Check out this great interview with Sarah Cronk, who is a graduate software developer working with CACI here in Bristol. CACI saw huge potential in Sarah and offered her a position with them whilst she was still completing her degree in Maths! In this interview, Sarah shares her thoughts on having the imposter syndrome, her passion for Rugby and gives advice on how tech companies can attract a more diverse mix of people. Also, her quote is probably one of the best so far!
Hi Sarah, you joined CACI’s engineering team in Bristol not too long ago – how have you been finding it so far?
I’m really enjoying it! I didn’t have much experience with coding before joining so I was a little nervous, but they’ve given me great training and support and I’ve been able to get stuck in quickly.
Being a young female working in technology, what is something you would say has surprised you the most about the industry?
It’s not quite a nerdy as people make out! I think TV gives people who work in tech a reputation of being socially awkward but really, it’s as much of spectrum of people as any other industry when it comes to social skills.
Where did your love for technology and coding come from?
During school I loved maths and science and I studied maths at university, so I’ve always been really interested in STEM however my first experience with coding wasn’t a good one. In first year, we were thrown in the deep end with a computer science module and I really struggled, I would’ve been shocked to find out what my graduate job would eventually be. It wasn’t until modules later in my course that more gradually introduced code (albeit from a statistical perspective) that I realised I enjoyed it and was good at it.
Lots of school pupils don’t see the benefit of where Mathematics can take them, a common thought and misconception could be ‘well what am I going to use this for in the future’. How do you think schools can raise more awareness to the career options available for choosing STEM subjects?
Maths is in basically everything we do so maybe finding a way of demonstrating that to students as opposed to learning for the sake of learning. For example, learning how taxes work would be exceptionally useful and specifically with regards to tech and coding, technology is so advanced now that if the curriculum doesn’t keep up with it then students are going to become more and more disillusioned with it. Why wait until university to start introducing coding to students?
Although it’s still relatively new to you, and I’m sure you’re learning so much at CACI everyday but what is your favourite thing about coding so far?
I enjoy problem solving so, contrary to what people expect, I like it when things go a little bit wrong and I get to root around trying to solve it. It is incredibly satisfying when it all works in the end but the work it takes to get there is the fun bit.
Something I love, is your passion for both Rugby and technology (so awesome!) – I’m sure you might agree that stereotypically in the eyes of the world that these are both ‘male led’ industries which women could be underestimated in. How did being in a women’s rugby team prepare you for being a woman in tech?
I had never noticed my interests were both aligned that way, but I agree that they are male-dominated industries. Playing rugby has given me a lot of confidence over the years, both in my own physical ability and my decision making – sometimes you have a split second to decide what you’re going to do before someone is running into you – and this has definitely bled into my day to day life and therefore my attitude at work. What helps me more at work however is the experience I gained being on rugby committee where we’d have meetings in which I was the only woman in the room and having to fight my corner. Thankfully I work with such a great team that I don’t feel the need to do that at CACI but knowing that I can gives me more confidence.
Have you ever been a victim of imposter syndrome and what was the experience like for you?
Definitely. I was offered a job at CACI before I had even started my final year of university due to a successful referral from a friend and I was shocked. I remember thinking back to my interview and looking over my CV and wondering if I had said something that wasn’t true or lead them to believe that I had more experience than I did. I’d like to thank the friend who referred me for putting up with me asking ‘I really don’t know anything, is that ok? Are you sure?’ a lot, but the reason I asked it was because I felt unqualified. I then finally started and realised that I wasn’t. I’ll admit that even with this interview I asked another friend whether I had an interesting enough story that it would be worth your time, so it’s clearly something that can pervade your attitude to everything. I think the best solution to imposter syndrome is take whatever is making you feel like a fraud and do it anyway because that’s the only way to prove to yourself that you’re not a fraud.
If you could go back in time and hang out with your 13-year old self, what advice would you give her?
First and foremost, please chill out, take deep breaths, it will all be ok. If you’re not immediately good at something then that is alright, just take your time with it. Don’t be afraid to embrace the things you enjoy regardless of what other people think about them.
In your opinion, how do you think tech companies can attract a more diverse mix of people?
By using companies like Socially Responsible Recruitment! Making a conscious effort to recruit people who otherwise wouldn’t put themselves forward roles in tech. I think work towards greater diversity in tech can even start in schools, they’ve shown that girls as young as six are less likely to attribute brilliance to their own gender (https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-01/aaft-ygl012317.php). If an effort is made with young children, then that will ripple through and we’ll start to see a greater mix of people in the industry. An example of this is CACI currently volunteer at a local primary school, where around 80% of the children that attend the coding club are female. Obviously, gender isn’t the only marker of diversity and programmes like these are also needed in low-socioeconomic areas for example. Areas where schools might not have enough funding to introduce students to tech and coding.
Who is your no.1 role model or inspiration?
This is going to sound cheesy but my mum – she’s intelligent, she works incredibly hard, she’s great at her job and doesn’t take any nonsense. I’d be lucky to be like her.
What is your favourite quote?
I’m really not a quotes person but something I find myself saying a lot – “Pub? Pub”
An interview by Steph Jackson
a voice of diversity in tech.