How I Got Here: Kathryn McMullan, Director of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation | HerCanberra

Everything you need to know about canberra. ONE DESTINATION.

How I Got Here: Kathryn McMullan, Director of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation

Posted on

Admit it, we’ve all been there—deep dive stalking social media and LinkedIn profiles, trying desperately to figure out how the hell someone got their dream job.

It seems impossible and yet there they are, living out your career fantasy (minus the itchy business suit). It might seem hard to believe, but once upon a time, they were also fantasising about their future career, and with some hard work, they made it.

Welcome to How I Got Here, HerCanberra’s series that reveals everything you wanted to know about the secrets of career success.

Here, one of the country’s most senior intelligence officials Kathryn McMullan gives us a very rare insight into her top-secret life!

Existential crisis time: Who are you and what do you do?

What I do is the easy part – I am the Director of the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation.

Who I am depends on the moment – daughter, parent, boss, friend, confidant, mediator, advice-giver, listener, briefer, team-mate … the list of labels is never-ending!

Let’s go back to when you were a kid, have you always dreamed of working in this industry?

I’ve always loved geo-political things, crime issues, spy thrillers and future thinking. As a kid I read all of the Famous Five and Secret Seven books, graduating to Agatha Christie, Ken Follett, Stella Rimmington, Isaac Asimov (see the theme?) and I still read spy novels!  My mum is English so I was brought up on a diet of TV shows like Dr Who, The Bill, Spooks.

And so when it came time to select my choices for university, I looked for courses that would open a pathway to the intelligence world.

Tell us about when you were first starting out, what set a fire in your belly to get here and how did you do it?

I always found international issues really interesting – the politics and the power struggles – and the impact that these issues had on world affairs.  This led me to do Arts/Law at the ANU where my thesis was on the Law of Occupation as it related to US-led coalition war in Iraq. I then completed a Masters in International Law, and a Masters in Diplomacy. I found all the state power aspects intellectually engaging. Coupling that with intelligence work – which can be the pointy end of some of these issues – grabbed me right from the start.

When not keeping an eagle eye on international events, you’ll find Kathryn playing Premier League Basketball for the Ginninderra Rats.

Recall a time when you wanted to chuck it all in; what did you tell yourself when it got too hard?

I’ve never wanted to chuck it all in, but I’ve certainly found myself in roles which were not a good fit for me.  While I could do the work, and achieve the goals, I wasn’t motivated by the actual role I was in. I like great diversity in my work, and high tempo, so slow and steady or single-issue things just don’t hold my attention. And when I get bored my motivation dips. Knowing that about myself has actually been a really important growth element for me – if I am mentally engaged I will perform better.

What was your biggest break?

Apart from being on Now You See It (a kids game show) when I was about 11… I’ve been lucky to have been given opportunities right from the start of my working life; so my advice is to go with what is interesting and never rule things out, even if it’s a bit of a deviation from your plan.   Another really important aspect has been having champions at the right time. I’ve been blessed throughout my career with some excellent mentors, people who were truly interested in what I wanted to achieve and have given me very sound advice.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Believe in yourself, but be open to feedback and take all feedback – positive and negative – in a constructive way. Be humble in your successes – true success is dependent on others.

What is it about your industry that you love and what makes you want to pull your hair out?

I love the national security agenda – being able to give strategic guidance to Government, inform decisions of Cabinet, and make a tangible difference to the quality and standing of Australia.  This is, without doubt, my motivator.

What pulls my hair out is inefficient processes – this is not the same thing as oversight and compliance, both of which are important aspects of my role, as I should be held to account for the responsibilities I carry. Having said that, I do find it fulfilling to support my team, and work across the APS, to find and implement efficiencies where we can.

Tell us how you ‘stay in the know’, what media do you consume?

Defence provides me with daily media summaries so that I can stay on top of broader issues. And in my role I have a daily Morning Operational Brief, presented to me by my 24/7 coordination centre with input from across the organisation, to learn what has happened in the last 24 hours and what we anticipate for the coming 24.

But to dive deeper on issues I mainly listen to podcasts—7am, The Daily from the New York Times, The Guardian, the Party Room, Foreign Affairs. My interest is pretty diverse and so I listen to a variety of things produced in Australia or overseas covering intelligence, national security, politics, technology, current affairs.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am having lots of fun running AGO and see myself here for at least a few more years. After that, I would like to say that I would be running another agency in the intelligence world, adding to the list of agencies I’ve already worked at! But perhaps fate has another plan for me, and I’ll be open to that.

Why should people follow in your footsteps?

Every person will chart their own path. But what I would say is that regardless of what you are interested in doing, you can fulfil that passion within the national intelligence community. We have important work for every trade and skill, and there is nothing more motivating that knowing that what you do every day makes a tangible difference to the quality of the country and world that we live in.

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself, take opportunities as they arise, don’t shy away from the difficult, learn from past mistakes, have fun and enjoy the ride.

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

© 2024 HerCanberra. All rights reserved. Legal.
Site by Coordinate.