ANITA PRITCHARD | PRINCIPALITY BUILDING SOCIETY
There is an argument that soft skills are just as important when pursuing a career in tech, as tech skills and academia. Maybe we're using the wrong adjective here and "soft" doesn't represent the importance of these particular skills - Abilities like empathy, resilience and problem-solving are super important, especially in the tech industry.
Women Rock Ambassador Sam spoke with Anita Pritchard this week about her journey into the QA and Testing world and the many important lessons she learnt from becoming a mum, moving from one country to another and securing a role that allows her to work in an industry she loves while celebrating diversity.
HEY ANITA! WE’RE DELIGHTED TO BE SPEAKING WITH YOU AND SHARING A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY IN THE QA/TESTING WORLD SO FAR. HOW HAVE YOU GOT INTO TECH AND ENDED UP AS QA COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE MANAGER AT PRINCIPALITY?
Being originally from Germany, I did not plan a career in the UK or in QA. But love makes you do funny things. I met Jason in 2000 during a work placement as part of my language studies at the European Business School in London. I left the UK in 2000 with improved English but a broken heart….. After that, there were many, many flights between London and Frankfurt, and in 2002 we decided to fully commit to our relationship. I moved to the UK in April 2002 and we got married in 2005.
Before I left Germany I worked in the payment systems department for the German Central Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank. The transition to the Bank of England felt logical and I was over the moon when I got a job offer in their payments team. A few years later, I started my testing career after being offered an opportunity in the Bank of England’s Testing Team, testing their payments and settlement systems. The great thing about testing is that you can quickly be appreciated by your team even without having too much of a technical background.
Eventually I got to the point where I was ready for a change. It came quite naturally and I just felt that I needed to see something different and learn new things. I joined McDonald’s IT department as a Test Manager in 2013. After some exciting projects at McDonald’s, Jason and I decided to move with our two children to Monmouth. We always liked the countryside and decided that this change in lifestyle was very important to us. I had to reconsider what I wanted to do but I quickly identified that I really like Quality Assurance (QA) so I wanted to carry on in this field.
I initially accepted a pay cut for the role at Principality, but, I really liked the organisation and the brand and for me, that was more important. And, so that’s how, in 2017, I started my career in the Principality in Cardiff. In the beginning as a Test Lead, then a Test Manager and in 2021 there was the move to the QA Community of Practice Manager.
The main challenge as a Test Lead/Test Manager was the delivery of difficult testing updates. Communicating the impact of complex defects to a large senior stakeholder group was tough and nerve-wracking at times. But I think that the honesty and insight helped and I earned respect for that. In the end, programmes want to deliver high-quality software to their customers. So whilst some delays are sometimes hard to accept, we know it is done with the best intent.
As a Community of Practice Manager, my responsibility has now shifted to focus on the capability of the QA community. I had to make a conscious effort to embrace some new responsibilities and let go of some old ones. But, I thoroughly enjoy leading the QA community with my peer, Marc, and I am excited and passionate about QA and how the industry is continuously progressing. And just in November 2022, Principality won the European Software Testing awards for the Best Software Testing Project for delivering our Mortgages Transformation Programme, including implementing our new Mortgage Sales and Originations (MSO) platform, in partnership with Qualitest. So, it’s great to feel like we’re doing something right.
HOW DID YOU FIND ADJUSTING TO LIFE AS A WORKING PARENT IN TECH? HAS THAT EXPERIENCE SHAPED HOW YOU SUPPORT WORKING PARENTS IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Tech is fast moving so it’s important to stay up-to-date and keep learning. I have had breaks away from tech, starting with a career break to go travelling in my mid-20s. Then I took 10-month maternity leave for each of my children when I was 29 and 31. These breaks were invaluable for me and also added to my personal experience and development. Having a break, travelling and then becoming a mum allowed me to learn new life skills like resilience, problem-solving, creative thinking, risk management and many others. These newly found skills and juggling family life made catching up on new tech seem so much easier in comparison.
Juggling work with being a parent is a balancing act, I use my working hours to their fullest and make the most of my time when logged on. This in return allows me to have time with my family and for hobbies. Work-life balance has always been important to me as this is the foundation for my mental and physical well-being.
I have had amazing Line Managers and coaches throughout my career. I think I am one of the lucky ones as I have found that my needs for my work-life balance have always been met with respect, and my career aspirations have been encouraged enthusiastically. My Line Managers have always wanted me to experiment and explore, learn new things, and make mistakes. They appreciated that I wanted to progress and gave me their full support. Having experienced this myself makes me want to provide the same level of support to everyone I am coaching in their role.
PRINCIPALITY WAS RECENTLY NAMED FIRST IN THE 2022 UK’S BEST WORKPLACES FOR WOMEN AND THIS WAS A DIRECT RESULT OF FEEDBACK AND COMMENTS FROM WOMEN WORKING THERE. THIS IS AN AWESOME ACHIEVEMENT. AS A WOMAN WORKING AT PRINCIPALITY, WHAT MAKES IT SUCH A GREAT PLACE TO WORK?
