WOMEN ROCK

WOMEN ROCK.

Thanks for being here and welcome to Women Rock – a voice for diversity in tech! Here you will find some of the most inspirational stories about ED&I in the tech industry. Women Rock was created by SR2 co-founder and all-round positive vibe advocate Alicia and exists to help transform the industry and create a positive movement!

Dr Shirley Cavin | Leidos UK
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-10

Dr Shirley Cavin | Leidos UK

Career and family: the balancing act for women continues and despite significant strides towards gender equality in recent years, women still encounter barriers on their journey to achieving both career excellence and fulfilling family lives.  However, there is hope, and that hope comes from stories like this one: Dr Shirley Cavin has just been announced as the winner of the Women in Tech Employer Awards 2023 as an Outstanding Woman in Tech. Dr Cavin is Head of Data and AI Accelerator for Leidos UK and Europe, she is a mentor and a mum. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Computer Sciences & Engineering, an MSc and PhD in Advanced Manufacturing and Operations Management from The University of Nottingham. She has a Harvard Leadership Business Certification and other technical and business qualifications, and as a STEM ambassador participates and collaborates in various community activities encouraging young people into the disciplines of data, sciences and engineering. As a strong advocate for self-growth and education she still regularly speaks with her own mentor about areas she is interested in exploring further. BUT HOW? We hear you cry??! Read on to find out more... HI SHIRLEY, THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK TO US. FIRSTLY, CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING ANNOUNCED WINNER OF THE WOMEN IN TECH EMPLOYER AWARDS 2023 AS AN OUTSTANDING WOMAN IN TECH. PLEASE CAN YOU START BY EXPLAINING WHY YOU WANTED TO GET INTO THE WORLD OF TECH AND HOW YOUR JOURNEY BEGAN?  Hi Bella, thanks for this opportunity. Winning the Women in Tech Employer Awards 2023 as Outstanding Woman in Tech is a wonderful feeling. All the finalists are remarkable females in the tech world, with great achievements on their own, hence I feel very moved that I was selected for this award, still processing professionally and personally the impact of it, but overall, very grateful and honoured for this recognition.  How did I start my journey? I will say at a very young age. I was always very inquisitive, and curious about my surroundings, especially on the ability of humans to use our intelligence, skills and ingenuity to overcome challenges for the greater good, with the use of engineering, sciences and technology. Hence, my interest in understanding, and directing my efforts in making things better for us. I believe this was reflected also in my academic performance, taking subjects in sciences and engineering was the natural flow at school, followed by a first university degree in Computer Science and Engineering, which I truly enjoyed. It was wonderful to see how theory and experimentation can be joined together to bring innovation and resolve critical challenges.  This led me to build a professional career in those areas, and to continue my academic path, into a deeper understanding, hence continuing academically with an MSc and a PhD in advanced manufacturing and researching in industrial automation (robotics), and work-related opportunities in high-tech organisations.  WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT POSITION AT LEIDOS AND THE EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES YOU ARE WORKING WITH?  My current position at Leidos is as Head of Data and AI Accelerator for Leidos UK and Europe. I am responsible in supporting customers, programmes and divisions in their adequate adoption of emerging capabilities and technologies in the areas of Data and AI. This includes the recent advances in AI/ML such as GenAI, LLMs and the application of these technologies for our business and deliverables. Also, the promotion and education of staff in these capabilities, and most importantly in supporting our customers in the opportunities that arise due to their adoption of these technologies. It is an exciting area to work on, which I am very pleased to lead, as technology, innovation and the applications of the most advanced technologies for various challenging problems and processes is where I believe my team and I can provide the most advantage and support with the knowledge, skills and experience we have acquired throughout time. AS AN ACADEMIC YOURSELF, HOW HAS EDUCATION IMPACTED YOUR CAREER IN TECH AND WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WOMAN IN YOUR CHOSEN FIELD OF STUDY?  Education has a great impact on my career and professional development. Since childhood, I understood the value of it. Firstly, by enabling me to understand various aspects of our daily lives, and to foresee opportunities from applied learning. I value education quite greatly, as it has been a key driving force that allowed me to get into exciting areas in science, engineering and technology. I was able to progress in my career through education and provided me with new opportunities. I continue educating myself in various areas, as it is more than an activity, it is a practice and a way of life. I found that great education not only depends on formal learning but also by applying this learning, transferring and sharing it with others, getting feedback and increasing awareness, in diverse and multidisciplinary teams and bringing minds and ideas together for the greater good. Hence, widening access to education for everyone is the pathway to great opportunities to improve our communities and make a real and positive impact on people’s lives.  DO YOU FEEL THAT EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT IN CHANGING THE GENDER GAP IN TECH OR ARE THERE OTHER WAYS FOR WOMEN TO START THEIR CAREER?  I think education is important in solving some of the most difficult gender gap challenges. It should be accessible to everyone regardless of their background, gender, or status. Education should be seen as a means to accelerate the intake of a more diverse and inclusive population in tech areas, and within that, a means for women to succeed in their careers, and improve themselves and those around them. Education should be complemented by other important avenues such as apprenticeships, mentorships, work experiences supported by experts, community and group initiatives. Also, pairing and shadowing, learning by experimenting, and seeing other people on the job, is a good way forward to start a career in tech. I have seen organisations increasing resources and initiatives to incentivise women to take a role in science, technology and engineering areas, as there is a growing understanding that a larger female presence in the tech sector will bring great benefit and value to their organisations, so I believe we are moving in the right direction, and I am hopeful for the future. I AM AWARE THAT HAVING A WORK-LIFE BALANCE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE BOTH AN INCREDIBLE CAREER AND A FAMILY AT HOME IS IMPORTANT TO YOU. HOW CAN COMPANIES SUPPORT WOMEN TO ENABLE THIS AND AS A RESULT HELP CHANGE THE STATISTICS OF THE GENDER GAP IN TECH? I think it is important for companies to realise that in order to close the gender gap in tech industries, it is critical to support women in their multiple roles – e.g., professional, social, and family-related ones. For me, my family is very important to my career and professional development, therefore, having the opportunity to fulfil both makes me a better and a whole person, who will enjoy the challenges and joys of a good work and life balance. I have two daughters one at school age and another at pre-school age, so working in a company that is flexible, supportive and that enables me to achieve my professional goals with a healthy family life, is a key requirement I have, when choosing where I can or cannot work. I am fortunate that the company I work has put in place processes and policies in those areas, such as flexible working, maternal care, parental leave, and others. Companies need to realise that there is a great opportunity and an important workforce in women, hence, changing and expanding their working and business practices alongside an inclusive culture, is critical for women when choosing an organisation to work for, and for organisations to reap the benefits that could bring from a diverse and inclusive work environment. Also, women need to feel that their voice is listened to and respected and that companies care about our professional aspirations, by providing career opportunities, access to promotion routes and higher levels roles, upskilling, training, spaces and groups for women to put forward their views and ideas.  YOU MENTIONED THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORS AS A STEM AMBASSADOR YOURSELF TRYING TO CLOSE THE GENDER GAP. DID YOU HAVE GOOD MENTORS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER AND HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE INFLUENCED HOW YOU MENTOR INDIVIDUALS NOW AND LEAD YOUR TEAM AT LEIDOS?  Yes, I think mentorship provides a very good structure for learning, guidance and professional growth. Throughout my academic and professional life, I have been fortunate to have great mentors and very experienced and knowledgeable people who provided me with the guidance and support I required. Sometimes you only know and appreciate what you know in your level or area, and what others are willing to share, so having a mentor that provides you that further insight and awareness, enables you to open to new ideas and opportunities. Also, having access to their experience and connections, it is a great way to upskill and network. For a successful mentorship experience, you need to have the confidence and trust that your mentor will support you in your career development with honest feedback and counsel. At all levels of your career path, mentoring is a great way to grow professionally and personally. At the moment, I have a great mentor, someone who is very experienced and knowledgeable in the areas I am interested in exploring further. We have very insightful and great conversations. It is important that you feel comfortable with your mentor, and that you appreciate the value of sharing. Having mentors and appreciating their style has helped me to understand the best style attuned to me, when receiving and delivering mentorship to others and when working with teams. Within my teams, I encourage good dialogue, openness (candour), and other positive attitudes, such as sharing, trust, communication, respect, transparency and inclusivity. I take great responsibility when leading teams, and make sure that every team member feels included, listened and aware that their contributions are critical to the success of any outcomes. One of my passions is to share the knowledge and experience I have acquired throughout the years with others who are receptive to receiving it, and more importantly to see the positive impact of it, hence I see myself returning to academia at some point. I love talking to people that are interested in similar areas, and are willing to grow their understanding, and for my side to learn from others too. This is how I see the way to grow awareness and new skills - by sharing and providing environments that give opportunities to others -and how innovation and technology could grow and evolve. FINAL QUESTION! DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE QUOTE THAT RESONATES WITH YOU?  Sure, I have various quotes that resonate with me depending on the moment I am in, so I might share more than one if it is ok. “Embrace the power of diversity and inclusion, you will be amazed at the benefits they will bring to our communities and workplaces.” “It is important to look at the end goals, but the journey is what enables us to learn and to grow”. “Technology is a means to make our lives better and to solve our pressing challenges, never forget its end goal”. Thanks, Dr Cavin, you rock 🀘 Interview by Bella Snell

