Hannah Cross | Near St

Hannah Cross | Near St

On July 20th this year we saw the Flexible Working Bill become law and pass Royal Assent - meaning workers can make use of job-sharing and flexitime and enjoy an improved work-life balance. We've been following this journey closely with Anna Whitehouse aka Motherpukka who has been campaigning like a warrior to get this bill passed and highlighting the impact it will have for parents and particularly women across the UK.

Women Rock Ambassador Doug spoke to Engineering Manager at Near St, Hannah Cross about returning to work after having her daughter Luna and the work she did to create the maternity-return-to-work policy for Near St. 

Hannah moved into tech from the arts sector after enrolling in a 3-month coding boot camp so knows first-hand the ups and downs of a career transition and what it means to "take the leap" and follow her passion. 

So whether you are a mum returning to work, thinking about a complete career change or toying with the idea of enrolling in a boot camp - you have got to read this! 

HEY HANNAH, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TALKING TO US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY IN TECH SO FAR! CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHAT YOUR ROLE IS AT THE MOMENT AND WHY YOU LOVE WORKING IN TECH?

I am currently an Engineering Manager at a start-up called NearSt. I’ve been there for 4 years now and started as a mid-level Software Engineer and after a couple of years had the opportunity to take on more people management responsibilities. I love how these days working in tech is working in any sector that interests you- almost all industries use tech of some kind so there is a job for us all! Also, the creative problem-solving that is required satisfies me and I feel like I’m building and creating daily. 

YOU MOVED INTO TECH FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT INDUSTRY. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT HOW THAT CHANGE CAME ABOUT AND WHAT GAVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO TAKE THE PLUNGE? 

I previously worked in the arts sector for non-profit art galleries and museums. I was a private giving fundraiser and spent a lot of time networking and organising events. Whilst I enjoyed some aspects of this, I realised I wanted to have a more tangible impact on a day-to-day basis. I felt the fundraising I did was too far removed from the creative activity that I was trying to facilitate. A friend told me about coding bootcamps and after a bit of back and forth I decided to take the leap and did a 3 month course at General Assembly in London. I was 30 and thought, if not now, when? A new adventure for a new decade! I was also really ready to move on from my job and so it gave me the nudge I needed to break away. 

WITH BOOT CAMPS BECOMING MORE & MORE POPULAR WE’RE SEEING A HUGE AMOUNT OF COMPETITION FOR GRADUATES. WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE GETTING A ROLE AFTER YOUR BOOT CAMP? AND WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER PEOPLE THAT MIGHT GO THROUGH THE SAME PROCESS IN THE NEAR FUTURE? 

It was quite tough after completing my boot camp. It took me 3 months of job searching and sending applications and enquiries out daily. I also did several really awful interviews before finding my first job post tech. In terms of tips, staying strong and persevering is really important. It’s easy to feel disheartened in any job search but with the added pressure of having been out of the job market for 3 months already to do the course it can feel particularly stressful. I’d also say that most jobs aren’t advertised so if you like a company, be bold and send an enquiry email to their Hiring team or Engineering Lead (if you can find that from their website or LinkedIn). Finally, celebrate any previous career or work experience you’ve had - those skills are definitely transferable. Tech skills alone aren’t enough for most businesses, they want to know you can function well in a team and settle in quickly with a company’s systems and processes. 

ONE THING THAT BOOTCAMPS ARE DOING FOR THE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY, IS BRINGING PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE CAREER BACKGROUNDS INTO THE WORLD OF TECH. DO YOU THINK YOUR PREVIOUS CAREER HAS HAD ANY POSITIVE IMPACTS ON YOUR CAREER IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT? AND IF SO, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS THE CASE? 

Building on my previous point, I think the reason I was able to move to a manager role within quite a short space of time is that I had experience managing people in my previous career. I had an understanding and interest in how teams operate and how to hire good people which I was able to apply to my tech role. I also have seen some bad systems and processes in my time and knowing what bad looks like (as much as what good looks like) in a general setting has helped me offer constructive advice and suggestions to a growing startup. It might not always be right, but I do believe that being able to offer another perspective can help discussions move forward to what is ultimately best for your team or business, 

AS A WOMAN IN TECH, CAN YOU SHARE WHAT BARRIERS YOU’VE FACED DURING YOUR CAREER TO DATE, AND WHAT HAS HELPED YOU OVERCOME SOME OF THESE BARRIERS? 

