I get such a kick from seeing women achieving, not giving up easily when they fail or hit an obstacle but carrying on. I met Rach last year, and we have built an open and honest relationship, one built on encouragement and support for her to explore her true potential and create her own kind of success!
Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?
Not at all. I was a part of the last generation to grow up without the internet, the first time I even heard about it was when I was using the computer in a science lab at school to produce a school magazine when I was 15. Computers were these grey boxes that boys played games on and pale men with no life or social skills did programming on. I loved Tomorrow’s World but it didn’t have any relevance to my life and to what I could do as a career.
I grew up wanting to be an artist, I loved visiting art galleries and browsing through my mum’s art history magazines. As I got older started thinking more seriously about my future, I discovered design as an option and chose to do a design course with a specialism of graphic design in the second year. I very nearly went on to do packaging design but like most 18 year-olds I wanted to escape my hometown and did a general graphic design course at degree level. It was around this time that I heard about web designers and thought ‘I could do that’. It is amazing to think, that in 5 years I went from having never heard of the internet to starting my first job as a web designer.
There weren’t any web design degrees at the time and it was a good thing for me as I learnt a lot on the job and I learnt a lot of things that a degree won’t teach you like building relationships with customers, negotiating with developers and explaining technical ideas to non-technical colleagues. Even now I don’t really think of myself as working in technology but rather I am designing solutions to make people’s experiences a little better.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
Toilets at conferences…
Just kidding. Actually, what’s great is surprising the blokes you work with: from joining in with conversations in the office to impressing them with your knowledge. Partly that’s due to me often being the only front-end in a team of back-end devs. I got a real kick out of a project that meant that a colleague could cut the size of his XSLT down by 50%. To me it was obvious but he thought I’d just worked some sort of witchcraft on the CSS he called me a witch for the next few months (meant in a nice way though).
What advice would you give to younger girls who are interested in getting into the industry?
Technology isn’t all about ones and zeros and nerding out over a new feature of some obscure technology that only a few hundred people in the world understand (though we’ve all done it). It is about building solutions to problems and delivering value. In order to do this, the industry needs a wide range of people with different skills and perspectives. Diversity in tech has become a buzzword but it really does make a difference to what companies make.
Make the most of and promote the so-called soft skills you have already developed along with any languages and methodologies you know and don’t be put off by job specs that list 20 different technologies because companies rarely need people capable of writing 10 different languages.
You can get into technology from many different paths be it writing code, project management, design, testing, product management etc. They are all important roles within tech.
Is the male-dominated environment intimidating talented women?
It could be for some but I’ve worked with some really great teams and have never felt that way.
You do find yourself having to prove yourself to be taken seriously and having to stand your ground when you know you have the right answer but in general guys in tech are humans too. There is an image that men only want other men around but this simply isn’t the case for many. One former manager of mine said he gets bored working with men all the time, having the same conversations and that having different people in the department makes things more interesting.
Companies, especially in teams with specialist skills want someone who will fit well into their team. Tech teams need people who can pair-programme, collaborate, explain ideas and generally get on well with other team members. This can pose a barrier for women entering an all-male team if the incumbents aren’t open-minded to working with other people unlike themselves.
I try to let my personality shine within interviews along with my work, while also showing some awareness of the issues outside of my remit to demonstrate my experience working within broader teams.
What do you think Bristol companies are doing wrong to attract female talent?
They need to think less about novelties like Foozball tables and free sweets and more about things that matter, like being able to buy holidays, flexible working and making the office environment a nice place to be.
Beyond that though, few companies seem to be willing to get involved with young people before they are work ready. At A-level only 9.8% of those completing a computing course were girls. Check this out – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40960427 this is a deep-rooted problem that is likely to take years to fix.
Girls are unlikely to be drawn to an industry when they see stories about sexual harassment at big-name companies like Uber or when they see how women are portrayed in computer games. Look at the major trade shows like CES, there are far more women as booth babes than as speakers. Sexy booth babes may be a lot of fun for the boys, but it makes most women and girls feel degraded and worth only as much as the make-up on their face.
We need more of the women already in tech to be seen, heard and respected equally. Girls need to see that their ambition and intelligence will be valued and that they can get somewhere in this field.
There has been a lot of discussions recently around wording of job adverts, and that companies automatically maybe not purposely steer them to look like this is a very male focused position. Have you been put off applying for a role because of this?
I have, frequently, often companies write job specs like an eight-year-old writing a Christmas list. Evidence shows that fewer women will apply for a job they think they’re only part qualified for than men, therefore employers need to decide what it is that they actually need and what is an optional extra in order to attract the best people. I didn’t realise this was a gender issue until recently but immediately recognised it in myself when I heard about the phenomenon.
Companies wanting the best talent, need to stop advertising for rock stars or geniuses unless what they actually want is someone with a huge ego and not necessarily the skills to back it up.
Who is your role model?
It’s a bit of a cliche but I love that Ada Lovelace didn’t care that what she was doing wasn’t very ‘lady-like’. I have never been very ‘lady-like’ as my grandmother frequently told me and it never bothered me that I was entering a male dominated industry. I couldn’t spend my life doing a job that bored me.
Thank you so much Rach, you really are amazing!