Zena, Maria & Heather | Kin + Carta
‘’Building up my own self-confidence and self-belief that I am a product manager, and a good one! I’ve always struggled with imposter syndrome, and never felt completely comfortable or confident in myself as a chemist, or as a management consultant. It’s been a rollercoaster ride as a Product Manager too, but for the first time I felt that I was really able to add value, and could make an impact that not just anyone, anywhere could do.’’ Heather Miles
‘’Emphasise your transferable skills. While you might be starting from scratch in a particular industry, you are not new to the world of work. Highlight the skills you have picked up from previous roles on your CV and when interviewing. Whether it’s managing projects or working with clients, all of your previous skills are extremely valuable and could set you apart from other candidates with less work experience.’’ Zena Zerai
‘’It is not always a bed of roses: there are many days you doubt yourself; you feel frustrated because you are used to producing results quickly in your previous job, and you have to remind yourself that you are starting again, and beginnings are always hard. It is difficult to ignore the “impostor syndrome” lurking behind you when you are the older person in a meeting, and maybe the less technically experienced.’’ Maria Valero Gonzalez
Those are just a couple of snippets from 3 awesome ladies from Kin + Carta who have shared their successful journey from Law and Chemistry to User Experience Designer, Data Engineer, and Product Manager and so excited to share their stories for the world to hear.
We are Tech Women quoted ‘’Technology has traditionally been a male-dominated field, with a persistently low representation of women. Tech Nation’s recent survey found only 19% of people working in tech are women. On the flip side, many employers are actively seeking to address this disproportionate representation by changing their hiring practices and engineering team environments to be more inclusive to women.’’
The challenge these employers face is that the traditional recruitment process relies on university graduates with computer science degrees. Not only are 80% of these graduates’ men, but also the three-year study period means current roles can’t be filled quickly. Today any changes made that positively impact course demographics won’t impact the hiring pool until at least 2024.
In a bid to resolve the current skills gap, I and we are seeing companies updating their new hire processes and considering candidates from other educational backgrounds, such as tech academies and boot camps, creating a more accessible path for women wanting to pursue a career in Technology.
Grab a kombucha, a cuppa, flat white and have a read of this beautifulness
ZENA, MARIA, AND HEATHER PLEASE COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU DO?
Heather: I’m a Product Manager at Kin + Carta, which is a digital transformation consultancy. Distilled to its simplest interpretation, being a Product Manager means I’m responsible for ensuring that the products we’re building deliver value for both users and our clients’ businesses. In practice this means I work very closely with our clients and their customers to understand business and user outcomes, pain points and opportunities, and I work collaboratively with my team to decide on the best way to solve these. Internally at Kin + Carta I also help lead up our Product Practice - helping support and coach other Product Managers.
Maria: I started in Kin + Carta as a Backend Engineer, and after six months there was an opportunity to join the Data team for a project, and that gave me the opportunity to start working with data manipulation tools, and I got hooked on the mix of managing data transformation applications and pure coding that felt more flexible and creative. The work goes from data modelling, looking for ways to organise data that will make the access and work more efficient, to handle transformation to maximise compression and optimise space used, and present the information in the best manner through reports: it covers a lot of different skills and expertise that makes my daily work very diverse and interesting.
Zena: I am currently a Senior UX Designer, which in essence means I create end-to-end experiences across digital products that are enjoyable, user-friendly, and valuable for real users. This can involve anything from carrying out research with real people to understand their needs, sketching or wireframing out designs or helping to shape the overall strategy of a product.
Prior to changing to UX, I worked for 7 years as a Radio Plugger, most recently at Universal Music. I worked with the likes of Rod Stewart, Gregory Porter, and Andrea Bocelli (basically all your mum’s favourites). Before that I studied law, so I’ve actually changed careers more than once!
WHERE DID YOUR PASSION FOR TECHNOLOGY COME FROM AND WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU MAKE THE SWITCH?
Heather: Working in tech always seemed very exciting but I didn’t really know how to get into it, I assumed as I couldn’t code it wouldn’t be an option for me. No one I’d ever spoken to about careers during school or university had ever even mentioned it as an option.
Having said that, I’ve always been curious about how things work, physics and chemistry were my favourite subjects at school and I went on to study chemistry at undergraduate and PhD level, but found academic research a really tough environment and, whilst I was interested in understanding how things worked, I just wasn’t as passionate as those around me for the nitty-gritty of lab work and didn’t enjoy working on a project alone.