I think the two main barriers for me were: career pathway and learning to interview and navigate a world where my gender was rarely visible. 
When I was at school I was really interested in computers but not so interested in Maths and Physics. So when it came to choosing a degree at university I was not inclined to apply for a Computer Science degree. This is why, when the opportunity for a boot camp came up, without the need for those credentials I jumped at the chance to build websites and problem-solve with technology. 
Since starting my boot camp, most engineers I meet and teams I encounter are primarily made up of men and I’ve had a few people say to me “You don’t look like a programmer/coder/engineer” which I am never sure how to respond to. However, I feel very lucky that my coursemates were pretty much 50/50 split men and women so I knew there was a group of women entering the workforce together. I also looked up and started following several women engineers on social media (there are actually quite a lot of them!!) which helped me feel like I had a network of support and information to help me with those days when it might feel a bit overwhelming to be the only woman in the room. 
I do believe there is a truth in “you can only be what you can see” so I’ve said yes to opportunities to be visible to other women looking to work in tech. I volunteered as an instructor for Code First Girls, I say yes to anyone who contacts me to ask about “doing a career change” and in my hiring processes I have spent a lot of time with my team trying to make our interview setup as unbiased as possible. 
However, on the whole, since working at NearSt I’ve had a very positive experience and I am pleased to work with two other brilliant women in my team

YOU’RE NOW ON MATERNITY LEAVE, LOOKING AFTER THE LOVELY LUNA – CAN YOU SHARE WHAT IT IS LIKE BEING ON MATERNITY LEAVE AS A SOFTWARE DEVELOPER?

Being on maternity leave as a software developer… I am sure in some ways it’s very similar to anyone else on parental leave! The focus is very much on my daughter and once she was born any ideas I had that I might do some work or coding on the side disappeared quickly as she has kept me busy from day one! I am pleased that my job allows me to work from home, so the thought of going back to work is not as nerve-wracking as I know I will be a short walk away from her nursery! In terms of motherhood though, I think about technology and my daughter’s future a lot and I am keen to instil problem-solving skills in her early on. My friend even bought me a coding for babies book!

I KNOW YOU HELPED CREATE THE MATERNITY-RETURN-TO-WORK POLICY FOR YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYER, FOLLOWING THAT EXPERIENCE, DO YOU THINK THE MAJORITY OF BUSINESSES ARE PREPARED FOR SUPPORTING PARENTS BACK INTO WORK FOLLOWING MATERNITY OR PATERNITY LEAVE? WHAT ASPECTS DO YOU THINK COMPANIES NEED TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION TO ENSURE THESE POLICIES ARE EFFECTIVE?

This is a big question… I am still figuring some of this out. I know that it is not as simple as companies just “offering more”. Some businesses genuinely don’t have the resources to offer various financial support, such as a year of full-pay parental leave. And so it definitely needs to be a combination of support and incentives from the Government, society and the business. Paid parental leave does need to be better and longer for both parents though. The physical and mental toll that having a child has on an individual is enormous and if you want employees who return to work with energy and renewed commitment to the business, they need to feel taken care of as they essentially produce the next generation of workers of the world! Flexibility is another big one and I was thrilled to hear that the Flexible Working Bill now means employees are entitled to ask for flexible working hours - something that can make a huge difference for parents. There’s definitely a lot more but haven’t quite got my thoughts together on this yet..! 

YOU’VE MOVED UP TO ENGINEERING MANAGER LEVEL REALLY QUICKLY IN YOUR CAREER TO DATE – WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR OTHER PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE SOMETHING SIMILAR?

I would say progression is a funny one in that if financial compensation is what you seek, then make sure the progression route you are pursuing is the right one for you. In tech, I am seeing more and more the opportunity to choose between Individual Contributor and People Management. This allows those who are technically skilled to increase their seniority and pay package without having to move into a whole different role of managing others. 
In terms of advice… work hard at what you’re passionate about. Take opportunities when they come your way and ask for them if you feel like they aren’t coming to light. Take advantage of skills you have cultivated in previous roles or careers, but most of all be patient. Sometimes taking things a bit slower means you will be better equipped for a bigger jump. Whilst progressing too quickly can actually mean more stress if you’re not quite ready yet!

IT’S TRADITION TO FINISH THESE INTERVIEWS WITH A FAVOURITE QUOTE, MOTTO, OR PIECE OF ADVICE. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE? 

Oh dear I’m terrible at these… the default one I like to go for 
“To live will be an awfully big adventure” - JM Barrie 
An alternative to carpe diem… reminding me to not get bogged down with the small things and focus on enjoying as much as possible. 

Thanks, Hannah, you rock 🤘

Interview by Doug Gear

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