A few words about me:
I'm currently a Principal Technologist & Head of Development at dxw, a digital consultancy for the public sector. My role involves technical leadership, engineering management, and supporting the Technology team and our clients.
I like learning new things and have a trail of hobbies and hobby equipment stacked away in drawers - right now I’m really enjoying sewing and dressmaking. I also love horror movies, science fiction books and video games - I’m currently splitting my time between London and Stardew Valley. Inside I’m really a cat person, but I occasionally dogsit an adorable puggle.
Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?
I didn't go to university so I don't have a formal education background. I was lucky enough to have a great many excellent colleagues, mentors and managers, from whom I learned on the job, and over the years I’ve done lots of training courses and reading.
Where did your professional journey start?
I started my career in the late 90s, building episodes for shows for an Internet TV channel run by the UK’s first internet cafe, Cyberia. It had the weather, an advice program, an interactive fiction soap opera and loads more.
We had to write our own scheduling software as things like off the shelf content management systems didn't really exist yet, but for some reason now lost to the mists of time, there was still always a mad rush at 1pm and 6pm to manually move the news text from ITN’s FTP server to ours so it would be available on time - not really a thing we have to worry about doing these days! The technology was wryly but correctly described in some press at the time as: “Video and audio will only be made available when the technology works properly”.
How did you get into tech and what motivated you?
I’ve always enjoyed tinkering with computers. Since I enjoyed that, when I was later given an opportunity to work in that area, I got stuck in. Over time I realised that while it was fun to make the computer do things, what I really enjoyed was working with people in all the different disciplines that make up a team.
I couldn’t build a whole application myself - you need user researchers, designers, other developers and lots of people with expertise in the business to make the whole thing work. Feeling like part of a thriving team and creating something together, that’s loads better than anything I could do alone, feels like an incredible achievement for all of us.
Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?
Unfortunately, yes. I’m far too used to being the only woman or one of the only women on the project, and at some workplaces, in the entire tech team, or attending a meetup, and I’ve also experienced discrimination and harassment because of that. As a result, increasing diversity in our industry is something I feel strongly about doing wherever I work, across all axes of diversity, not just gender.
The direct bias is less common for me personally to experience now, which is great for me, but I know that is not universal. There are still systemic issues in the way lots of organisations do recruitment and day to day management that mean we still have a lot of work to do. On the plus side, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from working with some great colleagues and at great workplaces where people get it - I want that for everyone!
"It’s not just about coding or development - it’s not even just about websites and apps, or even being a developer. You could design robots or rollercoasters, train drones to spot disease over farm crops, or work in fashion or film."
What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...
I wish I’d known that it’s just as much about people as about technology. Sure, you need to figure out how to make the computer do the things you want it to, but I've found the harder part for me sometimes is all the squishy human stuff.
How do you communicate your ideas to others? How do you come up with new ideas and ways to solve problems in the first place? How well do you listen to others' ideas and take them on board? How do you keep learning new things? And how do you advocate for others? None of these things can be solved with technology, only with empathy, communication and listening - which are all much harder to learn and teach than writing code.
What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?
There are definitely exciting perks, like the time I got to play on a new Playstation console before its release, because Sony sent one to our team to help us test the browser software. But the biggest wow moment was the first time I released a website I’d helped build to millions of people, and saw them using it (and submitting lots of bug reports, ouch!) and understood that the work we do could really change people's lives for the better.
"... I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from working with some great colleagues and at great workplaces where people get it - I want that for everyone!"
What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?
One of the more memorable moments was going to a Women in Tech awards party, all glitz and glamour, catching up with friends and ex-colleagues and celebrating the amazing finalists. That in itself I suppose is probably normal if you’re the kind of person who goes to that kind of thing all the time.
I’ve only been the once, but then the after-dinner entertainment was Randi Zuckerberg getting up on stage and singing a song she’d written about women in tech and crypto. It was an interesting performance, but we were all just very confused as it wasn’t on the program of events so we weren’t expecting any entertainment at all, it just came out of nowhere - we’re all chatting over dessert and suddenly this is happening. Wild!
And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?
It’s not just about coding or development - it’s not even just about websites and apps, or even being a developer. You could design robots or rollercoasters, train drones to spot disease over farm crops, or work in fashion or film.