The bits I loved were the projects where I was working closely with a team - for instance designing and building a new piece of experimental equipment - my first real product! I found I was very good at explaining complex concepts to others (at scientific conferences and public science fairs). I also loved the process of hypothesising about something, gathering and analysing data and bringing it all together to draw out conclusions.
After completing my PhD, I made my first career jump and joined a management consultancy which focussed on operational efficiency (improving processes in manufacturing and logistics). Whilst I learnt a lot, for a variety of reasons it didn’t work out and within a year I found myself back at the beginning again trying to decide what was next.
Maria: I have always been naturally curious, and love learning new things: Back in the start of my career I dabbled on programming and databases, and I loved how trying to solve issues and resolve challenges made work feel like I was just having fun, but my job at that time ended up developing more into the business part. At a certain point, I thought I wanted to go back to work in something that will challenge my logic skills and made me learn new things constantly; as it was already more than ten years since I worked on something technical, I chose to join a Coding Bootcamp and train to re-enter the workforce as a software engineer.
Zena: When I was working in music, I began doing some basic coding courses online and did a digital marketing course in my spare time. This sparked my initial interest, as I’m always looking to learn new skills. I loved the fact it was a completely new sector with the opportunity to continuously learn.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE A PRODUCT MANAGER, DATA ENGINEER AND UX CAREER PATH WAS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Heather: I’d never heard of a Product Manager before applying for this job and wasn’t aware that anything like that role existed. A close friend who is an engineer suggested that it would be something that would really suit me, so I did a bit of research and it looked promising - a way of combining my love for understanding how things work with my enjoyment of building things as a team, whilst also making the most of my strengths working with people and communicating complex ideas in a simple way to bring people on a journey (so much of product management is stakeholder management, building consensus around an idea, etc.)
I looked for courses to help me get more experience and decided to take an intensive week-long Product Management course at General Assembly. It was a bit of an investment, and I was lucky to be in a position to be able to do this, but it proved to be incredibly valuable as it not only gave me the opportunity to ‘test out’ the role, but also showed potential employers that I was proactive in applying my skills in this new area (and ended up being part of the reason why I was hired by Kin + Carta).
Maria: I already knew I enjoyed working on software development, and once I started working in Data engineering I could link some of the things I used to work with, and in many ways also unlearn things are not applicable anymore, but the same principle applies: making mistakes is just part of the process, it is not something that is inherently negative, but is just another path to write off in order to map out the labyrinth.
Zena: After doing some coding courses, I reached out to an old boss of mine and mentioned I was looking for a change but that I was unsure of what direction to take. He suggested I look into a career in UX design. He had a friend who had changed to UX a few years back who was extremely happy and successful. However, the term ‘UX’ was completely alien to me, so I did a hefty amount of research online about what the role actually entailed. I also read an amazing book called ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman.
What followed was research into available UX courses including courses with General Assembly. I decided to try out a 2-day weekend boot camp. This was great as it gave me a taster of what the course and a job in UX would really be like without committing to anything and I was hooked! It was really exciting as UX is the perfect combination of being creative but also analytical, which I was missing from my previous roles.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DATE?
Heather: Building up my own self-confidence and self-belief that I am a product manager, and a good one! I’ve always struggled with imposter syndrome, and never felt completely comfortable or confident in myself as a chemist, or as a management consultant. It’s been a rollercoaster ride as a Product Manager too, but for the first time I felt that I was really able to add value, and could make an impact that not just anyone, anywhere could do. A huge part of overcoming that has been finding a place where I feel incredibly supported and valued - and Kin + Carta has always been that for me.
Maria: It is not always a bed of roses: there are many days you doubt yourself; you feel frustrated because you are used to producing results quickly in your previous job, and you must remind yourself that you are starting again, and beginnings are always hard. It is difficult to ignore the “impostor syndrome” lurking behind you when you are the older person in a meeting, and maybe the less technically experienced. Luckily for me, I have a great manager and fantastic colleagues, who support me and give me a reality check over my contributions and progress to get me out of my head.