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Susie Piggott | Operations Manager
WOMEN ROCK2023-10-03

Susie Piggott | Operations Manager

Fear of failure can often be a reason that people don’t go through with certain ideas, regardless of gender. However, for women embarking on a career in a male-dominated field like the tech industry, this fear can often feel magnified, But here's the truth: failure is not a gender-specific challenge, and it certainly should not be a deterrent for women pursuing their dreams in technology.  And if the world of tech makes you nervous - what about standing up in front of a room full of people, waiting for you to make them laugh? TERRIFYING! And that is exactly why this week's Women Rocker, Susie Piggott is the perfect person to talk to us about courage. Not only has Susie been working in the vibrant world of tech, but she also does a spot of stand-up comedy in NY and she is full of advice on facing your fears. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPEAKING WITH ME TODAY, TO START US OFF, WOULD YOU MIND TELLING US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY SO FAR?  I worked for OVO for 8 years, most recently as Ops Manager, took redundancy and travelled solo to Thailand and America. After many adventures, I returned to Bristol and volunteered at St Paul’s Carnival, connecting to my community and celebrating the wonderfully diverse cultures.Passionate about mental health, I live with depression myself, and I'm in the process of developing a new project collaborating with my accountabilibuddy from across the pond, focussed on female perspective getting back into work, and the importance of laughter in the most difficult moments! I enjoy flexing my creative side by performing stand-up comedy and I'm now looking for a new role that promotes my values of sustainability, technology and DEI. WHEN DID YOU REALISE YOU WERE PASSIONATE ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY AND USING YOUR SKILLS AS A FORCE FOR GOOD?  I remember when I was 16 making a promise to myself, whatever I do, I want to make a positive difference. It can be so easy to get caught up in your own path that you forget that the most rewarding path to walk is the one we build together. I’m passionate about building teams that make positive changes to the world we live in - accountable to one another, small things make a big difference. SO FAR, WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS? (BOTH PROFESSIONALLY & PERSONALLY)  It sounds cheesy but seeing individuals I’ve worked with develop and progress in their lives (not just their careers). Personally – I’m proud of some of the courageous decisions I’ve made in my life, taking redundancy was not an easy decision, but 2023 has been full of new experiences, and growth, and opened my eyes to the possibilities that are out there.  DO YOU FEEL MORE COULD BE DONE TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?  Yes definitely - for me, one of the things I reflect on is the lack of insight into tech I had throughout my education, yes it was the 90s and computers were massive, but it was very gender stereotyped in school, and this can have a huge impact - we had no women teaching IT or science, girls can have the message reinforced to them ‘you won’t understand this, this isn’t for you’ - I’m hopeful this isn’t the case now, but I still believe that women can be put off working in tech fields due to incorrect stereotypes that are set in stone from an early age. We must continue to challenge these!  WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG WOMEN WANTING TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY?  Stay true to yourself. Utilize your strengths. Seek out a mentor/work experience Be courageous, what’s the worst that can happen? Fear of Failure can often be a reason that people don’t go through with certain ideas.  WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A STRONG MINDSET AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE FEAR OF FAILURE?  It can be so debilitating, but you have to cut through all the anxieties in your mind and ask yourself simply, what's the worst that can happen? And who deems things a failure? It's learning, part of the journey. SMEs are often the most worried about getting something wrong, like to have all the knowledge before jumping in, but there’s not always time, we have to try, experiment, and get stuck in, after all, if you don’t try, you’ll never know! A collaborative team and the best leaders will still be there to support you whatever the outcome. Last year I started stand-up comedy, did a spot in NY in the summer, and asked myself, what's the worst that can happen? No one will laugh, but that in itself would still make me laugh!  DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR YOUNGER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY TO CREATE A STRONG AND RESILIENT MINDSET? One of the best pieces of advice I was given was ‘It's your race Susie, no one else’s’ – again it’s so easy to compare journeys with peers but everyone’s experience is unique and individual with different highs and lows - focus on what you want. Importance of work-life balance - you don't want high stress = low resilience, if you’ve got a good balance, you'll have the energy and resilience to handle those tough situations!  PLEASE GIVE US A QUOTE OR A MANTRA THAT YOU LIVE BY OR JUST LIKE. ‘We can do hard things’ - taken from Glennon Doyle ‘Untamed’. It’s an amazing book that I go back to and have quotes from it all around my apartment! This quote affirms that although life can be full of hard things, we can get through it, the ‘we’ makes it collective and inclusive, a positive affirmation that we are doing hard things all the time and we’re not alone in our journeys. Thanks Susie, you rock!  Interview by Jake Ramsay

