“Blend in with the rest when needed, stand out as required and be able to adapt to meet shortages”- An interview with Liz Simmonds.
I first spoke with Liz Simmonds around July 2019, when she was looking for a new role as a Test/Programme manager. We instantly got along, mainly as we share a huge love of dogs! I managed to find her a new role within the amazing organisation that is International Baccalaureate, where she has been working on developing and implementing a robust test strategy for a major multi-project business transformation programme. Here we talk about how she got into tech, the challenges she’s faced and of course her lovely Monty.
HEY LIZ, THANKS FOR AGREEING TO CHAT WITH ME ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY INTO TECH! I GUESS IT WOULD BE GOOD TO START FROM THE BEGINNING… WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU LAND YOUR FIRST ROLE IN SOFTWARE TESTING?
I started in IT as a programmer in the early 1980s, then went on to become the analyst/programmer, systems analyst/designer, project leader and finally a project manager. I was working as a project manager on contract to npower in the year 2000 and an opening came up for a test manager and voila, my journey through in the wonderful world of testing and QA started!
DO YOU THINK YOU FOLLOWED A MORE ‘TRADITIONAL’ PATH INTO TECHNOLOGY (DEGREE ETC)?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school – I attended a girls grammar school and career advice then (bear in mind this is the late 1970’s!) didn’t even touch on technology or engineering disciplines and the advice I received tended to focus more on teaching, clerical work and nursing, none of which floated my boat. My Dad worked in the mysterious world of data processing (which is what IT was known as then) as what would have been the Head of IT for a large engineering group. He steered me towards a career in data processing and I gained a place on a course sponsored by National Computer Centre which I guess would have been the equivalent of a BTEC. The course provided both classroom learning and practical experience in real companies of programming and computer operations. Although there were girls on the course, the majority were boys and I believe I was the only girl in the top ten at the end of the course. I do remember that at least two of the girls dropped out of the course mid-way through ☹. At the end of the course, I was offered jobs as a trainee programmer by both of the companies that I had done my practical experience with (Silhouette – bra and undies manufacturer :-D) and Thorn EMI (electronics, manufacturing etc.). I took the role with Thorn EMI and progressed to thru to being a Senior Systems Analyst/Designer in the four years I was there.
WHAT MAIN CHALLENGES HAVE YOU COME AGAINST OVER THE YEARS AS A WOMAN IN A PREDOMINANTLY MALE MARKET?
My own self-confidence and imposter syndrome was an issue for me when I was a young pretty thing in my early 20s in quite a senior position – I actually felt quite intimidated and out of place working alongside confident, experienced men who were twice my age. Working full time and having a young family was very difficult in the 80s and early 90s both from a practical perspective (flexible working was not so much of a ‘thing’ then) and I felt that despite being a top performer, I was overlooked for more challenging roles – I remember I was working with a well known global organisation at the time and I applied for an internal vacancy – in those days ‘personal’ questions were allowed at interview they actually asked me whether I really wanted a career or whether my children would be my priority! They also asked me how many children I was planning to have lol. I have worked at many organisations during my 30-ish years as a contractor and have fortunately only been exposed to overt sexism on a cultural level in one of those – needless to say I didn’t stay there long!
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU THINK WE CAN DO AS A COUNTRY TO HELP WITH ENCOURAGING YOUNG WOMEN INTO TECH?
I am not sure of any specific reasons why more women don’t want to go into tech – I have always worked in IT and have always been interested in techy stuff so my 4 daughters have been exposed to tech and are familiar with the opportunities and what a career in IT entails. None of them though have chosen to go into IT, though interestingly my son works in IT! So, in short, I am not really sure what we could do to encourage girls to go into IT.
I know not all girls will want to be mothers but I do feel that for those that do, that more flexible working patterns, working from home/remotely options etc. would help and that we should really be moving away from the idea that we need to be stuck in the office 9-5 to be effective.
YOU’RE CURRENTLY THE PROGRAMME TEST MANAGER FOR INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE IN CARDIFF… HOW ARE THEY APPROACHING DIVERSITY & INCLUSION? DO YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A DIVERSE TEAM NOW?
IB is an amazingly diverse organisation in terms of gender, race, disability and sexual orientation. The team I am currently working in has around a 50/50 gender split (not orchestrated!).
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ABOUT D&I FOR YOUR PREVIOUS BOSS?
Again I was lucky enough to work within a diverse and inclusive organisation and I would just say keep up the good work!
YOU’RE A NEW ADDITION TO THE CRAYON BOX. WHAT COLOUR WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
I’d be a colour changing crayon so I could blend in with the rest when needed, stand out as required and be able to adapt to meet shortages of other colours.
FINALLY, IF YOU WERE WRITING A BIO ON YOUR DOG, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIM?
Monty is a big gentle, clumsy oaf who has no perception of personal space or his own size. His favourite hobbies are getting muddy, playing with other dogs, sitting on people, mangling his teddies and eating human food. He dislikes being brushed, baths, grumpy dogs and wheelie bins.
Thank you Liz, for sharing your story with us ????.
An interview by Sophie Edensor.
A voice for diversity in tech <3