Social media handle(s): LinkedIn
A few words about me:
Hey! I am Kathryn.
I am a Product Manager at Scouts. My focus is on web-based products, and the majority of my work centres on the Scouts website.
I work with an amazing team of UX Designers, Analysts, Developers and Content Producers to make sure we develop products that solve problems for users, in ways that support the organisation to evolve and grow.
Outside of work, you will find me getting lost with my camera around castles and historical locations. If I am not exploring, you will usually find me at gigs, in the theatre or on the hunt for some great food with friends.
I love to try new things and I'm always trying a new hobby. My most recent is sewing. I am hoping to start making my own clothes soon.
Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?
I didn’t have a career plan mapped out, or any idea of what I wanted to do when I left school. From volunteering, I knew I wanted to stay in the non-profit sector if possible but beyond that, I had no idea. Because of this, I have tried my hand at quite a few different paths.
After University, I was a team leader at a company running the National Citizens Service. I worked with 15-17 year old's, getting them out of their comfort zone and completing social action. I spent most of my days doing outdoor activities and fundraising with the group. Getting to know the groups through the highs and lows, I gained lots of insights about the programme. I didn’t know at the time but this experience would drive my interest in user research and co-design.
I've also managed support services for small charities. It highlighted that small charities are the backbone of many communities. Many punch above their weight, but the digital skills gap limits them.
Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?
My background is a complete mix. My Psychology degree was very rooted in science and research. Previous roles included youth work, service delivery, event management and capacity building.
Where did your professional journey start?
Until I volunteered to do user research in a digital project, I had no idea what the career options were. I didn't know what product management was. This is where my tech career jump started.
How did you get into tech and what motivated you?
A mixture of change, following my interests and taking a gamble. The problem solving and unlimited possibilities are what motivated me. We had a problem, and a desired outcome. The rest was up for grabs. The uncertainty and possibility to work with users to reimagine things. The methods, the role titles and the career prospects didn’t come into it.
Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?
The majority of those I have had the pleasure of working with are incredible. Sharing their skills, challenging me and working things out together.
Despite working in a female dominated sector, I operate in mostly male dominated spaces. On rare occasions, I have faced misogyny and sexism. Being talked over, or having ideas dismissed, but adopted when repeated by others. I have also had the odd comment due to my age, assumed experience and non-technical background.
"Don’t be put off by not understanding technology and/or not being able to code. You don't need to be technical to work in tech."
What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...
The best questions to keep asking are… why? What's the smallest thing we can do to learn more? Is this a problem worth solving?
If you are a Product Manager, then say no. You shouldn't please everyone. It's okay that not everyone will agree with you on some decisions. You are there to balance user and organisational needs. You will never please everyone.
Remember that your skills and perspective are powerful and have every right to be at that table. Embrace it!
If you don't have a mentor, work with and observe how others you admire work and learn from them.
You do not have to follow every ‘agile’ or ‘product management’ tool or framework. Pick and choose the bits that work for your team and your context. It is more important to be really clear on your outcomes, scope, principles, and inclusivity than it is to use each framework.
It is okay to reach out to people, and to attend networking events when you are early on. You will be surprised how happy people are to answer your questions or have a chat (myself included!).
People don't know what they want or need, but they do know their problems. It is your role to work to understand the root cause of that problem, and test new ways of solving it. The solution is sometimes obvious, and sometimes things need completely flipping on their head to actually solve the problem.
Not all problems are worth solving. Keep digging to the root cause or more complex challenges. Don't just solve the easy ones. It won't help people in the long run.
What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?
I can’t pick one moment. It happens every time I speak to a user. They always stop you in your tracks, and throw any assumptions out the window. The amount of times I have come out of sessions thinking, 'ohhh we need to rethink this. We haven't got this right.'
I can’t remember who said it. But a wise person once said, ‘it is not until you put the tech in the hands of users will you truly know how it will be used’.
What do you like / not like about working in tech?
I love my role because…
I get to collaborate with so many skilled individuals.
I get to spend my day experimenting and failing lots.
I get to talk to people, through user research, workshops, or catch ups.
I have a real diversity of work and challenges, from unexpected bugs and requests, through to proactive planning.
Technology and the value it can bring is always evolving, along with the wants and needs of our users.
The generosity of those in the sector, who share ideas, user test things, support with fixes and connect you with others.
There isn’t really anything I don’t like.
It can be frustrating when people use acronyms, overly technical language or assume knowledge. If you are ever in a meeting with me, you will regularly hear me comparing things to games, tv shows or even houses.
"Bring your unique perspective into the room. Your skills and experience help shape the way you work and the value you create."
What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?
I am a huge fan of user research and co-designing new products. These will always be my favourite way to work. A few key moments stand out to me...
1. We were told that our product designed for young people was ‘a bit wet’. I halted us in our tracks and got us rethinking the branding, layout and ways to engage.
2. Another would be when a group of young people realised we had changed our web app based on their feedback. It was great to know we had lived by our principles, but sad that their feedback doesn't usually lead to change.
And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?
Don’t be put off by not understanding technology and/or not being able to code. You don't need to be technical to work in tech. It does help, but you will learn as you go and can work with others to gain understanding where needed.
Keep asking why. Whether you are speaking to users, or colleagues or to developers. Keep asking why to get to the root of things.
Bring your unique perspective into the room. Your skills and experience help shape the way you work and the value you create. But make sure you work with others and speak to users to balance any bias.
Don’t get too attached to your product. We should always be testing our assumptions and changing where needed. Speak to people, listen to their pain points and take action. Even if you don't like it.
You don’t have to be a coder. Skills for other positions are really helpful and shouldn’t be underestimated. That customer facing role you had when you were younger is relevant. That will give you great skills in stakeholder management, IT support, and user research. The football captain role you have, is great for those looking to be Scrum Masters, Product Managers and Project Managers.
Technology should be a route to people. Don’t limit your thinking to technology only. Sometimes it is not the answer or part of the solution.
Not everyone will be thinking about accessibility. Being dyslexic makes it easier to spot some things, but there are so many different types of access needs. It isn't good enough to wait for someone to be negatively impacted by our design choices for a change to happen. Accessibility needs to be incorporated at every step of designing, building and iterating technology. You don't have to be an expert, you just have to keep making changes until your organisation is consistently supporting the broadest range of people that it can. There are lots of free tools and guidance to support with this.