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Calum Ryan: from computing to Interaction Designer & Web Accessibility Specialist

Social media handle(s): Mastodon, LinkedIn

A few words about me:

Calum standing with a backdrop of a blue painted cavernous metro station underground

I’m an Interaction Designer and Web Accessibility Specialist at dxw, in the Delivery+ team.

I’m fond of cycling, hiking and watching countless travel vlogs for inspiration of where to travel to next.

Fun fact: I had my 15 seconds of fame on daytime TV's Dickinson's Real Deal with my mum when we took part in a show and took a family heirloom to auction.

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

I’d say my work history to date has been fairly consistent in terms of the kind of work I do in a technical and design sense. In terms of the work sector, I started my career in the charity sector briefly during my university work placement in an organisation focused on film education for children.

After graduation, I found a junior-level job in the private sector, working at a digital marketing agency. This contrasts quite a lot with what I do nowadays working solely in the public sector where I feel more on the same wavelength as my colleagues, with similar values and ambitions.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

Certainly STEM related.

I studied a university Bachelor of Science degree in computing, named Multimedia Technology and Design. This overlapped frequently with computer science alongside design theory and some aspects of user experience design. Prior to that I also did a BTEC National Diploma in IT.

Where did your professional journey start?

My professional journey started during my university work placement year, which I spent working at a small charity called Film Education based in Soho, London. There I learnt to design with Photoshop and write HTML/CSS for microsites, pulling together school curriculum-focused materials for children in relation to films.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

Around the year 2000, I frequented my school’s library during lunch hours to use the internet and discovered a website called Geocities for making your own presence on the World Wide Web. This introduced me to website design from an early age. I was motivated then by the experience that something I designed and built could be viewed by anyone from around the world.

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

Like another of the people on here, I’m pretty much the definition of a stereotype worker in tech, straight, cis, white male.

“I tick basically all of the privilege boxes as far as personal challenges go!”

– Nick Jackson

My challenge has always been not quite fitting in to commonly defined job roles such as Web developer, designer or full stack developer. I’ve often struggled to find job roles that fit my particular skills and interests in Web accessibility. As a consequence, my progression in jobs has remained quite limited because I don’t tick all the boxes of either developer or designer. My experience of many employers in tech is that there are very few willing to shape full-time roles round individuals with specific areas of expertise.

"My advice is, be yourself, stick to your principles, and passions.

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

What I wish I’d known earlier is that I’m on the autistic spectrum – I need more time to think a response during meetings and often need more assurances when I’m doing something well, or need support. People can be very judgemental in this industry on how you communicate, which is why it’s important for us all to be aware of neurodivergence in the workplace and the many colleagues can be affected by it.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

Before the pandemic, there used to be a lot of tech meet-ups in London that I attended in-person focused on the Web. One of them was an annual W3C meetup where the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee attended without much fanfare. This was shortly after he’d a star role in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

This felt like a wow moment for me to be in the same room as him. I find the Web community, once you get to know it, can feel like one big family where the degrees of separation between everyone from the most prominent leaders in tech to those just starting out are minimal.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

I like that there are always so many opportunities for working in tech if you know where to look and know the right people. This also indicates something which I don’t like about working in tech. If you’re not in the right network and have the time to keep up with it, then it’s often harder to progress and find new work opportunities. Added to this, with autism, I’ve often found it harder to engage in networking opportunities effectively to make new connections and find new work.

"... there are always so many opportunities for working in tech if you know where to look and know the right people."

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

My advice is, be yourself, stick to your principles, and passions. Try to be open about any specific needs you have, such as communication preferences with other, e.g. your team, line manager, prospective employers. When it comes to having diverse teams with varied access needs and neurodivergence, this is particularly important, as not everyone communicates in the same way.

Also, don’t obsess over trying to keep up with every single new development in tech to the point of burn out. It's good and important for us all to occasionally switch off, step back from tech to appreciate the simple things in life of family, self-health and wellbeing.


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