Strategist Role: An Insight From the Person Behind the Digital Transformation of the American Museum of Natural History

Recently listed in Top 50 Chief Digital/Data Officers 2017 by Chief Digital Officer Summit, Catherine Devine is the current Chief Digital Officer at American Museum of Natural History, New York. She’s behind the digital transformation of the museum’s experience including digital strategy, and execution of key strategic enterprise digital projects. Her professional experiences span multiple industries, from airlines, internet and digital media to the financial sector. Her past clients and employers include eBay Enterprise, JetBlue, AOL, and Capital One. Read her thoughts on The Museum Digital Experience: Considering the Visitor’s Journey.

Slow Travel Story | Catherine Devine - AMNH

First, tell us about yourself

I grew up in Sydney, Australia and then moved to the States during the first dot com boom in 1999. I came for two years and I’m still here. I’m a very analytical and structured thinker, and I’ve always loved anything mathematical or analytical. However, the most important thing to know about me is that I thrive on change. That’s why I love to travel, thrive on living in a different environment to the one I grew up in and how I ended up in the museum sector.

Did you always know you wanted to go into the Arts and Digital industry?

To be honest, it was a complete surprise! I would never have thought I’d go into arts, but for digital that was a no-brainer. Back then, before technology. I remember I used to love playing Etch-A-Sketch and my first piece of true technology, a scientific calculator in Year 9 at school. Once the technology industry continued to evolve, I continue to consume and thrive on it.

What kind of time management do you have?

Maybe a little too organized. My morning routine is to wake up at 6am on the dot, shower and make coffee and that gives me roughly 40 minutes to play computer games which is my indulgence and I won’t get another opportunity throughout the day. The sooner I get ready the more time I have to play games. Right now, loving resource management games which have increasingly more difficult sequence of tasks to do in increasingly limited times. Cooking Dash is a perennial favorite. At exactly 7am, I get ready, have breakfast, read the NY Times and plan out my day. I have a 5 minute commute to the office and get there at 8.30am when I start on the Museum’s work. You need to be selective with your time and choose which activities are more important than others. I use Newton email client which lets me schedule, snooze, or resend my emails throughout the week, and ToDoist for managing my to-do list.

What challenges do women face when holding a high power position? And how to overcome it?

The largest challenges women face is that they are outnumbered, and that changes the dynamic in the room, which requires you to not be yourself and adapt to the majority culture of the industry or the room. This is not peculiar to women, but to all areas where there is a majority culture, which is why I’m a strong believer in diversity of all types – gender, race, intellect, age. If you’re in a room where everyone is over 50, and you’re in your 20s that changes the culture, in the same way as the reverse as well. Everyone has something to offer, but when you have to become someone you’re not you cannot be as effective.

Despite these challenges, women should support awareness of this dynamic, and support other women. Don’t let it stop you doing what you want to do, and don’t dwell on the unfairness of it, just get on with it.  

Do you have recommendations for women who want to start their careers as strategists in the tech industry?

Diversity of experience gives you a range of perspectives that you can bring to the table as a strategists

If  you want to be a strategist, I think you can’t do that unless you also understand how the business works and how your customers think. So a lot of experience in all aspects of business marketing, sales, product management, technology, operations, understanding your customers and what they need, these all contribute to having a range of perspectives. This diversity of experience gives you a range of perspectives that you can bring to the table as a strategists. You could be a strategist without all that, but I don’t think you’ll be as successful without having all those perspectives.

For women in tech, don’t be intimidated. Tech is not all about coding, it’s actually only a small piece of it.

Lastly, which digital strategists book changed your life?

Choosing one book is tough. I like to be organized, so a book that changed my views on organizing is The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It focuses on focusing on the most important thing at any point in time that will get you to your goals, rather than occupying yourself with busy work. On digital, the best recent read is The Mobile Mind Shift: Engineer Your Business to Win in the Mobile Moment by Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff, Julie Ask, and Ted Schadler. It’s about truly understanding how people use mobile. You never knew there was so much to understand about it.


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