Never be afraid to stand out from the crowd (says the mum with blue hair). An interview with Emma Hopkinson-Spark
I met with Emma earlier this year and within the first 2 minutes it was obvious we shared the same passion. Emma is a delivery director at 101 ways, who are one of the fastest growing consultancies in the market, where people thrive by being themselves! She was the 2nd employee joining Kelly Waters, and you have probably seen the company is doing phenomenal things and going from strength to strength. Earlier this month Emma and the team hosted their first WTF (‘Women Tech Focus’) get together which is aimed specifically at the underrepresentation of women in technical careers, and addressing an obvious imbalance when looking at the number of female freelance consultants or contractors. Emma has had a very successful career contracting in many agile positions so I was keen to discuss more about this (the good and the bad!) and see what advice she can offer to any females thinking about taking the leap into the contracting world. It’s a great read, Emma is an inspirational character and if you aren’t following 101 Ways yet as a contractor or as a business who uses consultancies then you should be! They are an amazing bunch!
YOU ARE ONE OF THE FIRST MEMBERS OF 101 WAYS WITH KELLY, WHAT IS YOUR DAY TO DAY ROLE?
My day-to-day has completely changed since we started; that’s probably one of the things that I love the most.
Back in 2015 I was working with Kelly on some part time coaching contracts. The following year, once we began partnering with more client organisations, building teams and growing 101 Ways, my role became much more business focused. Now I spend my time supporting and developing new and existing client partnerships as well as the consultants we have on sites. I still get the opportunity to do some personal and organisational coaching on a part-time basis, but much of the focus now is really about developing those coaching skills in others.
YOU HAVE A SUCCESSFUL CONTRACTING CAREER BUT IN MY EXPERIENCE MANY WOMEN IN TECH AVOID CONTRACTING. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ABOUT CONTRACTING POSITIONS?
I think it can feel risky when you’re looking from the outside in. I struggled with the decision when I was offered my first contract role as my daughter was just a few months old at the time. But, I spoke to friends who had already made the transition, braved it and never regretted taking the plunge.
I was given great advice to make sure I had at least three months ‘wages’ saved before I started. I had to pay two mortgage instalments before my first invoice was paid and it took a while to feel settled. One of the things I did was to pay myself regularly, whether I was working or not, which worked out well. Whilst I was working and invoicing, my business bank account was growing, which meant I was always able to take time off without impacting my personal income.
I would work contract roles from September to May and take the summer off before starting again; it would allow me to work intensely and save up so I could take a break, spend time with my daughter and travel. Most importantly it was a break timed perfectly for the summer festivals season.
COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE NEW WTF COMMUNITY AT 101 WAYS?
On International Women’s Day, we launched the 101 Ways’ Women’s Tech Focus (WTF) – a new community group. Our first event is on Wednesday 11th April and we’ll be talking about ‘going freelance’. What want to build a support network of women working in technology. We aim to facilitate the initial conversations so the groups can become self-organising and self-sufficient, and go on to work out how best to help each other in the future.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SUCCESS IN YOUR CAREER?
That’s hard to answer! There’s been plenty of career highs that I should be proud of. For example, I helped develop the standards and examination process for the Scrum Alliance CSP Certification (as it then was). I’m also on the team organising London’s Global Scrum Gathering 2018;and have both won awards and sat on the judging panel for the UK Agile Awards, which was exciting.
At the risk of sounding cheesy though, what I’m most proud of is the people I’ve coached, the differences I’ve seen in them and how they’ve developed. Is that career success though? I don’t know. I truly believe my biggest successes are yet to come. While I don’t know what the future holds, I’m already working on a couple of new projects that I am excited to see develop over the next couple of years.
AND THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE OR CHALLENGE?
Time. I live in Somerset and work in London almost every day, but I still manage to spend time with my family in the morning, and am home in time for bedtime stories and snuggles. You get used to the travel, and helping grow a business is never a 9-to-5, but it’s pretty exhausting. I get incredibly frustrated when there isn’t isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do.
WHAT DO YOU PUT THE RAPID RISE OF 101 WAYS DOWN TO?
Without a doubt, it’s the people. We have an awesome team in 101 Ways; each and every one of us are able to connect with our clients and consultants in a very human way – and that’s the key. Our time is spent building partnerships and developing conversations and ways of working together. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to helping people and organisations; it has to be personal and individual, that’s why we’re called 101 Ways.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANYTHING WITHIN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND WHY?
When it comes to hiring people, I’d like to see less emphasis on a specific amount of time spent working with any particular technology and more focus on good engineering practices, communication and collaboration, problem solving and analysis. Technologies will come and go, but quality engineers will always be valuable.
HOW CAN WE GET MORE WOMEN INTO TECH CAREERS FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE?
I believe it has to start young. As a woman who has been an engineer before moving into different roles within technology, I can only talk from personal experience about why I left an engineering career path. At the time, I didn’t know any other women engineers and never felt like I had a handle on the issues. As they say, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.
Being a mother of an eight-year-old girl gives you a different perspective. She’s a massive Minecraft fan and has asked if I can help her learn how to write her own mods. Most of the girls in her peer group seem to love gaming too. I recently gave a talk at her school to years 10 and 13 about technology careers and noticed a stark difference in the interest in technology between my daughters’ age group and teenage girls.
Certainly, my message to my daughter and her friends as they grow up will be that it’s okay to be geeky. Expressing and following your passions – whether it’s creating a race of vampire mermaids in Minecraft or practising ballet in the garden – is always awesome. You don’t have to choose between one or the other. I never want her to be afraid to stand out from the crowd (says the mum with blue hair). The skills needed for the future of technology are rooted in creativity and imagination, leadership and communication. It’s everything we need to foster in our daughters anyway, regardless of the career path they choose.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT BOTH YOUR ROLE AND ABOUT 101 WAYS?
I love the variety and the people I get to work with. One the main things I enjoyed about being freelance was that it satisfied my wanderlust. I find with 101 Ways, it’s still sated by the diversity of projects and teams I work on/with, but I also have a core group of people (known as the crew!) that I can trust both on a professional and personal level. It’s the best of both worlds.
Thank you Emma, keep an eye on the 101 ways website for details of their next event. I’m looking forward to working with you and seeing you at some events in Bristol in the very near future.