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 Melody Sylvestre | iO Academy
WOMEN ROCK2023-09-19

Melody Sylvestre | iO Academy

"It's not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves" This famous line penned by William Shakespeare for his famous tragedy, Julius Caesar, sets the scene for this week's incredible Women Rocker - Melody Sylvestre whose tech journey was sparked through her career as an astrophysicist.  Recently graduating from the iO Academy, Melody is now journeying into the world of tech as a software developer and we just know her career is about to skyrocket... CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU FIRST GOT INTO TECH AND WHERE THE PASSION FOR IT COMES FROM?  I got into tech through my previous career as an astrophysicist! I was studying climates of other planets with space mission and astronomical observatory data, so 80% of my time was spent coding either to analyse the data or develop atmospheric models. I always loved finding solutions to scientific problems through coding. I realised that coding was not just a tool but an activity I really enjoyed! I have always been fascinated by the fact that it is like solving a puzzle but with a creative side. When I decided to change career, I knew coding had to be part of my next role!  HOW DID YOU FIND THE BOOT CAMP AND WHAT ADVICE HAVE YOU GOT FOR PEOPLE THINKING OF A CAREER SWITCH? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU WERE NERVOUS ABOUT, OR STRUGGLED WITH AND WHAT DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST? A career switch is quite an adventure, and I had so many questions. Where do I start? What do I need to know? What am I doing with my life?!  I think boot camps are a great way to navigate this. I really enjoyed my time at the iO Academy boot camp. It was very intense and there was a lot to learn! But the best part was that I was not alone! The trainers are amazing and teach you exactly what you need to know, at the right time! It is also great to be part of a cohort.  It was great to be surrounded by like-minded people who were also on a career change journey as we supported and learned from each other.     I would definitely recommend joining a boot camp or another type of coding learning group if that’s a suitable option for you. You will learn faster, and it is so much more motivating. If you are in a boot camp, make the most of it! Ask all the questions! Finally, and most importantly, career changing is a journey which can be exciting but also long and daunting. So, be mindful of that, and be patient with yourself and with the process. YOU’VE BEEN IN BRISTOL FOR A WHILE NOW. HOW HAVE YOU FOUND THE LAST 8 YEARS AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO PARIS AND GUADELOUPE? HAVE YOU STRUGGLED WITH ANY PARTS OF MOVING TO THE UK? WHETHER THAT IS A LANGUAGE BARRIER, FOOD, WEATHER (ALL THE RAIN πŸŒ§πŸ˜…), CULTURE ETC. AND HAVE YOU GOT ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE MOVING HERE? I have had the most wonderful time in Bristol! It is a very vibrant and welcoming city and a great place to move in from overseas. And the food scene here is fantastic!  I think the difficulties have encountered are not especially related to Bristol or the UK but to moving abroad in general. Life admin was a bit tricky (getting a National Insurance Number, banking, housing, healthcare etc.) simply because each country has their own way to proceed! The best solution is to do your research: get official advice from government websites, your country’s embassy or consulate, or any local contact you have here. Building that “feeling at home” was also quite difficult, especially as I moved on my own. I recommend meeting people outside work through activities, exploring your new town and building local habits (e.g., buying coffee in your local coffee shop, running in this nice park in your neighbourhood on Sundays etc.).   BEING A WOMAN IN THE TECH/RESEARCH/ACADEMIC INDUSTRY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY UNIQUE CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS? IF SO, WHAT HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME AND HAVE YOU SEEN ANY POSITIVE CHANGES TO THE INDUSTRY SINCE YOU’VE BEEN IN IT? I think the main challenge I have encountered as a woman in STEM was perception bias: I have been told several times by colleagues that I don’t look like a scientist! What does that even mean?! The issue runs deeper than random remarks. My female colleagues in academia and I have too many stories of times when we or our work was overlooked. Besides, this leads to women and under-represented ethnic groups having to work harder just to get the same opportunities as everyone else, which is frustrating and makes them more likely to leave the field.  However, I think STEM industries are slowly getting better. People have more and more awareness of these issues and are trying to take measures to improve the situation. There are also more and more initiatives geared toward women and ethnic minorities in order to promote STEM careers, and the workforce is slowly getting more diverse.  YOU HAVE ACHIEVED SO MANY MILESTONES IN YOUR CAREER ALREADY AND HAVE SOME AMAZING EXPERIENCE BEHIND YOU - WITH YOUR PHD AND YOUR 5+ YEARS AS A RESEARCHER – WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE SOMETHING SIMILAR? My 1st piece of advice would be: “Go for it!”.  I have learned incredible things, and I have been to amazing places such as the Atacama Desert in Chile! And it all started with me deciding to become an astrophysicist and working toward it. You totally have your place there. However, academic careers can be quite difficult to navigate as the expectations and career milestones differ a lot from more “traditional” careers. So, I would also advise you to find mentors or at least people you can ask questions about the different stages of your journey (e.g. a lecturer in your favourite course, your Ph.D. supervisors, colleagues in your department, formal mentoring offered by your university etc.).   WITH THE MARKET BEING AS COMPETITIVE AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH TRYING TO FIND YOUR FIRST ROLE IN TECH? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE STRUGGLED WITH, OR FOUND CHALLENGING AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS?  It has been difficult to find entry-level positions, which is obviously quite frustrating. I realised that it was going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, so I had to find sustainable ways to search for jobs and stay motivated. There were two main game-changers for me. The first one is engaging with people, either through LinkedIn or events (meetups, hackathons etc.). Looking for jobs is a fairly lonely activity, and it is so much more interesting to actually talk to people. My second piece of advice is to have consistent goals for each day. For instance, each day I try to do a job-search-related activity (e.g. applying for a job, learning something new), a productive activity (e.g. laundry), and something just for fun (e.g. having coffee with a friend, going out for a walk etc.). It helps me stay consistent in my job search, keep a sense of purpose and achievement which is a big motivator for me, and maintain a good work-life balance.  WHAT IS THE MOST FASCINATING/INTERESTING THING YOU WORKED ON IN YOUR PREVIOUS ROLES? AND WHAT AREAS WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN WORKING IN NEXT?  I studied Titan’s atmospheric particles with the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. Its atmosphere features a very dense haze made of small dust-like particles. Scientists think that they are made of big molecules that are quite similar to building blocks of life (e.g., proteins) and that they could help understand how life appeared on Earth. So, the more scientist can learn about their composition and formation, the better! I designed an observation project to observe Titan’s haze with the Very Large Telescope (VLT). It was a particularly challenging project: I did not know much about this observation technique and it had never been attempted on a Solar System planet or moon before! I had to learn a lot to plan these observations and analyse them. I really enjoyed working outside my comfort zone, exploring new things, and learning from my colleagues! It was also an incredible experience: I travelled to the VLT (Chile) to lead the observation. It is a fantastic place with state-of-the-art technology and passionate people, and it was inspiring to work in such an incredible facility. The night sky there is also incredibly beautiful because the observatory is in the Atacama Desert, 2,635m (8,645 ft) above sea level. I have never seen so many stars in my life!  WOMEN ROCK IS A PLATFORM TO HELP INCREASE DIVERSITY IN THE TECH WORKPLACE – WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING A MORE DIVERSE WORKFORCE AND WHAT COULD COMPANIES DO TO HELP PROMOTE THIS?  More diversity in the workplace means bringing more diverse perspectives and ideas to the table. If we want a more socially responsible tech industry, we have to keep up with the fact that we live in a diverse society and how having a diverse workforce is a great way to achieve this.  As a jobseeker and a black woman, I tend to apply more to companies that demonstrate that they are interested in improving their diversity, either by obtaining accreditations or awards (e.g. Clear, UK’s Best Workplace™ for Women, Stonewall etc.) or by supporting events and scholarships from organisations like Coding Black Females or Women in Tech. I think taking active steps to show that diversity is valued helps the tech industry to spread the word that diversity is welcome.  Besides, I think companies should also promote a “diversity-aware” culture where there is clear communication around problematic behaviours and what they look like, and clear processes to raise concerns or report issues.  IT'S TRADITION TO FINISH THESE INTERVIEWS WITH A FAVOURITE QUOTE, MOTTO, OR PIECE OF ADVICE. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE? I recommend reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. There were some insightful ideas about how to foster a workplace culture where people can communicate openly and bring their best ideas to the table. I think everyone could learn from it, whether you are in a leadership position or not!  Thanks, Melody, you rock 🀘 Interview by Matt Johnson 