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are very important to Principality. They provide various networks and forums to make it easy for colleagues to connect. These networks are used to share insights and inspire colleagues through articles, workshops and other engaging activities. “Everyone has the right to come to work and feel comfortable being their real and authentic self”…. I really like that statement from our former Chief People Officer.
The hybrid working strategy, which was introduced this year, was a game changer for me and many others at Principality, and has improved my work-life balance immensely. “Work is an activity, not a destination”, is one of my favourite principles from our hybrid working handbook. During Lockdown, our office was completely refurbished enabling collaboration between people working in the office and people working from home. Being able to work from home saves me over two hours of time commuting every day. That’s priceless. But equally, I do like face-to-face collaboration and the energy I feel when being in the room with other people. So I choose to go to the office one or two days a week.
In addition, Principality offers flexible working options and there is a healthy uptake in the teams. Some members of the QA community work compressed hours such as 70 hours over nine days (meaning a day off every other week) or 35 hours over four days. Adjusting working hours to allow for school runs or other personal commitments is also commonly used and makes a huge difference to individuals and means that we can juggle family and life commitments with work much more easily.
Another element that makes Principality a great place to work as a woman is the focus on mental health, something which is super important. This is supported through the Mental Health Advocacy Network led by our mental health advocates. Their mission is the promotion, protection and restoration of mental health at Principality. We also have an Employee Assistance Programme for a complete range of well-being considerations, including proactive counselling support and regular monthly webinars and online gym sessions. These small things together can make a big difference.
WHAT DOES DIVERSITY MEAN TO YOU AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT?
I think the world would be very boring if we were all the same. I appreciate the broader perspective I get when discussing topics with a group of people with different genders or sexual orientations, different ages and cultural backgrounds, abilities and disabilities. A diverse group brings different skills, different knowledge and wider views to the table, even more so within Test/QA. I find it interesting how much better conversation is with a diverse community. At Principality, the Community of Practice Leadership team, which consists of nine line managers across change, feels nicely diverse. I look around the table (or the Webex screen) and see a healthy representation of different genders, ages and backgrounds. We never run out of things to talk about. Similar diversity is also evident at board level with a healthy ratio of male/female representation among our directors and board members.
As a woman in tech, self-belief and confidence are very important. Throughout my career, I have often found myself sitting in a meeting with just male peers or senior colleagues. It can be easy as a female to feel outnumbered in these situations, but, I have never allowed this situation to rob me of my confidence. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we are all people with our own thoughts and insecurities. What is important is what we have to say and what information or knowledge we can add to discussions regardless of our gender or background. Sometimes the best discussion comes from the most diverse mix of people.
HAVE YOU SEEN A CHANGE IN THE TYPES OF APPLICANTS YOU RECEIVE FOR QA POSITIONS IN RECENT TIMES?
In Principality’s QA Community, we recruited quite heavily over the last 12 months, filling 9 QA vacancies in total. I am pleased that we had a diverse group of applicants over the last year. More diverse than maybe compared to 2 or 3 years ago which was great to see. We also recently started our very first Test Engineering Academy in Principality, offering 3 positions to graduates or candidates seeking a career change into Test/QA. We received a really diverse range of applicants through FinTech Wales and Cardiff and Vale College so it’s great to see that more and more people are being drawn to a career in tech.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO’S THINKING ABOUT MAKING A CAREER CHANGE INTO TECH/ TESTING WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Nowadays there are amazing Academy opportunities out there for people looking to pursue a career in tech who don’t necessarily have a technical background. As mentioned, we recently connected with FinTechWales and Cardiff and Vale College and found 13 great candidates that joined Principality’s Dev and Test Engineering Academy. Have a look at this interesting story here from one of our new joiners: Golfer to Coder.
Collaboration, communication skills and relationship-building skills are important for whatever area of tech you end up in and there are some great webinars available. I do like a Ted Talk and I will never tire of the leadership lesson from a dancing guy.
FINALLY, ARE THERE ANY QUOTES/MANTRAS/WORDS OF WISDOM THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR WOMEN ROCKERS?
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron
I feel strongly about the power of believing in yourself. So, I like those quotes that make me feel strong and confident. I often think that confidence in your own ability is half the recipe for a successful career. The other half is what everyone has to figure out individually.
I think a career will find you if you look after yourself and analyse your own ambitions. You need different things at different stages of your life. What is important to you when you are 20, might not be important anymore when you are 35. Always take time to reflect on your career aspirations and balance these carefully with your mental health and physical well-being.
Sometimes opportunities come along that weren’t part of the plan. In my case, moving to a different country for love. Take a chance. Sometimes a sideward step instead of an upwards step can be the right move. You’ll still learn something new doing this and who knows what opportunities it might lead to.
Thanks, Anita you rock 🤘
Interview by Sam Miller