and that not knowing about this scam would not be considered any defence. But with new scams every day, how is everyone supposed to keep up? It's hard even for us in the industry. It's becoming a huge problem.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer entrepreneurial/techy women?
One of your greatest enemies is your own high standards. If you have great taste and expect a lot from yourself, you end up not doing things because they won't be incredible. But no one starts off being incredible. Before you learnt to walk, you had to stumble about crashing into things, getting it all wrong -- and because you were a kid, you just accepted that as part of the process. But somewhere along the line, you started expecting your Best Ever from everything you ever did, and that's just not possible. For anyone. Remember that the people you're looking up to did loads of rubbish stuff before they did any of the great things they're known for. Their less-than-stellar attempts were forgotten, and yours will be too.
But you have to make them first.