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Dr Ailish McLaughlin | Flexa
WOMEN ROCK2023-09-12

Dr Ailish McLaughlin | Flexa

The journey into tech when you are in the midst of a career change can be a little like an assault course and a maze and an imposing mountain...all rolled into one. It is littered with obstacles, there can be some dead ends and can leave you feeling exhausted. So you need determination, endurance and it's vital that you prepare. So when Dr. Ailish McLaughlin went from completing a PhD in exercise physiology, competing internationally at three different sports and coaching in strength training, to Product Manager at Flexa...you could say she already had the athlete mindset to compete in the journey - she just needed someone to see it. This story is truly inspirational and is a must-read for anyone who is at the beginning of a similar journey or even in the middle of it and they are losing sight of the finish line... Ready, set, go... I WAS SO INTRIGUED BY YOUR BACKGROUND, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AND HOW YOU GOT INTO TECH?  Yeah, it’s certainly been quite an eclectic path! I did a PhD in exercise physiology because I’ve always been into sports and exercise, having competed internationally in three different sports myself. This gave me an opportunity to get paid to study the physiological demands of elite sport. About halfway through my PhD though, I realised that the typical career paths post PhD, academia and working in elite sport, were not something I wanted to pursue. During this time, to bolster my income and out of general interest, I was also doing some personal training as well as coaching the strength training for some of the athletes I worked with. I noticed a gap in the market for helping people with pain that was not quite an injury but needed something more specific than yoga. As I was wrapping up my PhD, I started to explore this as a business idea by delivering in-person classes to help people move better. And then lockdown happened. As an effort to bring some solace to people stuck at home, I decided to offer some of these online classes for free. Very quickly, I realised the power of technology for scaling a business; whereas previously I was able to deliver these classes to people in east London at set times, I was now able to deliver them to anyone anywhere in the world at any time of day. Instead of helping 50 people a week, I was now helping 500 plus. And so my love for tech began….I spent the next 18 months trying to scale my business taking it from it’s infancy as ButtahBody to it’s current form The Body School, including building a platform to host the live and on-demand classes, joining forces with my former business partner Lenny, setting up a bespoke filming studio and generally learning how to run a tech business. It was a WILD ride and I learned so much but eventually, I got to the point where I felt like I was no longer learning and that the business wasn’t going to get to where I wanted it to go. Ultimately, I decided that it was time to step away and pursue something new and there was zero doubt in my mind that tech was the place for me.After a long hard look at my skill set and the things I enjoyed during my career so far, I decided product management was the perfect direction for me. And so began my lengthy struggle to break into product. Over the course of 9 months, I applied to hundreds of jobs and interviewed at dozens of companies and was largely met with one of the same two rhetorics: either I wasn’t experienced enough for a more senior product role or I was too experienced for the less serious roles. It was an extremely frustrating time but truthfully, each pushback made my stubborn self more determined. About 5 months into the struggle I decided to try an alternative tactic; I had had regular feedback that I didn’t have experience working with developers. So I decided, if no one would give me a chance to gain some experience working with them, I’d take matters into my own hands and become one myself! I took the General Assembly 3 month software engineering bootcamp while continuing to apply and interview for roles. An invaluable course, I learned so much about how technology works. Ironically, a week after finishing the course, I had lunch with my brother who mentioned that an old school friend of his was a founder at a tech company in London and they were on the lookout for a product manager. He suggested I reach out and see if they were up for a chat. I had actually just gone through a horrifically painful break up and his words “you’ve got nothing to lose, just go and convince them how great you could be” rang in my head as I met Molly and Maurice in the east London container that constitutes Flexa’s offices on a super hot August day.  We had a really great informal chat where I was brutally honest about my struggles to find a role but also about what I felt I could add to a product team. They mentioned that there were at least 3 months of organisational, and project management work to do before any real product work could start so I jumped at the opportunity and asked them to give me a chance to at least do that. Luckily, they agreed and offered me a short-term contract but just a few weeks in, they offered me a full-time role. And I haven’t looked back since! I AM WELL AWARE OF THE BARRIERS IN TECHNOLOGY FOR FOLK WHO ARE CAREER-CHANGING AND NOT GOING THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL STEM ROUTE. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO GET THEIR FIRST ROLE IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?  Hmmmm, yeah it’s so tough. I’ve actually had lots of conversations recently with people in a similar boat and they are tearing their hair out trying to get their breakthrough. Frustratingly, I think my advice would be, first and foremost, to have patience. It’s a bit like dating; you’re going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a company who can see through what you might not have on paper to the value you can bring as a person and your potential for growth.  