Zena: After I finished the course, the first couple of months looking for a job were quite nerve-wracking and stressful. Not only is everyone on your course looking for elusive junior UX design roles but you’re also competing with the rest of the industry and with people with more experience. Quite often I would send out applications without any replies. I recall wondering whether I’d made the right decision to give up my job and at times was tempted to settle for any role I saw. However, I’m glad I didn’t settle and waited until I found something that was right for me, which is how I ended up at TAB (The App Business) which is now Kin + Carta.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU RECEIVED WHEN YOU WERE SWITCHING OUT OF LAW/MUSIC AND CHEMISTRY/CONSULTING INTO YOUR ROLE IN TECH NOW?
Heather: I was incredibly lucky to have a huge number of people who were generous with their time to act as sounding boards and give me advice to help me work out what I should do next. One of the most useful bits of advice I was given was to make a list of all the things I liked about my current role and all the things I didn’t. I then used this list to assess potential roles and organisations more analytically (from reading websites, reviews and through interview questions) - to really understand what I’d be doing day-to-day and whether or not I’d actually enjoy it. It’s something you need to spend time on though, it’s not a 5-minute exercise. If you find yourself writing things like ‘fast paced’ and ‘problem solving’ - try to go a level deeper as every job description will list those things.
I can’t remember exactly what was on my list, but it was things like:
Likes: external motivation (the right deadlines can be very useful - the PhD was incredibly lacking in these!), not being sat behind a laptop all day (going out and investigating things), building things (actually having practical outputs to my work), helping people to understand things (communication, coaching etc.), working with people who care about what they’re doing
Dislikes: pointless deadlines (often causing late nights/poor work-life balance), working on a project on my own, working away from home all week, the types of problem I’d been tasked with solving (often too abstract and not fulfilling to solve)
Maria: “Success comes from having the right mindset rather than intelligence, talent or education. People with a fixed mindset believe that they're born with certain intelligence, skills and abilities that cannot change. (...) Intelligence and ability can be nurtured through learning and effort. Growth-minded people see setbacks as a necessary part of the learning process and bounce back from 'failure' by increasing effort.” - it is from “Mindset”, by Carol Dweck. In a nutshell, we are not born with a set of immovable aptitudes, but we can develop the skills we need through effort and work.
Zena: Emphasise your transferable skills. While you might be starting from scratch in a particular industry, you are not new to the world of work. Highlight the skills you have picked up from previous roles on your CV and when interviewing. Whether it’s managing projects or working with clients, all of your previous skills are extremely valuable and could set you apart from other candidates with less work experience.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR ASPIRING FEMALES AS THEY PLAN THEIR CAREER CHANGE?
Heather: Some purely practical advice - think about crafting a skills-based CV (rather than a chronological one). It’s likely if you’re a career changer that your experience in previous roles won’t directly map to the requirements of the new role, and it can be hard for busy recruiters/hiring managers to see past this. So, start with the requirements of the new role. If they need “stakeholder management” or “prioritisation skills”, then list underneath those headings all the experience you have from any previous roles in those areas. Hiring managers can then easily check down their list of requirements and see that you’re a great match for their key skills. It can still be useful to provide a chronological list of roles but do this in a really streamlined way (no more than one line per role, and further down the page).
In the event that you’re lacking experience in one or two areas - don’t be deterred (and go read this article)! I was definitely in this position and used my cover letter to explain (and give evidence for) the fact that I was a quick learner and that I’d already showed initiative to learn (the course I took and the research I’d done).
In terms of more emotional advice - if you struggle with imposter syndrome, a career change can definitely be a trigger. Make sure you find the right role and organisation where you feel safe and supported enough to get regular feedback, and also where you’ll get the recognition you deserve. Be open with your manager if you can and ask for feedback and reassurance if you need it. As well as getting valuable constructive feedback to help you develop, make sure you’re getting positive reinforcement when you need it. I keep a log of all my positive feedback and successes so that even when I doubt myself and don’t feel confident, I can look at the evidence of what I can do and learn to ‘back myself’ anyway.
Maria: Yes, you can do it.
No, it is not too late.
No, I am not the exception, and you can do it too.
Zena: Do your research upfront about what the role will be and speak to people who have already made the change. Often when you’re changing career you will be starting from the bottom. This may mean a drop in your salary and also means you may know less than your colleagues when you start. However, if you do your research about what the role entails and it is genuinely something you know you will enjoy and be good at, then all of those things will feel like less of a challenge, and you may even progress quicker.
