Gill is Head of Development Services for the Technical Documents team at Vistair Systems in Bristol, they provide software solutions to some of the biggest airlines in the world! Gill has heaps of experience within the IT industry and shares some brilliant insights on her opinions of University degrees with us… and whether they’re really necessary in order to be a great coder? We also discussed Gill’s management style and how her people first approach has made a positive impact on her life. Thank you so much Gill for sharing such honest and bold answers, this interview would be a great read for people at all different stages of their career and I feel like we covered the sort of questions that you want to ask your manager, you’re truly an inspiration Gill! 😊
Gill, if there’s one piece of advice you would give to a woman going into her first ever tech job what would it be?
Have confidence in your own ability, I think that this is good advice for everyone but especially if you are entering any environment as a minority, which most women in tech are. If you don’t believe in yourself it’s much harder for others to believe in you, but more important is having the self-belief that you are as good as anyone else.
You don’t have to be more forceful, or loud, or anything like that, confidence and self-belief will just shine through if you have it.
What’s your opinion of university degrees? Do you think they are completely necessary if you want to be a coder?
People need to be competent to perform their role. Academic achievement is one part of the competence jigsaw, but it’s equally important to demonstrate the right behaviours and to have experience which is both relevant and current. A university degree is undoubtedly essential in some positions, but I sometimes believe people focus too much on the academic aspects and overlook behaviours and experience.
All education is beneficial, and I would never say that a university degree is not worthwhile, however the ability to do the job, for me, is far more important than how you get there.
I didn’t go to university, and when I started my first job (many years ago), I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life and changed direction a few times before finding the path I travelled on.
I do not believe that, even today, girls are encouraged enough to look at technology related career paths, so having the opportunity to get into a tech job later on through other routes is really important. Equally some people just don’t get the opportunity to go to university – it should never be too late for someone to do what they want to do.
If you could step into time machine 50 years into the future, how do envision the world of tech?
I have no idea! When I first worked in the tech environment, I worked with main frame computers sitting in a big room that looked like something you now only see in old black and white films! Today there is more computing power on a mobile phone! – who knows what the world will look like in 5 years let alone 50! All I can say is that being part of that evolution means that nothing is ever boring and those working in the tech world have fantastic opportunities to change the world for the better.
As a female manager, naturally you would have a different management style to a man – how do you think this has benefited the people in your team?
I have worked for both male and female managers over the years, some good and some bad. I have worked for women in the past that have had little empathy and a distinct lack of soft skills and some men that have been the most supportive and caring.
I think my management style is quite people focused, I have always tried to treat people how I would like to be treated, with compassion, consideration and honesty – I don’t doubt for one minute that I have got it wrong sometimes! What I hope is, that as a female manager, I may have shown that working in tech is not a ‘men only’ domain and that women can hold more senior positions.
How do you define diversity & inclusion in your own words?
For me diversity & inclusion means everyone having the same opportunities, a level playing field. As hiring managers, we need to get the best person for the job and whoever that person is deserves to get that job. We also need to do what we can to ensure that everyone believes that there is a level playing field. I certainly don’t subscribe to ‘positive’ discrimination, I would never hire someone just because I wanted to bring more diversity into the workplace, that’s not fair to anyone.
I don’t think any of this is easy, it is extremely hard for anyone not to have some degree of unconscious bias, but this is where we need to be really honest with ourselves and ensure that we question ourselves when dealing with others.
But it’s all worth it, in my experience the more diverse your team is the better, working with people from different backgrounds with different life experiences results in a happier and healthier workplace.
I love getting to know people that are different from me, I know far more about the world and I genuinely believe my life has been enriched by this.
Tell me about the first time you ever transitioned to Agile ways of working?
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be working for someone who had the vision and courage to want to change the way his development team was working. He came in to the office one day and threw ‘Lean Software Development’ by Mary and Tom Poppendieck on our desks (his team managers) and told us to read the book and we would discuss how we were going to do this in the morning! Reading that book was a revelation and we set about changing things, we were also lucky enough to have the Poppendiecks visit us later on in our transition to validate what we were doing. This was in a time when agile had not become as widespread as it is today and this was therefore a leap of faith and took some courage from the senior management team.
In still believe that following the principles of Lean, no matter how you actually implement agile, is the best way to work. Prescriptive agile practices are not really agile are they! So, working with principles to me seems a far better approach, evolving and doing what works best for the situation. I love the fact that agile is now seen as best practice however I worry about what seems to be a growing trend of hostility to anyone who is seen not to understand agile or does not say quite the right thing, people who try to implement agile and get it wrong should have support not criticism.
As a local Bristolian, what’s your favourite hidden gem of a restaurant in the city? I know we’ve all got one! 😉
Anywhere that I can get a glass of wine to be honest!
With the IT industry being heavily male dominated, I hear from lots of people that it can be easier to be ‘one of the lads’ sometimes – have you ever felt this sort of pressure?
So many times! When I first worked in IT Support fixing PCs, I carried a toolkit – shame on those men who asked if it was my makeup bag!, but I was never one to shrink away from that kind of banter and I think I gave as good as I got. Things have moved on since those days thankfully I don’t see so much of that type of attitude anymore.
It has definitely been the case though that I have tried to ‘fit in’ at times, but there have also been times when I have called out some laddish behaviour! I guess trying to be one of the lads is only a problem if you feel uncomfortable with it, as women we need to be able to be ourselves at work and not be put under pressure.
If you could build your own dream squad, who would be in it?
I have worked with some great people over the years that I would include, I suspect the ones I would pick would know who they are!
If I was to choose one attribute that was an essential element of any dream team, I would say it was a motivator. Where I currently work, we regularly bring in motivational speakers. The ones that had most impact on me were the Four Mums in a Boat – if you have not read their story I’d really recommend it. I’d love to have them as part of the team, to be called on whenever motivation flagged. I’m not sure if we’ve got space for their boat in the car park though…
Name a quote that you live by, or just one that you really like?
You make your own luck!
An interview by Steph Jackson
A voice for diversity in tech <3