After that, I would say to ask for feedback at every opportunity; if you hear the same thing more than twice, it’s probably something you need to do something about. Maybe that’s changing how you answer an interview question or upskilling yourself in a certain area; often just showing how willing you are to learn and grow by yourself can be enough for an interviewer to give you a chance.And finally, network, network, network. An intro will always give you a foot up the ladder. Go to meetups, tech events, networking drinks etc. If you’re an introvert like me, it will be a struggle but I used to set myself a goal of just speaking to one single person and exchanging LinkedIn details and then I could go home. Almost all of my applications that went to the 1st interview stage and beyond came from referrals of some kind; it may not be fair but it works. Sometimes you just have to play the game! WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DATE?  The biggest challenge for me was finding the job; it took so much resilience and perseverance. But in my current role, I would say the biggest challenge has been building a product strategy from the ground up. Having not been in a traditional product environment before, I’ve had to teach myself what a product strategy actually is in the first place and then how to create one from scratch. Luckily, I work with amazing colleagues and have some incredible external mentors who have helped and guided me through this process. I’m feeling really good about it now and seeing it pay dividends to our roadmap and product delivery process makes all the times of extreme frustration totally worth it! WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST THING TECH COMPANIES COULD DO TO ATTRACT MORE DIVERSE TALENT? AND I GUESS IF IT WAS YOU LOOKING – WHAT WOULD ATTRACT YOU TO A COMPANY?  I mean, I work for Flexa so it’s clear to me that flexible working is a key contributor to attracting diverse talent as inclusivity and flexibility go hand in hand. Interestingly, a lot of bigger tech companies actually offer good flexibility options but they often don’t shout about them as they mistakenly believe if they are not fully remote then they are not flexible at all. So I think shouting about how they work is a good place to start (and Flexa is a great place to, ahem, do that!). But additional to that, I think there is an important piece around being open to different backgrounds and experiences. There is always a ramping up phase for anyone at a new company, it’s possible that they can also learn elements of a new role and/or industry at this time with the right support (which should be even more accessible in larger companies). I actually spoke to a friend of a friend recently who was previously a graphic designer before having kids and now wants to return to work in the product design space. She’s done a tonne of additional training in UX but is having a nightmare finding a role; she just needs a couple months in a good team and she would be a total rockstar but hiring managers are not seeing that in interviews; super frustrating.And for me personally, I would want to see evidence that there is autonomy in the role, room to grow in a range of directions and that there is some flexibility in how I get my work done. WHY IS DIVERSITY IN TECH AND MORE SO PRODUCT MANAGEMENT SO IMPORTANT?  Product managers are the voice of the user. Users of tech products are women as much as they are men. They are from ethnic minorities as much as they are from ethnic majorities. They are LGBTQ+ as much as they are heterosexual. They have disabilities as much as they don’t. To accurately represent the voice of a user, to build something that will delight and engage a diverse user base and ultimately achieve business outcomes, you have to have representation of that diversity in the team.  YOUR LINKEDIN BIO SAYS. ‘ I GET OUT OF BED EVERY DAY TO GET A LITTLE BIT BETTER THAN THE DAY BEFORE.’ WHAT DO YOU DO TO CONTINUE TO LEARN AND I’M SURE YOU HAVE SOME AWESOME BOOK OR PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS FOR US. CAN YOU GIVE US SOME GREAT RECCO’S TO GET STUCK INTO?  That’s hilarious, I must have written that quite a while ago. But it’s very much still true today! To me, getting better each day is about reflecting on the day before and finding ways in which I can do a little better the next day. I’m very self-analytical (read: over thinker) so I try to utilise that in a constructive way to make sure I’m learning from things that didn’t go well. This is usually the catalyst for my learning; when I am frustrated with or stuck on something, I’ll chuck myself down rabbit holes to try and figure it out. From a product perspective, I have found the Hustle Badger articles by Ed Biden super useful recently and enjoy Lenny’s podcast by Lenny Rachitsky .  But I also have quite an eclectic range of interests so read and listen to a relatively random variety of things! I am currently enjoying the Femtech Insider and ByteByteGo newsletters and reading a book about the opiate epidemic in the US (Dreamland by Sam Quinones). I am also a podcast queen, some of my current favourite shows include: Modern Wisdom, Where should we begin (by Esther Perel), Freakonomics Radio, Possible (an GPT inspired show). And for comedy I lovvvve Berning in Hell and My Therapist Ghosted Me. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY? “This is it” I often find myself getting caught up in all the things I want to do and achieve and have. And all the ways in which I have not yet got there; beating myself up for my past mistakes and feeling like I can only enjoy myself when I have achieved a moving goalpost list of things.. Subsequently,  I forget that this moment right here is all we really have. So these three words remind me to try and stay present. They remind me that the highs and lows, the frustrations, the disappointments, the failures, the wins, the sadness, the stress; that these things are actually the living. That striving for goals is fine but it is in the striving that life happens. ARE YOU UP TO ANYTHING COOL IN THE SUMMER?  Nothing major, actually. Typically, I love London in the summer (although the weather has failed me miserably this year) so I like to stick around for most of it. I am thinking of planning an extended trip to Costa Rica in the winter though, so I'm looking forward to that! Thanks Ailish, you rock 🀘 Interview by Alicia Teagle