Additionally, before I quit my job to do the UX course, I reached out to people that I didn’t know on LinkedIn that had changed careers and done different courses to chat about their experience and make an informed decision.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE FINAL PUSH/ENCOURAGEMENT TO MAKE THE CAREER CHANGE?
Heather: In a strange way I was lucky, as I was unemployed when I was looking to make the change - so the decision to ‘jump ship’ had already been made for me. The decision I needed to make was “what to?”. I could have played it ‘safe’ and taken a project management role in the public sector, which I was qualified for but not excited by, but instead I chose to take the risk of the slightly more unknown and have never regretted it for even a second. I think the final bit of convincing was walking into Kin + Carta’s office for my interview and meeting the people I’d be working with - I felt instantly at home.
Maria: I realised I still have too many years in front of me to be stuck in something that did not make me happy or excited to go to work. I think most of the time you don’t realise how much of a routine you are in, and how often you just continue your daily life out of habit. You don’t really see how much more capable you are until you try. I had to take a step back into thinking what were the things I enjoyed most, and what have I done in my professional life that keep me interested and what could I do to make that into my full-time job.
Zena: Honestly it was just excitement and interest around the topic and the course. I wanted to start right away after I did the boot camp!
WHATS NEXT FOR YOU ALL?
Heather: Over the past 5 years, I’ve developed and progressed faster than I ever thought possible from an associate/mid-level Product Manager just starting out to a Principal level helping lead up a whole group of PMs. I’ve built up my confidence along the way, and whilst with every step forward I’ve found that same old imposter syndrome tries to rear its ugly head, I’ve never felt more comfortable in myself and my abilities as I have done the past couple of years, and I’ve really enjoyed the journey.
The next step for me is going to be quite different again (you could call it a career change of a different nature?!) - as I’m going to become a mum in March next year! I thoroughly expect to go through the same rollercoaster of excitement, fear, imposter syndrome and enjoyment that I’ve experienced in my professional life, and then the potentially even greater challenge of working out how to balance that with my career going forward. I feel incredibly lucky to have an amazing partner and an incredibly supportive employer and colleagues and between these two things I’m confident that this will be another exciting step forwards for me.
Maria: So many new things to learn! It keeps work fresh and interesting, and you keep your brain awake and engaged. The best part is that there are always new developments in the tools we use, in the way we can optimise processes, make them more efficient, faster, and easier to use. Data nowadays is not only linked with understanding better how people act, and what motivates them, but also how to make that knowledge more sustainable and less polluting.
Zena: With UX there are so many areas to learn. I’m always looking at different ways I can upskill. At the moment I am looking at increasing my quantitative research and strategy skills. I recently completed a few courses with Nielsen Norman Group - they are leaders in the UX field. Next, I would like to look at how we can combine data with user research in our client projects.
Separately I’m also heavily involved in helping lead our affinity group at Kin + Carta, where we represent our black and brown employees. I have recently been involved in helping to create the content, talks and workshops for Black History Month, check it out on our LinkedIn!
IF YOU WERE A SONG, WHAT SONG WOULD YOU BE?
Heather: I found this a tough one! But I think I'll go with Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. It's a lovely upbeat sounding song and I like to think of it as a song about making the most of what you have whilst you have it (we'll just skip over the part where her old man leaves her…).
Maria: “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, not only the lyrics are so inspiring: “Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live/ Maybe one of these days you can let the light in/ Show me how big your brave is”, but it reminds me that you have to keep taking risks, and that sometimes you just have to get up and do something brave (also the music video just makes me smile every time I watch it).
Zena: This is hard! I can’t just pick one song…. Maybe ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye
WHAT IS YOUR GO TO LIFE QUOTE OR MANTRA?
Heather: I'm not sure I really have a mantra but I'm pretty optimistic as a person and I always try to find the positive in things.
Maria: “Steady wins the race” … I grew up with my dad saying that life was not a 100-metres-race, but a marathon, so it is not a matter of making a quick and exhaustive effort, but to keep a constant pace and focus on the long-term objectives, even if your objectives change over time, and that is OK too, you just have to keep going.
Zena: Probably a bit cliché but “trust your gut”, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more confidence in myself and in using my voice, it’s something I wish I had done earlier in my career(s).
Interview by Alicia Teagle