My Australia: From washing dishes to Qantas executive

Jamila Gordon has worked in technology for Qantas and IBM – but she had a tough start.

Jamila Gordon

Jamila Gordon today. Source: SBS News

‘My Australia’ is a special SBS News series exploring cultural heritage and identity, and asking what it means to be Australian in 2018.

Jamila Gordon is a long way from the small village where she was born. She fled Somalia before the civil war and came to Australia.

She had limited English but that didn’t stop her from becoming a top tech executive for companies including Qantas.

“The village (where I was born) was very desolate, dusty, we had water in the wells,"  Ms Gordon told SBS News.

"My mother was pregnant every year, or she had a baby ... In the end, she had 16 children.” 

At 18 Jamila was separated from her family and sent to Kenya.
Source: Supplied

Her family moved to Mogadishu to avoid a drought. But just before the civil war broke out they were separated. Ms Gordon was sent to live with distant relatives in Kenya.

"Through my friends in Kenya, I met an Australian backpacker. It was his second day in Kenya and we became friends,” she said. They would later marry and she would move to Australia. 

She quickly learned English at TAFE and would go on to university in Melbourne to study accounting, before taking an IT elective and falling in love with it.

But, she says, her first job in Australia was washing dishes, earning five dollars an hour. 

Ms Gordon says IT had some surprising similarities to her first school in Somalia.

“The process I used to memorise the Koran in the village where I was born, was exactly the same as the process of software programming that I used when I was at Latrobe University,” Ms Gordon said.

Jamila arrived in Sydney a young refugee with no English.
Jamila arrived in Sydney a young refugee with no English. Source: Supplied

After university she got a job as a software programmer and climbed her way up the ladder, working in Europe for major companies including IBM. She later returned to Australia to become chief information officer at Qantas.

She is currently based in Sydney and works with smaller tech start-ups, helping them get off the ground.

Rod Bishop CEO of Jayride, a start-up marketplace for transport hire, says working with Ms Gordon has been a perfect fit.

"There's really not a lot of growth-focused technology people operating at an extremely high level in Australia. So it was an absolute pleasure and we saw eye to eye straight away," Mr Bishop said.

Jamila Gordon
Jamila Gordon today. Source: SBS News

Former professional colleague David Thodey, who is the chairman of the board at CSRIO, says Jamila brings a unique approach to her work.

"She's always had a vision for what she wanted to do, but a great determination and incredible will and drive to get the job done."

This article was updated on 2 February 2018.

3 min read
Published 16 January 2018 at 6:23am
By Jarni Blakkarly