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Cathrin Hirling | Ostrom
WOMEN ROCK2023-08-29

Cathrin Hirling | Ostrom

To say Cathrin Hirling knows a thing or two about ED&I would be an understatement as People and Culture Manager at Ostrom - a B Corp certified, digital energy management platform based in Berlin, Cathrin makes it her mission to create an enjoyable, inclusive and psychologically safe environment for everyone that works there. Now you will know if you work within the tech industry in particular -  this is often a complex journey and goes beyond ticking boxes and Cathrin has worked hard to build structures and practices within Ostrom to make them the diverse and incredibly supportive organisation they are today.  To avoid any confusion - if you are searching for advice on diversifying your workforce - YOU MUST READ THIS. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT OSTROM?  I work as a People and Culture Manager; in summary, I am responsible for co-creating an enjoyable and productive work environment by building structures and practices that support this.  WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH?  As an organisation, you need to actively demonstrate diversity is valued and it is actively supported. To start you need to create an environment that is welcoming and attractive for diversity to be part of. This includes not only transparent internal practices and/or programs such as clear development and career paths but also having diversity within leadership.Secondly, as individuals have varying needs, there needs to be an element of flexibility. Practices such as offering a hybrid work model and/or flexible hours can create an opportunity to invite more diversity and be attractive to a larger pool of people.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? Clique but: diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice.  WHAT SPECIFIC PRACTICES HAS YOUR BCORP RENEWABLE ENERGY COMPANY IMPLEMENTED TO ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY AT ALL LEVELS, FROM ENTRY-LEVEL POSITIONS TO LEADERSHIP ROLES? We offer relocation and visa support, which allows us to actively recruit across the globe. This provides us with the opportunity to access a wider pool of candidates and bring on board new ideas and expertise.  Across Ostrom but especially within leadership, we have been very conscious from the beginning regarding gender. We want to strive towards having a gender balance within leadership. Currently, we are 50/50 male, female representation.  Learning and development is important at Ostrom, our view is that we are continually learning together and no matter what seniority you are, your ideas are valuable and important. We offer individual learning budgets and continually encourage people to seek learning opportunities whether that be a workshop, conference, or mentoring. We try our best to provide learning and stretch opportunities to all our employees, whether you are just starting as an intern or you are further on in your career. With frequent development conversations, it allows us to understand what each individual’s needs are to grow, be successful, but also have fun.   IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY PROACTIVELY ADDRESSED UNCONSCIOUS BIAS IN THE RECRUITMENT AND HIRING PROCESS TO ATTRACT CANDIDATES FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS? To start, we are very clear on the why behind the need to hire for the given role. What skills do we want to bring on board, what does the team require, and what will be the milestones for this role in the first 6-12 months? Further, to minimise bias, we do not read each other’s interview notes until after we have spoken to the given candidate and completed the evaluation. When we make the final decision, we do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality. We actively ensure we are assessing each individual on their given skill set in comparison to the role requirements. We do not mention gender, ethnicity and/or nationality rather again we focus on skill set. HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY FOSTER AN INCLUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT VALUES AND RESPECTS THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES OF INDIVIDUALS FROM VARIOUS ETHNIC AND GENDER BACKGROUNDS? With Ostrom having over 15 different nationalities, this makes diversity a working reality but we understand this requires inclusion. We actively try to cultivate an environment where people feel understood and valued for who they are. Psychological safety is cultivated through continually seeking perspectives and ideas from across the organisation, no matter your seniority, and openly acknowledging the feedback. The general culture is that feedback is always welcome and sought. All leaders have received training on cross-cultural communication and the importance of learning individuals’ communication styles. Individuals who are softer-spoken, leaders actively seek their perspective to ensure their opinion is heard.  Further, we continually communicate we are an open learning culture and it is okay to make mistakes, it is not only human but also beneficial as it allows us to learn and progress quicker. Through sharing what we have learnt in our monthly company-wide knowledge-sharing sessions it further fosters openly sharing various perspectives. We understand that not everyone feels comfortable voicing their ideas publicly, therefore we have two anonymous feedback initiatives: “Ask Me Anything” questions for the co-founders and our company-wide engagement surveys. We view the workplace as being co-created by everyone who is part of it and therefore value feedback.  WHAT INITIATIVES HAS YOUR COMPANY UNDERTAKEN TO PROVIDE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING FOR ALL EMPLOYEES? We have clear development pathways with four touch-points per year with your manager to speak solely about your development. Further, we have clear career paths regarding individual contributors and people leaders with it clear both are equally valued. To support this each team has a clear capabilities matrix which provides clarity on role expectations at each level. As already mentioned, we offer individual learning budgets which allow it to be personalised to what the given person wants to learn and what they see fit. Hand-in-hand we ensure a fair remuneration review process with using an external marking tool and having an internal sense check.  IN WHAT WAYS HAS YOUR COMPANY COLLABORATED WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG WOMEN AND INDIVIDUALS FROM ETHIC MINORITIES TO PURSUE CAREERS IN TECH AND RENEWABLE ENERGY? We have been present at various university career days/fairs and had a female leader provide a workshop.  HOW DO YOU MEASURE AND TRACK THE PROGRESS OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION EFFORTS WITHIN YOUR COMPANY, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY? As we are small it is relatively easy to keep track of but as Germany has strict regulations around collecting data on diversity there are limitations to what we can do. As already mentioned, we try to keep a balanced gender split across the organisation but also in leadership.  Main lessons would be to ensure it is clear to everyone, no matter your level, that you have a role to play to create a positive work environment. Through ensuring clear guidelines such as having an inclusive language policy to ensure a shared language and relevant for us, and clearly stating your company language as being English. Further, as early as possible setting up processes around the onboarding, development, and promotions to provide an environment that empowers the people within it. Thanks, Cathrin, you rock! 🀘 Interview by Louis Hampton-Jones

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Charlotte Philippe | Meta
WOMEN ROCK2023-08-22

Charlotte Philippe | Meta

Crash test dummies that were built only in male form, sunscreen and skincare products tested predominantly on white skin and also a detection software used in hand dryers that wouldn’t work with darker skin because the product was only tested on developers who had fair skin. These are just a few examples and one of the many, many reasons ED&I is extremely important in the tech industry. As far as we have come in this industry - this is just a reminder of how far we have got to go... This week's Women Rocker is Charlotte Philippe, Head of Engineering at Meta who feels so passionately about women in tech - the small amount of time she gets to herself at work she dedicates to mentoring women across Meta internationally. Charlotte's worked on some incredible projects in her career and is of the mindset that "if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Keep going, keep trying, if you don’t try, you’ll never know the answer."  So give her story a read and go and do that thing that scares you today... HEY CHARLOTTE! THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US. LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING – HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO THETECH INDUSTRY? When I studied electrical engineering, I particularly liked the software courses as they enabled you to create an end-to-end product that would actually work. I enjoyed the fact that I could build it, ship it, and get it directly in front of people, bringing them value. When I went to university, I particularly enjoyed applied sciences, and courses like physics that explained how things actually worked. I did a 2nd master's in Artificial Intelligence in the UK(Imperial College London) and decided to stay and work in London, which ultimately led me to the consulting space. With consulting, what I loved was the ability to learn about different industries and new tech stacks with each project – and building end-to-end software. This fast-tracked the experience you can get as a Software Engineer. We were agile from the start. Very early on, I had the opportunity to take on roles as the team and tech lead. Those tech skills, leadership skills and client-facing skills led to my current role at Meta. (Agile, wide tech stack, customer-centric, leadership skills). WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT? I worked on many different projects across the public and private sectors that I am proud of, notably the UK HMRC tax platform, which is built to simplify people’s lives. One particular project comes to mind, as, to create and deliver it, I brought together business acumen and technical skills. In Meta, anticipating the shift coming to the Metaverse before it was announced, and observing the demand from advertisers that my team works with to leverage technologies like AR to connect them with their customers, I set on to create and launch ads for Instagram AR (Augmented Reality) effects with the goal of bringing brands closer to their customers by letting them ‘explore’ the brand’s products in AR (for example letting you try glasses or try on lipstick colours before buying them). During a hackathon, I put together a team to deliver an MVP (minimum viable product) that we released a couple of months later as a product, generating demand with advertisers and millions for Meta. And we formed an entirely new product team to support this area of work.This was a huge success that I am particularly proud of, bringing to life something that benefits customers, brands, & Meta equally. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO GO INTO THE SAME CAREER? Choose your first experience quite carefully. Dare to defy – everyone has imposter syndrome. Be bold – if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Keep going, keep trying, if you don’t try, you’ll never know the answer. WHAT AREA OF D&I ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT AND WHY? Women in tech, but also complete ethnic diversity. Meta opened my mind to hiring diversity and I’m very grateful for that. I remember an example to illustrate this: a detection software used in a hand dryer at another company wouldn’t work with darker skin because the product was only tested on developers who had fair skin. This illustrates the value of a diverse team, able to bring in different perspectives and make sure what we build is relevant to our diverse society. It’s easy to hire people like you because it’s easy to get along with them. It’s an additional effort to think outside the box. Using my experience, I hope I can really help promote women in tech. I actually mentor women across meta internationally. Building on my own expertise, I help them grow in both tech and business skills. This is something unique that’s important. Women will be very competent on the technical side, but sometimes question their growth, their presentation skills, their leadership skills, etc. I’m grateful my mentorship helps women in tech address the areas that help them grow in their careers. FAVOURITE MANTRA/QUOTE YOU LIVE BY? In French: Pour obtenir ce qu'on a jamais eu, il faut tenter ce qu'on a jamais fais. Which translates roughly to: To get what you never had, you must try what you never did. Thanks Charlotte, you rock 🀘 Interview by Andrew Delsol

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Priya Baheti | EY Technology Solutions
WOMEN ROCK2023-08-08

Priya Baheti | EY Technology Solutions

When it comes to diversifying the tech industry, we could learn a thing or two from India. Various organisations, NGOs, and government initiatives in India have been working to empower women and promote gender equality. These efforts often include scholarships, mentorship programs, and awareness campaigns to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM fields. The visibility of successful female engineers and tech professionals in India serves as inspiration for young women considering careers in tech.  This week's Women Rock guest is Priya Baheti who began her journey into tech in Pune, India where she was selected through a graduate selection process as a Trainee engineer. Priya now works as Solution Architecture Manager at EY Technology Solutions, after wearing many hats throughout her 15+ career in tech. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT E&Y? I have recently joined  EY Technology Consulting as a Manager – Solution architecture. Prior to that, I spent more than a decade in Cognizant technology solutions where I played multiple roles right from Database subject matter, Database technical lead, Infrastructure delivery manager and Infrastructure solution lead.  I worked for various Telecom, Media and retail clients.   I GUESS WE SHOULD START AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR TECH STORY, HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY?   I started my career in Infosys Technology Solutions as a Trainee engineer in Pune, India. I was selected through the graduate selection process.  Infosys is an Indian multinational company. Their training programme for fresh college graduates is exceptional in terms of getting in-depth technology knowledge and industry-ready for fresh graduates. I had to take on financial responsibilities for my family right after my bachelor’s degree in computer technology and it was a great start for me.  WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH?   To attract a more diverse mix of people into tech, initiatives focusing on outreach, education, and creating inclusive environments can be implemented.  AS A WOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES AND BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER?   As a woman in the technology field, I encountered challenges such as biases regarding women's roles in technology, limited opportunities for leadership responsibilities, and societal perceptions about career choices for women in a male-dominated country like India. I am blessed with an incredibly motivating, unwaveringly encouraging, and wholeheartedly supportive spouse and leaders who have been instrumental in empowering my journey. WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT IN TECH AND ALSO PERSONALLY?   My proudest achievement in tech is successfully navigating a 15+year career while balancing the roles of a mother and wife, and quickly re-joining the workforce after maternity leave, all while contributing significantly to the field of technology. IN ONE SENTENCE, HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR CAREER SO FAR?   The journey is the reward. WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPIEST IN YOUR FREE TIME? Spending time with my family, enjoying my hobby of painting makes me happiest in my free time. WHAT ERA WOULD YOU LIVE IN, PAST OR FUTURE, AND WHY?   I would always love to live in the present. However, when there is an option between the past and the future, I will choose a future for which I can dream about.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY? Miles to go before I sleep.   Thanks Priya, you rock 🀘 Interview by Max Crowhurst

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Hannah Cross | Near St
WOMEN ROCK2023-08-01

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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Raana Saheb Nassagh | Plan D
WOMEN ROCK2023-07-26

Raana Saheb Nassagh | Plan D

Remember your first day at school when you were standing in the playground, school bag in hand, desperately looking around the playground to find a familiar face, someone that you could relate to - either physically or mentally? As human beings, our innate desire to belong and be part of something greater than ourselves is a fundamental aspect of our social nature. We yearn for connections, seeking out groups, communities, or organisations that resonate with our values, interests, and aspirations.  This feeling isn't left at the school gates, as  Raana Saheb Nassagh, Senior Data Scientist, describes how she sometimes turns up to a meeting and is the only female participant.  Raana's passion for well-written code, intricate software architectures and elegant design patterns is palpable as she talks about her journey into data science and specifically her work with AI models. She wears many hats at work from machine learning engineer to project manager, highlighting how one's skillset doesn't just apply to one role in tech. But, like us, she wants to see more women in these roles and has some really cool ideas on how we can all make this happen... CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOU AND YOUR JOURNEY INTO THE FIELD OF DATA SCIENCE AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THIS AREA? I was 16 when I had to choose my specialisation at school. I had to answer the question: “Should my main subject be art or math?”.  I remember how I wanted to put the mathematics books away, to go after photography. But somehow, I just couldn’t do it. I just loved math so much … This was the start of my data journey: A passion for solving complex problems and thinking logically. So, I graduated with a math diploma and continued on with studying software engineering. During my bachelor studies, I got fascinated by AI topics like genetic algorithms and neural networks. That was my motivation to continue with a master program focusing on AI. Since then, I have worked for 2.5 years as a data scientist, whose everyday work is dealing with data and struggling with pipelines and deployments. And still, I enjoy the moments when we try to solve a problem with mathematical equations and forget the time while brainstorming about different solutions … this is what I like about my job. WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT PLAN D? Although I have the title „data scientist “,  I fulfil a wide range of roles and responsibilities at PLAN D. Sometimes I am a data scientist, who is working for hours with data, patterns, visualizations, and AI models. Other times I am a machine learning engineer, who deploys the whole pipeline of the AI models and tests the endpoints. There are times when I am a data analyst, who analyses a topic and presents the results to our customers. On some occasions, I also play the role of a project manager and make sure everything is finished on time before the deadline. That is why I prefer the term „full data“- we here at PLAN D do just everything with data :)  WHAT SPECIFIC AREAS OF DATA SCIENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT, AND HOW HAVE YOU DEVELOPED YOUR EXPERTISE IN THOSE AREAS? I like many different topics in the data field. However, I come from a software engineering background, so I just love well-written code, intricate software architectures and elegant design patterns. That is why I like to think a lot about the whole architecture of the AI models before I implement them. I have been passionate about this since my last bachelor semesters where I had courses like object-oriented programming and software system architecture. I followed these topics also in my master's study, where I used AI to find anti-patterns in code. AS A FEMALE DATA SCIENTIST, HAVE YOU FACED ANY UNIQUE CHALLENGES OR OBSTACLES IN YOUR CAREER? HOW HAVE YOU NAVIGATED AND OVERCOME THEM? The biggest challenge for me is a meeting or video call where I am the only female participant. Then, I sometimes see myself as a lonely wolf and miss seeing other female data scientists, engineers, front-end, and back-end developers. Having women in tech roles brings new perspectives and changes the dynamics of the whole group. Since I have no female role model in the team to look up to for guidance, I try to be the best version of myself. Maybe then I can be a role model for others and motivate other women to pursue a career in the data domain. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE SOME KEY STEPS ORGANISATIONS CAN TAKE TO PROMOTE AND INCREASE DIVERSITY IN THE TECH INDUSTRY, SPECIFICALLY WITHIN DATA SCIENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING ROLES? I think women should be encouraged for tech roles as early as possible, for example at school. Tech companies can encourage young girls for tech roles, by offering free courses, workshops, and talks or internships. Somehow the tech branch needs to demonstrate that women are welcome here. Especially in the field of data science, there are a lot of fun programs and software that can be taught at an early age and motivate girls for AI topics. SR2'S WOMEN ROCK PLATFORM AIMS TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY IN TECH. CAN YOU SHARE ANY EXPERIENCES OR INITIATIVES YOU'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN THAT ALIGN WITH THIS MISSION? As a member of PyLadys, I like to share knowledge with other women, who work with Python. That is why my team and I also host PyLadys events on the 11th of July on our premises.  On this occasion, I also contributed a talk about how to become a better code reviewer. What I especially like about PyLadys is that they are not only open for women but welcome people from all walks of life independent of their background, and thus create a very diverse community focused on Python programming.   DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE LOOKING TO GET INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY? I think women in general, and I especially, tend to overthink a lot of things. So here is my suggestion: Just do it and don’t overthink it! Send applications even if you might not fulfil all requirements, take courses, even if they seem daunting at first, and do what you like to do. One reason why women are not in tech roles is that they don’t have so many role models to look forward to. So: Be the first one! There is no "wrong" and "bad", there is just "new" and "better“.    Thanks, Raana, you rock 🀘 Interview by Finlay Bright

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